(More than…) Two Years in Torino

"Le cose belle sono lente." –Pane e Tulipani

Category: film

Illustration resources

This is the post I was going to write before I got sidetracked with Thanksgiving. Though Two Years in Torino is primarily about life as an American in Italy, I think it’s only natural that as I live in Torino longer and longer (way beyond two years, it looks like), not all of my life will be consciously expat. As such, most of these illustration resources are American, but if you’re just itching for some bureaucratic irony and humor from the bel paese, I have one more Accademia Albertina update to publish soon. Also, some day, I hope that my illustration interest and my interest in things Italian will truly intersect.

But for now I have a lot of technical information about art to digest, quickly, and so this year I am taking the efficient, if somewhat lonely route of art self-study online. Online schools seem to be a pronounced trend in the US, and while I might not recommend online study for an 18-year-old getting his or her first degree, as a middle-aged expat self-study has a lot to offer: for starters, convenience of time and place, choice of specialized syllabi, and prices that allow for experimentation. (Note: the link, which actually argues that not even young people should go to art school, leads to yet more online resources.)

I’m not even sure how I first found all these schools and resources that I am about to list (I think I may have begun with Will Terry’s channel on YouTube), but I will say that once you discover a couple of these artists, they tend to lead to one another in a serendipitous rabbit trail. Most of these artists are entrepreneurial in outlook, and therefore they are open to other streams of income than book illustration. For instance, Will has branched out from children’s book illustration to Comi-cons (comics conventions), and has just published a book of his own fan art.

Another thing these artists seem to have in common is an acquaintance with animated film studios. They may not all have worked for one, but the style of modern animation has at the very least contributed to their visual vocabulary. I say this because digital animation is more of a recent discovery for me, and it wasn’t until I saw such films as Up!, Brave and Big Hero Six that I was truly convinced of the potential of digital animation, particularly the lighting. (I watch a lot of animated films during those long flights to the US.)

When I got interested in children’s book illustration again, Comic-cons and Disney films were not exactly what I had in mind, and yet I do think it’s important to understand the trends. I can take in bits of this knowledge and inform my own art.

And lastly, I appreciate that all of these artists have been willing to share some of what they have learned. They do not operate under a scarcity mentality. Instead they assume that the more knowledge is available, the more new opportunities for artists will open up. More art for everyone, more jobs for artists!

So, here’s my list of resources:

First of all, Photoshop is the industry standard software for illustrators. (Ironically, Adobe Illustrator is more for logo design and other projects that require a vector format.) I found a Photoshop offer that allowed me to get just Photoshop and Lightroom (English version) for about $10/month. I don’t know how long it will be available, but even if you are the most traditional of artists, your illustration work has to be camera ready, and Photoshop offers editing tools. How far you take your editing, and their painting tools, is up to you.

Also, although for now I work on a small Wacom Intuos tablet, I want to eventually buy a Wacom Cintiq, which allows you to draw directly on the screen. Both of these devices plug into a regular computer and use a stylus, but since the Intuos requires you to look at a screen while drawing on a separate tablet, it produces certain hand/eye coordination problems that, although they do improve with practice, never quite go away. I spent 50 years developing my drawing hand, and a Cintiq would allow me to fully preserve it in digital form. One reason for my delay in buying a Cintiq, by the way, is that I am waiting to see if an updated version of the 22″ model is released soon.

Now that I’ve listed the materials needed, there is the matter of developing the specialized skills required to use them well. Though I only discovered it somewhat recently, there is at least one excellent, free site that will walk you through the basics of digital painting in Photoshop as well as the fundamentals of drawing and painting. Let’s face it, Photoshop is an overwhelming program when you first encounter it, and you can waste hours trying to resolve seemingly minuscule problems. Matt Kohr’s Ctrl + Paint is clear, concise, and while he doesn’t always still have the practice downloads mentioned in his videos (some videos are several years old and have been moved to the site from elsewhere), you can usually take a screenshot (cmd + shift + 3 on a Mac) and make one yourself. Ctrl + Paint is a great first stop. He also offers paid content, which I haven’t tried yet. And just a note: I usually use Safari, but I find his site works better on Firefox.

My paid instruction source of the moment is SVS Learn.com. The classes seem to be available every so often as real time courses with instructor feedback, and thereafter are preserved for download or streaming. The main instructors are Will Terry and Jake Parker (founder of Inktober). Will and Jake give digital instruction, but never emphasize digital tricks over fundamentals. In fact, most of their courses are just as helpful for traditional media. Their specialty is children’s books, and to some degree, comics and graphic novels. They and other artists present courses on such topics as Painting Color and Light, Developing Interesting Character Designs, Perspective, How to Make Money in Illustration, and many others. I currently have a streaming subscription for $15/month that allows me to watch anything on the site and download the workbooks and other digital aids that accompany the courses. I really have learned a lot. And another nice thing about their site is that they allow you to leave and come back with no hassle (haven’t tried it yet, but that’s what it says on the site). They seem to understand that artists are struggling enough just to stay afloat, so they let you pick and choose what you need.

Branching out from SVS, I have also discovered such sites as Noah Bradley’s Art Camp and Chris Oatley’s Oatley Academy. Yet another paid online art education site is Schoolism. I haven’t joined any of those yet, but they do look like they might be promising. If anyone has experience that they would like to share, or knows other sites of similar quality, I would love to hear from you.

And what 21st century artist’s resource list would be complete without Pinterest? Artists use all the social media sites–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr being some of the more common ones–but the lure of Pinterest is the ability to make your own collections of other artists’ work and reference material, not just your own. When you’re starting out, Pinterest can be a helpful way to organize all the different sources of inspiration you want to keep track of. My account goes through periodic growth spurts and has now exploded to over 1000 pins. Oops!

For inspiration and general knowledge about the industry, I have enjoyed not only Will’s and Jake’s YouTube channels, but also Chris Oatley’s Artcast. Now that I am home alone a lot, I often listen to You Tube or podcasts while I do housework. Some of them are art-related and some have nothing to do with art, but that’s another blog post.

And finally, I have found some rather fun animation resources on TED and even Khan Academy.

 

My illustration adventure has only just started, and yet I’m really itching to get to the point where I can produce something that reflects not just technical art skills, but a mature vision. I think this may be a typical problem with starting a career in midlife. When you’re young, you have tons of energy and learn easily, but little life experience. At my age, you know your own interests and you have tons of experience you want to get out on paper or screen, but need to get your skills caught up quickly. I think a combination of humble and agile mind, and yet confidence about what you are trying to do, are optimal. But most of all, this job requires practice. So that’s what I am going to do now. Hope this helps someone, and thanks for reading!

New ideas

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One of today’s exercises, on old fashioned pencil and paper. What is going on with this fox’s other leg, anyway? And why can’t I get this photo to load at full resolution? If I thought too hard about these things, I’d never post it, so I won’t!

As perfectionism is a killjoy, I thought I’d post a half-baked update before I figure out how much I don’t know.

I have been looking for a new professional focus for about two years now, but the process is slow, and as usual, it is complicated by the fact that I live outside the only country where I understand how things work. But last year I decided that if I were ever to do art professionally again, it would be smarter to do it digitally. Italian shipping, insurance, bureaucracy and customs are all part of the short answer as to why.

And then last year someone approached me with the idea of illustrating a book. That didn’t work out, but the idea stuck. I had entered college with the idea of illustrating children’s books. I quickly switched to drawing and painting, but that was useful too and by now most of the techniques I would have learned in graphic design have changed anyway.

Finding a local course to learn the new techniques, however, proved difficult. I love the idea of going out daily and interacting with people, but in this case it just didn’t turn out to be practical. First, the Accademia discontinued all individual courses, so I got kicked out of the one I had been attending for the past two years and couldn’t sign up for the Photoshop course I was eyeing. The only other local digital art course I could find was expensive, with inconvenient class hours, and it wasn’t really geared to book illustration anyway.  So I found a course–nay several–online. I found an inexpensive Photoshop subscription. And now I’m studying furiously. I just have to remember to schedule exercise, listening to Italian, and going out with friends!

I know that this is a long shot. The publishing industry has completely turned on its head since I went to art school. Also, it can take ten years to learn all the skills needed, and I’m closer to grandma age than college age. It’s quite hard to break into the market, and for all but a few people, it doesn’t pay that well.

But I couldn’t be happier.  I wake up every morning looking forward to working. I’m not particularly concerned with comparing myself with the thousands of extremely skilled illustrators out there, but more with whether I can accomplish something I can be pleased with. And I can teach English when I have to have money.

One more thing: I’m starting to realize how similar children’s book illustration skills are to film direction skills. You have to know a little bit of everything, and I love that. I used to be quite the Luddite where movies were concerned (I think I watched a bit too much film noir in my 20s), and I still love old-fashioned illustration techniques and paper books, but I have come to appreciate the new overlap with animation, graphic novels, and interactive stories as well.

So, hopefully the learning curve will continue, the work will get better, and I’ll find opportunities to share what I’m doing. But for the moment, back to the drawing board. Have a good week!

Imago Christi update

 

A couple of months ago, I wrote a bit about Sarie and Alberto’s new film project, Imago Christi. Now they’ve made a couple of scenes and are seeking funding to continue. Meanwhile, here’s a short videoblog about the project. You can also follow their movie news on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (#imagochristifilm).

Meanwhile, Sarie is having a great time learning to sew historical costumes. If you follow some of these accounts, particularly Instagram, you can see her progress!

Driving quiz

 

In honor of getting my foglio rosa (learner’s permit) last week, I’m going to have a little fun with Italian driving. This will involve some translating, which may or may not make for a fun exercise for the reader. If not, my apologies.

Anyway:

Drivers’ licenses are not convertible between the US and Italy. To get a learner’s permit in Italy, an American has to master some 25-30 subjects (with subcategories) covering such subjects as the definition of a street, how and where to park, the meaning of about 100 road signs, which car goes first at dozens of hypothetical intersections, how to hook up a trailer, and how to render first aid to someone in a state of shock. There are about seven categories of licenses according to type of vehicle, with detailed rules about who can obtain each, and some categories have age progressions. And naturally different vehicles have different speed limits, which also depend on the type of road. All in all, the question bank contains about 6000 true/false items, which can be tested in Italian, French or German–but not English.

In short, it requires some studying. But I passed! And I start learning to drive a manual transmission car next week.

I’m sure you’ve thought of the obvious question by now: Does anyone really obey all these rules?

Well, if you feel up to some Italian, I have a little mini-quiz for you which should answer that question nicely: Watch the trailer above from about the first minute mark to almost the second minute mark, then answer the following questions as true or false based on the clip. For your convenience, I have provided translations into English for each question:

1) Sui veicoli è consentito il trasporto di un animale domestico, comunque in condizione da non costituire impedimento o pericolo per la guida. T/F

(It is permissible to transport a domestic animal, as long as it doesn’t pose an impediment or danger to driving.)

 

2) Sui motocicli è vietato trasportare oggetti che non siano solidamente assicurati. T/F

(It is forbidden to transport objects that aren’t solidly secured.)

 

3) Il carico dei veicoli deve essere sistemato in modo da evitarne la caduta o la dispersione. T/F

(The vehicle’s load must be arranged in such a way as to avoid being dropped or scattered.)

 

4) Il carico non deve superare il limite di sagoma stabilito per ogni tipo di veicolo. T/F

(The load must not exceed the limits of the outline established for each type of vehicle.)

 

5) Su strade coperte di neve occorre evitare brusche manovre. T/F

(On snow-covered streets you must avoid sudden maneuvers.)

 

5) Su strade coperte di neve occorre moderare la velocità. T/F

(On snow-covered streets you must moderate your speed.)

 

The answer to all these questions happens to be true. Did you pass?

***

As for the film clip: Sorry I couldn’t find this clip from The Return of Don Camillo with English subtitles.  If anyone is interested, the basic idea is this: Don Camillo, Italy’s favorite pugnacious priest, has been reassigned to a distant mountain hamlet because got into some trouble at the end of the first film.

The scene begins as he arrives at the train station near his new home. He seems to be greeted by cheering, but he soon discovers that the welcome is for a local cyclist instead. Standing forlornly on the platform with gifts from his old parishioners, Don Camillo meets an old man who tells him that the priest he is replacing has recently died, but he was a gentle man who was loved by all. He further tells Don Camillo that the town he is assigned to is 10 kilometers away, but he can offer him a ride part way.

The next scene is the one that concerns the driving test and doesn’t have much dialogue, but my favorite bit is at the end:

Don Camillo: “What do you do for a living, anyway?”

Old man: “I’m a road inspector.”

Don Camillo eventually arrives at this new parish, where he is greeted by a terrified old caretaker who calls him an earthquake and a cyclone, insists she’s heard all about him and isn’t afraid of him, yet shrieks and defends herself with a broom. Don Camillo then walks into the sanctuary of his new church, where he sees that it’s leaking and in terrible shape. There he has a conversation with Jesus, via the crucifix, about how badly they’re both being treated. But Jesus, for once, doesn’t reply to Don Camillo, because the priest’s self-pity has gotten in the way of his ability to hear. More antics occur, in the Guaresci’s simultaneously comical and touching mix of postwar Italian life.

If you’re interested, here’s a set of the first two DVDs with English subtitles, zoned for American viewers.

New film project

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 (Above: Film stills from Imago Cristi)

As promised, here is a bit more news about Alberto and Sarie’s creative projects. Last year I posted about Sarie acting in Alberto’s film 1245 AD, a movie based of local medieval history. He eventually had to put it on the back burner, because it became impossible to schedule the local re-enactment group for the crowd scenes. Alberto had been working on that film since he was seventeen–all through the end of high school and conservatory, so naturally he was very reluctant to let go of it. But not long afterwards, he had come up with about three other ideas for films, all of which were less difficult to arrange logistically.

The movie idea that finally took off was an adventure film, Imago Cristi, based on a historical account of a 16th Century pilgrimage.  Alberto’s character, Leonardo, is a mercenary and prodigal with a mysterious past. At the time when he’s hired as part of a convoy to transport valuable cargo over the Alps to Cardinal Borromeo, he is cynical and without hope. But something happens along the route that will change his perspective permanently.

Sarie has a small part in this movie as well. But mostly, it’s a film about swords and derring do. I know this because we’ve been ordering enough historically accurate weapons to stock a small armory.

I’ve also been working on some story boards for the film. I never heard of film storyboards before Alberto asked me to do some. I’ve had a hard time accepting the fact that you can’t get too wrapped up in how each drawing looks, artistically-speaking. The point instead is to do a schematic diagram of every single shot in the film and show how the camera moves.

Incidentally, about a week before the filming, the film crew lost access to the space they were going to use for the tavern. At first there was wailing and gnashing of teeth as they tried unsuccessfully to juggle the actors’ schedules for a different day. But then they got permission to use an even better location! (The one you see in these photos.) After that, Alberto had to quickly redraw all the storyboards to work for the new space. So ha! That’s what I get for being too finicky about my drawing!

The filming finally took place in Lanzo, about an hour outside Torino, Friday before last. Below I’ve posted a few behind-the scenes photos of the filming. All of these movie projects, needless to say, are filmed on a shoestring, using volunteers. But Alberto sets extremely high standards for historical accuracy and cinematography. And he’s very determined to finish this one. Stay tuned or join their Facebook page for more news!

(Behind the scenes, below: 1) Alberto looks worried as Sarie gives his wig a haircut. As you can see in the next photo, it turned out fine! 2-4) Merrymakers improvising for the tavern scene. They aren’t really drinking wine. When they are drinking anything, it’s vinegar, which they then have to spit out! 5) One of the original story boards, from about the third page into the tavern scene.

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(All photos except story board were taken by a member of the film crew.)

The Little World of Don Camillo

 

Today I was eating lunch by myself and somehow got started watching Don Camillo excerpts on You Tube. I have just finished watching the entire DVD series of Don Camillo films, based on the books by Giovannino Guareschi. They are among my favorite films ever.

The plots are mostly based on the relationship of “frien-emies” Don Camillo, the local priest, and Giuseppe Bottazzi (nicknamed Peppone), the Communist mayor of the town of Brescello in Emilia Romagna during the years after WWII. It helps to know that after Fascism, a lot of Italians had had enough of not only Il Duce, but also the monarchy and priests. Thus they saw Communism as the new hope. I don’t know enough Italian history to comment on all this in detail, but in this series old-fashioned Italian sense of community and decency triumph over politics and revenge.

Why do I like Don Camillo? It’s hard to put it into words. To some American Christians the series might seem insurmountably foreign, even irreverent. Don Camillo is no saint. Like a small boy on the playground, his temper and sense of justice get him into almost daily fisticuffs (but he usually repents). A middle-aged-sounding Jesus talks to him, reprimands him, and at times jokes with him from a large wooden crucifix at the altar of the town church. At one point, Don Camillo loses his temper over a soccer game while talking to Jesus and kicks his hat straight into the confessional. “Goal!” shouts Jesus gleefully.

It might help Americans to see the series as the Italian version of Mayberry (or perhaps as the British think of Herriot’s All Creatures). It has a lot of the same appeal to Italians that Andy Griffith does to Americans. Despite serious ideological differences and even threats of violence, community and brotherly love (however imperfect) emerge as even stronger forces. Don Camillo, despite his cassock, is a man’s man, a former partisan who fought beside Peppone during the War (the real-life Don Camillo survived a concentration camp). He is brave, funny and even lovable under his pugnacious exterior. And finally, the series is very well made, with comedy and more serious elements blended seamlessly and un-self-consciously, often in the same scene.

The clip above, probably one of the more serious scenes of the entire series, is a good example of this blending of humor with courage, and of brotherhood overcoming partisanship.  I also posted it because it seemed appropriate for Good Friday, the river to be blessed is our own Po, and because it’s one of the few YouTube clips I could find with English subtitles.

Buon film!

Local history in film

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A few posts ago, I mentioned that Sarie had a part in a movie.  This small production,  A.D. 1245, is based on local history at the time of Pope Innocent IV and Emperor Frederick II.  From what I’ve read of the script and seen of the trailer, the plot involves political intrigue, betrayal and an invasion in the Valle di Lanzo north of Torino. It’s the stuff of Sir Walter Scott novels, or their Italian equivalent.

Since this is mostly a medieval and swashbuckling sort of movie, most of the leads are male, but the Duke of Lanzo’s daughter does play a part in the story.  That’s where Sarie comes in. But I can’t give away the plot, now can I?

You didn’t know Sarie acted?  Neither did I. (Nor did she, she adds.)  But she’s friends with the director/lead actor, Alberto, who also organizes her Baroque group.  And apparently the part comes quite naturally to her.

The crew is very resourceful in making everything look proper to its era with very limited time, manpower, and money. Much of yesterday’s shoot took place in an abandoned building, with jury-rigged props.  Alberto put Christmas tree lights in the fireplace for embers and/or color correction, and will later create a computer-generated fire to go with them.  The fireplace itself is a transformed armoire.  The bed sits on bricks. To make the non-existent fire flicker, someone waved an arm in front of the lighting. And so forth.  But in the end, it all looks fairly convincing.

Since the movie is, naturally, in Italian, the crew initially planned to dub someone else’s voice over Sarie’s. Obviously it wouldn’t do for the Duke of Lanzo’s daughter to have an American accent. But they worked on the accent, and as the time for shooting neared, they decided that the main difficulty, her e’s, sounded reasonably Piemontese, if not exactly Italian. After that, she just had to avoid too many r’s in one sentence.

Sarie, meanwhile, was quite happy about getting to wear a medieval dress. Later on she gets to wield a sword for a bit and fall off a horse.  And get a gash painted on her face. And even build some sets.

Anyway, this is how she’ll continue to spend some of her vacation time until the movie is finished (hopefully) in December.  Not bad for the joint efforts of music students and a local historical society!  Then they just have to figure out how to distribute it.  I think that, given some English subtitles, it looks like a natural choice for homeschoolers, don’t you?

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