Late ’80s: leisure time illustrations

by Alden Cole on February 28, 2017 · 0 comments

“You cannot escape the results of your thoughts. Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.” – James Lane Allen (21 Dec 1849 – 18 Feb 1925)

DistanceLendsEnchantment-InOutWPDistance Lends Enchantment • oil on scored & folded light-weight cardboard, 16″ x 43″ • collection of the artist.

1986: New to Philadelphia, and prior to getting a full-time job in advertising, I flirted briefly with the idea of becoming a children’s book illustrator. The art at left was the only piece actually completed with a definite eye to creating a portfolio of illustrations that might lead into that particular field. Why children’s book illustration? A whim based on being drawn to that field as a result of purchasing a number of children’s books my first year in Philadelphia.

Triptych#1-Outside:InsideWPTree of Life – a triptych • colored markers on light-weight cardboard, 15-1/2″ square when closed, 15-1/2″ x 31″ when open. 1988

At the time I was making my living as a free-lance production artist for Roberts & Raymond Associates, a full-service advertising agency. Production work was pretty mundane, boring even, for an artist like myself, who had been creating illustrations and designing book covers for Samuel Weiser Publishers, prior to moving to Philly. During my lunch hours I started frequenting James Fox booksellers, a charming storefront on Sansom Street, a brief walk away from the office, that featured a great selection of books, a number of which caught my eye and proved all too often the truth of the adage “a fool and his money are soon parted.”

Triptych#2-Outside:InsideWPChoices: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – a triptych • colored markers on light-weight cardboard, 15-1/2″ square when closed, 15-1/2″ x 31″ when open. 1989

Apparently I was experiencing a kind of ‘new-childhood-revisited’ via the work of artists like Chris van Allsburg, Nancy Ekholm Burkert, Leo & Diane Dillon, the brothers Hildebrandt, Gary Kelley, Kinuko Craft, Alan Lee, Reinhard Michl, Michael Pangrazio, Kit Williams, Don Wood, Patrick Woodruffe, and a host of others. I had always enjoyed the work of classic illustrators like Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Marfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, but these talented artists whose work I was becoming familiar with were my contemporaries, and therefore competitors.

CombinedTriptychsClosedWPThe Trees of Life and the Knowledge of Good and Evil – stacked triptychs, closed position.

The more I explored the field the more overwhelmed was I by the quality as well as the quantity of work available. I soon accepted the fact that my lack of discipline and commitment would never allow me to be a competitor in the field of children’s book illustration. So I moved on to manifesting my own particular kind of esoteric artworks. Of course, the question that always came up was what are these eccentric drawings in color suitable for? Science fiction? Comic novels? Occult thrillers?

CombinedTriptychsOpenWPThe Trees of Life and the Knowledge of Good and Evil – stacked triptychs, open position. 1989

Ultimately it didn’t matter to me; the important thing was that I was making art in my free time, and that gave me great satisfaction. I had a good free-lance gig that payed the bills, I was making progress doing the exercises recommended by my teacher; I was even developing a social life; the times were good. What was the rush to come up with a new career? I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted to be when I finally grew up.

Triptych4ViewsWP>The Trees of Life and the Knowledge of Good and Evil – stacked triptychs, possible positions • collection of Omar Kabir

One of my self-created projects to keep my hand active was the two triptychs pictured above in various stages of development. What started as a single artwork done in markers on cardboard (of all substrates) turned into the creation of a second one which I shaped differently from the first. Once the second was completed, the idea of combining them took root, as you see above. Because these pieces were painted with markers which have proven to be color-fugitive, the originals have faded dramatically. Fortunately I took photographs of all elements in the set while the colors were still fresh.

AwakeningWPAwakening: Animal Body/Inner Self/Outer Self/Divine Self • markers on paper, 12″ x 18″ • damaged and cropped. 1988

Inspired by the concept I was exposed to through my teacher that ‘man’ is composed of four ‘bodies’ – an Animal Body (the physical vehicle we walk around in), an Inner Self (our emotional being), an Outer Self (our thinking being), a Divine Self (our intuitive being), I came up with the drawing seen above, another done in markers, my favorite medium at that time. Much to my dismay however, I’ve watched this piece as well as many others, fade radically with time and exposure to air.

MoonLightMagic2WPMoon Light Magic #2 • oil on linen canvas-board, 15″ x 24″ • collection of the artist. 1988

Moonlight and Romance happen to be recurring motifs in my oeuvre, a sublimation of the fact that there’s little real romance in my life, other than in my mind. But that’s not such a bad thing, as I’ve discovered to my benefit with time, patience and awareness aka Self-Knowledge. Much of my life has been spent looking for that special someone to hang out by the fireside with. I’ve finally learned to be thankful for unanswered prayers; to know that I have the ability to turn those desires into art rather than vainly pursued dreams that become disappointments. Hey, I’ve said it before: It ain’t easy being green!

HangedManWPThe Hanged Man • colored markers, colored pencils, white gouache on paper, 14″ x 18″ • collection of the artist. 1988

Despite encouragement over the years from many friends familiar with my work to design a Tarot Deck, this is the only one I’ve created so far, card # 12. And I have no intention of going any further with such a plan. Designing a tarot deck is one of the more esoteric projects one could possibly get involved with. Besides, there are so many decks published now, it would be pointless to add one more. During the ’70s & ’80s, designing tarot decks became a virtual cottage industry, almost expected of any artist interested in archetypal subjects. “Hey, if Dali could do one, why can’t I??” Personally, I’ll pass…

AIPHprojectC1988WPDown By The Riverside • markers on paper, 5″ x 10″ • collection of the artist. 1987

In the fall of 1987, I took a single-semester class at the Art Institute of Philadelphia in computer illustration/design, using a PC-based system-platform for the first – and virtually last – time in my life. The grid was created on paper as a template for an illustration project that took several sessions. In terms of motifs, could anything be more quintessentially Alden? Man in Mountainous Landscape with Tree beside Body of Water with Sun and Moon giving Light. Good to be reminded that there’s visionary consistency in my work…

Face2Face-b&w+colorWPFace 2 Face Yet Again • pencil, ball-point pen, acrylic, and colored pencil on watercolor board, 18-1/2″ x 12-3/4″ • collection of the artist. February 2017

Last but not least is one of my most recently completed works of art, just in time for Valentine’s Day. As one of my friends correctly noted, the line work looks like it could have been created 30-40 years ago by my hand. The more subtle coloration is even evocative of some of my earlier work in colored pencil, which continues to be one of my favorite mediums. At last I’ve achieved consistency! is outstanding success next? 😉

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