Anne Belov, Nov. 30, 2012
“Cross-training, Changing Horses, and Secret Identities”
On Facebook, to paraphrase a famous New Yorker cartoon, nobody knows you are NOT a cartoon panda. But wait…I need to digress for a moment.
Most people know me as a fine art painter and printmaker. Over the years, I’ve worked in many different artistic media, including, but not limited to, oils, watercolor, pencil, acrylic, egg tempera, and printmaking. You might think this is a little Three Faces of Eve-ish, but really, it’s not. You learn something in every medium, which teaches you something about the next.
All of the elements you need to create a realistic painted image, such as line, color, value and composition, carry over to each new art material that you learn to work with. Nothing is wasted. Working in etching, which is primarily a medium of black and white, taught me much about drawing, value and composition. That information influenced my paintings and made them stronger and more compelling. OK, now hold this thought because there will be a test later.
Five years ago two things happened, almost simultaneously. First, the economy started slowing down until it began to resemble road-kill, (and not fresh road-kill, at that) and second, I re-discovered pandas. You might think that those two things have nothing in common, but there you would be mistaken. As painting sales slackened, I found more need for humor in my life. (Well, it was either that or a padded cell with meals shoved under the door.)
It all began innocently enough.
There was an article about panda research in China that appeared in The Atlantic magazine. Then a friend sent me some pictures from the Internet. The one that really tipped the balance was a picture from 2005 or 2006, when 16 panda cubs were born in Chengdu at the Wolong Panda Reserve. In the picture were two rows of people wearing blue smocks. Each had two little panda toddlers on their laps, squirming, wiggling and waving to the photographer. All of the people are smiling. (Well, except for one guy, and he had the little panda that said it did not need to go to the bathroom before the photo, but then turned out that it did.) Before I knew it, I was making cartoons about pandas. At first, it was just once a week or so, but soon, panda ideas were popping into my head with alarming frequency. Soon, I had piles of cartoons about, well, pandas. Oh, and cats.
But what does this have to do with ART? Remember back in paragraph three when I talked about how I learn something from each different medium that helps me with the next? (I told you there would be a test.) The same thing happened with cartooning. At first, the drawings were very simple and uncomplicated, but by the end of the first year, I was thinking about the composition of each panel in the same way that I think about composing a painting. Writing and drawing cartoons got me interested in telling a story, which led me to approach painting from a different direction, because when it comes right down to it, a painting is a story, waiting for an interpreter.
I am now in the midst of another change: transitioning from painting in oils, to painting in traditional egg tempera with oil glazing. Again, everything I’ve learned to this point has prepared me for this step. It’s not really changing horses in mid-stream, it’s realizing that there was always more than one horse, and that they are all traveling in the same direction.
And what, you may ask, has all my fine-art training brought to my cartoons? I don’t want you to think that all those art history classes were a waste of time.
Anne Belov lives and works on Whidbey Island after surviving seven years of art school. Her panda cartoons can be read on her blog, “The Panda Chronicles: Your Brain on Pandas,” and her paintings can be seen at the Rob Schouten Gallery in Greenbank. She also “helps” her friend Bob T. Panda with his Facebook page.
Celebrate the publication of Belov’s first book of cartoons, “The Panda Chronicles Book 1: Your Brain on Pandas,” at the Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec.1 and from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at Moonraker Books in downtown Langley.