The Wonderfully Bizarre World of Childish Art

This blog is a bit of a cheat, because it’s not written by me and it’s on another site! But it is too great to only have one home (and it features a super 8 film that I did), so I’m re-posting it here on This Analog Earth! My buddy Jonathan Culp delves into the world of child art (and faux child art) as interpreted by adults on his Unpopular Arts blog.

Even with the many internet portals kids have access to, it still take adults to disseminate child art. You don’t often see art by anyone under 18 at galleries, or hanging anywhere in people’s homes except for the refrigerator. Can adults see playful child art as anything but humorous? Does it matter? I definitely get laughs at crayon scribbles, but there’s also a huge sense of joy and wonder as well. I’m sure many artists would love to have held on to their openness and lack of self consciousness. There’s no impressing gallery owners or big name pretentious painters with this art. If it makes a family member smile the art has done its job. You can’t find simpler gratification.

Childish Art Blog

Here is some art done by 5 year old Sam and his dad Joe Ollmann (read the Joe interview from the last blog!)

Cartoonist Joe Ollmann

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival is happening this weekend, May 10th and 11th at the Toronto Reference Library. In celebration, here’s all you need to know about Joe Ollmann…

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Joe Ollmann is a cartoonist based out of Hamilton who’s been making me virtually split my sides since the late ‘90s. My love of his artwork inspired me to get an Edward Gorey/Joe Ollmann duel tattoo. Joe has cartooned for the Hamilton Spectator, Exclaim! Magazine, and The Comics Journal. He has put out a multitude of bound mini-books under Wag Press, with each book containing a little hand drawn art piece. After Wag, he published five other books and is currently working on his sixth. Joe won the acclaimed Doug Wright award for Canadian comics and graphic novels in 2007 for This Will All End in Tears . His most recent graphic novel, Science Fiction, was also nominated for Doug Wright award this year.

Joe deftly meshes Charles Schulz, Edward Gorey, and Gary Larsen (Far Side) wit and characters. His quicker comics are simple line drawing ala Peanuts and Far Side, while Joe shows the other side of his talent by also doing intricately detailed work ala Gorey. The quicker comics tend to be the riotously funny ones, while the painstaking line drawings often are more serious, with quiet humour.

By articulating real life situations, adding humour to them, and drawing his characters with flaws, Joe seems to be able to crystallize the human species’ highs and lows. What first drew me to his work was the drawn characters – they seemed to come right from Toronto streets. Well, the adults did. The kids came from Far Side – buck-toothed Coke-bottle-glasses-wearing nerds who get upset very easily. When the stories proved hilarious and interesting to boot, I was hooked. After that, I became rather obsessive, trying to gather up every Joe Ollmann panel I could. (And I’m still missing Wag 1 & 2! Who wants to sell theirs? ;) )

Not many people can say they’ve been able to interact with their favourite cartoonist for nearly two decades. Surely even less can say they have worked with their favourite cartoonist. In 2003 I self-published Lickin’ the Beaters, a vegan desserts cookbook, and Joe was one of the illustrators. But Joe’s like that. You can approach him at conventions and fairs just like he was your brother. Pretentiousness is not Joe’s bag, he’s always got a smile and a nice word for you.

Joe has a blog and a website. Joe is currently working on a new graphic novel about William Buehler Seabrook (a fascinating character indeed!)

Interspersed throughout the interview are some of my favourite Ollmann moments!

SM: What is the first thing you remember drawing? Describe in detail, if possible.

JO: I can remember drawing elaborate undersea battles with millions of sea divers drilling holes in boats and killing each other. I hate army stuff and always lecture my 8-year-old who also draws similar scenes so maybe it’s just something kids are drawn to?

Sailor makes friends with monkey
From Wag zine

SM: Was there any particular person or people in your life as an adolescent that encouraged you to do art? Someone who saw your potential and made you realize you really had talent?

guy getting hit in the back of the head with a ball
Art in a Wag zine

JO: My high school art teacher, Mrs. Beausejour was the biggest and best influence and was the person who encouraged me more than anyone ever did at a really important time. She said I reminded her of William Blake and made me go to Toronto and see a Blake exhibit there; and introduced me to the illustrators of the New Yorker, classical music, opera, Goya and Albrecht Durer. She introduced me to pen and ink and technical pens; encouraged me to be better than the dumb hoodlum I was at the time. She also told me to stay away from the girls if I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t and so I am only a cartoonist.

E is for Envelope, found in the street
From Don’t Touch that: There is No Telling where It’s Been : a Found Object Alphabet

SM: What do you enjoy more – the “quick” less intricate work of your shorter cartoons, or the highly detailed graphic novel and comics?

JO: I like doing both, though I feel like the short work is a distraction and time-waster from the longer book work which I feel like have more long term value? In the new weird, online world of comics, I gather that posting short comics regularly online “builds and audience” that will later “buy your comics.” I don’t know, I try not to over-think the marketing shit to direct what I’m doing too much, but you know, you need to at some level.

A roof icicle breaks off heading straight for the vicor's head
From Alphaagorey

SM: One essence in your work that always spoke to me was the idea of both loving and hating humanity. Anything you want to say about that?

JO: Yeah, I guess behind every misanthrope is a disappointed optimist. I’m a failed socialist, I’ve given up on most ideology because people just fuck up everything. Then, there are people you meet, or acts of goodness, small or large that you experience, that make you almost believe again. I guess I am realistic about people and try and appreciate the goodness and allow myself not to be too cynical to see it when it does occur. And I guess I try and incorporate all of that into my work? I don’t know, mostly I think my work these days is vapid and doesn’t really connect with anything of import, like the older I get, the more trivial I get.

comic about slipping on ice. from the Hamilton Spectator newspaper.
From the Hamilton Spectator

SM: At this point, are you able to live a comfortable life as an artist, or do you do other work to pay the bills?

JO: I’ve always had a full-time day job and just done this at night. I think very few cartoonists are able to survive on that alone. I don’t feel like I’m owed a living just doing cartooning, but it would be nice to have the art form valued enough that people were willing to pay a decent amount.

Z is for Zipper, found in the road
From Don’t Touch that: There is No Telling where It’s Been : a Found Object Alphabet

SM: Not many people actually know the process of doing comic art. Can you talk about that process in the order in which it happens?

JO: I would guess everyone does this stuff differently, especially since a lot of people are using Wacom tablets to draw. I am a cartoonist deep down in my soul and I value the history and the tradition and I am happy to be using the same damn simple tools that cartoonists used 150 years ago. I’m not against technology, and a lot of the people using tablets are getting results that are almost indiscernible from traditional ink and paper, I just prefer the simplicity and purity of it. Anyway, the way I work is I write a script and work on editing that to a point where I am happy with it. Then I break that down into pages and panels and do thumbnail mockups of what each page will look like. The thumbnails are very important, it’s basically storyboarding the “shots” for the final comic – the “camera angles,” the close-ups, long shots, etc. After that, it’s the slow, technical process of drawing. I draw in regular HB pencil on a semi-smooth Bristol. I ink the lettering and the panel borders and then ink the final art using various quill pens and india ink. Then I erase the underlying pencils and scan the art into Photoshop.

The couple get ready for a make up date
From Science Fiction

SM: What are your favourite tools to use as an artist?

JO: I love my quill pens, these are cheap little nibs that you can still buy at art supply stores for less than a buck and you put them in a pen holder, dip them in a cheap bottle of ink and go to town. I am always happy to find some new pen nib that is a revelation and works amazing and I feel like, “Where have you been all my life, little pen nib?”

Mom's know when the milk has gone bad!
From the Hamilton Spectator

SM: I noticed in your blog you were working on one of your new graphic novel pages and you got a nasty ink splotch on the last panel – is there anything you can do to fix that? Is that something where modern technically comes in handy – say, erasing it in Photoshop?

JO: Well, there’s the old white-out solution, just painting over the spills and doing touch-ups with white paint. I do that, but I also do a lot of clean up and fixing art and lettering after I scan the pages into Photoshop. Whichever works best.

Art from Wag zine
Art from Wag zine

SM: Can you talk a little about your use of technology? How it might have changed over the years and especially about how it might have enhanced your artistic abilities…

JO: I use technology limitedly, mostly at the end of the process for production. I do tend to add gray tones in Photoshop because it’s relatively easy, but in the new book I’m doing, I’m using a light table and paper overlays and doing the gray tones in ink-wash. So this new book will be even less dependent on technology until the assembly stage of the book.

A little diver in a fish tank
An unpublished strip (for Exclaim! ?)

SM: One of my favourite things you’ve done is the Abrasive Shorts for the Comedy Network. Please talk about that process and let people know where they might be able to see these (they are brilliantly funny!)

JO: They’re here. I hate hearing my voice recorded. I’m pretty sure they are dated and horrible. They were done in Flash a long time ago. Pretty embarrassing.

Journalist from teens is throwing up in a sink
From Alphagorey

SM: I noticed, at least at one point, you were enjoying old radio dramas. What are your favourites? Did you grow up listening to these re-runs on the radio? Do you think you might enjoy them because it’s a way to interact with art using your ears rather than your eyes (which I’m sure are heavily taxed)?

JO: I listen to music, mostly without lyrics, or opera in languages I don’t understand, when I’m writing. 1960s jazz or that Tindersticks boxset of Claire Denis film soundtracks are what I’ve been listening to when I write. When I draw, as I said, it’s a much more technical or mechanical process, I’m free to be occupied listening and concentrating on something else. I love audio books, but yeah, I LOVE old radio plays. Any kind, really, but ghost stories and horror stories I am obsessed with and could listen to these all the time. BBC radio is still actively producing amazing radio drama, unlike the CBC which shut theirs down. CBC had a great series called Nightfall which was great, so scary. Luckily in the internet age a lot of this stuff is available online to listen to or buy from compilers. I could talk about radio drama for days!

Plump girl talks about three different kinds of fat girls
From This Will All End in Tears

SM: How did your new graphic novel of the life of William Buehler Seabrook come about? How did you even find out about him?

JO: I first read about him in a brief bio in a zombie compilation about twenty years ago. I was interested in the man and eventually read an excellent biography about him written by one of his wives, Marjorie Worthington. I see by my notes that I actively started researching Seabrook about 8 years ago. I’ve bought all his books and any books that mention him and I’ve traveled to one of his wives’ archives in Oregon. I traveled to South Carolina interviewing people who had known his last wife. It’s become a bit of an obsession and very different that the normal fiction I do. I’ll be kind of glad when it’s all done, but I do think it’s going to be a really interesting book. It takes place in Haiti, the Middle East, West Africa, New York and Paris in all different time periods and required a lot of research. The real challenge is to include facts, but to still make it more than a dull recitation of facts, which I hope I’ve done. It’s still clearly a book that has my stamp on it I guess, for better or worse.

People without flaws would look like Ziggy
From the Hamilton Spectator

SM: Your son Sam has obviously inherited your illustration talents. Do any of your daughters draw or make other kinds of art?

JO: My oldest daughter was always a great writer, but not much of a drawer, the middle daughter is a great writer and a talented artist as well, which I encourage, but without trying to be a stage mom, saying, “You should draw comics!”

Son Sam draws superman and lots of overhead planes
Joe’s son Sam’s artwork

SM: Looking for your webpage I accidentally typed in wag.net. The guy does caricatures for a living. What do you think of his art? Did that ever cross your mind to do caricatures for money?

JO: Oh god no, I’m terrible at caricatures.

New Sci-fi for Old Souls

I’ve been getting deep into sci-fi, or more precisely, speculative fiction over the past few years. It started with Ray Bradbury (RIP) and went off into the stratosphere with known and lesser known writers (mostly from the “golden age” of the 40s and 50s). Brian W Aldiss, Alfred Bester, Octavia Butler, Henry Kuttner, J. C. Furnas, Shirley Jackson, Nalo Hopkinson… I could lock myself in a room scattered with these stories, a good vegan curry and carrot cake, and you wouldn’t see me until all were consumed.

Hollywood is coming out with better sci-fi stories these days (I’ll have you leaping to your feet shouting when I tell you, “I am not a fan of even classic Star Wars!”) A lot of the stories are taken from the classic writers. Philip K. Dick: A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend.

What works for me personally is taking space and guns out of sci-fi and inserting social commentary instead.
In my own back yard, my buddy Jim Munroe has been creating sci-fi and speculative fiction in a variety of forms including fiction, graphic novels and now films.

There’s a new wave of sci-fi made without huge budgets. By collaborating with some creative minds you can do high quality films with high quality stories.

Jim started with a movie that had seven installments directed by seven different people – Infest Wisely – where nanotechnology allowed you to do cool things like take pictures with your eyes. This no-budget sci-fi had to be very creative to get around costly special effects.

Next was Ghosts With Shit Jobs, a sci-fi with a low budget, that did put some time and money into limited special effects. The film played in 25 cities around the world thanks to a Kickstarter campaign. Unlike any Hollywood film, Jim breaks down the numbers of Ghosts With Shit Jobs for everyone to check out. It falls inline with Jim’s mandate of his organization, No Media Kings, to give resources and support to anyone interested in DIY media.

Up next is Haphead. Still in development, you can check out the trailer here.

What interests me about these films, and others in the lo-fi sci-fi movie scene is that real care is taken with the story. Not just slapping laser guns into hands of chisel faced actors, these indie films contemplate the path we are on as a society, blindingly consuming new technology. Turning our backs on the earth’s environment and each other, what will become of us in the 50 years?

Haphead is set in 2025 where former well paid silicon valley jobs are pushed into massive sweatshops. Gamers, unsatisfied with video games looking and sounding amazing, now want to literally feel the punches, throws, and rifle kick-backs. And… any skill you have in the game world transposes into the real world. Maxine takes a summer job in the so-huge-you-can-see-it-from-space electronics factory that makes the cables to plug into these gamer’s heads. She learns just how lethal the whole infrastructure is.

Sounds neat, eh? Haphead is currently in funding mode, so sign up on the home page to get early access to the whole season when it becomes available.

huge, dark sweatshop factory making electronics
Super Huge Electronics Sweatshop
supervisor keeping an eye on Maxine in sweatshop factory
Maxine’s Supervisor Keeping an Eye on Her
Maxine and supervisor dueling it out
Maxine and Supervisor Go At It

The 8 Fest

There was a time when in order to record moving memories you had to thread a spool of 8mm sized film through a camera in the dark. It was a little tedious, even for the most experienced shooter, so it was not uncommon to have film jams and other memory crushing problems when you tried to capture that perfect moment.

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But when it worked… WOW! Your friends and family would sit in awe, hoot with laughter, marvel at your talent as the flickering image was projected — sometimes as much as sometimes 5 feet across.

family sits in living room watching home moives in 1959

Being able to record your own life was available (to those with money) starting in 1923 when the smaller gauge of 16mm was available on safety film. Previously, film was only available as 35mm (think Hollywood) using nitrate film. Nitrate can ignite and burn down buildings with a single match. Not the kind of thing you’d want to have sitting around in your cupboard!

8mm, which was actually 16mm film run through the camera twice and split down the middle, was introduced in 1932 and made things a little more affordable, but it was still quite awkward to use.

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1965 brought Super 8, which was the film god’s gift to the middle class. Suddenly, all you had to do was pop a cartridge into the camera and shoot away. And most of the new cameras had light sensors and easy, through-the-lens focusing.

A super 8 Kodachrome cartidge

Fast forward a few decades, as film is pushed aside for digital.. Does a 20 year old even know what film is? If they are a hipster, yes. If not, it’s quite possible they have never seen a picture of film, and extremely likely they have never held a piece in their hands.

I am, at 40, part of the generation who grew up shooting photographs and have now embraced digital technology. I still mourn the “death” of film, but I am also extremely glad I know that “the death of film” has scare quotes — there are plenty of people all across the world still using moving image and still film to record their memories and art.

There are many film festivals dedicated to small gauge film and here in Toronto we are incredibly lucky to have The 8 Fest.

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The fest was conceived in 2008 by notable indie filmmakers and artists. Since then, one weekend a year, in the depths of Toronto winter chill, all the film and home movie nerds come out to stare at a flickering screen and hear the soft click of the projector.

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The program is always quite eclectic with experimental, narrative and home movies at its focus. This year had a focus on small gauge film in Argentina, recent films of the past two years, Toronto home movies during World War II, a performance piece of Super 8 loops and sine wave oscillators, and more.

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Here are some highlights of the events I attended…

The fest got started with a selection of experimental small gauge film from Argentina. Pablo Marin brought us a handful of engaging and beautiful shorts from the 70’s, 80’s and 2010s.

Intemperie en Chapicuy is a film that spent decades out in the open, by the remains of an old truck covered with bullet holes. A mystery of crackles and colours, you think you can see the original film underneath… or is it your imagination?

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Testamento y vida interior by Narcisa Hirsch is a dada-esque colour sound 16mm film from 1977. Coffins, clocks, undertakers, a mysterious woman… Shot all over Argentina during the height of the repressive “Dirty War” against left wing activists, it’s quite a brave film made when nearly 8,500 people were “disappeared” between 1976 and 1979.

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Passacaglia y fuga by Jorge Honik and Laura Abel is in some ways the artist’s retreat during the Dirty Wars. Shot in and around their astonishingly beautiful refuge, the camera swings around their calm, warm and comforting home while shots of the sometimes violent weather outside are interspersed.

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The Saturday Tit-For-Tat screening curated by Milada Kovacova was particularly fun with the godfather of Toronto Super 8, John Porter, starting the evening off with a hilarious interaction with his film Daily Double Dick Van Dykes. The film is of Porter interacting with late night television in 1984 as The Dick Van Dyke Show is played over and over during the year in the wee hours. There are three projectors running  this film at the same time. John, in 1984, is pointing to television as it plays the opening theme song of the show.

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John, in 2014, is pointing at his projections and also interacting. The Dick Van Dyke theme song loops over and over both on the film sound track from the television, from John in 1984 singing along, and John in 2014 singing along. It’s a lot of crazy fun!

A Super 8 event without John just wouldn’t be right, as he has been cultivating it as an art form since 1968 and seems to be constantly shooting. John also taught an intro to Super 8  workshop at this year’s 8 Fest.

Einstein’s Joke by Eldon Garnet and Duncan Johnson is a Super 8 sound film from 1978. It reenacts a joke that Einstein use to tell at dinner parties. I still don’t know what the joke was! But the film is clearly about the absurdity of life and how we go through amazing, difficult or inane journeys to find ourselves right back at where we started, without much to show for it.

Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan (forever known to me now as the Lesbian National Parks women after seeing their hilarious and skillful film of the same name) are old hands at indie filmmaking and this year they dug up some orphaned footage (shot footage that was never used for anything) to turn into Vigilance. The thoughtful short 3 minute piece ponders violence against women that’s shown daily in the media, and how as women we are conditioned to always be “on alert.”

Wads and Wads, by Kids on TV, was deftly shot in 2003 by Robert Kennedy. Colourful, sexy, and silly, I was struck how glitter can enhance an image on Super 8! You really have to understand lighting to get indoor Super 8 shots to look this good.

Sunday evening focused on home movies with the program From Kingston Road to Humber Bay: Life in Toronto around World War II. I have loved home movies from even before I went to archiving school, and I was a collector for many years myself. These films came from an unknown family, now housed in the Heaps and Phillips collection. We were treated to wondrous and beautiful images of Toronto from the ‘30s and ‘40s, both in colour and black and white.

The Home Movies History Project has been screening and cataloging home movies in Toronto since 1999. The organization participates in Home Movie Day — a world-wide event — and has occasional screenings in locations like Monkey’s Paw Bookshop. https://sites.google.com/site/homemoviehistoryproject/

woman sitting in living room 1940s
Woman in living room smoking 1940s.
black and white scarborough bluffs 1940s
Scarborough bluffs 1930s.
colorful building on CNE grounds 1940
CNE 1940s.
CNE grounds colorful baloons 1940
CNE 1940s.
cars driving on wasaga beach 1930s
Driving on Wasaga Beach, 1930s.
Hind Lumber yard on Danforth 1930s
Hind Lumber Yard on the Danforth, 1940s.
shoreline of Toronto Beaches 1940s.
Beaches in Toronto, 1940s.
old cars drive on Kinsgton Road 1930s.
Kingston Road in 1930s.
bright, colourful, woman and flowers
Woman and flowers 1930s.

[Apologies for quality. This is where digital has trouble. Good quality means huge files that take forever to upload! You'll just have to go to a home movie screening in your town!]

The cold blustery Toronto weekend was no match to the warm glow of the small gauge projectors!

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Plan your winter fun for next year: the8fest.com

John Porter has a great website that lists events and is an archive of all the indie film goings on: http://www.super8porter.ca/

Like most blogs, This Analog Earth! is made up of research and wisely knowledge gathered over the years. Here is a list of resources I got information from:

http://ian-partridge.com/tranp3.html

http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC28folder/PtoRicoS8fest.html

http://www.charlesphoenix.com/2004/06/watching-home-movies-la-1959/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_8_mm_film

Ghost Signs – the world as we used to know it living above our heads

Old-school billboards, fading ads, ghost signs… chances are you’ve glanced up in an old part of town and wondered about the lost-in-time, peeling, and sometimes barely legible advertising for wares you’ve never heard of on the sides of buildings.

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Before the super LCD digital screens off the highway, before industrial printed vinyl signs that can cover anything, before the invention of neon lighting, public advertising was painted on windows and sides of merchant’s buildings by “mechanics”.

As the industrial revolution shook the western world, and corner store craftspeople were being replaced by large corporations with thousands of square footage of machinery, competition was high. In an age without television, internet, radio, telephones and movies, there were few modes to let the populace of a city know about the fabulous product you produced. Beginning in the mid 1800s in stepped the advertising agencies, newly formed to market these new mass produced items, and up went the painters, “wall dogs” they were called, to make a product come to life.

This fading ad was found in Holland:

peanutman

Today these “ghost signs” have mostly perished by being painted over, the building knocked down, a newer sign put up over it, or being hidden by newer buildings. The natural elements also play a large part in making them obscure: sun (especially), rain, snow, hail, wind, ice. Technically “ghost signs” mean the fading-beyond-recognition type signs that may not be readable no matter how much you squint; but considering this old technique of painting straight onto brick walls is virtually no longer used I think the term “ghost sign” should apply to any public painted ad from 1800 to 1980.

This sign is from Kensington Market in Toronto. I’d guess it was from the 1980s or 1990s.

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From Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America by W.M. Stage, “Some call them ‘ghost signs’, apparitions visible under certain light conditions when their painted letters rise from the wall to herald a forgotten flour or smoking tobacco.”

Frank Jump is an AIDS activist, photographer, and teacher. He found fading ads a metaphor for his own life – living with HIV for half of it. Some signs are over a century old and not suppose to last as long as they did – like his own body. Frank started the website fadingad.com and published the book Fading Ads of New York City:

“It’s such a digital nation and globe, where everything is on the Internet – I love it, I got master’s in technology because I wanted to move with technology – but at the same time, there’s something very tactile about painted signs. They’re painted by hand; they’re painted by a person. It’s an artists rendering. It’s much more personal, something that could last a long time, a century and a half perhaps, if you’re lucky. Banner ads on websites don’t last very long unless you take screen shots and back that up and back that up. Things are becoming a lot more ephemeral.”

Fox Deluxe Beer:

foxbeer

What kept the fading ads we see today visible were mainly other buildings being built beside them, shielding them from the elements. When the newer buildings are torn down, the ads are revealed after years or decades of being hidden. Also, northern exposures which limit sunlight help preserve the paint.

The story of ghost sign is as follows:

Acquisition of an ad was done by the ad agency’s advance man (salesman) or the artist (wall dog) themselves (although back in the day they were never called “artists” – it was thought to be demeaning and the men preferred “mechanic” if a more formal title than “wall dog” was needed).

A privilege was when the agency, along with painting their product on the side of the building, would also paint personalized ads for the merchant. This usually took the form of gold leaf on the windows or a small mention in the larger product ad. Merchants got “paid” in privilege or products. If a merchant didn’t have enough of the specific product to pay off the cost of the ad he or she would not be allowed a privilege.

Gold leaf is another art and business practice that’s being lost:

goldleaf

A lease was another way the agency secured the wall space. The property owner would be offered cash or vouchers for cash. Farmers in particular would often give over the side of their barn for a gold watch. Many wall dogs would exchange help on the farm for ad space. They found themselves milking cows, painting fences or helping in the fields.

Once the ad space was secured a miniature of the ad was sketched.  In the late 1800s it was the ad painter who designed the logo. The ad was often one inch to one foot in scale. Patterns were not used prior to 1940. My pal Five Seventeen worked for a mural company in the early 2000s. He says nowadays the artist would work from a grid, usually one inch to one foot, and a projector. He says, “ ‘Life size’ people are always drawn larger by about 10% to make up for the 2D aspect.” In the days of ghost ads the mechanics would often count bricks to make sure the letters didn’t run off the side of the building. There wasn’t a lot of time to be precise.

scale

Colour was very important in making sure the ads would be noticed, as well as deep shadows and extreme highlights. Block letters would almost always be preferred over cursive script because it’s a lot easier to paint blocks than curves. Lines were “snapped” (laid down) with white chalk to keep the letters straight; however an easier trick was to use the mortar joints (the spaced filled with grout between the bricks). The mechanic had to know what an ad would look like from afar. The ads were often 50 feet tall by 20 feet wide.

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Bricks are porous so on scores of jobs many coats of paint had to be applied. The paint was applied with fitch (black sable) brushes or flat cutters. The cutters were 1 -2” wide (in interior painting they are used for “cutting in” — which means painting the edges and outlines first, in a more controlled way). They have longer handles than regular paint brushes and the coarse bristles are great for brick and stucco walls. The fitches were ¼” to 1” wide for detailing.

brushes

In the early days there were no premixed paints – it was the job of the wall dog himself to ensure uniformity.  Colour pigment, dry or ground with linseed (flax) oil, was mixed with white lead. The lead made a flatter rather than glossy finish and took longer drying between coats, sometimes several days.

The wall dogs were like working hobos – often traveling across the country, weathered and grizzled by the sun, having many adventures the office worker never faced. The dogs had skills of chemists, draftsmen, artists and acrobats.

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In spring the ad agencies would have 15 two men crews on the road for 3-4 months crisscrossing the cities and countryside. Often the men painted a sign a day. They would finish at night using their truck lights. R.E. Nauman recalled driving around in a Model T Ford truck in 1928 and 1929 painting Coca-Cola ads in Ohio. The truck had a bed stashed in it because there weren’t many motels in that day.  The men would often paint their boots black before going out for the day to cover the colourful paint splattered on them.

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Winds would send uncovered paint cans splashing down onto passersby. Wall dogs themselves would often send down streams of chewing tobacco spit. City mechanics were often taken for peeping toms and there were many hornet attacks in both urban and country locations. Wall dog Tom Cavanaugh reflected on one memorable forehead smacking moment of his colleagues back in the day, “[The sign] was a beautiful job. Unfortunately it was the wrong wall.”

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The lead in the paint, used until World War II, while prolonging the longevity of an ad, took its toll on the wall dogs. Lead poisoning was a common ailment as the men suffered from stomach aches, headaches and disorientation. Those that didn’t wear gloves also eventually got “club hands” making their digits gnarled and misshapen. Before the upsurge of unions, if the dogs got sick they would miss valuable paychecks.

Paint today uses zinc instead of lead. It mostly just lies on top and doesn’t soak in. It is quicker to set and quicker to fade. Sign painters today half mourn the loss of lead in their paint. While their health is better, the quality isn’t there. 1 Shot, in business since 1948, is today’s sign painters paint choice.

1shot

While wall dogs saw their numbers shrink with the advent of vinyl letters and then vinyl signs and billboards, there are a small number of artists who still make their living wall dog style. They have a passion, maybe even more intense than the original dogs, for this dying art.

A modern day wall ad:

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Phil Vandervaart is still painting brick walls in Minneapolis.  “I just do one sign at a time and put all my heart and soul into it. My goal is for my clients’ businesses to succeed; then my signs stay up a long time…When signs do have to come down — a lot of them do even within the year I paint them — I want to kill my own sign. I don’t want someone else to do it. There are some locations that I just paint over and over again.”

Here’s a video of Phil and Forrest painting an “ad to God”.

philips

Justin Green, who took up sign painting when his wife got pregnant and his cartoonist job wasn’t enough for three, says “[In the old days] you’d be on your knees lettering an industrial roll-up door with the words “Tow Away” and the next day you’d be on the thirty-fourth floor of a bank’s head-quarters painting gold leaf. Every strata of society valued your skill. It was phenomenal.”

homerhardware

While some mechanics incorporate new technology with old techniques it’s acknowledged that nothing compares to a skilled painter. “Using technology can be a slippery slope. The challenge is to continue drawing letters by hand rather than just settling on all the fonts that you can pull off the internet to generate whatever people want,” says Damon Styer of San Francisco. He has his staff come in for half an hour a day to practice lettering until it becomes second nature. Os are particularly hard.

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Mark Oatis who paints with his wife Rose, says “It takes a lot of practice. It seems like a computer deprives you of that basic contemplative groove that you get into when you work.”

Harley Warrick painted Mail Pouch Tobacco signs for over forty years. This is him working in 1987:

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One company that still uses wall dogs is Colossal Media. You can read about their modern exploits, including some paint mishaps, here.

My own interest in ghost signs has coincided with my interest in old ads in general. A decade ago I remember looking up one day in Toronto and seeing my own last name on the side of a building – fading and peeling and barely noticeable. For this blog I ventured out with my camera to try and find it again, but I’m pretty sure the building has been knocked down or another building is covering it. I found some other ones, and share them below. Although they were some of the better ghost signs I’ve seen, they were hard to come by. Toronto, like most other North American cities, is really keen on knocking down the old and making way for the new. Our building preservation societies are no match for real estate developers. While this can be exhilarating and help propel us into the future, it is disturbing that no care is taken to preserve or archive what use to exist and show us what kind of lives we use to live. I can’t help but make a connection to these fading signs and the fading independent business community we lose every year because of chain and box stores.

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There are a few websites made by and for ghost sign lovers. They are fascinating and exciting to look through!

http://www.artic.edu/~ndonoh/pages/indexpage.html

http://www.squidoo.com/ghost-signs#module154859423

http://digital.library.louisville.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/ghostsigns

http://www.livinggoldpress.com/walldog.htm

http://historicminneapolissigns.wordpress.com/

http://www.glassgilding.com/gluechip.html

http://lost-toronto.blogspot.ca

A vegetarian restaurant in Toronto named themselves after a ghost sign found on one of their walls after a reno:

ruddy

http://www.nowtoronto.com/food/story.cfm?content=178563

Like most blogs, This Analog Earth! is made up of research and wisely knowledge gathered over the years. Here is a list of resources I got information from:

Ghost Signs: Brick wall signs in America by WM Stage

Fading Ads of New York City by Frank Jump

Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon

http://www.jalopyjournal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=593464

http://forums.aaca.org/f169/vintage-delivery-trucks-main-street-u-342440.html

http://m.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2012/01/fading-old-timey-ads-new-york-city/876/

http://observer.com/2012/10/ghost-stories-talking-fading-ads-with-photographer-frank-jump/

 Thanks a heap to Jim Munroe for copy editing! nomediakings.org

Have you seen some cool ghost signs? Post here!

View-Masters: Ingenious and Beautiful

Since I was a child I’ve owned and collected View-Master reels. My first collection actually came from my father. It consisted of a black viewer with a mishmash of very beaten reels, including Butchart Gardens, Mickey Mouse and Jack and the Beanstalk. Being an only child, I spent much of my free time in the basement playing by myself. I could spend hours sitting in my little red rocking chair with the stereo viewer suctioned to face.

oldviewervm 001

I returned to the viewer after studying film archiving. The older reels had rich colours, enchanting clay sculptures, and reminded me of all the old stories and characters I had grown up with.

The origins of the View-Master come from the stereo postcard market of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A camera, with two lenses 2.5” apart, takes a picture of a scene. The photos from each lens are a little different from each other. This resembles the way our eyes see. Our brain puts these two pictures together, giving the illusion of depth.

(Note: These photos are switched around for “cross-eyed viewing”.)

stereocard stereocard2

howweview

The View-Master, as baby boomers and generation X folks know it, was introduced at the World’s Fair in NYC in 1939. To this day, although the shape and colours of the viewer has changed, the technology remains the same.

Originally, the stereoscopic cameras used Kodachrome 16mm stock. Kodachrome was a highly rich and intense film stock that had its final demise in 2009. (I’ll be speaking about this amazing product in another post.) If you have any View-Master reels lying around, you’ll notice how gorgeous some of them are, and how morbidly red others are. In 1977 View-Master switched all their film from Kodachrome to another stock (likely GAF as they had bought the company.) Those reels began to fade; the cyan and yellow dies fade faster than the magenta on many types of film.

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The Peanuts cell is from 1966. The Little Orphan Annie is from 1972. You can see how the Annie cell is mostly red in colour.

The original stereo images are duplicated, cut and assembled into the punched holes of the round card reels. Each card has 7 transparent scenes with each scene having left eye and right eye views. Short descriptions of the scenes are printed on the card and these are read at the top or the middle of the viewer. The knob on the top right of the viewer is pulled down to move the card to the next window.

filmputtog1puttogether1View-Master-DinNorm

The first View-Master reels were of special scenic spots like Piccadilly Circus, the Redwoods, Carlsbad Caverns, Lake Louise, Historic Charleston. Eventually they found that children enjoyed the viewers more than adults and the productions were catered to them. Often, familiar stories were produced with wonderfully created clay sculptures. Snow White, Peanuts comics, Donald Duck stories, and Flintstones characters came alive with the combination of brilliant colour, 3D sculptures, transparent film cells and stereoscopic viewer.

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It does seem like the business men did try different marketing techniques to lure adults; a clue is featured below. It’s not surprising this idea didn’t get very far. It’s pretty humorous to think of grown men hiding View-Master reels under their bed!

BEcard

(Although it should be mentioned that originally there was a huge market for “risqué” stereoscopes at the turn of the last century.)

riskstereo

Up until 2001 View-Master viewers and reels were being produced in the US. Unfortunately, due to cost cutting measures and an environmental disaster, the plant in Beaverton, Oregon, just outside of Portland, was closed. Approximately 18,000 factory workers were exposed to trichloroethylene tainted well water. Trich, up until recently, was use to clean film. It is a known carcinogen.

Recently, View-Masters have made a resurgence in the DIY art world. I was lucky to have experienced one of Vladimir’s performances in Portland. She writes stories, or adapts novels, shoots scenes and packages the reels all by hand. Each patron is given a viewer and set of cards, and soundtrack is played along.

Read more about Vladimir and new uses of View-Masters: HERE

View-Masters are still being produced through Fisher-Price and are in the National Toy Hall of Fame.

On Wikipedia it says that in 2009 DreamWorks SKG (Stephen Spielberg’s company) was negotiating the rights to “develop View-Master into a feature film”. View-Master lovers are scratching their head over that one!

Here’s a kit for making your own View-Master reels with a digital camera:

Make Your Own View Masters

Like most blogs, This Analog Earth! is made up of research and wisely knowledge gathered over the years. Here is a list of resources I got information from:

http://phsc.ca/View-Master.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viewmaster

http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/3d/stereo/3dgallery3.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/13/magazine/13wwln-consumed-t.html?ref=magazine&_r=1&

http://www.gravitram.com/a_kit_for_making_your_own_custom.htm

Get in touch!

Welcome Analog Lovers!

“Pah!” retorts one. “This new-fangled gadgetry will be the demise of our civilization!”

“Luddite!” retorts another. “Humankind can only move forward and never wallow in the past!”

I understand both lines of thought but I believe there is a happy medium. While I struggle with society’s idea that owning a smartphone is necessary (I don’t believe it is), I also very much embrace my laptop and compressor ice cream maker.

Nostalgia can be looking back into the past with blinders. It’s easy to see, say, exotic postcards from the south seas in the 50s and forget about commercial colonization and racism.

But I believe there is beauty in old things and ephemera will always hold a dear place in my heart. Worn records, a dress from the 1930s, perfectly preserved can labels of a product that hasn’t seen the shelves in 60 years – these are all things that make me smile and trigger the creative side of my brain.

Old technology can still have a purpose in our modern world. Even as I pop a USB drive into my parent’s huge television and show them my latest travel pictures, I will take some super 8 footage of the local carnival and know in all likelihood the super 8 film will probably survive past the jpegs. Why? Because film has proven itself to be a long-lasting medium; it will survive over 100 years in a box in your closet. Remember your first word processing software? Try reading those files now… I bet it’s impossible!

And let’s not forget: whatever is here today will be gone tomorrow. Technology that we currently embrace will be replaced in a year or a decade. Even this most technologically with-it person may find themselves missing the subtle differences of “the previous version” or even waxing nostalgic about an obsolete model.

So let’s let ourselves find beauty, comfort and amusement in art and technology that might not be up-to-date or modern. They are the basis of things we hold dear this year, and they could be the basis of things not yet invented.