A Prism of Isms (but Not a Prisoner!)

A Declaration of Art!

A Declaration of Art!

      Illustrator and Fine Artist Theresa Bayer, who has written and taught before in these pages, cogitated on the following statement for  a while before she finally got it the way she wanted it.  Then she ran it on her blog .  She calls it The ‘Fun Art ‘Manifesto. 

     I thought she expressed it so beautifully that I asked her if How To Be A Childrens Book Illustrator could help her spread the word.

     Sorry, there is no place to sign your approval on the bottom like America’s  forefathers did on the Declaration of Independence.
(I asked.)

     But you can post a comment on her blog — or post one here and I’ll forward it to Theresa. And while you’re at it, link to a picture on your own art blog that you deem a good example of this new (and old) genre.

     OK, then. Ready? Let’s take our Tennis Court Oath

                                           The Fun Art Manifesto
                            © 2008 Theresa Bayer www.tbarts.com

     Somewhere between the noble realm of Fine Art and the mighty realm of Illustration, lies a curious little field that is coming to be known as Fun Art.

     Although Fun Art is neither fine art nor illustration it has elements of both. It doesn’t seem to have an official history, although it’s probably been around as long as there have been artists. Fun Art may have a future, but no one is betting on it. Fun Art is simply Now.

      Like fine art, Fun Art is all about being individual, having something interesting to say, and saying it in your own voice. Unlike fine art, Fun Art does not take itself seriously. There are no weighty ponderings about symbolism or realism or abstract outsiderism or any other kind of ism. There are no isms in Fun Art, yet Fun Art embraces all isms. Fun Art is a prism of isms, but not a prisoner of isms.

      Like illustration, Fun Art is highly accessible, can easily be read and absorbed and has the same immediate visual and popular appeal that good illustration has. It can be cute or corny or even commercially appealing and that’s OK. Unlike illustration, Fun Art can stand alone and without a story or product to enhance– although it can also be narrative.

      Fun Art is joyful, even when veers toward dark and edgy. There is a zingy energy to it that doesn’t depend on gravitas; its finest examples express a genuineness that goes beyond any commercial concern, even if the subject matter happens to be highly salable. You might call some of it a glorified doodle, but that’s OK too, because there is glory to be found in doodling.

An Artful Moment

An Artful Moment

      Fun Art has its own set of challenges. Just because it’s humorous or easy on the eyes does not necessarily mean it’s easy to make. Fun Art is of the imagination, and drawing straight from the imagination is a tall order. Foreshortening, perspective, lighting, composition, and fascinating little details are difficult enough when drawing from life. Doing all this from the imagination can be brain wracking indeed–some form of reference is always a help and can inspire an artist greater heights of creative fancy. Any art that is worth looking at is something an artist has put a lot of work into, and Fun Art is no exception. Composition, color, expression, freshness, detail, and originality are every bit as important in Fun Art as they are in fine art and in illustration.

    What deep insights can possibly be had out of Fun Art? None whatsoever, unless by now you’re alive to the notion that joy and humor are meaningful enough to take seriously–in a lighthearted sort of way of course. No angst, no snobbery, no credentials in Fun Art. All it requires is daily practice and a passion for wackiness. Now that’s fun!

Theresa Bayer  Theresa Bayer, a professional artist in Austin, Texas 
received her B.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. See examples of her work at her
website  and blog .

Diorama to the rescue! Creating your own sculptural reference

A clay-sculpted cat plays with a paper moth, diorama for sculptural reference created by Theresa Bayer  
Theresa couldn’t find reference of a cat in the pose she imagined for this scene, so she made her own cat of clay, and her own moth of paper and string. She assembled her own little stage set, replete with twigs and texture, to place her critters in.  After creating her world in 3-D, she felt comfortable recreating it in 2-D as an acrylic painting. 

Illustration, diorama and mini-lesson by Theresa Bayer

When I used to do a lot of clay sculpture, I got to the point where I didn’t need much reference. Over the years I developed the ability to sculpt something straight out of my head. When I started painting, I tried doing it purely from my imagination, only to find it much more difficult than sculpting that way. With sculpture, I didn’t have to deal with foreshortening, chiaroscuro (light/shadow), and composition. When I started painting from my imagination, these three aspects of painting confounded me, and I realized I was out of my depth, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Conversely, I found painting from life the simplest way to go. Easy enough to find reference by setting up a still life, or going outdoors to paint, or painting from a live model. But how to tie this in with composing from imagination? Photographic reference was good, but didn’t supply everything I needed for each project. Sketching from life was good, but it still presented some problems: it’s really hard to draw something that doesn‘t hold still, and I’m not skilled at photographing such things.

My answer came in the form of sculptural reference, ie., creating a little scene, or diorama, and painting from it.

I wanted to do a small, whimsical painting of a cat playing with a moth. I sculpted the cat from sketches of my two cats, plus photos I found of cats. I picked out a moth from Animals, by Dover Publications. This book has copyright free reference for artists– although whenever I am using reference such as clip art or photos I always change it around to keep my work original. I made a model of the moth using a clay body and cardboard wings. I set up the models in a box, and added some greenery–the boxwood hedge from our yard had tiny leaves, just the right size. I added a small pan of water for the pool. I painted directly from the diorama; the photo above is strictly for illustrative purposes.

Theresa Bayer\'s painting from the diorama she created
Here is the finished painting.

There are three kinds of clay that can be used to sculpt from: pottery clay, which is water based, poly clay, and plastiline clay, which is oil based. The advantage of pottery clay is that it can be kiln fired, making the model permanent. Poly clay can be made permanent too, if it is oven baked. The advantage of plastiline clay is that it never dries out, so the same figure can be adjusted. I use both pottery clay and plastiline clay.

Creating your own models saves time and frustration. Last year I had a 24 hour deadline for an illustration of a hang glider.  The photo references baffled me; I did not see how I could use them without running into copyright issues. I accomplished the task by making a model of a hang glider out of cardboard and wire, with a tiny clay figure of a man. I used several photos for reference for the model, and ended up designing my own hang glider (I have no idea if my design would actually fly). The model was fun to make, and easy to draw. I made my deadline.

Commercial figurines and toys also make good 3D reference (again, they should be changed for the sake of originality), but there’s nothing like sculpting your own models. Your own style comes through, reiterated in your painting or illustration. You can light sculptural models any way you want, and reuse them for other projects. To sculpt from any kind of clay, all you need is a book to inform you of the technical aspects of that kind of clay, or take a sculpture course or two. Once you’ve made the models, placing them inside a diorama makes it easier to come up with a good composition. 

Theresa Bayer Theresa Bayer received her B.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin.  See examples of her watercolors, acrylics, sketches, sculpture, caricatures, professional illustration, ceramic art, including ocarinas at her website http://www.tbarts.com.
And check her three blogs: 
http://tbarts.blogspot.com (fine arts),  http://tbarts2.blogspot.com (fun arts) http://waterlark.blogspot.com (watercolors)

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Drawing Mythbusters

“Remember those happy dreams…” 

Illustrations and mini-lesson by Theresa Bayer

Myth #1 –  Some people are just naturally born knowing how to draw, and the rest of us unfortunates will never, ever, ever be able to draw.

Drawing is like music and sports. It takes training and practice.

Sure, there are some people born with a knack for drawing. But the truth is that drawing is a learned skill, and that anyone who really wants to–and believes they can– can learn it. Think of Olympic athletes. They are born with coordination and strength, but to make the most of their abilities, to win the gold medal, they find the best coach they can afford, they get years of training, and they practice daily.

The same is true of great artists–they were trained in figure drawing, in perspective, proportion, and composition. And they practiced. As the renowned painter of ancient Greece Apelles said, “Never a day without a line.” 


Myth #2 – I don’t need a drawing class. I just want to learn how to paint.

If you are in a big hurry to learn how to paint, here’s a hot tip. Take a few drawing classes first.
This is because you will need to know where on your canvas to put the paint. Knowing how to get the head the right size, how to foreshorten, how to apply perspective, how to get the whole figure on the page, how to arrange all the elements of a still life into a pleasing composition, how to shape tree branches so that your tree looks like a live oak instead of a willow, and how not to get lost inside the intricate petals of a rose–all these things are basic drawing skills.

Once you know drawing basics, painting is a lot easier to learn.



“John” Sketch by Theresa Bayer

Myth #3 – The more detailed it is, the more realistic it will look.

Realism is based on structure, not on detail. For instance, the average adult body proportion is 7 1/2 heads high, and the average human hand is 3/4 the length of the face (these facts are available in any figure drawing class, or in any figure anatomy book).

If you get the head too big and the hands too small your figure will not look realistic no matter how beautifully you portray the details of eyelashes, knuckles, fingernails, or philtrum. Furthermore, you can never really get all the details down.

Think of a single leaf. It is more complex than you can ever draw. You could never get every single vein, every single chloroplast, every cell, every molecule. And you wouldn’t need to. Drawing is an illusion. You learn the basic structure of a thing, you put that structure on the paper, and OK, a few select details, and presto! You end up with an arrangement of shapes and lines and darks and lights that look like a leaf, or a face, or a still life arrangement.


“Monday A.M. Grackle”Watercolor by Theresa Bayer


mayfieldparkautumn2.jpg “Mayfield Park – Autumn”  Watercolor by Theresa Bayer



“Moon dove” by Theresa Bayer Theresa Bayer is a professional artist in Austin, Texas who is at home in her medium whether she is doing watercolors, acrylics, sketches, sculpture, caricatures and ceramic art. She received her B.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. See more samples of her work at her website http://www.tbarts.com/ and her three blogs — her fine arts blog: http://tbarts.blogspot.com/, her fun art blog: http://tbarts2.blogspot.com/  and her watercolors blog: http://waterlark.blogspot.com/ 

theresa.jpgTheresa follows her own advice, by the way. She is never without a sketchbook and she rarely passes on an opportunity to pull out her paints for an impromptu plein-air painting session. If you ever get a chance to take a drawing class that she occasionally offers in the Austin area, jump on it!

Mark Mitchellwww.markgmitchell.com


“Spring Moon” Watercolor by Theresa Bayer

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