Friday, December 27, 2013

A Newlyweds Christmas Tradition

When my friends Sandy and Greg celebrated their first Christmas together, Greg saved a slice of the Christmas tree's trunk and recorded the year's events on it. That tree slice became a meaningful ornament for the next year, and so a piece of the second Christmas tree's trunk was saved, too. It also was inscribed with the year's highlights.

This Christmas, as they do every year, Sandy and Greg hung up a long garland, displaying pieces from all of their Christmas trees. It's a lovely tradition, and it makes a very special decoration, don't you think?

•  •  •

I couldn't help myself. Since my last posting, I went out and bought five more antique glass pine cone ornaments. I particularly like the smallest one, which appears silver on the tree, but which clearly has a tint of chartreuse.

I hope you're all having a good holiday!

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Victorian Christmas Tree

This year, I decided to create my version of a Victorian Christmas tree. You may remember that last year I posted about the fun of decorating a tree with travel souvenirs, here. Then, as the holiday season drew to a close, I walked into an antique store comprised of many dealers and noticed — going from stall to stall —  that there were lots of antique glass pine cone ornaments. I couldn't resist starting another collection, above!

I decided to complement the antique ornaments with new colored ones, and to alternate those colors from year to year.

If that isn't enough, I'll add colored ribbon to match the complementary color scheme and . . .

. . . strands of pearls or perhaps colored beads.

And here's the finished tree (with room for the glass pine cone collection to grow).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Christmas Tribute To Thomas Nast

In my last posting I mentioned how I developed a technique of drawing with felt-tip markers, creating "nubby" lines that have an antique look. As part of the same campaign, John Atkinson and I promoted the shopping center with a Santa Claus modeled after Thomas Nast's famous image. In my illustration, Santa is holding products that could be found at the shopping center.

click to enlarge   |   © Mark D. Ruffner, 1983
Here is my illustration, and below is the 1862 original. I didn't want to lose that distinctive 18th-century clay pipe!
While Thomas Nast (1840-1902) defined the American perception of Santa Claus for decades, he is better remembered as the finest 19th-century American political cartoonist. He is the man who came up with the iconic elephant to represent the Republican party, and while he didn't create the donkey as a Democratic emblem, he popularized it.

click to enlarge   |
Nast began newspaper work while still a teenager, and worked for both Frank Leslie's Illustrated and Harper's Weekly. He used photographs as reference for his stinging caricatures, and was instrumental in bringing down the powerful New York politician, Boss Tweed. When Boss Tweed fled the country on corruption charges and was apprehended in Spain, it was a Thomas Nast cartoon that identified him. Nast's cartoons are also credited with helping Grover Cleveland become the first Democratic President (in 1884) since the 1856 election.

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt rewarded the ailing Thomas Nast by appointing him as Consul General to Ecuador. There Nast contracted Yellow Fever while helping others to escape a similar fate, and died the same year.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nostalgia, Bleeding and Cutting

When I worked as a commercial illustrator, I was not known by any one particular style, and so I developed a range of styles, and that kept me busy.

click to enlarge   |   © Mark D. Ruffner, 1983
This was a full-page newspaper ad I illustrated one Christmas for a local shopping center. For the line art I developed a technique of drawing on thick, absorbent paper with a felt-tip marker. The felt-tip marker would bleed, but slowly so, allowing me to control the line's "nubbiness." Note how I put my initials on the rocking horse's rear, where a brand would be!

The art director for this job was my good friend John Atkinson, with whom I worked on many fun projects — he came up with the concept (and I've mentioned him before, here). Together we spent one evening cutting amberlith overlays for each color.

George Rorick On Using Amberlith   |
This job was done before the days of the computer, so each individual color would be indicated on an amberlith overlay.

Amberlith is a sheet of acetate that is covered with an orange gel that is both semi-transparent and peelable. The amberlith is placed over the artwork, and the areas for one particular color are cut with an exacto blade so that the amberlith covers those areas, and all the rest is peeled away. The step is repeated for each color, and then registration marks are put on each acetate so that all the colors register at printing time.

Producing full-color ads this way was a tedious job, and I sometimes created ads that had more than 20 color overlays! The Christmas ad above required only five.

While this process is now very much outdated in the digital world, it was the norm in newspaper work well into the 1990s.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Visit to St. Petersburg's Brocante

Yesterday, my friend Sandy and I visited St. Petersburg's Brocante, a new vintage market with dozens of vendors and "15,000 square feet of vintage bliss."

The brocante is the brainchild of Sean and Celesta Carter, and it's open the first full weekend of every month.

That the brocante is restricted to once per month is a large part of its evident success. The Carters — and the many vendors who have joined them — obviously take the better part of each month to be selective in what is included, and also take the time to present vintage items in ways that are visually stimulating.

For example, all these items were grouped to suggest Dad's shop, and one can immediately imagine sitting in that chair and tying a few fishing flies or working on a kit.

Likewise, these religious icons were resting on a very long and substantial church pew.

In an area of filing cabinets and lockers, I noticed this cool cabinet that once held college microscopes.

Globes have a huge retro appeal today, and for the person with a keen eye, the brocante held a ready-made collection.

If my dining room ceiling weren't quite so low, I might have snapped up these vintage lamps.

How's this for vintage — spats!

Years ago somebody bought a white cigarette holder, a sophisticated choice and the only one missing from this set.

Have you ever heard of a Dorking Rooster? (Is he x-rated?) I was instantly attracted to this handsome image because it was an original 1870's lithograph. It doubtlessly was 19th-century advertising .

I'm continually intrigued by these old team photographs. Have you ever noticed that the sports teams at the turn of the last century almost always included guys who wouldn't rise above bat boy today?

With its enameled metal top, this old cabinet could be a fun piece of outdoor furniture.

You'll never guess what this is, so I'll just tell you — it a detail from a vintage lampshade.

My purchase for the day was this lithographed tin, a perfect companion piece to my Lucky Strike tin of the same era. It probably dates to around the 1880s and is in virtually mint condition — a great find!

St. Petersburg's Brocante is very well thought out, efficiently organized, fun to visit and a great addition to the area. If you're in St. Petersburg, here's what you need to know:

2200 2nd Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33712


Sunday, December 1, 2013

How I Own a Piece of the London Bridge

The history of the London Bridge, which spans the Thames River, is an interesting one. There were a number of versions, starting with a wooden bridge built by the Romans. A medieval London Bridge resembled the Ponte Vecchio, in that it had shops attached. For a thorough accounting, you can read the fascinating history of the London Bridge here.

click to enlarge   |  photo circa 1870-1890   |   Cornell University
This version of the London Bridge was opened in 1831, and it is estimated that in the 19th century, 8,000 people crossed it per hour! Click on the image and you won't doubt that figure. Perhaps all that traffic was one factor in its sinkage. By the late 20th century, the bridge was sinking about an inch per year.

Amazingly, in 1968, the 1831 London Bridge was sold to American Robert P. McChulloc for $2,460,000, who in turn had it carefully deconstructed and reassembled at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

London Bridge in Arizona   |
When the London Bridge was reconstructed in Arizona, it came under modern building requirements that called for steel reinforcing not found in the original. And so when that was accomplished, there was a lot of leftover granite.

Of course this historic 1831 granite didn't go to waste. It was cut into pieces about the size that this appears on your screen, and was sold as souvenirs. I was delighted to be gifted with a piece one birthday!