A Magical Look Inside the Painting Process of Studio Ghibli Artist Kazuo Oga

The magic of Studio Ghibli’s films owes much to their characters: the high-flying Princess Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind; the World War I-fighter ace-turned-swine Porco Rosso; the spirited ten-year-old Chihiro, spirited away into the realm of folklore; the dog-raccoon-bear-cat forest spirit known only as Totoro. But to understand what makes these figures come alive, we must remember that they inhabit living worlds. A Ghibli production stands or falls (which would still count as an artistic triumph at most other studios) on not just character design and animation but background art, which demands the kind of careful and inspired work you can witness in the video above.

The artist at the desk is Kazuo Oga, a veteran background artist credited as art director on Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, Princess Mononoke, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya, among other anime projects. His work begins at about 9:30 in the morning, as he brings out a modestly size sheet of paper and prepares its surface to receive paint.

24 different colors of Japanese-made Nicker Poster Color brand gouache stand ready right nearby, and with them Oga applies the ground, or first layer of paint. Even before he takes a seat, a forest scene has clearly begun to emerge. Then downward strokes become the thin trunks of its trees, which by the early afternoon have branches.

Broadly speaking, Oga works from the large details in toward the small, arriving midway through the 2:00 hour to the stage of adding light purple flowers. These are Paulownia, called kiri in Japan, where these “princess trees” (that also appear on the official Government Seal) carry a certain symbolic weight. The final painting, Paulownia Rain (or kiri same), emerges only at 3:40 in the afternoon, after six hours of painting. This evocative forest landscape attests to the truth of an inversion of the Pareto principle, in that the parts of the job that seem smallest require most of the work to achieve — and to the truth of the Ghibli’s apparent artistic principle that every pain is worth taking.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletterBooks on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A 3,000-Year-Old Painter’s Palette from Ancient Egypt, with Traces of the Original Colors Still In It

It’s a good bet your first box of crayons or watercolors was a simple affair of six or so colors… just like the palette belonging to Amenemopet, vizier to Pharaoh Amenhotep III (c.1391 – c.1354 BC), a pleasure-loving patron of the arts whose rule coincided with a period of great prosperity.

Amenemopet’s well-used artist’s palette, above, now resides in the Egyptian wing of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Over 3000 years old and carved from a single piece of ivory, the palette is marked “beloved of Re,” a royal reference to the sun god dear to both Amenhotep III and Akhenaton, his son and successor, whose worship of Re resembled monotheism.

As curator Catharine H. Roehrig notes in the Metropolitan’s publication, Life along the Nile: Three Egyptians of Ancient Thebes, the palette “contains the six basic colors of the Egyptian palette, plus two extras: reddish brown, a mixture of red ocher and carbon; and orange, a mixture of orpiment (yellow) and red ocher. The painter could also vary his colors by applying a thicker or thinner layer of paint or by adding white or black to achieve a lighter or darker shade.”

(Careful when mixing that orpiment into your red ocher, kids. It’s a form of arsenic.)

Other minerals that would have been ground and combined with a natural binding agent include gypsum, carbon, iron oxides, blue and green azurite and malachite.

The colors themselves would have had strong symbolism for Amenhotep and his people, and the artist would have made very deliberateregulated, evenchoices as to which pigment to load onto his palm fiber brush when decorating tombs, temples, public buildings, and pottery.

As Jenny Hill writes in Ancient Egypt Onlineiwn—colorcan also be translated as “disposition,” “character,” “complexion” or “nature.” She delves into the specifics of each of the six basic colors:

Wadj (green) also means “to flourish” or “to be healthy.” The hieroglyph represented the papyrus plant as well as the green stone malachite (wadj). The color green represented vegetation, new life and fertility. In an interesting parallel with modern terminology, actions which preserved the fertility of the land or promoted life were described as “green.”

Dshr (red) was a powerful color because of its association with blood, in particular the protective power of the blood of Isis…red could also represent anger, chaos and fire and was closely associated with Set, the unpredictable god of storms. Set had red hair, and people with red hair were thought to be connected to him. As a result, the Egyptians described a person in a fit of rage as having a “red heart” or as being “red upon” the thing that made them angry. A person was described as having “red eyes” if they were angry or violent. “To redden” was to die and “making red” was a euphemism for killing.

Irtyu (blue) was the color of the heavens and hence represented the universe. Many temples, sarcophagi and burial vaults have a deep blue roof speckled with tiny yellow stars. Blue is also the color of the Nile and the primeval waters of chaos (known as Nun).

Khenet (yellow) represented that which was eternal and indestructible, and was closely associated with gold (nebu or nebw) and the sun. Gold was thought to be the substance which formed the skin of the gods.

Hdj (white) represented purity and omnipotence. Many sacred animals (hippo, oxen and cows) were white. White clothing was worn during religious rituals and to “wear white sandals” was to be a priest…White was also seen as the opposite of red, because of the latter’s association with rage and chaos, and so the two were often paired to represent completeness.

Kem (black) represented death and the afterlife to the ancient Egyptians. Osiris was given the epithet “the black one” because he was the king of the netherworld, and both he and Anubis (the god of embalming) were portrayed with black faces. The Egyptians also associated black with fertility and resurrection because much of their agriculture was dependent on the rich dark silt deposited on the river banks by the Nile during the inundation. When used to represent resurrection, black and green were interchangeable.

via My Modern Met

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

300 Rarely-Seen, Risqué Drawings by Andy Warhol Published in the New Book, Andy Warhol: Love, Sex, and Desire. Drawings (1950–1962)

It’s not the ingredients that sell the product. It’s how Warhol makes you feel about the product. 

Young and Rubicam employee, circa early 1950s

It did not take Andy Warhol long to find the status he sought as a young man. Shortly after moving to New York City in 1949, he established himself as one of the highest paid freelance illustrators of the period.

His whimsical, eye-catching line drawings for various luxury brands appeared in such high profile publications as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

The sense of prettiness and play that animated his pictures of shoescats, and perfume bottles is evident in the 1000-some homoerotic drawings he produced during the same time, but those proved to be a tougher sell.

In an era when sodomy was judged to be a felony in every state, full-frontal male nudity was considered obscene, and the art world was in the thrall of the macho Abstract Expressionists, Warhol had difficulty finding a gallery to show his gentle depictions of gay intimacy.

Finally, a personal connection at the Bodley Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side agreed to host a small exhibition, opening Studies for a Boy Book by Andy Warhol on Valentine’s Day 1956.

The drawings were reminiscent of Warhol favorite Jean Cocteau’s sketches’ in both subject matter and cleanly executed line. His models were friends, lovers, assistants, and other scenemakers.

Warhol’s friend, Robert Fleischer, a stationery buyer at Bergdorf Goodman’s, recalled:

He used to come over to my apartment on 76th Street. He used to come quite often. He always wanted to sketch me. At the same time, just about that time, I became a model. I was photographed a lot, and I was in retailing but earned part of my income by modeling and Andy used to sketch and sketch and sketch and sketch… He said he was going to do what he called his ‘Boy Book,’ and he wanted all of us to pose nude, and we did. There was loads of us… Andy loved to sketch models and very intimate sexual acts. Really! 

Warhol’s ambition to publish a monograph of A Boy Book went unrealized during his lifetime, but 300 of the drawings appear in Taschen’s just-released Andy Warhol. Love, Sex, and Desire. Drawings 1950–1962. (You can purchase the book directly from Taschen here or on Amazon.)

The collection also features essays by biographer Blake Gopnik and critic Drew Zeiba, as well as poems by James BaldwinThom GunnHarold NorseAllen Ginsberg, and Essex Hemphill.

Warhol’s first studio assistant, antiquarian and illustrator Vito Giallo, remembered Warhol during this period: “He never considered himself a fine artist but he wished he could be. We often talked about that.”

As Michael Dayton Hermann, who edited Andy Warhol. Love, Sex, and Desire. Drawings 1950–1962 observes:

Collectively, the hundreds of drawings Warhol made from life during this period provide a touching portrait of the one person not depicted in any of them—Andy Warhol.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Fonts in Use: Enter a Giant Archive of Typography, Featuring 12,618 Typefaces

Type selection is an intensive process that requires intimate knowledge of a brand’s values, audience, competition, voice, and goals.

Fonts in Use, FAQ

Fonts in Use is a typography nerd’s dream come true.

The 10-year-old independent archive of typography has collected over 17,000 designs, each using at least one of over 12,000 typeface families from more than 3,500 type companies. Each font is contextualized with images depicting them in the wild, on everything from wine labels and storefronts to book covers, record albums, movie posters and of course, advertising of all shapes and sizes.

Fonts can create unlikely bedfellows.

The Ramones‘ iconic seal achieved its presidential look thanks to ITC Tiffany.

Other memorable appearances include the first edition cover of Italo Calvino’s experimental novel If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler and the titles for Hammer Film’s 1980 anthology TV series, Hammer House of Horror.

Fonts in Use’s managing editor, Florian Hardwig, describes ITC Tiffany as “Ed Benguiat’s 1974 revisitation and interpretation of 19th-century faces like West Old Style or Old Style Title,” noting such “Victorian details” as “large angled serifs and sharply terminated diagonals.”

The principal cast of Law & Order underwent several changes over the show’s 20-year run, but Friz Quadrata remained a constant, supplying titles and such necessary details as location, time, and date.

Friz Quadrata should be equally familiar to Dungeons & Dragons players of a certain age and fans of Garden Wafers, the packaged cookies from Hong Kong that are a staple of stateside Asian markets.

Artist Barbara Kruger‘s distinctive text-based work places overt commentary in white italicized Futura on red bands on top of black and white images.

Futura was also the face of a tourist map to Berlin during the 1936 summer Olympics and author David Rees’ tongue-in-cheek guide How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants.

Comic Sans may not get much love out in the real world, but it’s well represented in the archive’s user submissions.

You’ll find growing numbers of fonts in Cyrillic, as well as fonts familiar to readers of ChineseJapaneseKoreanArabicGreek and Hebrew

Newbie Netflix Sans keeps company with 19th-century sans Bureau Grot, a favorite of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris

Fat AlbertTintorettoBenguiat CaslonScorpio, Hoopla and Saphir are your ticket back to a far groovier period in the history of graphic art.

Spend an hour or two rummaging through the collection and we guarantee you’ll feel an urgent need to upload typographic examples pulled from your shelves and cabinets.

Fonts in Use welcomes such submissions, as long as type is clearly visible in your uploaded image and isor wasin use (as opposed to an example of lettering for lettering’s sake). They will also consider custom typefaces which are historically significant or otherwise outstanding, and those that are available to the general public. Please include a short description in your commentary, and whenever possible, credit any designers, photographers, or sources of your image.

Typography nerds are standing by to help.

Begin your explorations of Fonts in Use here. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, the Staff Picks are a great place to start.

via MetaFilter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam Has Digitized 709,000 Works of Art, Including Famous Works by Rembrandt and Vermeer

Art may seem inessential to those who make the big decisions in times of crisis. But it has never seemed more necessary to artists working in the time of COVID. So it was 360 years ago when Rembrandt painted a portrait of his son, Titus, in a monk’s robe in 1660. Eight years later, Titus was dead from plague, which had only a few years earlier killed Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt’s former housekeeper and second wife, who helped raise Titus, Rembrandt’s only child to survive into adulthood.

These unimaginable losses “contributed to the tragedy and anguish we see in Rembrandt’s late self-portraits,” writes The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones. During the plague, Rembrandt also used his work as social critique.

His painting The Rat-Poison Peddler, shows, “in a sense,” the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Tom Rassieur tells the Star Tribune, “the guy who purports to be helping—the exterminator—is probably doing as much to spread the disease as anyone else. That relates to [criticism] of our leadership today.” In his last years, Rembrandt painted self-portraits of his isolation and grief that still resonate with our isolation and grief today.

Elsewhere in the Netherlands, Rembrandt’s contemporary Jan Vermeer “was no stranger to the kind of socially isolated world we now find ourselves in,” Breeze Barrington writes at CNN. “His hometown of Delft was stricken with plague several times in the artist’s lifetime. In 1635 and 1636 over 2,000 people died, and in the mid-1650s and mid-1660s hundreds more.” The qualities we most associate with Vermeer’s work, the solitude and attentive presence, were developed during time spent in isolation. 

“In this time of forced isolation,” says Friso Lammertse, curator of 17th-century Dutch painting at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Vermeer’s work “can point us at the fact that extreme beauty can be found just in our room.” The Rijksmuseum hasn’t just recommended art in our current state of aloneness, but the museum has also doubled its collection of free, high resolution works online, by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and a host of other artists who used art to cope with loss and loneliness during the plagues of their times. The museum now offers 709,622 digitized images in total.

The museum has promised to “bring the museum to you,” and they have delivered not only with their extensive digital collection, free for downloading, sharing and editing with a free Rijksmuseum account, but also with informative series on their website. Art is essential in the best and worst of times, and especially now, when it shows us how to look closely at ourselves, our loved ones, and our surroundings, and treat life with more care and attention. Enter the Rijksmuseum online collections here

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When Our World Became a de Chirico Painting: How the Avant-Garde Painter Foresaw the Empty City Streets of 2020

This past spring, media outlets of every kind published photos and videos of eerily empty public spaces in cities like Beijing, New York, Milan, Paris, and Seoul, cities not known for their lack of street life. At least in the case of Seoul, where I live, the depopulated image was a bit of an exaggeration, but taken as a whole, these stunned visual dispatches from around the world reflected a real and sudden change in urban life caused by this year’s coronavirus pandemic. They also got us thinking, not just about our cities but about the built environment, and even human civilization, in general. Life, as often, had imitated art: specifically, it had imitated the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, the founder of the Metaphysical art movement.

“In 1909, de Chirico was sitting on a bench in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, recovering from an intestinal illness, when all of a sudden he had a profound experience.” So says Evan Puschak, better known as the Nerdwriter, in his new video essay “When the World Became a de Chirico Painting.”

As the artist himself later remembered it a few years later, “The whole world, down to the marble of the buildings and fountains, seemed to me to be convalescent.” There followed the painting The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon, depicting a hollowed-out Piazza Santa Croce, its statue of Dante now headless. “This and all the plazas in his Metaphysical Town Square series are simplified, empty, cut with dramatic shadows.”

Seldom does a human being — that is, a human being not made of stone — appear in de Chirico’s Metaphysical Town Squares. But he does include the occasional train in the distance, usually with a billowing smokestack. This suggests that, though life in the foreground seems to have stopped indefinitely, modernity continues apace in the background. To many of us, the vague disorientation this causes now feels almost normal, as does the sensation of seeing familiar places made unfamiliar. In 2020, Puschak says, “cities and towns became immense museums of strangeness, and it was possible to see what we built through alien eyes.” For more than a century, De Chirico’s paintings have, on a much smaller scale, presented us the same opportunity for reflection. But among other things we’ve learned this year, nobody wants to live in a De Chirico for long.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

How Jan van Eyck’s Masterpiece, the Ghent Altarpiece, Became the Most Stolen Work of Art in History

It’s a little miraculous that so much European art and architecture survives, given how often the continent has erupted into wars that burned down nearly everything else. The Ghent Altarpiece, or Adoration of the Lamb, may be the most famous case in point. It is also, by far, the most stolen work of art in history, the victim of 13 different crimes over the past 600 years. Completed in 1432 by Flemish painter Jan van Eyck, and considered one of the world’s greatest treasures, the huge, multi-paneled painting (a polyptych) has weathered it all.

The altarpiece has “almost been destroyed in a fire,” Noah Charney writes at The Guardian, “was nearly burned by rioting Calvinists, it’s been forged, pillaged, dismembered, censored, stolen by Napoleon, hunted in the first world war, sold by a renegade cleric, then stolen repeatedly during the second world war…. Göring wanted it for his private collection, Hitler as the centrepiece of his citywide super-museum.”

In the short TED-Ed lesson above, Charney, author of the book Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece, sketches the history of the final theft in 1934 by the Nazis of a lower panel that has never been recovered. “This may sound very silly,” Charney tells NPR, “but in fact, the Nazis and Hitler in particular were absolutely convinced that the occult and the supernatural was real.” They thought of the Ghent altarpiece as a map to the relics of Christ’s crucifixion.

The case of the missing panel remains open to this day “and new leads are followed all the time,” Charney writes. It is a story full of “many bizarre twists,” and just one of many in the altarpiece’s long history. But why? What is it about the Ghent Altarpiece, besides occult fascination, that has drawn so much unwanted attention? Eleven feet high by 15 feet wide and made up of 24 panels (originally), the work “redefined art and became instantly famous,” notes New Statesman’s Michael Prodger. In his masterpiece, Jan van Eyck, who took over for his older brother Hubert, “created a series of firsts in art.”

The Ghent altarpiece is “the first realistic interior, the first genuine landscape, the first proper cityscape, the first tangible nudes, the first lifelike Renaissance portraits. [Van Eyck took oil paint to unprecedented levels of sophistication—with glazes and transparent layers giving depth and undreamed of effects of light—to match his preternatural powers of observation.” In the video series above and below by art historians Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, you can learn much more about the qualities that have made the Ghent Altarpiece irresistible.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why Is Napoleon’s Hand Always in His Waistcoat?: The Origins of This Distinctive Pose Explained

If the name of Napoleon Bonaparte should come up in a game of charades, we all know what to do: stand up with one foot in front of the other, stick a hand into our shirt, and consider the round won. Yet the recognition of this pose as distinctively Napoleonic may not be as wide as we assume, or so Coleman Lowndes discovered in the research for the video above, “Napoleon’s Missing Hand, Explained.” Asked to act out the image of Napoleon, not all of Lowndes colleagues at Vox tried to evoke his hand in his waistcoat, opting instead for grand posturing and an approximation of the (probably apocryphal) modest stature for which that posturing supposedly compensated. Yet enough of us still picture Napoleon hand-in-waistcoat that we might well wonder: how did that image take shape in the first place?

Representations of the most famous statesman in all French history, from paintings made in his life time to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, include countless examples of the pose. This has given rise to bodily-oriented speculations — a manual deformity, internal organs pained by the cancer that killed him — but the form came with historical precedent.

“Concealing a hand in one’s coat was a portraiture cliche long before Napoleon was painted that way in the early 1800s,” says Lowndes, in reference to Jacques-Louis David’s The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, a portrait definitive enough to head up Napoleon’s Wikipedia entry. Notables previously depicted with one conspicuously hidden hand include George Washington, Mozart, and Francisco Pizarro.

Even ancient Greek orator Aeschines “claimed that restricting the movement of one hand was the proper way to speak in public.” According to one 18th-century British etiquette guide, “keeping a hand in one’s coat was key to posturing oneself with manly boldness, tempered with becoming modesty.” It eventually became common enough to lose its high status, until David captured Napoleon’s use of it in his masterly propagandistic portrait. But the extent we think of Napoleon keeping a hand perpetually in his waistcoat today surely owes much to the many caricaturists and parody artists who took up the trope, including Charlie Chaplin — who, after trying a mustache and bowler hat for a role, knew what it was to be turned iconic by a seemingly minor stylistic choice.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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