Review: Draw Stronger: Self-care for cartoonists & visual artists

Draw Stronger

Drawing can be dangerous. Just ask Kriota Willberg, author of the book Draw Stronger: Self-care for Cartoonists & Visual Artists. She draws from decades of experience as a massage therapist (for over 30 years) and educator in health sciences and the arts, which culminated in this very niche book – a guide to injury prevention for cartoonists and artists.

I did some background research on Kriota and found this podcast at Comics Alternative which was really informative. I learned that she was a guest faculty at the centre for cartoon studies one year. And there, she realised how students would draw with sketchbooks in their laps, even if there was an easel or table. They would be curled into a fatal position or hunched, not realising the detriments of a bad posture long term since they were all new to the field. She was concerned about soft tissue injuries and repetitive stress injuries because as a massage therapist who specialised in orthopaedic injury, her day job was in addressing repetitive stress injuries in variety of different context day in and day out.

Draw Stronger

She then tried to do more research online – trying to find resources for cartoonists and artists about injury prevention, in the context and scope that she wanted. She couldn’t find much about it, and so she took it upon herself to put it out there.

That’s just a small part of it. Because the book, as it turned out, wasn’t as comprehensive in the beginning. What you see now (a 136-page book) started out as a 60-page mini comic called No Pain that she passed out to her students who were drawing for class. It was about the immediate basics. Within the next couple of years, she added First Aid for Drawing Injuries. And then 40-page comic on back pain. She then decided to look for a publisher because “stapling 60-page comics is really hard on your hands.” And when she was putting together all the materials for the book, she added a few more smaller chapters to it to round it all up nicely.

My favourite chapters in the book were the ones with various exercises that an artist can do to help counteract the many hours spent in the same position during the creation of their work. She covers hands, wrists, neck, chest, shoulders and back – all illustrated in great detail – and I find myself mimicking all the exercises she recommends just to test if I was as mobile as I should be.

What I liked:

I really liked the format of the book. It’s small, light and easy to carry around (which harked back to Kriota’s purpose – she actually wanted it to be smaller!) I’ve always been interested in body, muscles and movement – I’m that geek who used to go to the library to read up on books on massage, physiology and dance while I was training as a landscape architect. I thought the book is really comprehensive. It doesn’t merely cover a lot of dos and don’ts, but it also tells you why. It illustrates this by diving deeper into anatomy and how the body works too. I really liked the limited color palette and how the illustrations helped to highlight the ideas/advice that Kriota puts forward. I thought that the niche that Kriota picked is really great – there’s a lot of information here that would benefit artists (who are different from other professionals) in how they work from day to day, and I’ve never come across a book that addressed this concern specifically, which is a huge yay.

Draw Stronger

What I thought could be better:

The heading font for the book is a special hand-written font that Kriota created, which really adds character to the book. However, because the hand-written font is mostly uppercase, the text looked blocky (plus, the body text and heading were of the same size on the same page) and sometimes made it difficult to focus because of a lack of hierarchy. There was a lot of great content (text + illustrations), but for me it felt like a lot of the information blurred and blended into one another as though there wasn’t much breathing space. But I understand that it’s not easy to pack the amount of information she did into a small book, so it was just a small (and totally ignorable) gripe of mine.

Overall:

I would highly recommend this book for artists and illustrators. In fact, I think it’s required reading for artists at any stage of their career – Kriota brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that benefits a lot of those who are seeing signs of strain and injury in the course of their creative work. She’s very specific in terms of who will benefit the most from it (not mural artists who work on large artworks etc, but people who draw at a desk who work on small pieces), and thus have gone really deep into this subset of audience. I believe that prevention is always better than cure, but unfortunately I think those who find the book will be those who are already noticing the toll it has taken on their bodies.

If you’re just starting out with no signs yet of body pain (lucky you!), and you are here reading this review – do yourself a favour. Get this book. (Amazon link)

To learn more about Kriota Willberg, head on over to her blog.

[Images from Uncivilised Books]

Frida Kahlo by Alba Editorial

Frida Kahlo

Hi folks,

I’m sorry about the radio silence over here on the blog – I’ve got good reason for that besides the Work/Art/Play workshop that I’m wrapping up this week! Long story cut short, I had oral surgery and I’m recuperating. It wasn’t fun at all. It essentially was one of my biggest nightmares come true (I’ll tell you about it later). But! It’s half-way done, and I’m going to have to sustain myself on soft-ish food for around 6 months. So here’s me saying yay to unexpected dieting (keeping it positive, peeps!) so I can move forward to more adventures.

As a result of me slacking away, some things have piled up. And not just about the guilt that I’m feeling. I’m talking about real, tangible stuff – things like books. Great people have been sending me books from all around the world and I feel terrible about not being well enough to show you the treats I’ve been getting (yes, my definition of a treat is books, books and more books – uh, book nerds unite?)

So to get things back on track, here’s one I received from the ever wonderful Gee Fan of Minifanfan  – it’s a story about Frida Kahlo, published by Alba Editorial, illustrated by Gee Fan and written by Mª Isabel Sanchez Vegara. (NOTE: The book is in Spanish!)

This title is part of a children’s books series that talks about some of the greatest achievements made by women from all over the world. Alba Editorial has 2 other titles out in the collection: Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel, illustrated by Amaia Arrazola and Ana Albero respectively.

I think it’s wonderful to have more titles like these that offer a glimpse of strong women figures in the arts scene (there’s so many!) With children’s books you can’t quite dive into their story so much, but it’s a great start to pique the curiosities of young minds! Now if only we can get these translated into English. Hmmmm.

Also, I made a flip through of the book which you can see below, and I’m so proud of Gee Fan’s work, especially since it’s her first children’s book!

You can order the book through Alba Editorial (where you can also see the rest of the book in the series).

Review: 100 Great Children’s Picture Books

Screenshot 2015-08-25 18.11.10

 

I’ve been doing some research into children’s picture books recently, and was thrilled to hear that Martin Salisbury wrote another book after Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling. Published in April this year by Laurence King Publishing, 100 Great Children’s Picturebooks is a visual feast, and offers a nostalgic look at 100 children’s books from the last 100 years.

With the many, many children’s books out there, the selection criteria for the book ultimately boiled down to good art and good design; and it doesn’t disappoint. I could imagine how difficult it was for Salisbury to whittle down the selection of books to the ones contained in this tome; and especially since most of the books within are mainly from UK/USA/Europe (although not all of them were in English) – I was sure that to have Asian children’s books added to the mix would have made the task even more of a challenge.

Each profile is arranged chronologically, with details of the book covers, inside pages, publisher, date of publication, commentaries, storyline, and the illustrator’s process and body of work. An impressive amount of research was done for the book and it shows. Some of the books were from the author’s own collection (as well as some who were in his own words “begged and borrowed” from friends, colleagues and students.)

It was hard to pick out a favourite spread from the book (there’s just too many!), but Babar’s story – of how Laurent de Brunthoff’s father Jean created the series, but died from tuberculosis at the height of the characters (and the books) fame when Laurent was 12 years old. He picked up where his father left off when he was 21, and has since created more than 30 additional Babar titles in the last 60 years.

More than just eye-catching covers and informative, beautiful page spreads, 100 Great Children’s Picturebooks presents a historical look at how illustrations and stories have entertained children and adult alike, and will continue to do so in generations to come. It would make a wonderful addition to any picture book lover’s library.

{Available via Amazon}