My shelf is no stranger to art books and Pen to Paper is possibly the best one it has ingested all year. The book is introduced with a note about the resurgence of "analogue skills," and a rebellion against the glossy, digital art that permeates the commercial art world. Printed on fine, matte paper and filled with full-color drawings, paintings and collages, it's like a huge exhibition in a compact, 7 x 9" package.
Pen to Paper opens with work by Allyson Mellberg who I recently interviewed for the September 2010 issue of Juxtapoz. She makes her own ink, boiling walnuts to produce a dark brown color, and extracting pigment from pokeberries to make magenta. Like many of the imagined subjects rendered by the twenty-two artists featured in this book, Mellberg's characters often suffer from some sort of malady or disfiguration. She pictures a world in which unseen toxins bubble up to the surface, making their adverse impact visible.
Oakland's John Casey is another artist whose figures wrestle with creature-like features, and Allison Schulnik's thickly painted, ghostly, clown apparitions add to this dialogue of rambunctious misfits.
In an essay written for the book, Alex Michon points out that these "indefinable" mutated characters "mirror our nightly televisual horror shows," and goes on to describe the art as "dark postcards from the edge of the dystopian void," influenced by zine culture, Raymond Pettibon, and The Mission School.
There are more than a handful of pages dedicated to each artist, and the lack of text between imagery in Pen to Paper allows for uninterrupted appreciation. An art book should be judged by the art, not the artists' credentials. And everybody loves a book full of pictures.
Physicality is emphasized in the styles represented; the pages are packed with the movement of artists' hands. Even though the images are reprints, Pen to Paper feels like an original, shared sketchbook filled with vastly different interpretations of the same universal mayhem.