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Word play inspires art book by new media professor

October 25, 2016
KOKOMO, Ind. — At first glance, Michael Koerner’s new book appears to be an intricate look and find game, with words hidden behind and within pen and ink drawings.

However, there are more than words hidden behind his artwork — there is also a message about losses, both personal and cultural.

“As one becomes older, it’s a universal experience that we go through loss of some sort,” said Koerner, assistant professor of new media and art technology at Indiana University Kokomo. “The loss can be trivial, like losing your keys, or losing your patience while in line, and it also cuts to the bone, as in losing friends and lovers and family members, losing your home, losing the memories of what you have lost, losing your mobility.”

He considers all of these in Things We Will or Have Already Lost, which launched at an exhibition at the Swanson Contemporary Gallery in Louisville in February. It is available as a hardcover or digital book, as well as individual artworks.

Koerner’s son, Benjamin, now 7, inspired the book when he was 3, after noticing the hose they were using to water their yard created a rainbow. After his father turned off the water, Benjamin asked him, “Daddy, can you turn the rainbow back on?”

As the son of a journalist, Koerner said that question struck a chord with him, and he filed the idea away in his mind, waiting for the right time for it to inspire artwork.

“My art practice and research always starts from word play,” he said. “That’s the foundation of my work. I kept that in my back pocket for a few years, and tried to figure out how I could use it.”

He spent 10 months thinking about loss, coming up with 60 ideas, some very personal to him, and some more universal, that he could include in the book. After narrowing his ideas down by half, he began the illustration process, beginning with careful selection of colors.

He worked through the color spectrum from the color of grass at dawn on the first page, from bluish greens, yellows, violets, reds, and ending with a blue the color of grass at dusk.

Once he selected his words — including Pluto as a Planet, teeth, mom & dad, Library of Alexandria, and cassette tapes — he printed them, then created inkpen drawings of top of each one, using an 80-year-old industrial lightbox. Then he scaled the drawings on his computer, marrying it with his chosen colors.

At IU Kokomo, Koerner leads the design center, and teaches classes in illustration, painting, and publishing. Going through the process of publishing his book sets an example for his students, and gives him empathy for them as they work through the creative process in his class. It also shows them how more traditional art forms, such as pen and ink drawings and paintings, can be used alongside newer methods, including digital work.

“The skills I used in producing the book reflect working from a creative brief and both traditional hand drawing and digital practices. It allowed me the cathartic experience of conceptually and physically going through the process of evaluating things that I myself have lost.”

Copies of the hardbound artist book, signed and numbered from a limited edition of 100, are available at michaelkoerneris@gmail.com. Koerner is developing a smaller version of the book to sell through Amazon.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana

Last updated: 01/10/2017