When you read a story, like a classic illustrated children’s tale, there is a transportive quality to the experience. We are taken on a journey through the text and the imagery used to communicate the ideas and elements. It’s an often immersive experience, one that can shape the worldviews of children and adults alike.

"Bits & Pieces: The Illustration of Red Nose Studio," on view at the Emily Davis Gallery at the University of Akron, is just such an immersive experience, giving keen insights into the process of creating illustrations for books and animations. The exhibit shows how artist Chris Sickels does character development and narrative structure. It also displays the artist's sculpture, painting, photography, animation and illustration techniques used to communicate the stories he helps to tell.

For his work, Sickels creates three-dimensional vignettes that he photographs and uses as illustrations for children's books and other projects. The exhibit shows different elements of this process, from initial sketches to final constructed sets and most everything in between. There is also a compilation of the artist's animations on rotation in the gallery.

The exhibit is broken up into two parts between the upper and lower spaces of the gallery. You enter through the upper space that features works from the artist's most recent project, "Time Pieces," which was designed to be a promotional piece for Red Nose Studio clients.

Walking into the gallery is an uplifting, fun and joyful experience. If you’ve ever wondered how books and illustrations were made, this is the exhibit for you.

The "Time Pieces" project provides insights into who this artist is. One of the most exciting elements is the three-dimensional models or mini-movie sets on display. Here you get a first glance into how Sickels uses whatever is available to make his illustrations. Old clocks, pieces of cereal boxes, batteries and pieces-parts of different things, even the remains of a window sash, are used to construct them.

There is also a collection of sketchbooks that are wonderfully expressive and show that work like this takes days, weeks, months and even years to come up with. This is far different than the Instagram world we live in that might make you believe everything is done thoughtfully and fully realized in the blink of an eye. This exhibit illustrates that the artistic process takes a lifetime of research and loads of investment and time.

In the lower gallery space are three-dimensional models and prints from Sickels' books and projects. There is a small display of pieces created for the book "Elvis is King!" which was published this month. The illustrations show the transition of Elvis from a poor child into a music star. Of note, the artist chose to show the younger Elvis in nearly sepia-tone colors and then bring him to full color once he transformed into the Elvis we all recognize.

This “Wizard of Oz” black and white to color shift is something the artist had to fight with his publisher to make happen. His vision gives the illustrations deeper meaning, and while this type of change is shown in the pages of the book, it has an impact to be able to see this stylistic choice on the walls of the gallery. It better informs us how choices are made in this type of illustrative process and shows Sickels' integrity and vision.

"In the Fear of the Vocal Minority," which was created for Plansponsor, a publication for the retirement benefits industry, a clown stands between two trees, surrounded by crying babies wearing birthday hats. There is also a model of the clown, whom the artist calls “the optimist,” displayed next to this print.

Further, there is an animation of the clown playing with a Jack-in-the-box, winding the box as it plays most of the familiar song, but the box never opens to reveal Jack, so the clown keeps winding, believing Jack will pop out at some point soon. It’s a funny series of pieces that shows the artist's wit, style and conceptual prowess.

"Bits & Pieces: The Illustration of Red Nose Studio" shows why college art galleries are so important. Here is the opportunity to dive deep into an illustrator's process, offering insights into who Chris Sickels is in a way that is meaningful and easy to connect with. It’s also displayed free of charge and open to everyone.    

 

Contact Anderson Turner at haturner3@gmail.com.