M/sunny
49°
M/sunny
Hi 64° | Lo 44°

Shining a light

Charlemont illustrator looks for twists that are ‘not so warm & cozy’

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>The text on this Jeff Grader illustration, from the book “Kindness,” reads “The other rams feared him, loathed him because of his coldness and cruelty.”

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    The text on this Jeff Grader illustration, from the book “Kindness,” reads “The other rams feared him, loathed him because of his coldness and cruelty.”

  • Image courtesy Jeff Grader<br/>“Self-portrait,’ by Jeff Grader, who can sometimes be found tending bar at the Blue Rock in Shelburne Falls.

    Image courtesy Jeff Grader
    “Self-portrait,’ by Jeff Grader, who can sometimes be found tending bar at the Blue Rock in Shelburne Falls.

  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>“Winter”

    Image courtesy of Jeff Grader
    “Winter”

  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>“Suspense”

    Image courtesy of Jeff Grader
    “Suspense”

  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>Mask: Bird

    Image courtesy of Jeff Grader
    Mask: Bird

  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>“Lonely”

    Image courtesy of Jeff Grader
    “Lonely”

  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>In this Jeff Grader illustration for “Kindness,” the text reads, “‘Ram,’ the big rock suddenly spoke. Startled, the ram looked up then glowered and roared, ‘MOVE you stupid, stubborn rock! MOVE!’”

    Image courtesy of Jeff Grader
    In this Jeff Grader illustration for “Kindness,” the text reads, “‘Ram,’ the big rock suddenly spoke. Startled, the ram looked up then glowered and roared, ‘MOVE you stupid, stubborn rock! MOVE!’”

  • On this Jeff Grader illustration for the book “Change,” the text reads, “One night ... a coyote slipped soundlessly out of the black silence. Day and night, he had watched her. Now he circled, more curious than anything.”

    On this Jeff Grader illustration for the book “Change,” the text reads, “One night ... a coyote slipped soundlessly out of the black silence. Day and night, he had watched her. Now he circled, more curious than anything.”

  • Ready for Valentine’s Day?<br/>The big day is right around the corner, on Feb. 14. If you have loved ones in your life, and we sincerely hope you do, there are myriad opportunities right here in this calendar for you to act now so you can be a hero later. These range from workshops on making your own valentines (See “Potpourri” for Friday, Monday and Tuesday), to events where you can pick up prime chocolate offerings. These include the Arms Library on Sunday, listed under “Library.” (Note, to our regret, we listed this event under the wrong date in Thursday's print edition of the calendar) Listed under “Potpourri,” you’ll find Saturday’s annual Chocolate Fest in Turners Falls, complete with a chocolate fountain; and a Baystate Franklin Medical Center event on Tuesday. You can even practice pouring your heart out during the Valentine Word Sunday at the Greenfield Grille. See “Literary” for that one.

    Ready for Valentine’s Day?
    The big day is right around the corner, on Feb. 14. If you have loved ones in your life, and we sincerely hope you do, there are myriad opportunities right here in this calendar for you to act now so you can be a hero later. These range from workshops on making your own valentines (See “Potpourri” for Friday, Monday and Tuesday), to events where you can pick up prime chocolate offerings. These include the Arms Library on Sunday, listed under “Library.” (Note, to our regret, we listed this event under the wrong date in Thursday's print edition of the calendar) Listed under “Potpourri,” you’ll find Saturday’s annual Chocolate Fest in Turners Falls, complete with a chocolate fountain; and a Baystate Franklin Medical Center event on Tuesday. You can even practice pouring your heart out during the Valentine Word Sunday at the Greenfield Grille. See “Literary” for that one.

  • Recorder file photo/Peter MacDonald<br/>Eventide will present a benefit concert Sunday, Feb. 10, 3 p.m., at the First Congregational Church, 43 Silver St., Greenfield. The suggested donation is $10 to $15. Above, file photo of the group taken in 2010.

    Recorder file photo/Peter MacDonald
    Eventide will present a benefit concert Sunday, Feb. 10, 3 p.m., at the First Congregational Church, 43 Silver St., Greenfield. The suggested donation is $10 to $15. Above, file photo of the group taken in 2010.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>The text on this Jeff Grader illustration, from the book “Kindness,” reads “The other rams feared him, loathed him because of his coldness and cruelty.”
  • Image courtesy Jeff Grader<br/>“Self-portrait,’ by Jeff Grader, who can sometimes be found tending bar at the Blue Rock in Shelburne Falls.
  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>“Winter”
  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>“Suspense”
  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>Mask: Bird
  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>“Lonely”
  • Image courtesy of Jeff Grader<br/>In this Jeff Grader illustration for “Kindness,” the text reads, “‘Ram,’ the big rock suddenly spoke. Startled, the ram looked up then glowered and roared, ‘MOVE you stupid, stubborn rock! MOVE!’”
  • On this Jeff Grader illustration for the book “Change,” the text reads, “One night ... a coyote slipped soundlessly out of the black silence. Day and night, he had watched her. Now he circled, more curious than anything.”
  • Ready for Valentine’s Day?<br/>The big day is right around the corner, on Feb. 14. If you have loved ones in your life, and we sincerely hope you do, there are myriad opportunities right here in this calendar for you to act now so you can be a hero later. These range from workshops on making your own valentines (See “Potpourri” for Friday, Monday and Tuesday), to events where you can pick up prime chocolate offerings. These include the Arms Library on Sunday, listed under “Library.” (Note, to our regret, we listed this event under the wrong date in Thursday's print edition of the calendar) Listed under “Potpourri,” you’ll find Saturday’s annual Chocolate Fest in Turners Falls, complete with a chocolate fountain; and a Baystate Franklin Medical Center event on Tuesday. You can even practice pouring your heart out during the Valentine Word Sunday at the Greenfield Grille. See “Literary” for that one.
  • Recorder file photo/Peter MacDonald<br/>Eventide will present a benefit concert Sunday, Feb. 10, 3 p.m., at the First Congregational Church, 43 Silver St., Greenfield. The suggested donation is $10 to $15. Above, file photo of the group taken in 2010.

“On the highest peak of a windswept mountain range lived a ram.

“He was the biggest and strongest of all the rams.

“His back and shoulders were as hard as mountain rock.

“His horns were thick and twisted ...

“Scarred from battles where he had hit and hurt any creature in his path.”

So begins “Kindness,” a dark children’s book illustrated by Jeff Grader of Charlemont.

Written by Judith Barnes and Erick James, it’s the story of a ram who learns he can’t move mountains and that it doesn’t take physical strength to be kind.

In Grader’s view, “It’s all about shining a light.” He says the drawings and words repeatedly show “the lack of kindness, to amplify what kindness is.”

The flinty grayness and a visual shift that changes the relative “bigness” of things — the ram, the mountain, the mouse — are as much a part of the narrative as are the words.

The images are dark and brooding: the ram’s spiraling horns are tinged with green and his determined eyes are blood colored, as if he is “seeing red” while confronting the immovable earth.

In 2010, and working with co-authors Barnes and James, Grader illustrated their first award-winning book, called “Change: A Story for All Ages.”

Grader received the only Platinum Award given out for Children’s Book Illustration in the 40th Annual International Creativity Awards competition. Although still available from Amazon as an “e-book,” the 2010 printed version is nearly sold out, he said.

“Kindness” was released in November. To get a real sense of the ram he had in mind, Grader spent some time on a Shelburne sheep farm, making a three-dimensional model of those serpentine, twisted ram’s horns.

“The ram’s modeled after the Arapawa ram from New Zealand,” Grader explained. “I used rams from a local sheep farm, for inspiration. “When creating any kind of picture, the goal is to make it believable. By developing a library in my head, it helps to make something believable.”

“Horns were impossible to imagine — what they’re doing, visually,” he continued. “Building that 3-D model was the most effective thing. Foreshortening is one thing, but when (the horn) twists and spirals, that will make your mind blow up.”

When not illustrating, Grader can sometimes be found tending bar on weekends at the Blue Rock restaurant in Shelburne Falls. And, he’s a good bartender.

“Spending a couple nights at the restaurant is great,” he says. “It’s a way to practice my energy in another way, whereas artwork is introspective, deep and alone. I have no idea how it all fits into one shell.”

The 38-year-old artist grew up in Buckland and lived in Boston for about 15 years before moving back to western Massachusetts in 2007. Grader is a 1997 graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and worked as a freelance illustrator, mostly for advertising and marketing.

“Sometimes the most powerful things show you what you DON’T want to be doing,” he says of his days spent doing what he calls “still lifes for groceries.”

“I got out of marketing, he said, “because I wasn’t inspired to do my own (creative) work.”

“There are still freelance jobs that I don’t love as much as these books.”

But one benefit from the years spent working in advertising art was that, when Barnes and James were looking for an illustrator for “Change,” creative art director Michael Chrisner was familiar with Grader’s work.

“He was someone I worked with in advertising,” said Grader. Chrisner called Grader to see if he was interested in illustrating a children’s picture book. Then Judith Barnes visited Grader’s Web site, saw his artwork, and “knew I was the guy for the job,” says Grader. “She loved the darkness. I guess nothing was too white-washed.”

Grader says he’d love to create editorial cartoons. His Web site features cartoons he’s created that combine warmth with pathos. For instance, one cartoon shows a snowman handing his carrot nose to a rabbit. But look more closely, and you see that the snowman is melting. His generous gesture is a last offering.

“I love the dynamic of luring someone in — and there’s this twist, this side that is not so warm and cozy,” says Grader.

Grader said he is inspired by the artwork of the Random House “Little Golden Books” of the 1950s, but likes to put more emotion into his own work.

“Technically, that artwork was flawless,” he said of the “Little Golden Books” series.

The book “Change” is an allegory about a desert snake that doesn’t want to shed her skin. To keep her beautiful skin in place, she decides not to move — which has its consequences. The motionless snake is circled by vultures waiting for it to die. And it is warned by a coyote in the night that “the real danger comes from not changing.”

For “Change,” Grader said he put a lot of thought into “how do you make a snake look scared without adding cartoony eyebrows.” He does it by showing a close-up of one very alert eye, followed by a stark image of the snake’s head.

Grader said “Change” was designed to be tactile as well as visual. The Mohawk Loop Antique Vellum paper the book was printed on makes the book feel like a hand-drawn sketchbook. The swirling sketches are printed in sepia tones, with a light wash of pastel hues behind some of them.

“The physical feel of the book — the soft, thick paper — that was at the top of the list. That was going to change the actual book experience,” said Grader.

“Kindness,” in contrast, was printed on a clay-based stock, to better capture subtle highlights and shading. Both books are the first two parts of a series called “The Story of Communication,” on the art, science and occasional magic of how people interact, according to the publisher, Troy Book Makers.

In a recent radio interview, co-author Judith Barnes described the book series as “a new model for us.” She noted that there is sparse text, despite two authors, and that “the illustrations carry the weight.” She also noted that the copy was rewritten as the pictures got developed.

Grader enjoys mask making as a “break” from drawing, he said. Last year, he had a papier-mache mask exhibit at Mocha Maya’s Coffeehouse in Shelburne Falls.

Mask making “exercises a creative muscle in my brain that doesn’t work when I’m working in two dimensions,” he said. “In drawing, a story is always being incorporated into the process. But in paper mache, it’s structural: I’m feeling my way in shaping a nose ... Masks are all animated, in their movement and gesture. It adds a depth and layers to the image.”

Grader says he hopes to have an art exhibit on display at the Blue Rock this spring. “I want it to be editorial cartoons that pull upon patrons’ experiences,” he said.

To see Grader’s masks and other illustrations, visit his Web site at:

warpedwhimsy.com.

Staff reporter Diane Broncaccio has worked at The Recorder since 1988. Her beat includes west county. She can be reached at: dbronc@recorder.com or: 413-772-0261, ext. 277.

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.