Art and Soul July 2017 image

Those inclined to instantly disallow any potential connection between art and whimsy likely will find the starch in their collars (and elsewhere) especially discomforting on contemplating the works of Creve Coeur’s Jim Winnerman, like Tastes Like Cat, shown here.

Such folks, frankly, need to change dry cleaners.

Winnerman (no pun intended) sketches a fascinating, if unlikely, artistic background.

“I started drawing when I was 70 without having any art training,” he says. “I’d always thought I might be able to create more than stick figures, but never really tried. Three years ago, I saw a funny photograph of a horse looking down at someone the horse had bucked off. It captured my attention, and I just began to draw it with a yellow pencil on a piece of newsprint. I did several more humorous animal drawings, added some humorous captions and put them in a drawer for a few weeks.

“Then I thought it might be fun to make them into notecards and use them, since those Hallmark cards are expensive! Friends enjoyed receiving them so much, I tried selling them. Now I have 50 different [varieties of] notecards, use professional art pencils and quality paper and sell them at different farmers markets, craft fairs or off my website.

“It’s been a great hobby, and I really enjoy seeing people laugh when they read them and [feel] so happy having fun thinking of friends to mail them to and anticipating what their reaction will be.”

Winnerman then details the origin of Tastes Like Cat, which slyly one-eighties the common “fish out of water” trope to “feline in the drink” and couples it with the widespread noncomment that the flavor of any unfamiliar or nondescript “protein” (in foodie parlance) approximates that of prime poulard.

“In the instance of the cat in the fishbowl, for some reason, it popped into my mind that usually a cat gets the fish,” he says, “and I liked the idea of the ‘tale,’ or ‘tail,’ being turned into a drawing and having the winner be the goldfish.

“Often the caption takes much longer than the art. The caption has to convey a humorous idea quickly that’s unexpected when initially looking at the art. Sometimes it takes months to get the caption just right and add it. As I draw, I add captions in the margin of the paper that I think the animal might be thinking or saying to me if they were human, such as the fish commenting on the taste.

“In the drawing of the cat, I loved the art I did, but for weeks could not come up with something suitable. I showed it to my wife and it took her maybe a half a second to suggest ‘tastes like cat.’” (Whimsical aside to Jim: “Behind every successful man – ”)

Winnerman’s notecards, like those sporting Tastes Like Cat, measure 4 by 5 inches, sport blank interiors for a personalized message and cost $10 for a consumer’s-choice quartet (including envelopes). He creates new pieces at a leisurely pace of one each month, on average.

Winnerman also happily details his artistic development since that first experimentation with a standard No. 2 and newsprint, a grade of paper one step removed from woven splinters doped with andro.

“I use a variety of professional lead pencils of different hardnesses, but mostly an HB pencil, which I used drawing the cat in the fishbowl,” says Winnerman. “HB is a balance between hard and soft lead. I use paper blending sticks to create shadows and three sizes of white art erasers. The smallest eraser fits inside a shaft and is about as thick as a piece of lead, but it’s great for precise erasing. The paper I use is Canson Bristol vellum, 11 by 14.

“I enjoy working just using a pencil, but I’ve been experimenting with adding a touch of color to one element in a drawing, such as coloring the beak of a bird yellow. But you can’t beat the simplicity of just creating something on paper using only a pencil.

“I draw each image fairly large and then have it reduced down by a printer so that it’ll have more detail. I sit with the printer, and he does several sample runs of different intensities until I’m happy and ready to print. As with the cat in the fishbowl, I like to just draw the animal and use a lot of white space. I don’t want to detract from the humor by adding a background.

“I never know where or when I’ll get an idea for a drawing. I don’t sit down and try to think of a humorous situation. I look through a lot of animal picture books to find a pose and then try to think how I can adapt the pose to add a human touch somehow, usually in the eyes. Sometimes situations I see lead to an idea, like a dog sticking its head out a car window. Often a cartoon in the paper will trigger an idea.

“When I do settle on something, I get very excited and know that as soon as I pick up a pencil and start, I won’t be able to do anything else until I’m finished. It may take three hours or 10 – I never know – but I can’t stop once I start.”

To learn more about our featured artist, visit itsawinnerman.weebly.com.

St. Louis-area artists who wish to be considered for future installments of this monthly department of Ladue News should email inquiries to bhollerbach@laduenews.com with “Art and Soul” in the subject line.

Bryan A. Hollerbach serves as LN's copy editor and one of its staff writers. He loves to read, write, impersonate an amateur artist and research all things bibulous.

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