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26 NOVEMBER, 2012

Imagination Illustrated: Muppets Creator Jim Henson’s Never-Before-Seen Journals and Sketches

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Rare sketches, photographs, doodles, and other glimpses of the beloved Muppeteer’s mind and creative process.

It’s always an irresistible treat to peek inside the private notebooks and sketchbooks of some of the world’s greatest artists, typographers, naturalists, architects, and designers. But it’s especially delightful to peek inside the private world of one of modern history’s most celebrated creative minds. That’s precisely what archivist Karen Falk offers in Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal (public library) — a revealing glimpse into the life and artistic process of the beloved Muppets creator through a selection of rare sketches, storyboards, photographs, personal notes, doodles, production drawings, and other never-before-published ephemera.

Kermit and Miss Piggy on bicycles at Battersea Park, 1980

Jim, Rowlf, and 19-year-old Frank Oz, who performed Rowlf's right paw and eventually became Jim's closest performing partner and best friend, 1963

Lisa Henson, Jim’s daughter, writes in the foreword:

Everyone knows that Jim Henson created the Muppets, and that he performed the most famous Muppet of all, Kermit the Frog. … What no one really understands is how much other creative stuff was going on in my father’s mind. Jim spent almost all of his waking hours in some form of creative activity, which was as natural for him as smiling and walking are for other people. What he produced was only a fraction of all the ideas that he had, and what we generally see today is only a fraction of what he produced.

[…]

Because creativity is a process, it is also rewarding to focus on it more than the finished projects. In this book, you are able to see snapshots of my father’s creative process, flashes of his inspirations, and his memories of the milestones that were the highlights of his personal and professional life.

Jim's sketches behind the scenes at WRC, 1955

Though Henson was no match for history’s famous diarists, he used his sketchbook as a kind of “memory warehouse” where he noted both the events of his life and the riotous activity of his imagination. Falk writes in the introduction:

Jim often used blank books to sketch out ideas for specific projects or designs for characters, and once or twice, tried to start a diary containing longer accounts of events and his related feelings, but always set them aside after a short period. This journal is the only continuous effort of this sort, covering almost his entire adult life.

Bonnie Erickson's design sketches for two new Muppets characters, Statler and Waldorf, after ABC finally greenlit Jim's 15-year pitch to expand the show's cast of characters in 1975

Falk writes of Henson’s experimental films in the mid-1960s:

Along with the Muppets, Jim had a parallel outlet for his creative energies. Having acquired a Bolex 16mm camera and animation equipment, Jim eagerly pursued other methods of expressing himself. He painted under the camera, filmed cut paper as it danced to jazz riffs and syncopated rhythms, and shot abstract footage of lights, trees and city streets. This led to the existential live-action shorts, including Time Piece in 1964, which was nominated for an Oscar, and hour-long documentary or dramatic pieces that aired on Experiments in Television. Tempted to focus on his live-action filmmaking career and pursue grown-up projects like a psychedelic nightclub, the decade ended with a tug back to puppets. Jim was invited t participate in the development of a revolutionary children’s show, Sesame Street, which premiered in November 1969.

Jim's sketches of Rowlf, 1962

Season one performers Dave Goelz, John Lovelady, Eren Ozker, Jim Henson, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, and Richard Hunt, 1976

Meticulously annotated and lovingly compiled, Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal is at once an invaluable record of modern creative history and an affectionate celebration of Henson’s legacy and magic.

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23 NOVEMBER, 2012

Susan Sontag’s List of Beliefs at Age 14 vs. Age 24

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“The only difference between human beings is intelligence.”

The first installment of Susan Sontag’s published diaries, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (public library), has already given us her views on life, death, art and freedom and her list of “rules + duties for being 24″ and her 10 rules for raising a child.

In an entry dated November 23, 1947, 14-year-old Susan lists her core beliefs, many of which — including her cult of the intellect, her pursuit of freedom, and her views on government — remained strikingly consistent, if not exponentially engrained, over the course of her life.

I believe:

(a) That there is no personal god or life after death

(b) That the most desirable thing in the world is freedom to be true to oneself, i.e., Honesty

(c) That the only difference between human beings is intelligence

(d) That the only criterion of an action is its ultimate effect on making the individual happy or unhappy

(e) That it is wrong to deprive any man of life [Entries ‘f’ and ‘g’ are missing.]

(h) I believe, furthermore, that an ideal state (besides ‘g’) should be a strong centralized one with government control of public utilities, banks, mines, + transportation and subsidy of the arts, a comfortable minimum wage, support of disabled and age[d]. State care of pregnant women with no distinction such as legitimate + illegitimate children.

Then, a decade later, in 1957, she revisits the subject, shifting away from a certain absolutism and towards a more balanced, even romantic ethos:

What do I believe?

In the private life
In holding up culture
In music, Shakespeare, old buildings

What do I enjoy?

Music
Being in love
Children
Sleeping
Meat

My faults

Never on time
Lying, talking too much
Laziness
No volition for refusal

Reborn was followed by the excellent As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980, which gave us Sontag’s views on love, writing, censorship, boredom, and aphorisms

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23 NOVEMBER, 2012

The R&D Lab of Creativity: Inside the Sketchbooks of Beloved Illustrators and Designers

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A memory warehouse… a means of detachment… the perfect place to document daydreams.

As an unapologetic voyeur with a soft spot for the notebooks and sketchbooks of famous artists, designers, and other creators, I was instantly enamored with Sketchbooks: The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators, and Creatives (public library) from British publisher Laurence King, who brought us the fantastic series 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, 100 Ideas That Changed Film, 100 Ideas That Changed Architecture, 100 Ideas That Changed Photography, and 100 Ideas That Changed Art.

From sources of inspiration to process, the collection offers a rare glimpse of how 42 of the world’s most exciting illustrators, artists and designers think and create. Alongside each visual entry is a short essay by its owner, detailing his or her relationship with keeping a sketchbook.

Spanish book cover designer Pep Carrió sees his notebook as a kind of creative R&D lab:

For me, a sketchbook is like a kind of a portable laboratory, a space to mark with references, to capture the immediate, to experiment; a memory warehouse to which I can return whenever I am searching for an idea or when I simply want to remember an instant, a time in the past.

Pep Carrió: Sketchbook 'Visual Diary Untitled,' gouache

Legendary British designer Peter Saville, best-known for his iconic Joy Division album covers, sees his notebooks as an oasis for conversing with the self amidst an overwhelming landscape of other people’s creative problems:

I started keeping sketchbooks in my mid-teens so they were mainly pop culture oriented. It was the early 1970s and the first concert I went to was David Bowie supporting Blind Faith, and he was as much about image as bout music. My interests became focused through pop, and the relationship between music and imagery.

In the 1980s, as a graphic designer, I was dealing with the visual problems of others alongside my own interests. My drawings showed the visual problem I had to solve, whereas my notes were predominantly discussions with myself.

[…]

Within the sphere of communication design and graphic design, we do not have a professional vehicle for our own thoughts and proposals. The job involves finding solutions to other people’s problems rather than solutions to our own. one of my greatest problems for the last 20 years has been what to do with my own ideas, my notebooks.

Peter Saville: Pencil on paper sketch, 1982

Peter Saville: Pencil on paper sketches, 1999 (top) and 1996 (bottom)

The wonderful Oliver Jeffers, whose children’s books never cease to delight, approaches his sketchbooks like Anaïs Nin did her diaries:

I have kept sketchbooks continuously since I was 18. I think there are around 23 so far. My sketchbooks are mostly paint, ink, paper and concepts that need working out.

Oliver Jeffers: 'Mister,' a study painting from 2006; 'Accomplished,' googly-eye collage; 'Things of Interest,' one of many lists made in 2007; 'Easy,' collage on found advertisement

Spanish illustrator Pablo Amargo offers his system of managing creativity:

I like to work on two sketchbooks at the same time. One is for work, with lots of little drawings, ideas for postcards and books. The second one is for pleasure, with collages, my thoughts, people I admire, quotes from books, news and film reviews, that sort of thing. … My sketchbooks are not a removed, strange or chaotic place; they’re actually quite ordered and are a natural extension of my published work.

Pablo Amaro: Birds

Pablo Amaro: The Whale

Pablo Amaro: Fishes

Pablo Amaro: There Are a Hundred Reasons to Buy a House

Soho-based Parisian illustrator Serge Bloch shares his poetic relationship with newspapers:

I like drawing for newspapers. I like newsprint. I like the grey of the text, the black of the titles, the elegance of the compositions. A page of newspaper is like a wall or a gallery where hundreds of thousands of people can visit, without being prevented by shyness from entering the gallery. You can be on a train, in bed or on a sunny bench. But that exhibit is ephemeral because, the following day, there is nothing left, just a piece of paper to dry your boots with or peel vegetables on.

Serge Bloch: Except the bird and the sticker (found in a Paris flea market), these are sketches to find an idea for the New York Times’ science section on the subject of why we like pets

Elephant; Head found in an old book of anatomy by Serge Bloch

Serge Bloch: Birds for McKinsey magazine

Celebrated artist and graphic design educator Ed Fella uses his sketchbooks as both escapism and reservoir for combinatorial creativity:

For me these books are a means of detachment. They are a discharge, a continuation of form studies based on my 30 years of work as a professional illustrator and graphic designer. They are mostly non-objective or ‘deconstructed’ form drawings, decorative and embellished with techniques I learned in my commercial art illustration practice. They reference a history (late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century) that was before my time, but one that I find rich in possibilities for reworking.

Ed Fella: Four-color ballpoint pen with white and yellow prismacolor pencil on paper from a 2004 sketchbook

Ed Fella: Collages from a 1983 sketchbook

Ed Fella: Three collage pages from a 2002 sketchbook (Moleskine Accordion Fold). All fragments of posters from streets in Melbourne, Australia.

For London-based Japanese illustrator Fumie Kamijo, the sketchbook is a physical filing cabinet for the lived experience that feeds creativity:

Everything I have experienced goes into my sketchbooks, the things I have seen, eaten, heard, felt, and, perhaps most importantly, they are the perfect place to document my strange daydreams.

Fumie Kamijo: 'Rabbit’s Family Tree,' pen and ink, 2007

Complement Sketchbooks with Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists, then revisit Joan Didion’s timeless piece on keeping a notebook.

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