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]

Review: Art Oracles: Creative & life inspiration from the great artists

Who doesn’t need a little bit of advice every now and then? I know I do.

Especially when it’s from famous artists, presented alá tarot cards, reminiscent of oracle decks for guidance. If mysticism is indeed and alive and well, why shouldn’t there be one in the realm of art? We look to old masters (and even new talents) for inspiration, so it makes total sense to revere the ones who has left an indelible mark on the world. If you’re nodding along to this so far, then you’ll be intrigued as I was with Art Oracles, sent to me by the lovely people at Laurence King Publishing.

Gifts for artists that are interesting and unique are far and few in between (which is why there’s so few review of them on here), but I’m very thrilled to have found it in Art Oracles. The deck has 50 cards, with a helpful booklet that details each artist’s biographies and instructions on how to use them. Basically, you select a card whenever you have a question that pertains to either life, work or inspiration, and glean what you will from the history of greatest artists, painters, architects and designers via fortune-cookie style proverbs. At a glance it may seem a little simplistic, but the more I delved into each saying, the more it made sense. Take a cue from Marcel Duchamp: “Making it look easy is hard,” or the wise words of Frida Kahlo – “Externalise your internal world.” Its cryptic brevity leaves the deciphering to the eye of the beholder. Magic!

Written by Kayla Tylevich and illustrated by Mikel Sommer, it’s a beautiful deck (gold-foiled, no less) that has the ability to be light and yet serious enough to work across all creative disciplines – a perfect counterpoint to the fast-paced, mad world of art and design. Think of it like a magic 8-ball for creatives, only more aesthetically pleasing with a whole lot more range to its answers.

Even if you’re not one for new-age mysticism, Art Oracles is enjoyable and insightful, and would make an excellent gift for yourself (or a friend). I’m not the only ones who think so too – check out the reviews and get it through Amazon.

Images from Art Oracles: Creative & Life Inspiration from the Great Artists by Katya Tylevich and Mikkel Sommer Christensen (Laurence King Publishing, 2017).

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).

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