It’s taken me a long time to get here, but I like where I am. The past week was all about making decisions that I will have to stick with for a while. With said decisions made, it’s time to see what I can create.
Not unlike the old days of pen & ink, I’ve whittled down all my art material options to the ones that allow me to do what I need to do.
The biggest decision was to continue along my path of black and white. Like with a lot of things in my creative life, it has to do with things that are obvious but somehow seem to baffle me. So, like being a Type A person or being hyper competitive, things about myself I didn’t realize until recently, my love of achromatic artwork is an old, deep-seated thing that I can’t just change like a pair of dirty socks. If you look at my oeuvre thus far, you’d be quick to note that well over 95% of the artwork I’ve made is black and white. Tons of pencil drawings. The massive charcoal drawings of my college years. The black and white photography years. The decade of pen and ink. To say I’ve merely dabbled in color is pretty accurate. None of my intense or successful work has a hint of color. Even my red drawings are monochromatic and could easily be done in black. As I’ve move forward, messing around with things as I have been for the last year, I’ve never been able to get excited about color for more than five minutes.
The only explanation I can offer is color doesn’t interest me very much. Mostly, I think it has to do with the fact that I’m fascinated by composition, the arrangement of things in a given space, which doesn’t have much to do with color. I can be a compositional madmen without having to meddle with all those reds, blues and yellows, so it hardly makes sense to burn extra brain power bringing color theory into the equation.
Then there’s the whole simplifying things to the lowest terms. So… white paper, black paint. Can’t get any more simplified than that. Maybe white paint on white paper but that is hard to print in book form. As soon as color becomes part of the game, you need more of everything. More supplies, more time, more thinking, more money in printing… It’s a pain that doesn’t add anything to what I am trying to do, as proven by the success I’ve hard over the decades.
Then there’s my notion that everyone has a little device in their pocket that they can use to make a fully colored reproduction of the real world whenever they want to. The ubiquity of digital cameras and screens makes it even more important than ever to do work that removes the viewer from the real world. It’s like everything is screaming loud color all the time, so working in black and white is like pressing the mute button. Sure, there are people who hate that. There are people who don’t see the value of it. But it’s a good change from reality. The world is busy and full enough for all of us, art should be something that doesn’t feel like everything else.
Lastly, when I was growing up, I watched a lot of World War II documentaries and read a lot of history books. There is no getting around their influence on my development. I got sucked into those dark times through the photos and films and, back in the 1970’s, they were all in black and white. Sure, people did shoot a lot of color and thank god it’s all come to light in the last two decades, but there is no shaking those initial images. The style, the horror, the humanity… all in grainy, glorious black and white. I’ve been doomed ever since. There’s no fighting it.
Plus, if the goal is to make really thick graphic novels, color isn’t an option.
Look forward to more and more black and white paintings. Lots of them. I have my paper, my paint, my brushes, my painting box and pretty much nothing else. Fortunately, I don’t need anything else. With these very simple tools, I can bring to life any story I want. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point, there were a lot of things I wanted to try, but I’m here and it’s time to get to work.
That said, my Rapa Nui book is now underway. I had thought of doing a book of short stories, but the more I looked at what I was doing and how my books are being received, it made more sense to move the Rapa Nui book to the fore. Here’s the skinny on it: Rapa Nui is a fable of sorts telling the story of Easter Island, mostly through illustration. When I thought of doing a story about Rapa Nui, I was thinking of it as a picture book. But with new options at my fingertips, I’ve been able to expand my idea to something more grand, as a story about Rapa Nui should be. Instead of a 40 page picture book, I’m making a 120-ish page… um… graphic novel meets picture book thing. I call it a tone poem, which Mandy thinks is a terrible phrase for marketing anything, but it’s kind of accurate. Basically, it’s a book with the simple, poetic language I love from my picture book brain, with lots of single page illustrations. There are no ugly speech balloons, panels or sound effects. Just beauty and hubris.
Anyway, if all goes well, you’ll be able to see it very soon.
Good news, everyone!
Box Books has a new title: Jamison Odone’s Poor Joseph. Yet another spectacular, charming, illustrated book to break your heart and brain. What child or adult man-child doesn’t need to read about The Elephant Man? And told with classy illustrations to boot. Yes. This is what our Box Book experiment is all about, bringing the awesome. All aboot? Yes. So, check it out. Well done, Jamie, well done.