Friday, May 27, 2011


Soaked (May 20, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: May 20, 2011) 
It looks like Comet's found the perfect spot under a sunny window. 

This illustration was inspired by some photographs I took of Comet at my sister's house.

Comet in the Sun

They aren't quite the same.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Safari (May 13, 2011)

  (Illustration Friday: May 13, 2011)

While on safari in Zimbabwe, Gordon met many of his distant cousins, the Great Cats.
(He had a special ride.)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #8--Benny and Joon (1993)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Johnny's a Lemonhead!
Before getting started with this month's tribute film, I need to mention that Johnny starred in another music video called, "It's a Shame about Ray" by the Lemonheads, a band led by his friend Evan Dando. I'm not sure exactly when this video was made, but it was around this time. This video isn't as elaborate as Tom Petty's mini-movie, "Into the Great Wide Open," but it's another good song. Besides, it's always nice to hear from the Lemonheads, and Comet--who just found the video in his MTV archives--would not let me move forward without them. The Kitties are already singing along. Here it is:

Head back to Hollywood. 
Benny and Joon is about a mentally ill woman named Juniper Pearl (Mary Stuart Masterson), who has lived with her brother Benny (Aidan Quinn), an auto mechanic, since their parents were killed in a car accident years ago. One night with his buddies, Benny's sister engages in a poker game that gets out of control. Before Benny finds out about it, she loses a bet. In the pot is his friend's "stupid" cousin Sam (Johnny Depp). Reluctantly, Benny honors the wager, and Sam becomes Juniper's new caretaker, replacing the one who had quit that morning.

Sam is a movie fanatic, dresses and does tricks like Buster Keaton, and has all sorts of other eccentric habits. When I first saw this movie, I actually thought that he, too, was mentally ill, but it turns out he's just dyslexic. In this new triangle, Sam and Joon (as he spells it) are pretty much on the same wavelength. Things inevitably get complicated.

It's just a movie!
When this movie came out, commercials seemed to be everywhere, and everyone was calling it the perfect "Date Movie." The label instantly annoyed me. I hadn't seen Benny and Joon in years when I  popped the DVD in for Johnny Kitties. Watching it now, I realize why the label bothers me so much--This movie tackles a serious subject.

They never explain what mental illness Joon has and instead focus mostly on the love story. Although Mary Stuart Masterson studied certain behavioral guidelines, director Jeremiah Chechik was afraid that naming any specific mental illness would bring a completely different dynamic to the film. This is probably true. Getting so specific could go horribly wrong, but I also think not knowing what's wrong with her is a missing element in the film. While Chechik wanted to blur the lines between reality and fantasy, I sometimes find situations too cute without knowing the seriousness behind them: After the last caretaker quits, for example, Benny is forced to run home from work because Joon is causing a traffic jam--wandering in the middle of the street wearing a snorkel mask and waving a ping pong paddle. Sam teaches Joon how to cook grilled cheese sandwiches with an iron, something later used to show how he and Joon will live happily ever after. By the time Joon has a real breakdown, I find it sudden, scary, and jarring.

Despite this unevenness, Benny and Joon is a very sweet film with some wonderful moments and unforgettable lines. The heart of it--and what I love about it--is the relationship among these three people, how they help each other in their own special ways. This focus is probably why the mental illness factor was left out. Benny and Joon are stuck: Benny can't do anything or go anywhere because he's always worried about Joon. Joon can't do anything or go anywhere because Benny is always worried about her. Sam, who needs a little help himself, brings absurdity, strangeness, and joy into that mix. Or, as Chechik puts it, "just the kind of nonsense these two people need."

Johnny channels Buster Keaton.
As a kid growing up in Florida, Johnny was hooked on silent movies, thanks to a TV channel dedicated to the genre. Johnny was already a lifelong fan of the era and Buster Keaton when he signed on for Benny and Joon. "The subtlety of the acting to clue the audience into Sam's character with so little said and so much expressed is a testament to Johnny Depp's work here," Chechik says.

Johnny puts his spin on Charlie Chaplin's Roll Dance.
Benny and Joon marked Johnny's most physical role yet. He worked with a circus trainer to learn tricks and Buster Keatonesque flips. "There's only one way to find out if you can throw your feet over your head," Johnny says. "That's by doing it." He also learned Charlie Chaplin's famous "Roll Dance" from The Gold Rush. "The 'Roll Dance' was more difficult than bashing myself around the park, just because it was so specific," he says. Chechik says that Johnny learned much, much more than what fit into the film. (He must be saving all this priceless footage for the Criterion Collection edition of the DVD, right? Right???) He confirms Johnny's preparation: "Johnny and I watched hours and hours and hours of Keaton films at various speed. We really studied these wonderful movies that Buster made, and Johnny was very inspired to really see what he could do with that kind of physical comedy and grace, and I think he did him proud." Johnny was nominated for another Golden Globe for this performance.

Though Johnny's role probably gets the most attention and his costars are wonderful, the supporting cast is solid. You'll find Julianne Moore and William H. Macy, early in their careers, along with Oliver Platt, C.C.H. Pounder, and Dan Hedaya.

Gordon has been practicing too.
The Kitties and I (and probably anyone else who has seen and loves this movie) are all in agreement about the moment to honor in our drawing. Actually, I think the last 10 minutes of Benny and Joon make the whole film worth it. After a psychotic episode, Joon ends up in the hospital and refuses to see anyone, but Sam and Benny work together to find her. Sam helps Benny into the locked ward where Joon is staying so that he can talk with his sister. Then, he finds his own way to catch a glimpse of his girl.

Johnny Kitties--Celebrating Johnny Depp--Benny and Joon (1993) [March 5, 2011]

As luck would have it, hanging off the side of the hospital building is the perfect contraption for Sam to use to reach Joon's window. Inside, Benny (Norman) and Joon (Mini) are discussing Joon's options with her doctor (played by C.C.H. Pounder/Ashes). Amid this serious conversation, Sam sudden appearance--swinging by in slow motion to sweeping orchestral music--is heartwarming comic relief genius.

I should mention that Benny and Joon's musical score by Rachel Portman is so perfectly suited for the film that the few pop songs they stuck in there don't seem necessary. I admit, though, that at the time I was completely obsessed with the Proclaimers' "500 Miles," the song that opens and closes the film. (Oh no--Now, it's in my head again.)

I only wish I could have somehow included Sam's swinging and Joon's reaction to seeing him in the same drawing. Sparked by Sam's surprise, Joon's joy is infectious. And, their hug when she gets discharged from the hospital is another beautiful moment. (That may deserve a third drawing, to complete this warm-and-fuzzy trilogy.) Yeah, the last 10 minutes of this movie are golden. But don't take my word for it: rent it, watch the whole thing, and see for yourself.

What's next?
Johnny gets a little too close to home and the world is introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio. What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Find out next month.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Beginner (May 6, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: May 6, 2011)
When Gordon was a beginner, he struggled to climb into my lap. He got the hang of it pretty quickly.

A Season in Hell and Illuminations

Hi everyone,

Rimbaud at 17
I finally finished Arthur Rimbaud's slim volume of poetry, A Season in Hell and Illuminations. I should have known this wasn't a happy book, considering the first title, but I was hopeful of what the Illuminations might bring when I bought it. Completed in 1873, A Season in Hell is a series of poems in 9 parts that depicts a man's journey through life and into Hell. Illuminations--a collection of 42 poems written sometime between 1871 and 1874--isn't quite as angry, covering several topics, including modernity, nature, travel, and change.

I admit much of this symbolist poetry went over my head, and I didn't bother investigating it as I should have. Because these weeks have been really busy, I instead read this book with several long, unintentional breaks--not giving it the attention it deserves. Because I dragged out reading these 79 pages, I got tired of returning to its dark content.

Having said that, I'm glad to have this book in my library and might return to it someday to study it further. I don't quite agree with Johnny Depp, who said Rimbaud's writing is "the most divine in the history of the world"--maybe because I didn't always understand it. But this work is pretty amazing, only made more so when you discover that Rimbaud was only 19 when he finished it and gave up poetry completely by age 21. The writing is modern and timeless. As I read it, I found I could apply phrases to some events and attitudes of today.

Honestly, though, I found Rimbaud's rebellious life more interesting than his poetry--jailed by 15, adulterer by 17, shot at 18, world traveller as a young man, and dead of cancer at 37. I realized last night that I had already seen a movie about Rimbaud years ago before I knew who he was. The film, called Total Eclipse, stars Leonardo Dicaprio and--from what I remember--made me very uncomfortable.

Still, if you're a Rimbaud fan, this is the book for you. This edition--translated, edited, and introduced by Wyatt Mason--includes not only the English version of these works, but the original French versions, edited drafts, a biography, chronology, maps, and some of Rimbaud's own drawings and original papers.    It's complete!

Here's some French poetry for your Sunday morning. From Illuminations, I admired this poem's bold simplicity:

Seen enough. Visions confronted in every weather.
Had enough. Urban tumult, by night and day, forever.
Known enough. Life's still-points. --O tumult and Visions!
Departure for fresh affection and noise!

In A Season from Hell and Illuminations, I was struck by the vivid imagery and wording that invoked the senses rather than literal translation. Also from Illuminations, this one transported me to the moors of Wuthering Heights--or maybe just a day at the beach:

Chariots of silver and copper--
Prows of silver and steel--
Beat foam--
Stirring stumps of bramble--
Currents from the moor,
And the vast ruts of the tidal ebb
Flow eastward, circularly,
Towards the pillars of the forest--
Towards the pilings of the pier,
Whose corner is struck
By whirlwinds of light.

Happy Sunday, everyone! Don't worry, my next book selection will be more uplifting.


Friday, May 06, 2011


The Kitties were gearing up for an art lesson this week, since I've been immersed in Pikaland Artist Bootcamp. But then we found out that An American in Paris was this week's "Essential Movie" on TCM. Hopelessly devoted to Gene Kelly since I was a kid, I've seen this movie a zillion times. (And I could always go for one more.)

I remembered that during one of my favorite dance numbers in this film Gene Kelly's character gives the neighborhood kids a lesson in song and dance.

But how do I get there? 
Drawing--Step 1
For me, creating boxes isn't as easy as it looks.
I'm straight-line challenged.
Once I have an idea of what I want to draw, I get images in my head of which cat will be doing what. In this case, B.J. was the winner for pulling off the dance sequence. (Hands down, he is the dancer of the family.) 

For this week's drawing, I had to watch the dance a few times to figure out which moments to capture. I use 9-inch by 12-inch spiral-bound all-media books for my drawings and begin each one in pencil. For a drawing with lots of action, I create however many panels I think I'll need for each scene. Usually, I use only six boxes. Here, I needed a couple more panels, so I made them a bit smaller (7 centimeters by 9 centimeters).

Next, I drew most of it out and began tracing my pencil with pen.

Drawing--Step 2
I haven't prepared a good lesson: I forgot to scan this pencil drawing before I began tracing.  

I don't usually bother drawing small details, like music notes or words, in pencil unless I need a reminder. Here, I did have to mark the cats in the crowd (with tiny first-name initials). Otherwise, I'd forget which was which by the time I got my Prismacolor markers out.

Drawing--Step 3
Halfway there....

Then, I color until I'm done, and my fingers are usually stained in rainbow shades by the end of the night. While coloring this one, I realized that I forgot some tails and needed a more colorful background. We're in Paris after all, surrounded by art--with a George Gershwin soundtrack! Who could ask for anything more?

Lesson (April 29, 2011)
(Illustration Friday: April 29, 2011) 
As Gene Kelly would say, Viola! 

The winner of six Oscars, including one for Best Picture, An American in Paris is a classic MGM musical everyone should see. Directed by the great Vincent Minelli, the story follows Jerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly), a struggling painter who falls in love with a young French girl named Lise (Leslie Caron). Although they spend all of their spare time together, neither knows what happens when they are apart. Jerry is spending hours preparing for his first exhibition, organized by a rich sponsor (Nina Foch) who has a crush on him. Lise, meanwhile, is engaged to a cabaret singer--a friend of her parents who cared for her during the war. Don't worry, it all turns out okay.

Amidst all this drama, of course, is some fantastic music and wonderful dancing. In one dance number, Jerry teaches the neighborhood children some English. He starts by pointing out objects on the street, moves on to singing "I Got Rhythm" with them, and then--Well, B.J.'s got it down.

Sadly, I couldn't embed the song and dance on my blog for your viewing pleasure, but you can find it on YouTube here.

Enjoy--It'll make you smile!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Pikaland Artist Bootcamp

Hi everyone,

For the last few weeks, I've been taking part in Pikaland Artist Bootcamp, taught by artists Amy Ng and Jamie Shelman. Pikaland offers three bootcamp e-courses--one to find your inspiration, one to start selling your art, and one to exercise visual journaling. I skipped to the middle one, "How to Survive as an Artist Online," which focuses on branding, marketing, and sustaining your business. I don't have a business yet, but this is another step forward.

They call it "bootcamp" for a reason--I'm exhausted! But I'm learning and inspired. I'm halfway through the 4-week course.

While I'm still working on sprucing up my blog throughout the course, so far I've created a new Melissa's Kitties banner and "Mother Kitty" avatar. What do you think of them?

I've also created a banner for my future online shop. Should I call it Melissa's Kitties' Prints or Melissa's KittyPrints? I haven't yet decided, but the kitties are testing it out here:

Future Shop Banner?

One of our assignments this week is to show on our blogs the steps of creating our artwork. I'm finishing up my weekly drawing tonight, documenting the steps along the way, and will likely post it tomorrow. Until then....