Rob Dunlavey
February 2009
Night Studio
Mr. Owl Eyes
I'm usually up and in my studio well before the sun makes its way to this side of the Atlantic Ocean. This gives me one to two hours before I have to get my kids ready for school. So it's just right for extremely concentrated personal studio time. I make a conscious effort to leave the computer off and avoid any commissioned work during this period. I work in my sketchbooks exclusively. The effort has paid off: in January and February (2009) alone, I've been able to post about 130 drawings, painting, and doodles to my flickr pages.
Stimulants are essential
This diligent compulsion feeds on itself and I'm never stuck in my practice. I have enough varied materials and ways of using and abusing them that they have become my trusted accomplices as I search my memory with pen and brush in hand.  I'm just working through things as I engage in a dialogue with the materials and what ideas and themes have been predominating. Right now, it's an ongoing series of "postcards from a love story" and it involves an owl and a tern and the emotional spaces between them. The pictures are never planned beforehand. So far at least, this is not a picture book (although I will try to bend it to that purpose eventually). Here are a few postcards from my nocturnal studio while the house is sleeping.
the current book I'm working in. It's part journal so there's often some writing that accompanies whatever ends up on the page.
Meet some of my friends
Whatever works
Yes, that's a set of expensive, archival Crayola watercolors. Other materials include: ballpoint pen, different dip pens, inks, gouache, watercolor, fabric paint, water-based Speedball inks, oil pastels, crayons, markers, collage, leftover latex paint and acrylic paint. The kitchen sink basically.
I first dampened the absorbent page and dragged some yellow and red ink into it. Then I added this pale aqua latex blending it in with a big mop.
Then a NEED for trees expressed itself and, lo! these bushes appeared.
a blurry photo of a tree that got into the act and made the composition a bit more interesting for me.
The completed painting ("02-25-09a"). The birds are collage and ink.
With that tree finally in place, I knew I had created a meaningless, empty world. So I snapped my fingers and my two characters deigned to inspect and (briefly) inhabit this snowy postcard. Thank you for reading to the end here. It's 6:00 am and the birds are starting to sing ouside. Before I can join them, I just need to scan in today's catch!
Not Valentines Day
the final (digital)
This was for a piece that ran in the New York Times last weekend. It was  for an essay by a man marvelling at how the woman he's been married to for decades and raised a family with, really have very little in common. Except that they happen to be happily married. What a concept! Here are some sketches and the final. Thanks to AD Richard Weigand and his team for insightful and relaxed art direction!
sketch 2 (pencil or pen)
I sent in about ten sketches (including a few variations). I was only asked to not emphasize the potential Valentine's Day angle to the article.
sketch 3a (pencil, ink)
sketch 4 (the one they chose)
sketch 5 (a fishing expedition). I included it because there were some good ideas in it that might have sparked discussion.
sketch 7 (cardboard collage, pen): just trying to stay loose and let the ideas flow. That's the hardest part of this job kids.
Under the influence
Mr. Tern and Mrs. Owl on a late night errand to get special ingredients for a cake they are making.
I told a friend this morning that I had stumbled into a "delirious detour" from the work represented in my previous post ("January"). This "detour" is a story that is gradually accumulating as I explore the misadventures of a pair of birds: Mrs. Owl and Mr. Tern.
Somehow, I believe the names were suggested by Adam McCauley in a facebook comment a couple of weeks ago. There have been a few other secret ingredients that propell the series but I just wanted to show it, in it's nascent form, to my colleagues and the wider world. Enjoy.
The cake they made but the bow is missing from the top. Where could it be?
Oh, there it is. Mrs. Owl has used it for a nest. I hope Aretha Franklin isn't mad!
While he stands guard, Mr. Tern listen to the stars which sing to him.
A nice small storm overtakes Mr. Tern in his little boat.
Later on, the pair were joined by a third. The bear was an old acquaintance and Mr. Tern spoke in animated terms about the positive qualities of the creature. Mrs. Owl appreciated the bear's soft fur and countenance but was worried that if he became playful, the boat might capsize.
Once on land, at an island they all agreed was worthy of exploration, they made quick progress in their survey of the island's riches. After a picnic, the bear ambled away and could be seen contentedly snoozing in the shade attended by a few irritated honey bees.
Gradually, a pleasant solitude overtook Mr. Tern and Mrs. Owl and they talked then and hardly noticed that the sun had set.
Mr. Tern flew for a long time in an attempt to measure the girth of the fantastic tree. Tiring inevitably, he folded his wings and tumbled to safety in an uncertain yet somehow welcoming place.
And one last dramatic image (there are more on flickr):
castles, cathedrals, churches, bicycles, birds, factories, ironwork, stars, etc.
In Sketchbookland: January's haul was good. I started doing these decorative architectural doodles and the torrent show no signs of abating. This grid of thumbnails is from my Sketchbook: January 2009 flickr set.
What's going on then? Dare I say, that doodling is one of the higher forms of artistic expression. These are, however, very ornate and disciplined doodles. I aim to create finished works of art in an ongoing flow utilizing limited graphic strategies to give the effort coherence yet invite variation. It's all direct and there is no sketching beforehand. I love solving mistakes in focus and execution. And I'm ALWAYS standing when I zoom past the finish line at the end of the day's run.
This has led to some glitches however. I've recently done a few illustrations for the New York Times. Richard Weigand, the art director, praised my sketchbooks and paintings and wanted to commission something. I did a couple versions of the illustration in my sketchbook attempting to bridge the divide between my personal working methods ("doodling") and my digital-centric editorial style. At the last minute, I realized that the personal "style" was dreadful and created a new piece on the spot that I knew would work. Richard agreed. Pretty insane having all these self-created hoops to negotiate.
In the meantime, I'm making pastries from unicycle wheels and cathedrals from string while listening to the phone ring.
accepted New York Times sketch (collage, paint)
the dreadful finish (first draft)
The better (and accepted) final. Is see hints of James O'Brien in this one. Don't you? The illustration was for an article about a woman re-reading letters sent to her by her grandfather in Texas. When I finished it, I saw the profile of my own father in the grandfather. My father passed away two years ago. Makes me smile. Hi Dad!
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