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Viewing Blog: Dianeville, dated 8/2012
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Friends and colleagues often refer to my view of life as "living in Dianeville." So now I have finally decided to share this special place at www.dianesammet.com. If I am able to keep up with this blog, you will see snippets (great word isn't it) of my art making process and my thoughts about what matters. Enjoy!
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1. Chimp Turns Vector

Step four…Sculpting in 2-D

So far my steps are pretty standard for a lot of artists. Now is the time I deviate from a normal process (or so I think). As most close friends know, I adore working with Adobe Illustrator. I love the precision, the ease of selection, the fluid ability to alter and change, and the Undo button. I love that Illustrator allows me to build, to take a shape and combine more shapes to it, or remove parts of shapes. I love that I can develop a unique style by combining and playing with the abundance of tools. I have worked with Illustrator for over ten years now, and have never grown tired of it. I feel like this software is an ever-expanding medium. The more I know, the more there is to know. Truly my creativity has grown faster and easier with the use of Illustrator (and my Wacom tablet).

Adobe Illustrator is a vector drawing and design program, which means that unlike Photoshop, in Illustrator we work with paths. Photoshop works with pixels.  The paths in Illustrator are constructed with anchor points that hold the path down, and direction handles that allow the artist to pull and adjust the curve, slope and direction of the path. For a typical circle there are 4 of these anchor points. To make this all a bit clearer I developed videos for the classes I teach. Here is the link to the series of videos that cover anchor points and direction handles.

Anchor Points and Direction Handles

Back to my chimpanzee… since I studied (by drawing and clay sculpting) the essential structure of the chimp, I am now ready to develop the character using paths in Illustrator. I started with the overall silhouette shape of the head. I asked myself what basic shape is the head? I decided upon a circle. Then I asked myself, what basic shape is the muzzle? Or I should say, what basic shapes could be used to build the muzzle since the muzzle is a detailed and complicated portion of the face? In the following photograph (look left to right, top to bottom) you can see the building progression from simple geometric paths to final structure.

  Shaping a character

As I crafted the chimp’s head in Illustrator, I noticed that I was adding shapes to the head, which reminded me of adding clumps of clay to the clay head version. I also removed pieces of shapes from the Illustrator version, which reminded me of removing pieces of clay from the clay head version.  Traditional sculpture normally falls into three processes, either additive, or subtractive or a combination of both. I realized that in essence I was using traditional additive and subtractive methods in Adobe Illustrator.  So I decided to call this process Sculpting in 2D.

To further the comparison between my Illustrator and my traditional clay sculpture processes I noticed that I would select an anchor point and nudge or push the point to a new position. I would pull a direction handle to adjust the curve of the path. This subtle pushing and pulling of anchor points and direction handles was exactly like taking clay and subtly pushing and pulling the clay into the desired form. I love this connection between a traditional sculpting process and working in Illustrator.

2d sculpting

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2. The Making of a Character

With Charley Harper as my inspiration, I developed the following approach to picture making. This process developed one step at a time. Like many other areas of life, I focused on the work immediately in front of me and discarded any thoughts about “what comes next?” I trust that if I care for the task at hand, that the next step, the next task will reveal itself when the time is right. So Step one…

I am working on a book that contains a chimpanzee character. I have never touched a chimpanzee. I have seen photos of chimps but my best characters come from really experiencing the basis person or animal. I believe there is nothing better than being in the presence of your model. That way you can study it, really study it. Luckily my family had planned a trip to the zoo, which of course, had many monkeys, apes and chimpanzees. I stayed glued to the windows of the Primate House. I tried to etch into my brain their gestures, expressions and behaviors. Seeing how the fur straggles from the skin, versus fur that lies down and massages the skin is the type of detail I look for when studying reference material. I am convinced that I would not notice that detail as easily in a photograph.

Step two… Sketching

My first attempts at drawing the chimpanzee are NOT about drawing the character yet. I am still studying chimps in their natural environment. I need to learn what makes a chimp a chimp and not a gorilla or a monkey. What are the shapes that uniquely define the silhouette of a chimp? What are the definitive proportions that are unique to this species? What contour line expresses the essence of chimp?  The sketches attempt to catch the illusion of real chimpanzees. Only by drawing am I able to think through what can be discarded and what must stay. Only by drawing am I able to understand what makes a chimp a chimp.


Step three…Sketching in clay

Time to study anatomy. All my sketches and reference material are two-dimensional and flat. My character must live in the illusion of a three-dimensional world. I never presume to know how every element within my picture might look. I need to see it and study it. For the chimp, since he/she is a new character I question what the ears would look like at various point-of-views. I question what the eyebrows look like under different lighting. I question how the jaw might adjust for different emotions and expressions. If it is impossible for me to answer my own questions, I sculpt. I use plain white Sculpey and push and pull, add and remove clay to develop my own version of a chimp. As I work in clay, I am really sketching in 3-D.  I am able to see the answers to my questions. My fingertips seem to gather information about the chimp in a way my eyes cannot. All the previous research into shapes and anatomy give my fingers the foundation for simplification. So while the clay chimp comes to life, he/she develops not as a realistic copy, but instead closer to a true essence of character.


Step four...coming soon.

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3. Miracle on 16th Street, part 4

Calm, but anxiously expecting the unknown, the neighborhood conducted normal routines while waiting for the animal control officer.  Of all days, this was the day Pretty Girl decided not to come out of her hole at all. She had not been sighted for over 24 hours. Was she still under the house? Had she sensed a foreboding energy in the air? Did she silently move over night? The animal control officer was late. She had said she would be there by 8 in the morning. It was 10 when she arrived with the humane trap. We set it up four feet from Pretty Girl’s hole and baited it with canned dog food. There was nothing else to do but wait. The officer left to attend to other situations but said to call immediately when Pretty Girl took the bait. Linda had to go to work, Bob had appointments to keep. I went back to my studio to work.

But to work was difficult. I kept worrying about Pretty Girl’s reaction to being trapped in a cage, especially since I was convinced she had puppies under the house. Would she get aggressive? Would she fill with dread? By separating a mother dog and her pups (even temporarily) her behavior could be unpredictable.  An hour passed, then two, still no Pretty Girl. It was lunchtime, and so I mixed up a new batch of kibble and canned food. I replaced the original food inside the trap, all the while talking to an absent Pretty Girl. I hoped dogs could not feel betrayal. Somehow, even though she did not show it, Pretty Girl had learned to trust and now we had to capture her (and her pups).

I left the food and walked to the street as Bob drove by. We talked and speculated and shared our common worry. Clunk. A clear sound of metal meeting metal. We ran back to the trap and there she was, our very Pretty Girl sitting calming inside the humane trap. Her soulful eyes looking at ours, a quiet puzzle on her face. The animal control officer was called. Linda too. I sat next to the trap contributing peace to the situation. The officer had to finish up her current task before she could get back to us and that could easily be an hour. Bob drove home. Just Pretty Girl and I, alone, two feet from each other. I wish I could say that at that point she licked my hand or showed some sort of dog/human bond, but she didn’t. If I placed my hand on the cage, Pretty Girl backed into its farthest corner. She stayed quiet, accepting fate, but wary. 

Was it 30 minutes or more? I don’t know how long I stayed next to Pretty Girl until Bob came back with supplies to crawl under the house. It was lucky for us that Bob fit easily into Pretty Girl’s crawl space.  He entered the low, dark space crawling on his stomach, just as Pretty Girl had done.  Most crawl spaces under old houses are a labyrinth of stone and cinder block holding up the house. Bones and bottles, dirt, webs and imagined slinky, slimy things love the dark undisturbed space. This house delivered all that. Bob slid a few feet at a time, rounding a supporting block wall, hitting a dead end, backing up and trying a new route. Fifteen minutes passed when Bob finally reached the farthest side of the house from the “entrance.” He called out, “I see puppies. Three, no four football sized puppies.” “Healthy and asking for mom.”

The animal control officer arrived and so did Linda. The puppies were as far from the entrance as possible. We pushed open a crawl space vent opening closer to the puppies and one-by-one Bob lifted each pup out of the hole and into waiting arms.  Tears, lots of tears ran down faces as the neighborhood witnessed each miraculous rescue. The pup’s eyes were still closed, making them approximately a week old. They were big, round, well fed and extremely clean. Pretty Girl could see none of the rescue. She was still trapped in her cage on the opposite side of the house.  The four puppies were placed into the cool (yes, air conditioned) animal control truck. They squirmed and squeaked, searching for momma.

Back to Pretty Girl with a leash and in minutes with no fuss or stress, she was tied and seemed more domesticated than we could imagine. Now sitting next to her, I could finally touch her pet her.  You could call me crazy but as I stroked her, I felt Pretty Girl send out a powerful feeling of overwhelming relief. It was as if she thought, “this is what I missed, this is what I hungered for.”

The animal control officer walked Pretty Girl to the truck. Before reuniting with her puppies, the officer opened the cab door to get the necessary paperwork. Pretty Girl jumped into the cab and took position next to the driver’s seat.  She was ready to ride, ready to go home now. “This is not the place for you, Pretty Girl. Come on down.” She was led around to the back of the truck. Puppies in view now, she made her way into the cubby where her babies waited, but right before she left Pretty Girl turned and gave me a lick on my ear.

Pretty Girl and her puppies left for Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida. The four puppies have grown to adoptable age and are already enjoying new forever families.

Pretty Girl is in foster care with the loving caretakers of Lab Rescue. She is waiting for her forever family.


Look for Dazzle, her new name.


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4. Charley Harper


As a graduate student studying for my MFA in Illustration I stumbled upon the work of the late Charley Harper (1922-2007).  How I wish I had seen his work sooner and had had the opportunity to meet the man. Seeing his highly simplified and structured illustrations, I felt “finally this is it.” The shapes, the textures, the compositions, the shapes, the shapes, the shapes! There is a peace within his organized picture making, no angst here. No tortured souls expressing their individual egos uprising. Thank you Mr. Harper. Instead he gave us a new world, one stripped of unnecessary baggage. Under it all, inside the living, is the truth of who we are. To see that truth takes practice at seeing beyond the surface special effects. Mr. Harper’s work does that for me.  The purity of his vision reminds me of poetry, where each word is carefully and consciously chosen. Mr. Harper must have done the same with his images. Each line, shape, value, color, and texture had to be carefully and consciously chosen to convey the emotion, the action, and the story.

Am I inspired? Wholeheartedly. I have Charley Harper images surrounding me in my studio. As I work out my compositions and hit a devilish problem, I glance at Harper’s art and ask, “What would Charley Harper do?” In that moment, I am reminded to simplify, look for the essence, shape out the core.

What surprises me so much about this style of art, is that as simplified and stylized as it is, as devoid of fancy effects as possible, Harper’s art is full of peace, joy, love and hope. That is the world I live in, an honest truth of heaven on earth.




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