Monday, February 27, 2012

Pre-Raphernalia, Part 2: Revenge of the Sisterhood

I was very honored to be asked to do a cartoon of
Fanny Cornforth for the wonderful (and very funny)
Kirsty Walker for the revised edition of  her book,

This past year has been a pretty rough one for me. While doing the odd illustration job over the years (and most of my illustration jobs are decidedly odd ) I've held a steady day-job at Borders for 17 years. Yup, that long. Borders at the beginning was a great place for creative types to work and have health insurance and steady paychecks...

Unfortunately that all changed and we all know what happened to Borders as a company.

And we can't say we didn't see it coming. And no, it isn't because people don't like books anymore. But I'll keep that rant for other another forum.

I was fortunate enough to find a new job at a used book store (soooo much better) and a smaller apartment for less rent. As I continued to do my usual color paintings and my webcomic, "Heaven and the Dead City"  (shameless plug and the subject of a future post) I was in desperate need of some silliness after the stress and upheaval of  the past year.  My recreational activities usually involve drawing in my sketchbook-- stuff that only I will see and would be too embarrassed to show anyone else.

The Pre-Raph Cartoons nearly stayed there if not for the prodding of some curious friends (you know who you are) who I worked with at Borders who were also Pre-Raphael-philes. (Um... is that even a word? Oh, who cares.) Anyway.  They asked me to put them up on Facebook and we all got a few chuckles.

Then the awesome Grace Nuth saw them and this happened.

Over the past year, I had been a fan of and was rapturously reading many Pre-Raphaelite blogs online (many you will find in the upper right column of this blog). Lurking is probably a better word, since I was too shy most of the time to get involved in the topics and conversations. One of my favorites was Grace Nuth's The Beautiful Necessity  because, among other lovely things devoted to the Pre-Raph world, it was so "Topsy-and-Ned" oriented (and we all know I have a fondness for these two guys.)

Maybe it was an omen of things to come, but I friended Grace on Edward Burne-Jones' birthday. The response to these ridiculous pencil drawings was overwhelming (Grace, being VERY cool, has a LOT of readers) and I couldn't remain a shy lurker anymore. Thank goodness.

One of the things I've always missed about being in college was being around people with similar interests to talk about the things we all liked--- be it art, movies, music, whatever. You had no trouble finding a kindred spirit somewhere. I joined a comic book club in college (I was the only female--a good and bad thing, I suppose) and met a lot of creative geeks like myself. Later, when I hung around people who actively worked in the comic book industry in the early '90's, there was a similar vibe. A type of community of like minds.

Working at a bookstore was the closest thing I could come to the sort of environment that I sorely missed. However, by putting up the cartoons on the Internet and having people actually see them and enjoy them brought me in touch with a lot of new friends who liked the same sort of things I did. We could share pictures and stories and have conversations and discussions... And after feeling artistically isolated, I feel like I'm part of a creative community again.

Maybe even.... A Sisterhood. (Granted, this Sisterhood also includes Brothers.)

I was especially taken by the concept of a Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood and especially Stephanie Pina's wonderful website and FB page.  The focus was on the ladies. And it was about time.

The ladies involved with the Pre-Raphaelite movement often were (understandably) very frustrated-- Victorian England wasn't an easy place for a woman, especially if she had any artistic or "bohemian" leanings. Maybe that's why I started drawing the Pre-Raph cartoons, to have fun with everyone (male and female) trying to get out of their stodgy restrictions.What would happen if they talked with one another in a 21st Century way?

I always like to tell the story of how I drew the following cartoon during a blackout during this past summer... by candlelight. How goth.

I had read that Lizzie Siddal and Georgie Burne-Jones had wanted to collaborate on a book of fairy tales and this tragically never happened due to Lizzie's death. However, I wished it had happened as it might have begun a true Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, in which the Pre-Raphaelite women collaborated with each other on projects not unlike what their husbands, brothers and lovers were doing in the PRB.

In recent years there has been a surge of women creators in the comic book industry (as well as best-selling female characters) but it wasn't too long ago when a woman in comics would hear the frequent phrase, "Chick books don't sell." And that was the basis for this cartoon. (Plus my friend Stefan wanted to see Christina Rossetti as Gabriel's moody "goth" sister.)

(In reality, however, Rossetti was actually very supportive of female artists--maybe a little too supportive. His mentor, Ford Madox Brown, actively taught female students who were otherwise shunned by the male-dominated art academies.)
Not Ford Madox Brown giving a lesson to a student, but dastardly Charles Augustus Howell
and his talented mistress who painted forgeries. It happened, but not quite this way.

But I'm having so much fun doing these cartoons that I have recently begun to transfer them from my sketchbooks onto good paper, clean them up and ink them ("inking" for me involves Pigma pens and acrylic gouache) so that they might hopefully be compiled into a book. It's a slow process (and one of several projects I have going), but in the mean time I'm still drawing new cartoons in my sketchbook during my lunchbreaks to post online.

I'm especially thankful to the friends who encouraged me to show these sketches and for all the new friends I've met because of them.
And thank you, Pre-Raphs, for just being you.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


     I honestly don't know why I started drawing  Pre-Raphaelite cartoons...

A cartoon of William Morris and Edward
Burne-Jones, from my sketchbook.

...only it seemed like a fun thing to do at the time, considering that I was reading about them on my lunchbreaks in the bookstore where I work. But I've had a pretty long fascination with these men and women....

Topsy and Ned "inked" with acrylic gouache.



It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I love the Pre-Raphaelites. I was always drawn to the romance and color and beauty of this period of 19th Century art. Here I could find  depictions of myths and chivalry... or just paintings entirely devoted to a single ethereal woman in what looked to me like fairy tale garb.

Having worked at various bookstores over an 18 year period, naturally I relished the employee discount which helped lead to the accumulation of these:
My Pre-Raphaelite library.

But wait! There's more!
This also includes Pre-Raph-inspired novels as well. And there's still more than this and it
continues to grow as we speak...

Fred Stephens by William Holman Hunt. (1847)
I've had a crush on this painting for
I don't know how long...

So naturally when I had an opportunity to finally go to London, one of my destinations was the Tate Gallery. Unfortunately for me that year, the Tate had chosen to undergo renovations and the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit was on loan or on tour. There was a lot of construction work and what seemed like endless rooms of Turner. No offense to Turner, who I do like, but he was not who I'd come to see.
Millais' "Ophelia" wasn't there, there was no
Rossetti or Burne-Jones or Holman Hunt...
And possibly worst of all--

There was no painting of FRED!!

But thank God they left this one for me to see...

The Lady of Shalott (1888), by JW Waterhouse.

I've had a framed print of this on the wall of my apartment for years, so naturally I always thought this painting was considerably smaller. My friend Donna Dietrich took a picture of me standing next to it  

and you can see how big it actually is. (For the record, I'm on the short side...)

Seeing this magnificent painting helped make up for the disappointment I felt for not being able to see the other Pre-Raphaelite paintings I had only seen in my books. So I bought a "Lady of Shalott" fridge magnet, looked at a lot of Turner and moved on.

Thank goodness for the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We visited the V&A the day before we had to fly back to Philadelphia. And it was here I finally came face-to-canvas with one of my heroes, Edward Burne-Jones, for the very first time.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones standing infront of the world's
 largest gouache painting, "The Star of Bethlehem".
(This particular painting is in Birmingham
 and hopefully someday I'll get to see it...)

First off, I want to mention that I'd been having some artist's block before the vacation. I was still struggling to teach myself how to paint in gouache and I had a painting of a mermaid at home on my drawing table that I was convinced was the worst thing I had ever done. I had brought my sketchbook with me to London, but despite seeing a wealth of things to draw and having plenty of time to draw them, I only did a halfhearted sketch of Trafalgar Square and some pigeons and then never drew another thing on the trip.
At the V&A, I encountered the biggest watercolor/gouache paintings I had ever seen, which I at first mistook for oils. (Unfortunately for poor Ned Burne-Jones, someone trying to clean one of his paintings in Paris made the same mistake and wiped away a year's worth of work.)

But here was someone painting on very large scale with a medium that I was becoming very fond of. But it got better... in a glass case in one of the rooms was...

The Sketchbook.

Ned Burne-Jones' sketchbook, to be precise, opened to some random pages. I stared at it in fascination because it was very loose, very unpolished, playful and serious at the same time. I think I loved it for its imperfection. It wasn't as intimidating as those huge, beautiful gouache paintings of his. It was the shot of inspiration I was looking for.
When I finally went back home to my mermaid painting, I decided it wasn't really so bad after all.    

Winged Mermaid, 1998. Gouache with chalk
and colored pencils.
Something else I've always done (privately), was draw cartoons. Maybe my childhood years of reading Mad Magazine and the movie parodies rubbed off on me. As a little girl, I drew my OWN versions of movies or tv shows I had seen.

All this was before I properly discovered comic books... but that's another story.

But one thing led to another through the years and I began to like storytelling with word balloons. And sometimes the sillier the better.

Topsy and Ned compare sketches,
from my sketchbook.

Fred Stephens, the only male "stunner",
also another sketchbook cartoon.
So it was to my delight when I discovered the Pre-Raphaelites themselves drew cartoons of themselves and each other. Here are only some:

                                                        Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A young Millais and (beardless) Hunt express their opinion of  the Royal Academy's taste in art.

Jane Morris and Rossetti's pet wombat named
 Top after Jane's husband, William Morris.

Rossetti mourning the death of Top the Wombat.

Gabriel's sister, Christina Rossetti, responding unfavorably to a review of her poetry.

                                                     John Everett Millais
An overly windy day in Scotland with a bemused Scotsman fishing in the background.

Effie Gray, (who was married to famous art critic
John Ruskin at the time) giving Millais a
haircut after he banged himself up in
a swimming accident that day.

Edward Burne Jones

The artist has found some extra enthusiasm for working.

Ned nods off while Morris recites one of his epic poems.

Burne-Jones did quite a number of silly cartoons of his friend William Morris.

One of the many cartoons in the series
"Morris Gets Plastered."

Morris goes to Iceland--as Ned imagines it.

Coming up next: My own Pre-Raph cartoons and how Grace Nuth exposed them to EVERYONE. (Ahhhhhhh!!!!!)