Thursday, September 16, 2010

Picture Lotto!

I am teaching a methods course this fall to illustrators and cartoonists ("Visual Worlds", about which I have written before here and here.) The first portion of the class is straightforwardly diagnostic. In the first week, I sent the group out to make something based on observation and reportage, using the St. Louis Galleria as the generic subject, including inside, outside, parking lot. Back came a variety of things, all interiors. Last week I handed out a set of four sheets, each of which included six boxes labeled with a noun or verb, like so:

making a total of 24 drawings to be required. When 10 students did the project, it produced 240 drawings, which is a decent data set for reflection. We looked at them yesterday. A significant variety, as one might expect: but also, shifting conventions and forms of visual logic within the same student's group of works. A valuable question: are these a meaningful set? Do they cohere, visually and/or conceptually? The project was not couched in those terms: rather it was presented in a very matter-of-fact way: please fill in the boxes. The range of responses extended from the symbolic to the concrete, with explicit or implied narratives making necessary appearances as required (e.g., amputate).

These images are reminiscent of simple identifying pictures, as in flash cards or a midcentury visual game, picture lotto. The pink-field illustrations above and below are picture lotto cards, akin to a bingo card, used for collecting game pieces. The images in both cases are credited, incompletely, to one C. Clement, noted on the box cover (not shown). My friend and colleague Linda Solovic found them at a flea market this summer; she took the box and the game pieces, I got these. The game was produced by Samuel Gabriel and Sons Company, circa 1950.

Another version of the game was produced by the folks at Golden Funtime Punchout Books, a heavy-stock department at Golden Press, all part of the genius outfit of Western Publishing in Racine, Wisconsin. They made punch-out card things. As this scan shows, this game was manufactured in 1962.

The Golden Funtime version makes explicit what the Samuel Gabriel game leaves implicit: categories of things. The collection cards for the former organize the material into five groupings: Travel, Pets, People, Toys and Things We Use.

Here's evidence that people at these firms looked at each other's work. In both cases, the image for television features a console TV set with a puppet show playing.

The puppets in both cases suggest European Punch and Judy marionettes. And Howdy Doody was a marionette. But the most influential television show involving puppets from the time period was the brilliant Kukla, Fran and Ollie, which debuted in the late 1940s. Presumably the Punch and Judy profiles had more generic value to these illustrators in 1950, though by 1960 the same approach seems likely to have been a teeny bit dated. KFO went off the air in 1957, but Fran Allison and her pals enjoyed a long career in varying formats after that. I remember seeing KFO reruns as a child.

Okay, students: for those of you who will be taking the second project to finish, I want you to make your project a contemporary version of Picture Lotto: choose two of the above categories, with a sixth option included in your menu: Things We Fear. You choose the items within the categories. I want to see 12 pieces, six per card, with typography integrated into the solution. Keep the color to a limited palette: no more than three colors, plus white. Have a blast.

For those of you who will be pursuing the first project to finish, for the sake of contrast I am going to be asking you to revisit the problem with an emphasis on character and environment, more stress on the latter. More coming. Stay tuned...

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