Originally ran in GeekMom on Aug. 5, 2016
The Artist: Shag
“Shag” is the name So-Cal artist Josh Agle, created by taking the last two letters of his first name and first two letters of his last name, and merging them together into one nifty moniker.
He was born in 1962 in Southern California, and lived in such varied places as Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Utah growing up. He studied both accounting and architecture at California State University in Long Beach, and eventually decided to be an “illustrator for hire.” However, his sleek, mid-century style began to receive more and more attention from art lovers and galleries. Since his first solo show in 1997, Shag’s work has made its way into solo and group exhibits worldwide, been featured on everything from pillows to purses, album covers to lanterns, and he has gained legions of loyal fans.
His subject matter ranges from adult-oriented stories in lounges and parties, to family-friendly images, including many commissions for Disneyland and other high-profile clients. There are often well-known commercial logos, famous bars and buildings, and tourist attractions, all in his simple, colorful, retro style.
His work can be seen in shows and collections worldwide, or at his own stores in West Hollywood and Palm Springs.
Many fans of the mid-century style recognize Shag’s laid-back swingers, barflies, tikis, and retro families, but Shag himself has said these people and places are secondary to the tale they tell, as quoted in a bio the book Tiki Art Now! curated by Otto von Stroheim:
“Most of my paintings are set in the middle of a story or situation,” he said. “[The] characters are interacting or reacting to each other in the outside elements.”
The Project: Groovy Tales of Make Believe Away Places
Painting a Shag-style picture isn’t just about style, it is about storytelling. Shag has said he is more interested in the “narrative” of the story than just the scenery, so this is a perfect chance to tell a swingin’ story from outer space, after a zombie invasion, or in any other alternate world.
With this project, think about telling a Shag-like narrative in an out-of-this-world scene. What’s happening at the party on Mos Eisley? Who is hanging out on the U.S.S. Enterprise holodeck? What’s happening at the harvest fest in Hobbiton? Throw a party anywhere you want, and tell its story in a Shag-like environment.
From looking at Shag’s imagery, there are three things that seem to stand out.
• His people are very simple. The eyes are often variations on black dots, their bodies are often lanky and lean, and their clothes are never too complicated. If you look closely at his subjects’ hands, he often uses the cartoonist’s trick of drawing only four fingers (including the thumb). The trick is, don’t just let them stand there, give them something to do. Put them out there, and let them mingle a bit.
• He doesn’t use outlines. Draw your picture in a thin pencil first, but color it in with marker, colored pencil, crayon or paint avoiding any black lines around the edges. This can include both patterned or solid colors, but no black cartoon or illustration style outlines.
• Make the background fun and colorful, adding some details that help tell the story. Is the sun setting, or rising? Are they in a person’s home or a public place? Is there a band playing in the back, or surfer in the foreground? Shag loves hanging fixtures, random pets and animals, wall art, pools, plants, and countless other patterns and details that help set the scene without over-complicating things.
Make it lively. Make it colorful. Make it deceivingly simple.
Most of all, make it fun! Shag’s art loves a good party, so blast off, have a ball, and draw your favorite subjects. Shag said in an interview with the site Art Beat Street, there is a little of himself in all he does.
“I relate to all the characters in my paintings,” he said. “I think they all contain a little bit of my personality.”
Originally ran in GeekMom July 6, 2016.
The Artist: Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly is likely one of the best-known, and best loved, living glass artists today, with his bright-colored, architectural installations found world wide. He has been exhibiting his work continuously since 1967, and has been featured in museums around the globe.
He was born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, and first learned about working with glass when he was studying interior design at the University of Washington.
His smaller works include glass cylinders inspired by Native American textiles, “Seaforms” glass pieces, a Venetian series of Art Deco inspired vases, and one of latest series, Rotolo, creating complex forms from a simple coil of clear glass.
Chihuly’s work has inspired others for several years. In 1971, he co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School artist-in-residence program in a Washington tree farm, using primitive conditions and the minimal materials. The site still serves as an international center of art education. Other early projects include the Artpark in New York state, near Niagara Falls, which utilized colored sheets of glass in simple arrangements.
Chihuly is especially recognizable for his installations and commissioned work in hotels, theatres, parks, cruise ships and other high-profile venues world wide, including creating the set of an opera, Bluebeard’s Castle. His outdoor installations, are particularly popular, as they seem to give the surrounding area surreal or fantasy-like feeling with flowing ribbons and coils, floating orbs, spikes, glass blossom-like shapes and other brightly hued, blown-glass forms.
In addition to his glass works, he has worked on paper with graphite, charcoal, acrylic, and more. His permanent installations can be found everywhere, including the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio, the Glass Art Garden in Tayoma City. One of his exhibitions, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem, drew more than 1 million visitors to the Tower of David museum to see his works.
Chihuly is still releasing prints, hosting workshops and creating installations. He is often asked what his favorite project is, and answered that on his official website, saying he has worked in “many great projects” over the years including Chihuly Over Venice and Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000, and his work in Seattle at Chihluly Garden and Glass.
“Perhaps,” he said, “the next project will be my favorite.”
The Project: Flying Colors
Chihuly, although very different in style from fellow well-known present day artist Maya Lin, also takes advantage of the environment for which a piece is intended.
His use of color, form, shape and even lighting effect work with the surrounding atmosphere to both enhance and celebrate it, whether in a natural setting or building.
With this simple project, we’ll creative small-scale replica of what a Chihuly installation might light look if commissioned by a fictional school, headquarters, military base or other famous location.
This method is similar to those many elementary art teachers use as Chihuly projects, but the secret is in the color. The color scheme and design for an installation on the stark, floating environment of Empire Strikes Back’s Cloud City might be very different that the glowing natural world of Avatar’s Pandora. Would an exhibition at Hogwarts highlight the various House Colors? Would a one at Starfleet headquarters symbolize uniform colors? What if he did a piece for the TARDIS? Would it be the famous blue, or look more like the wardrobe of the Doctors?
Since blown glass isn’t a method that can be learned for a summer afternoon family crafts, here are two ways to create Chihuly-inspired looks using upcycled water bottles and plastic party ware:
Color the outside of clear (clean and dry) water bottles in the desired hues, and gently cut off the bottom. Adults might want to get it started for younger crafters. Next, cut around the bottle, in a coil fashion so it resembles a spring or curly hair.
You can leave the top of the bottle in place and lace a string or pipe cleaner through it for hanging, or cut off the top, and lace the coil through a hanging thin chain. These also can be mounted on wooden posts, long wrapping paper tubes, hanging wire baskets, or just from fishing line or floral wire.
Remember, think about where this is going to go, and think of a color scheme or design to best suit it.
Using permanent markers, paint clear plastic plates or clear plastic cups the desired hues. Thinner plastic items are easier. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil, and bake at about 350° for a few minutes, until the plastic warp it like blown glass. This can take from 1 to 2 to about five minutes, depending to on the plastic. Keep and eye on it, and don’t bake it too long.
This is also good way to utilize the bottom of the water bottles used for the coil method, instead of plates.
Once painted and melted, arrange these in the pattern you want, glue them on a flat piece of balsa wood or corrugated cardboard. If you use a glue gun, place the glue on the board, as it may continue to warp the plastic a little.
This work might not be as detailed as Chihuly’s blown glass pieces. His own advice for young artists is to remain inspired by others, yet follow one’s own visions:
“Surround yourself with artists and see as much art as possible,” he says. “Go with your gut and create something that nobody has ever seen before.”
Part of my summer-long “Be The Artist” series for GeekMom.com where kids, teens, and fun-loving adults can learn about influential and popular artists by lending their own geeky edge to their styles.
The Artist: Josef Albers
Josef Albers was born in Germany in 1888 and was an active artist and teacher at the celebrated German art school Bauhaus in the 1920s.
Although he was accomplished in many visual art forms, including photography, typography, and printmaking—not to mention being a talented poet—he is best known as an abstract painter and theorist.
It was after he moved to the United States that he began working on his famous Homage to the Square series in 1949. This series meant so much to him that he continued it until his death in 1976 in New Haven, Connecticut. These works, consisting of three or four layers of nested squares, may look at first like just a series of square patterns, but they were really all about color.
Albers was very serious about “chromatic interactions,” or how colors look when seen next to each other as well as how they appear one at a time.
According to Albers’s own writings on the topic, the way people experience color is “varied based on our individual personalities and on factors such as hue, dimension, and placement.”
For example, orange might make some people angry or anxious, and others energetic and excited. Place it next to yellow, and someone might see fire, while others see feathers, or flowers. Everyone, he realized, sees colors in their own way.
The Project: Homage to the Superhero
For this project inspired by the series, we’ll take a look at the personality of favorite superheroes through color.
First, pick a medium to paint/draw with and on. Albers did much of these paintings on masonite in oils, but any medium will do (acrylic on canvas, watercolor on paper) as long as the attention to color relationship is the focus. If using a rectangle piece of paper, fold or cut it into a square shape, if possible.
Find an image for the shape that might represent that hero. Logos work well, but keep them as simple as possible. Albers used the square because it was a neutral shape that would not distract viewers from focusing on the colors. Keep that in mind when picking a shape.
Use a template for reference, if needed, or draw it freehand, off-centered on the paper. Draw two or three larger outlines around the shape, so they look like concentric, or “nesting,” images.
Find three or four colors to represent the hero. Starting with the center image fill in each outline in an order so it conveys the hero’s personality or mission. Superman or Wonder Woman might have the brightest or lightest color on the outer edge, to represent hope or strength. Batman, on the other hand, might be a bright light surrounded by darkness.
Younger artists can try making different color patterns when doodling with crayon or marker and see how certain colors can create a mood, convey a personality, or even tell a story. Even the same four colors arranged in different patterns can change the mood.
For an extra challenge, use only squares, as Albers did, and represent the superhero entirely with colors. Many heroes may utilize the same colors (red, blue, and yellow is popular with many heroes), but the different arrangements are what make them unique. Anyone can draw squares, but squares using the right color patterns will make all the difference if distinguishing Supergirl from Wonder Woman.
Even then, Albers said everyone will interpret the pattern in very personal ways.
“If one says ‘Red,’—the name of color—and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds,” Albers said. “And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”