Whatever your thoughts on Valentine’s Day and whichever way you choose to celebrate (or not to celebrate) the holiday, February 14th still provides the perfect excuse to think about our loved ones...to get a bit giddy over grand gestures and good, old fashioned romance.
Love stories weave in and out of the Artiphany ‘characterverse’, from invertebrate affairs to cat couples and doggy dates. Of course they do, because John’s illustrated animal kingdom is a reflection of our own world, our own personalities, our own hopes and dreams. Or, as John explains, “Depicting these animals in a fashion that communicates affection or any emotion has more to do with observing human beings than animals.”
“These pictures are a subtle or explicit demonstration of pantomime,” he continues, “specifically the pantomime that we employ to communicate our feelings to each other with facial expression or body posture.” In the scene on the front of John’s Make Me Purr greeting card, love is communicated through more than just a kiss. The cat in front, the subject of the affection, has her eyes closed, her little mouth is upturned, and her hands are crossed contentedly in front, show her contentedness. “That’s the main emotion,” John explains. “Then you see the reason for her contentment is the embrace she’s getting from the other cat. And just to embellish that feeling, you see the slight indentation into her fur on her chest and her bent whiskers and the slight curve of her body due to the strength of the embrace.”
Meanwhile, in the more subtle imagery of the Best In Show greeting card, the canine couple is sitting/standing back to back. Their connection is casual, easy, long-established. They don’t need to remind the room that they are in love, because everyone already knows. Still, there is a special glint in their eyes. Their thoughts are on one another.
“My trick is that I can identify those facial expressions that express feelings and transpose them to a dog or a cat,” John says. “Eyebrows tilted one way express disdain. Tilted another way, they express surprise...without changing anything else about the face.” So much is apparent in the I Miss You greeting card. If the eyes of one half of these star-crossed lovers (bird and cat) were just slightly altered, the expression would not be one of “you’re the one for me” but rather, “you’re the one for my dinner.”
“The slightest change really makes all the difference,” says John.
But let us not forget that other side of love: friendship. In one of his more (delightfully) morbid twists of imagination, John has two interpretations on this theme that are truly timeless. In the Friends Forever image, the “old boys” version, three pals embrace, eerily toothy grins spread across each of their faces. They have held onto their earthly indulgences—a cigar, and a few alcoholic beverages—but more importantly, they have remained buddies beyond the grave. The girl friends version of this same card has (pardon the phrase) a bit more life to it. The women, though equally skeletal, are feeling funky and fun. A bony leg pops, a skull is turned to accentuate her best angle. These girls are ready for a Galentine’s Day out on the town.
And for those who prefer the friendship of birds to bones, John’s got that covered too:
The subtle human feeling that is infused into all of these characters is one that comes about through—you probably guessed it—a labor of love. Emotions, especially animal emotions, do not just occur naturally on the page. They are achieved through tweeking and erasing and starting over again. “The process of getting to this finished image is a series of refinements in each of the 5 or 10 or more drawings that precede the last,” says John. Luckily, John has the patience—slightly tinged with perfectionism—that will keep him at the drawing board until the love comes through, communicated through every beak, and every whisker.
Now....get off your computers and tablets and phones and out to the dog park! All of you! Don't make me bark at you!
Love and dog bones,