SPU’s Spring illustration show features a range of storytelling, from original conceptions to takes on pre-existing source material. Micah Ables’ illustrations based on the novel, Dune by Frank Herbert, are one of two presentations based off pre-existing material, but are no less creative for it. Two large-scale landscapes and one vertically-oriented piece efficiently convey the bleakness of the world the story is set in and the seemingly unending abyss conveyed through multi-dimensional sandy browns, oranges, and purples. Two character designs portray the uniqueness of the world’s human inhabitants. Ables’ display takes the cake as far as execution. The only aspect I find lacking is the limited quantity of illustrations, the limited views of this complicated world, though this opens Ables’ up to delve more fully in rendering the novel’s descriptions.
The show includes a healthy diversity across all of its featured artists’ works. Brianne Hughes displays eight original character designs, the majority of which are ethnically diverse. Hughes’ project displays a geo-political map of her world, it’s rendering reminiscent of Skyrim and Lord of the Rings geographical maps. As far as technical skill goes, the map is the most impressive and accomplished aspect of her presentation. The character designs, and the scene from Hughes’ story show promising execution.
Striking world building is evident across many of the artists, and is the standout feature of Elizabeth Simpson’s work. Simpson’s graphic novel conception features two main character designs rendered with a fluid dynamism in their actions, as well as a lineup of additional characters, but what catches the eye is the attention to detail on Simpson’s concept of an airship and various mechanical engineered designs fitting her world. Reminiscent of steampunk, the concept of the larger airship conveys a sense of the size and complexity of the ship. World building, achieved through a healthy range of illustrated settings, and technical skill, apparent in the multiple aircraft designs, pull Simpson’s work out amongst the more impressive.
Many of the artists’ displays fall under the category of graphic novel or concept illustration, but Ashley Meisner adds the element of storyboarding and producing material for film. Meisner’s presentation is composed of a series of storyboards, movie poster, and screenplay about the tumultuous journey of a wolf-goddess. As Meisner intended the illustrations to act as concepts for an animated film, the renderings of the wolf characters – their expressions and centrality to the “film” – bring to mind other similar works, like the animated film Balto, though there is also resemblance to the graceful, calligraphical quality utilized in Okami. The latter reference is more intriguing, on a personal note, though it can be hard to spot in the many – bordering on overabundant – panels. However, with time I can see these storyboards elaborating on Meisner’s creation, smoothing out the kinks and adjusting for economy.
Julie Carlson’s display brings the focus back to human subjects, and is a sort of liaison between the high fantasy of Ables, Hughes, Simpson, and Meisner and the more gentle fantasy of the two remaining artists. Carlson has produced many illustrations based off The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente. Carlson has depicted scenes from Valente’s fantastical world in creative compositions, with redesigns of each chapter’s title page featuring the corresponding illustration. As with Meisner, there are quite a few illustrations to Carlson’s display, though the extensive detailing of each one may be more of a hindrance. With an eye on economizing, the illustration can still convey what it needs to without appearing too busy to the eye.
Transitioning into a decidedly more low-key fantasy, Emily Mogren’s display features a series of traditional pieces, rendered in graphite and watercolor. These individual illustrations read like pages of a children’s book – intentional on Mogren’s part – and tell the story of a little boy and his grandmother exploring their own innocent fantasies through watercolor painting, inspired by Mogren’s relationship with her grandmother. Mogren exhibits notable skill in her graphite illustrations and a proficient handle on the watercolor, creating expressive, simplistic pieces.
The final artist of the show also displays work in watercolor. Like Mogren, Bethany Peter brings a highly personal inspiration to her numerous pieces. Peter’s work is also reads very appropriately as a children’s book, featuring instantly likeable animal characters and the potential for an endless possibility of adventures. The concept was inspired by the original stories Peter’s father told as bed-time stories, and Peter has expanded on them, providing a plethora of character designs and expressions in a charmingly simplistic world. A highlight of Peter’s work is the attention to animal anatomy and the crossover into rendering these anatomies for cartoonish or animated illustration.
What stands out about this show is its cohesiveness in regards to the themes of sci-fi and fantasy. The artists display an intriguing range of fantastical worlds and sci-fi mechanics, from softly rendered to boldly expressed. Across all the artists, it is interesting to look at as a whole, offering big-picture conceptualizations (Ables, Hughes, Simpson, and Meisner) to focused ideas (Carlson, Mogren, and Peter) and would be of interest to the concept artist, character designer, and any lover of storytelling.
– Brie Martinez