Somehow in my life I've managed to start designing tattoos for people. While some are intensely personal, which I would never share, the last few I've done have been a lot of fun.
One of my friends has always had a deep and abiding love for green men. I remember our first year in grad school together, how she wrote a really fun paper about these guys. Since we both love Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, a story I'm dying to get my hands on someday as an illustrator, I guess it made sense that we'd do this together. I'm embarrassed to admit how long ago she asked me to design one for her, and I was having a hard time with it. Then one day she shared a photo and the lightbulb went off for both of us. It was from a stained glass window (in France?), and the little green man, tucked into a diamond, seemed both joyful and mischievous. I worked two variations, a long, viney guy and a green man tucked into his original medallion and embellished with leaves.
I may like the second design even more.
The last tattoo here (below) is one I did for a friend I met while teaching in Ohio. It's the largest tattoo I've ever done, and it translated beautifully into ink.
Marilyn Hafner, "The Goblin", from Jack Prelutsky, "It's Halloween!"
I made this marker and ink drawing (it's a tiny thing, maybe 5" high) while I was living in Rome. My friend Emily and I had taken a day trip to Viterbo, where we encountered this 12th-century church with an altarpiece with Jesus. Jesus was oddly perched on the altar, as if he were sitting in a tree. I may have cracked a joke about it, but the gears started whirring.
It reminded me of a poem called "The Goblin" by Jack Prelutsky, from his book "It's Halloween!" Read below, it's delightful and evocative.
There's a goblin as green as a goblin can be.
Who is sitting outside and is waiting for me.
When he knocked on my door and said softly,
I answered, "No thank you, now please, go away!"
But the goblin as green as a goblin can be
Is still sitting outside and is waiting for me.
In this poem, a spectacled, pale green goblin perches on the tree branch outside of a kid's window at nighttime. It was a picture brought to life by the delightful Marylin Hafner. Her drawings are the very essence of Halloween to me. It always gave my brother Chris the creeps, but he loved it, too.
I had a green marker and a red marker on hand (pitiful, but when you pack for a year out of two suitcases, this is what happens) and I began conceiving of the picture. I imagine Chris as a child, peering out into a green-sky night. Instead of the goblin, it's that weird Jesus from the altar, only with green skin. Of course, our toy Godzilla, complete with ejectable fist, stands on the windowsill. It's one of my odder pictures, but I love the weirdness of it.
The goat is the fourth in the series of the Delacorte clock animals. He's the one animal with cultural references. Playing a double-horned aulos, he refers back to Greece. Though all goat, he reminds me of the half-man half-goat satyr, the mischievous woodland creature of Greek myth. Though artists in the Renaissance and points forward have made the goat a devilish or witchy character, the bearded, dancing Delacorte goat is playful, making music in a joyous menagerie.
The next two images for the Delacorte series were the Kangaroo with her kid playing the horns and the Elephant with Accordion. When I was a child, I had a powerful desire to ride in a kangaroo pouch. This was, undoubtedly, spurred by the movie "Dot and the Kangaroo", where one of the songs is called "Riding in the Pouch of a Red Kangaroo". This little kid seems so contented to be carried by his mother and joins in the music-making.
The Elephant drawing immediately followed the "Walking the Dog" drawing seen below, so it was at once familiar and unusual. Having just realized a very elephantine elephant, it seemed a bit strange to make one more human, playing the accordion. Both the animal and his instrument remind me of moving to northern Germany. My memories of this time are childlike, as we moved there five days after my tenth birthday, and are generally colored grey in my mind, likely due to the cool, cloudy weather that predominated there. Our first house was in a German neighborhood, not within the large American complexes where many of my friends lived. We lived a short walk away from a beautiful, sprawling forest park where we spent hours upon hours riding our bikes and pretending to be Robin Hood. We also were a short walk from the cobblestoned downtown area with its tiny shops. Of particular interest to a ten year-old child were the bakery that served these delicious, swirled meringue-type cookies, and the toystore. German toystores were a thing of wonder (even if we weren't very welcome there as part of the army of Americans in town). Filled with puzzles and detailed plastic figures and trains and stuffed animals, we spent many hours gazing, wishing and making Christmas lists. Since we arrived near Thanksgiving, I knew I had a good chance of getting my favorite toy in the shop for Christmas. It was a blue baby elephant stuffed toy, whose fur was so soft and cuddly. I fell in love with him and couldn't bear the thought of a month of waiting to see if he would be mine. On Christmas morning, when I found him waiting for me under the tree, I was the happiest a child could have been on that day. It's still one of my all-time favorite gifts. The accordion also reminds me of Germany, and not for stereotypical reasons. After we had moved to our second house, there was this old German man who would come door-to-door with his accordion. He would play without ringing the bell until we answered the door. When offered money, he would always decline, asking instead for a Coke. I always wanted to write to the Coca-Cola company with this idea for a commercial. So as it is, that elephant with accordion must have been made just for me. That's how I see him, in any case.
My absolute favorite part of NYC is Central Park. It's where my husband and I first got to know each other, where we spent beautiful fall days, and where we got engaged. Now, we live within a 10 minute walk to the park and to my favorite spot there, the Children's Zoo and Delacorte Clock. The area around this part of the park is all for children. There is a petting zoo and a larger zoo with pandas and penguins and monkeys. There are statues of Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen reading to children. There's that famous lake with remote-controlled boats. My favorite animals in the zoo are the sea lions, which you can see without entering the zoo. They always make the kids laugh with their belching noises. As you stand watching the sea lions (which I've named Edgar, Oscar and Lucy), you can also listen to the nursery book rhyme music coming from the Delacorte Clock.
Its dancing animals making music are a wonder to behold. It makes me feel like a kid again, standing in Germany, watching those old clocks turn in the squares of medieval towns. I've dedicated a series of drawings to these animals; in fact, they were much of the inspiration for my shop's theme (a whimsical menagerie). I'll be sharing them one by one. My favorite is the bear. If you look closely, you can see him; he's the right-most figure. He is joyous, lighthearted and delightful, and he makes me smile.
It's funny that as an adult I've come to love the zoo. We only went a handful of times as a kid, but since living in closer proximity to the animals while in Rome, Philadelphia and New York, I've gotten to spend more time there. Last year, I met my best friend in Pittsburgh for my birthday. Together with our fiances, we wandered through the zoo. It was a beautiful, warm fall day. We spent lots of time enjoying the antics of a baby elephant and listening to the surprisingly loud (and slightly terrifying) sound of a gorilla pounding his chest. She always loved those elephants and I remember how we both reacted with childlike excitement when we got to ride one (although not together). The one animal she loves even more is the basset hound, with their silly seriousness, those large, melancholy eyes, that funny, low-slung gait, and their deep hound dog howl. We even spent one day in State College, PA, driving to a nearby basset hound farm, where we got to pet those short lil' fellas. Now that we're both crazy old married ladies, I hope we will never forget those days of childlike wonder and imagination. So this one is for you, best friend. I hope that life will always bring you elephants and basset hounds, and if you're lucky, it will bring both at the same time.
Martin Schongauer's The Temptation of St. Anthony is a riotous explosion of the imagination. Schongauer renders his saint in the moment of ecstatic levitation, when devils and demons join him in the air (generally the element of angels) and plague him with physical and mental tortures. The print was a major hit in Renaissance Europe, inspiring Michelangelo and Dürer, among others. Leonardo later wrote that fantastic creatures are born in the artist's mind as a mix of the many animals he had ever seen. Schongauer's demons are believable in much the same way, merging fish, fowl and beast into a fantastic new whole.
The left-most demon with the club has always been one of my favorites. I always saw him with a flute for a nose, though Schongauer does not render him so. Earlier this summer I re-imagined the demon as a musician. Demons and the playing of music have been joined since the dawn of the Christian age, so it seems appropriate to me that Schongauer's demon may have played his nose as a flute from time to time, singing his own words in accompaniment.