Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Coming of the Cold



The cooler months are in the arrival process, and I couldn't be happier.  Granted, we had an uncharacteristically mild summer, which is an enormous blessing in the often vicious heat of Texas.  But nothing reminds me of home - whether the Mid-West or East Coast - quite like the onset of the fall season.
And while most folks anticipate the colors, vistas, scents and such most often associated with this time of year... turning leaves, campfires, woolen blankets, tweeds, cider, etc, etc, etc... my mind turns to one thing.

Winter swimming.  Yes, I have mentioned this activity - part daredevil feat, part spectator sport, part spiritual experience, in total a source of sheer delight for those so inclined.  A drawing documented earlier, featuring hippocampi flourishing in the icy surf, captured a sense of the adventure - in this case, I created a piece for Zelda Magazine, focused more on a brave Art Deco maiden, exploring the frigid breakers in high style.


Jade, teal, violet, sage, celery, parrot green, bronze, yellow ochre... so many colors are incorporated in the effort of representing the waters of Coney Island in the wintertime - the shade is anything but blue.  Rather, the tones of a thriving, healthy ocean rule the season - as one of my dear Polar Bear brothers often states, "The Medicinal Waters of Coney Island".  He couldn't be more correct.  The saltwater surrounds you, invigorates you, embraces and heals you.  Nothing less.


Boots!  Many of the Polar Bears, myself included, insist on neoprene boots and gloves - they protect the extremities and associated digits.  I'll never forget an ill-considered swim one October day - as it was early in the season, I figured the water would be balmy enough that my hands could easily withstand the temperature.  Not so much - my typically graceful hands were temporarily transformed into claws, and it took nearly half an hour to change out of my bikini, and into street clothes.  As such, I thought it considerate to let this sensuous creature have an elegant set of boots and gloves, with which to enjoy her swim.


A little close-up of our friend's face, and one of her ravishing gloves.  I do own (and wear) a wool suit not unlike this one, though I have not taken a saltwater dip so attired.  As a preservationist, I'm a bit too strict to subject such a treasure to the roiling waves - besides, I prefer bikinis, as they let you feel the temperatures all the more.  Crazy?  Perhaps - but I miss it terribly.  I never felt so healthy in all my life, as when I was swimming each week, all winter long, at Coney Island.

To Zelda, of which the upcoming Fall/Winter issue is due very, very soon.










Thursday, May 15, 2014

Heaven's Feathers - a Blessing, To Say the Least

Good morning, friends - and welcome back to my oft-neglected blog!  As ever, life has gotten in the way of updating this most important journal - but I do have good news, and new drawings, to share.  Today, I want to talk about "Heaven's Feathers", which has been quite a journey unto itself.


I recently joined the marvelous world of "Zelda:  Magazine of the Vintage Nouveau" - a marvelous publication out of my old stomping grounds - New York City.  This magazine has a beautiful history, having been founded by Diane Naegel.  Hers was a life of great creativity and community among the vintage scene, cut tragically short by breast cancer.  Zelda is only part of her legacy, and I am thrilled to contribute as an illustrator.  Their spring issue is due out soon, and, with editor Don Spiro's blessing, I would like to offer a sneak preview of my first piece for the publication.


Interestingly enough, "Heaven's Feathers" was inspired by a brief, misguided friendship, during which I once asked the party, "Give me a color - any color."  Formal green and grey was the response, and I instantly thought, "Ostrich".  I knew that I wanted the illustration to reflect the jazz era, and what better way to make that happen than through a streamlined lady, replete with feathers?  Done and done - and thus, both tones could be incorporated.  Let's have a closer look or two at those abstract plumes...


Whorls and curls aplenty, with the usual layering of metallic ink and colored pencils...


And, of course, a close-up of the animal in question.  I have a fetish for illustrating feathers, and researching ostriches in detail was a fascinating experience.  Like all birds, the variety of colors and silhouettes among their feathers is staggering... and they have some INTERESTING feet.


I love this piece based on its own visual merits, as well as for its role as my first piece in Zelda.  But taken further, it marks my healing from a hand injury that will likely affect me for many years.  A nasty fall taken while dancing with an intoxicated partner on New Year's Eve left my right hand with a torn finger ligament - a terrifying situation for any artisan.  Thankfully, routine exercises, and the counsel of several deeply caring specialists at the hospital, have helped my hand to recover.  Granted, there is pain on a daily basis - but this piece proved to me that I can still draw just as steadily as ever, and that is, indeed, my idea of Heaven.  Lesson learned:  Choose your dance partners, and confidantes, wisely.

To finish, a shot of my desk - a beautiful 1940s set that we rescued from a hoarded estate sale situation.  Now scrubbed within an inch of its life, it houses my supplies, as well as all and sundry Ganeshas, Beardsley images, Coney Island goodies, family photos, Waterford remnants, Polar Bear Club souvenirs, etc, etc... keepsakes of a life well lived.








Saturday, January 18, 2014

Joys and Sorrows


 I'd like to take a second, and do a bit of apologizing for my tendency toward laziness, where my work is concerned.  I wish I could say honestly that I'm at my desk every single day - I ache to trumpet off such a thing - but it just isn't so.  Weeks can go by without a single sketch - and while I've always had my moments of procrastination, I must say that I've been far more susceptible to these things since my father passed on.

I'll put it this way.  I love to draw.  Always have.  Some of my earliest memories involve the tin of Caran Dache pencils my parents bought for me as a tot, alongside the honest-to-god high quality paper to go along with them.  This has long been my finest method of communication - I utilize it when I truly want to show someone that I care deeply about them.  I adore gifting my work to those I hold dear.  It also comes in handy to pay the bills, when a commission rolls along.  But along with that sense of joy comes sorrow, as this side of my creativity forces me to come deeply into contact with my keenest of inner sensitivities... putting my soul on paper, if you'll excuse a rather hackneyed phrase.  As such, I cannot draw without thinking of my parents, who encouraged the dickens out of my love for the discipline.


 The details here are from a piece I'm currently working on, loaded with sweeps and small curls.  As usual, it's all done with my trusted pen and inkwell, which requires a lot of deep breathing - borderline meditation.  And this focus requires a certain amount of brain power - not particularly of the thinking variety, but of the instinctual, feeling side of things.  Vulnerability to sneaky senses involving grief and longing are not uncommon - and drawing suddenly turns into a bittersweet ballet.


 It can be a strange sensation, and at times - many of them - I avoid the dance altogether.  There was a time when working on these pieces was a complete pleasure, from the very moment I put my pen to paper... but nowadays, it can take time to get to that sense of gentle bliss.  At times I've spent nearly an hour in a state of controlled breathing, reflecting positively on my parents, reminding myself that all they could possibly want for me is to draw, and happily so.  It's the getting there that can be quite difficult at times - largely around anniversaries, naturally.  Right now I find myself in that state, as January is a particularly rough month for me.  December can be a real pain, as well - that's when my mother slipped away nearly twenty years ago.  But January belongs to my father, whose death, being far more recent, cuts just a bit deeper.  Combined, it can create quite a hurdle to creativity.


But breath, and determination, overcome such things.  I really, really miss my folks right about now... but there are ways around such things, and different methods which bring them closer in a positive manner.  Grief will always be with me, I'm certain.  But the adventure of transferring the emotion into fine lines on paper is worth grabbing hold of, as frightening as it may be at times.


All this said, to add yet another well-worn phrase:  Always, always show those you love how you feel, while they are here.  And just as importantly, continue to do so, once they've passed on.  These drawings are as close to a legacy as I'll possibly leave behind - I do this for my parents, absolutely.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

For the Love of Clothing


 I think it's high time I revisited the issue of wardrobe, and its role in the creative existence.  While I admit that not long ago I was somewhat dismissive of my costume posts (this is an illustration blog, after all), it's worth paying a bit of attention to the inhabitants of my closet... at least once in a while.  A little gallery, during a break from my current work in progress on the drawing board.

Above is a photo from Christmas day, taken with Matt and our dear friend, Carlos Cardoza.  To say that Carlos is a driving force in our aims toward wardrobe improvement is a huge understatement - his social whirl, along with the clothing to go with it, is enormously influential.  Here, Matt is sporting a delicious 1930s Worumbo coat - as for me, my trusted thrift store-bought Burberry jacket and Vogue 1186 Issey Miyake pattern trousers - beautiful Oxford bag stand-ins.


 Another with Carlos - at his July 4th pool party.  Both of us are wearing era cabana ensembles - I mistakenly arrived sans bathing suit, but was in good hands.  Big Boy keeps an eye on things from behind.


 This magnificent cloche certainly Looks to be straight vintage from the 1920s, but is actually a modern piece, fresh off the blocks of Stetson Hats.  This cloche was created as part of recent, noble efforts to introduce a classic line of modern hats with distinctly historic flavor - Stetson is also working up some beautiful examples for men, of traditional fur felt and petersham.  This model is called the "Louise", appropriately.  The dress is made from the Folkwear 1927 Tea Dress pattern.


 Winter parties call for winter bathing - at least for us displaced Coney Island Polar Bears.  At this event, I was featured as the "Queen of Winter", disrobing to reveal a crystal- and sequin-studded flesh tone bikini and hair wreath, dipping into the pool to greet the season.  The boots aren't quite the fashion statement, but do a marvelous job of protecting the toes from frost injury.


 An androgynous moment, at the 2013 Dallas Tweed Ride.  Carlos and I didn't ride our bicycles to the event, as his arm was in a (well-coordinated) sling.  However, we are none to be deterred from a photo opportunity, as this proves.  I borrowed Matt's 1930s cap and tie - the pants are likely 1990s, made by Banana Republic during the "vintage movement" that occurred all too briefly among many designers at the time.


 While I don't usually discuss my politics here, this photo is worth posting.  As a staunch supporter of the woman's right to choose, I attended a demonstration in favor of Planned Parenthood of Northern Texas.  I think the sign says everything.  The suit dates from the late 1910s, and the hat from the early 1920s.


 Inspirational clothing touches every aspect of life - working at the illustration desk is no different.  This Yukata robe was given to me by a dear friend, and has spent many hours on my body as I draw.  Come to think of it, I really need to get back into the habit of talismanic wearings while at the desk...


 Feeling clowny - participating in a local parade.  Our good friend Bill Flynt is the deservedly proud owner and player of a 1923 Tangley Calliope, which he brings to many events during the year.  The joy is clear on my face, as I was caught mid-strut during his performance of 1920s tunes.


 I love good clothing, and am constantly open to new sources for acquisition.  I do make a good deal of my garments - the rest largely come from thrift shops.  These beautiful Crockett & Jones cap toes came from what I can only describe as a curiosity shop, tucked in a corner away from prying eyes.  I saw their beauty, and snapped them up cheaply... with no idea of their true worth.  After being re-soled, I consider them nothing less than wonderful friends.


 More gender-bending, taken at a vintage expo this past weekend.  The trusty Burberry jacket shows up yet again, along with a modern straw boater (found by Matt in a dumpster), plus-fours made from the same pattern as the Oxford bags shown in the first photo, and a wonderful pair of modern spectators.


 This past New Year's Eve, I decided to step entirely out of character, and wear a 1960s silk dress, albeit paired with a 1920s velvet cloche.  The robe is likely early 1940s, but I cannot quite guess.  This somehow recalls to my mind the Staunchest of characters, Edie Beale...


 The Queen of Winter, not long before the cold water swim at Carlos' Christmas party.  A thrift store-bought kimono, kept in place with a bodice made from the pattern I drafted for a dirndl a couple of years back (an earlier blog post was made about that piece).


 My first time singing publicly in many years, with Matt at my side.  The bathing suit has been with me for longer than I care to admit, and dates from the mid-1920s.  The same velvet cloche was worn for New Year's Eve - I'm becoming quite bonded to it...


 The Folkwear 1927 Tea Dress pattern, yet again.  This was done in new material, with side panels added for extra flow.  Remarkable for dancing, a truly great dress.  The shoes are likely late 1930s, given to me by a great friend.


 At a local Mardi Gras parade, taken just after I'd accidentally beaned someone in the face with a string of beads.  The dress is from a pattern I cannot possibly recommend highly enough:  Butterick's B5209 reprint of a 1947 sun dress.  I've made it twice, and it brings compliments every time I wear it.  The hat is a glorious red straw, trimmed with a trembling feather element.


 Carlos and I, at his Moroccan pool party.  He sports another cabana suit with matching fez, while I wear the Simplicity "Swim Dress" pattern released as a result of the Titanic-mania that took over in the late 1990s.  Considering the pattern is actually of the Halloween grade, it's actually a beautiful starting point for the creation of a ragtime-era ballgown.  I've made it twice - this sari version, as well as my wedding gown.


Finally, a parting shot from the green room at a recent stage show.  Minimal, but What A Hat - a Volk's piece from the 1930s, made of velvet-covered wire and egret feathers.  I don't condone the purchase of new fur- or feather-trimmed wear, but vintage gets the go-ahead.  The earrings are glass buttons dating from the 1920s, made into jewelry.

In short, enjoy yourselves, and don't hesitate to allow your creativity to bleed into your wardrobe, as well.  I have few personal resolutions for 2014, but a more colorful and passionate closet is a must.  See you soon.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gruss vom Krampus



 

Season's Greetings from the Bennignus-Tolentino household - and welcome to a sorely-delayed blog entry.  This time around, I thought it best to feature my annual holiday card (our leanings are fond of, albeit not exclusive to, Christmas)... and this year my Germanic roots won out, in the form of a Krampus illustration.


*Polished trotters, in lieu of tuxedo pumps...

 I am deeply gratified to see that Krampus has taken a hefty hold in recent years among Americans - he provides the antidote to Saint Nicholas' cheering benevolence by posing a formidable threat to children who have been lax in the "good behavior department" throughout the year.  Equipped with chains, birch rods and a washtub on his back, he punishes naughty children - taking the worst of them with him to be carted off for drowning, eating... or a trip to hell.


 
 *Mistletoe, as a suggestion...

 There are many Victorian-era postcards depicting this refreshing creature, some of which tap into his seductive nature.  It seems he also has a penchant for the ladies, meeting them in doorways, kneeling before them with glistening baubles... offering himself, to put it politely.  Being a fanatic for well-dressed fellows, I chose to represent my Krampus as a dandy - at least as dandified as a beast with cloven hooves and a serpent's tongue can be made to appear.

 *French cuffs frame long fingers.

 He reclines on a recamier, upholstered in Beardsley Rose-printed silk.  Wearing what looks like a herringbone-petersham hybrid vest, the Rose is echoed in his buttonhole, with a detachable-collared shirt... naturally.

 *Charmeuse lapels...

 

 A closer look at his face.  Krampus always boasts a tongue of astonishing dimension, as well as a demon's tail.  In this case, he flourishes both with aplomb, unafraid to show his teeth just a bit... seducer, indeed.



Lastly, his birch rods.  Without heading in too "blue" a direction on this blog, let's just say that these aren't intended for use exclusively on naughty children.

This Krampus illustration is currently en route to Los Angeles, where it will be added to the exquisite collection of oddities kept by a rather fascinating couple, as well as their lovely children.  I do hope that those kiddos see the humor in this piece, just as I did as a small child when approached by my own parents with similar artwork.  Little drawings like this have a way of infusing your childhood imagination with marvelous visions... I can't hope for anything less.

*Until next time.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Meditation


 While this is somewhat out of character, I felt that it was safe to go ahead and post this... a recent, small gift to a friend.  Personal pieces like this are usually kept somewhat private, but I like this one too much to keep completely under wraps.  And so, with the hope that the recipient won't mind, here's a little self portrait focusing on reflection and positive thought.


 Most people think that the females in my illustrations are self-representative - to some small extent, they're likely correct.  Their clothing, expressions and poses are not unlike my own... but it's a very rare thing for me to come up with a piece that very deliberately, and very obviously, puts me on paper.  I wanted to present a visual reassurance that my thoughts are with the recipient - meditation beneath the surface, regardless of what I might be up to at any given moment.

A brief moment, eyes closed, the talismanic bracelets I always wear, and flora to represent health, happiness and good fortune...


 ... and, for what it's worth, clean lines that radiate from a central point - small rays of conscience and concentration. 


Granted, I'm not the praying type, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.  But I do find a certain spirituality in putting my nibs to the inkwell, and then to paper, breathing as I work, configuring lines and curves into a single, thoughtful image.  I do hope this one brings happiness and health.

Promotion and Plumage

I've been absent recently, taken with outside concerns, and happily, the creation of a new piece or two to share.  This time around we have another Singapore Slingers poster - two events advertised on one image.  Halloween is just around the corner, and though I wanted to steer clear of the usual pumpkins, ghouls and black cats, I embraced the traditional colors.  Here we go:


 I needed two strong areas of contrast for the venues to be noticeably listed, so I gave our model two large "fans" - something of a lunar Sally Rand.  I used to include venue addresses, show times, cost and such - nowadays, I figure that if someone is intrigued by the image, they can do the homework necessary for more details.  Our shows are gladly becoming more and more popular, often selling out - as such, there is more room on the posters for imagery, rather than extensive information.  Let's have a look at our lady...


She's simple in nature, but evocative of the fact that costumes are encouraged, particularly at the latter of the two shows.  The more festive our audience, the better the show - a sensible truth. 


 The fans were a joy to enhance along the edges, extending abstract plumes to fill in the outside negative space, and make it a bit more clear what the gal is handling.  It goes without saying that feathers are a joy to illustrate - and seeing as how I strongly refrain from purchasing them nowadays (part of a largely vegetarian lifestyle), this provides me a manner in which to celebrate them vicariously, without harm to the creatures that wear them.

A closer look at the lettering:


Lettering design is always initially intimidating - I'm sure it will be, eternally.  I tend to over-think in this matter, worrying that I won't capture the theme appropriately.  The words are easy - the styling of those words instills fear.  In this case, I went just as vertically as with the last poster - just a little more tapered along the bottom, and in chartreuse against purple.  Regardless of the silhouette, the letters must "pop" visually, in order for the poster to catch the eye of passersby - colors help immensely in this aspect.

Finally, the signature.  On my non-commercial work, I sign almost exclusively with an initialed oval, also stating the date of completion.  On posters, however, I have to bear in mind that the viewer might want to see more of what I do - so it makes sense to provide the full name (as well as the copyright notice), so they can find me online, should they so desire.  Always a strange balance of letting the piece shine, and trying not to be too obvious in my plea to be noticed professionally.

To the season, and further musical endeavors.  I couldn't be more pleased to know that these pieces help to garner more attention around the orchestra... and more tickets sold.  Success...