Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rough Stuff... on a Highwire, at That

Tonight, I'd like to do something rather uncharacteristic...I'm digging into my sketchbook, to expose a handful of rough thumbnails. These were created as part of a project I worked on with my good friend Brian, a New Jersey high school band director. The theme he had chosen for the annual competition show was "Under the Big Top", and three sideshow banners needed to be made.

As time was limited, I chose to forgo the traditional route of hand-painting on canvas, in favor of illustration that could be expanded vastly, and digitally-printed on vinyl panels. The result was a great deal of fun, and I honestly regret that the banners are still in the possession of that school district.

To be honest, in retrospect I actually prefer the colors and rickety nature of the thumbnails, to those of the finished drawings. I am deeply fond of "cleaning up" my work for the purpose of final appearance, but I just may have to do a project "in the rough", so to speak, allowing the character to shine just as it is. For the sake of comparison, I'll add two photos of the finished pieces, as they hang at my bedside. To prevent odd inquiries, yes, those are antique hats. The theatrical one with the feather is a circa 1920s Odd Fellows Hall uniform piece, that I restored and trimmed out with peacock and antique jewelry - Matt wears it during oriental foxtrot numbers at the Singapore Slingers performances. Quite a couple, I assure you...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Internal Affairs

As much as I would love to feature the finished wedding invitation this evening, the gentle love of my life is currently at a banjo rehearsal (yes, he plays the banjo), and I'm not quite sure of where the scanner software is. Such is life - and not to worry. It will make a lovely debut here, in no time.

So, tonight I'll post another piece that I created selfishly - without any goal, other than to make our house a touch brighter. Matt and I live in a late 1940s ranch, with original, grid-style levered windows. The panels just happen to be very close in dimension to my pad of vellum paper - so, inspired by an old Dover book I owned years ago, I came up with a couple of stand-in, "stained glass" sheets. Incorporating several layers of colored pencil over an inked-in design, the results made me pretty happy, and now grace our kitchen window - privacy and color, all in one cheerful idea...

The top window is a random bird-of-paradise concept, while the bottom is dotted with nazar boncugu, a well-known Turkish talisman that deflects the evil eye. I crave these cobalt blue glass pendants, and have collected a number of them, which are gradually finding their way all around the house. These photos were taken from the outside of the house at night - the detail image of the top window is dotted with droplets of errant paint, a sure characteristic of life in an older house.

Although I am far from the "craftsy" sort of person, I can appreciate the simple way in which this little project has added interest to the kitchen. I'm honestly more than a little tempted to do the same thing with our bathroom - "Death to Useless Window Blinds" should be my motto...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Hunt is On...

This morning, a moment to check in, and state that I've given up my otherwise frugal practices... in order to go lamp-hunting. I've gotten as far as I can in the sketching phase, and finally admitted to myself that I'm spoiled, and require a halogen-based, magnifying affair on my work desk to proceed to the ink stage.

What's funny about this is the true nature of the spoilage... both of my lamps, before their timely deaths just prior to my Dallas relocation, served me well - but were salvaged from trash bins at the start. I never quite took them for granted, despite the low cost of investment, but hadn't considered the inevitable feat of replacing them someday. They showed up like Manna from Heaven - perfectly-suited accessories to my work. So, off to Ikea today, to get moving along with The Hunt.

A random, silly post I know - but I won't pass an opportunity to post a drawing or two, every couple of days. Here's to the next one - Success in the Invitation Department.

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Capture a Universe in One Small Drawing

Matt and I have at last settled on a date for our wedding. Although a sense of peaceful inevitability touches every aspect of our relationship, it still thrills me to think that there is a definite day set up for That Moment. And though we are pursuing a rather unorthodox event (lots of music, a potluck dinner, mismatched wedding party and even a javelina-styled piggy bank for generous offerings), invitations are a must in my mind - not only as a traditional announcement, but as an opportunity to send a bit of illustrative love to our friends and family.

I'm still not certain what will come from my hands tonight, as I sit down to sketch out a handful of concepts, to the tune of some classical music - most likely recordings of my father's lieder renditions. How should I encompass all that Matt and I are together, in one small drawing? Perhaps the invitation will be like a letterhead, crowned at the top with a spot... or bordered all around, with phonographs, carousel horses, station wagons and bass saxophones (just a hint at our wacky shared loves)... hard to say, and my mind gets a little jumbled at the thought of it. Once the paper is out, and the pencil is in my hand, the matter is sure to get a bit easier.

I've thrown in three pieces to show, in various ways and to different degrees, how I've "caught worlds" via illustration. The header is a tiny tribute to Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks, a NYC-based jazz orchestra - chorus girls surround a bass drum, emblazoned with the group's Electro-Voice logo. In the middle is the famous Illions Lincoln horse, which serves as the lead horse on the c.1919 B&B Carousell, currently in restoration for re-installation on Coney Island. Finally, a photographed detail of "Peacock Party", the first illustration I created for Matt - a tribute to his almost obsessive fixation on the Oriental fox-trots of the 1910s and 1920s.

With these having come from my hands, it's unlikely that a suitable wedding invitation piece will be pose too much difficulty for me... and once it's all settled in ink, I promise to post it right here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Twin Souls - the Joy of Being Found

Tonight, as promised - a continuation on the theme of musicians. I've decided to take a brief rest from illustration, to show off a different side of my creativity - one that, although not physically related to drawing, has everything to do with my inspiration. Ladies and gentlemen... my name is Danielle Bennignus, and I am Charleston-Mad.

Matt Tolentino, my darling and muse, directs an 18-piece fox-trot orchestra - the Singapore Slingers, dealing mainly in popular dance tunes of the 1920s and early 1930s. He is rightfully very proud of the group, as they have graced the Dallas music scene for well over a year. I love him for it, as many of their signature pieces would likely have fallen through the cracks of American culture - the Slingers are keeping some absolutely wonderful works alive and well. Aside from the simple fact that I love listening to this genre of music, I love dancing to it. As tonight's blog title suggests, I truly feel as though I've been found - by a man who understands my archaic, borderline obsolete interests - Twin Souls, to be sure. And so, it really was only a matter of time before Matt and I collaborated, and put on an act like the one in the clip above.

I learned to do the Charleston years ago, during my time with the Flying Cloud Academy of Vintage Dance in Cincinnati, OH. Joan Walton, a wonderful dancer, taught me to do the dance with enthusiasm and precision - the late Patri Pugliese showed me steps I'd never seen before, that he learned from his mother, who had been a champion exhibition dancer in the 1920s. I try to be authentic in my steps, and roll out all of the gusto I can muster - the way it should be. So, the opportunity to perform "Nagasaki" with the Slingers was welcome, indeed. This is one way in which I can pay tribute to my Matt - his work, as well as the efforts of every member of the orchestra.

In the clip, you can see Matt directing the group, as well as megaphone-singing, with me on the stage behind. On top of that, the velvet banner that graces the stage's right side was made at home - I designed, scaled, laid out and sewed it from the ground up. A Christmas present for the love of my life - but as well, an illustration project, only in this case done in fabric, rather than paper.

There are other such projects I've worked on - costumes, millinery, window displays, etc, which will make their way into the blog. Despite my frequent focus on the drawings, there is so much more to see... I thought this would be a wonderful way to introduce some of the other work that I do. And so, yes - again - here's to musicians - and tonight, to the one who holds my heart.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tributes to Musicians - Part One

Since my last post, I've been thinking a lot about my good friends Dan and Molly... wonderful people in their own right, as well as living reminders of my years spent in New York City. Their music touched my soul in a very strong way - it still does - and to my delight, Molly and I became close, running around town in pursuit of a variety of activities. Though I am exceedingly happy with where my life has taken me (especially considering the fellow I am with), there are times I definitely miss them.

I created this evening's illustration for Dan after listening to one of his "Roof Garden Jass Band" albums. He specializes in reed work - clarinet and saxophone - and his artistry is beyond my powers of description. Sinuous, controlled and wonderfully sensitive. After hearing his band's album (focusing on what he calls "rag-a-jazz", transitional pieces dating from the 1900s-1920s), I couldn't help but show him how his music inspired me. Thus, "Rue Levinson".

The illustration depicts me, surrounded by my pets (who by default always listen to the music too, as I work) - pen in hand, my ear turned to Dan as he plays, sitting on my console Victrola phonograph. My studio at the time boasted deep red/terra cotta walls, and black woodwork. The stained glass window that frames Dan is a loose tribute to his mentor and dear friend, the late Rosy McHargue. Lyres flank the upper corners, and snakes bookend the piece's title - representing the beautifully fluid, serpentine nature of his clarinet talents.

I adore musicians - I grew up in a house filled with them. The magic they create has an incredibly deep influence on my work... it only makes sense that I ended up with Matt, in an environment that feeds my creativity to no end. Illustrative tributes to them are innate to me - tomorrow I'll feature another one - even more personal than tonight's. Until then, enjoy Rue Levinson, and kindly thank a musician.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Seeing Spots

A few years ago, I helped my good friends, Molly Ryan and Dan Levinson, redecorate their bathroom. "Bathroom", one would say - a simple feat. Not so, in this case - Molly and Dan are two immensely gifted traditional jazz artists, living happily in a charming Manhattan apartment - surrounded by books, music, historic photographs, instruments and a lifetime of truly precious artifacts. Molly came to me with the idea of transforming the bathroom into a "Trip Around the World" - bright red, with illustrated vignettes featured on every wall. I jumped into the project eagerly, of course.

Initially, I figured upon painting the scenes directly on the walls, but after some deliberation, I realized that creating the illustrations one at a time on paper, and subsequently applying them to the surface, made more sense. In other words, they would be done as Spot Illustrations - an industry term for small drawings used to "fill in" a printed story/article. They add flavor and interest - exactly what I wanted these to do for Molly and Dan's bathroom.

The pieces were drawn in waterproof inks on bristol, cut out with X-Acto blades, and finally affixed to the wall with a truly wonderful product, Mod Podge. This agent creates a strong, waterproof, wrinkle-free effect, permanently bonding the paper to the wall. Along with the illustrations, Molly picked out some wonderful maps, reprinted vintage postcards, shipment labels and hotel stickers... the overall appearance was delightful.

I've included three of the illustrations here - playfully representing Egypt, India and Switzerland. There were others (including France, which is shown in my second blog entry), but these three are particular favorites of mine.
The third may have something to do with the fact that my fiance' is an accordionist, and dirndls are an inherent element of the polka scene... call it a wild guess.

I think that I have something of a fondness for spot illustrations - they are direct, clean, precise and capture the message in a concise package. Many of my earlier drawings could be defined as spots - they feature strong images on white bristol backgrounds. I've come to greatly enjoy more environmental/situational work since, but my heart still sings at the creation of something so pure as a good spot.

Friday, January 8, 2010

From 2 to 3 - An Illustration Becomes an Ornament

Tonight, I'll have a bit of fun by featuring one of my pieces that was fortunate enough to make the leap from being a work on paper, to a beautiful little Christmas ornament. In other words, I was responsible for the initial design - it graduated from that point into another artisan's hands, to bloom into a more solid, tangible object. Thus, from 2 to 3. Dimension, you know.

It all started with this charming drawing - a bride and groom, celebrating their first Christmas together...
The illustration was designed with relative simplicity - minimal shading, clean silhouette and an absence of detailed embellishment (particularly on the bride's gown). Imagine my delight upon seeing what the sculptor accomplished with my work:

Although admittedly an amount of the subtlety is lost, the overall effect is great fun to behold. The ornament was made through a technique known as "puffed" metal - two layers are bonded along the edges, making a relief-style object. This ornament, measuring just under four inches tall, was part of Waterford Crystal's "Giddies" collection - named after my bubbly personality. I thought that was more than a little sweet...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Made to Order - Two Commissions

This morning, I thought I'd share a couple of commissioned pieces - illustrations I created for a couple of particularly engaging clients. The above confection belongs to a personal fitness trainer (I can't help but have a fondness for anyone who approaches sweat with a sense of whimsy), and the following for Wedgwood China - the piece was enlarged, and featured in the windows of their Regent Street, London shop. Each was a joy to create, as the clients' needs lined up perfectly with my illustrative style. A simple subject for this entry - sharing a bit of the fun that resides in my portfolio.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reflection: An Evening with the Accordionist

Last night, I was fortunate enough to sit in on the regional monthly meeting of the National Accordion Association - my sweetheart, Matt Tolentino, was the evening's featured performer.  Along with the usual polkas, he offered up rags, Oriental fox trots and traditional jazz pieces - a departure from what most would expect of the instrument.  Sometimes I feel that he's on a two-handed crusade to expand the accordion's reputation - and it's a beautiful thing to behold.

Music is intimately linked to the work I create - it's a constant in that offbeat "world in my head".  Its cadences are reflected in the drawings it inspires, in turns sonorous and staggered.  How appropriate that my life has taken this interesting turn - engaged to marry a musician who practically lives to preserve the archaic two-steps, cakewalks, fox trots, Charlestons and what-not that I hold extremely dear.  I'm excited to see where this enthusiastic partnership leads - not only on a romantic level, but in terms of how my work is affected.  If I thought it was wacky now, it can only get more so from here on out.

Here's to what's to come...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In a little room serenaded by ragtime...

... I sit down to create a new beginning - a new way to show the world, well, My world. Though I have a website of my own, I feel that this will be a much more interactive way to let folks know what's going on - both on the illustration front, as well as in the life that inspires my work. Welcome to the Bennignus Blog.

With each new post, I'll do my best to feature a piece of work - recent, and focusing on my illustration. It's what I'm mainly known for, although other projects will sneak in from time to time - costumes, banners, household wackiness and much more. There's no point in creating a world, if you aren't eager to share it with others.

Likewise, feel free to share your opinions, suggestions, questions and more with me - I'm the friendly sort, and love to hear from folks. However, Please Refrain from click-drag-copy-usage-etc of my work. I'm very protective of what I create - if you're interested in using my work, please contact me directly. This stuff takes a lot of thought and practice to execute - as well, it is protected by copyright.

And so, away we go! Please enjoy my blog, and don't hesitate to speak up...