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Nkima Speaks

Nkima the Artist

David Adams

Editor's Foreword:

Nkima sent a half dozen illustrations for use with Thomas Johnston's serial adventure JUNGLE IN THE SKY which features Elmo of the Apes and can be found at Tangor's Pastiche and Fan Fiction web site. With very few exceptions all of the images at Nkima Speaks are created by David Adams, who is most noted for his pen and ink sketches among fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The collected images in this article are an expression of Nkima's recently revived interest in pen and ink with water color washes. These scans, which were resized for use on the Internet, do poor justice to the original scans and images which are, on average, 10" x 12" in size. David said I could keep the originals and you can bet I shall, and soon they will hang next to my original Tom Yeates, Maxfield Parrish, and Frazetta!

One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting at a little table in the kitchen happily painting with my Prang water colors while my mother did the ironing. She had to keep an eye on me because I would often taste the colors on my brush, preferring the flavor of green above all others. My mother told me that her favorite color was blue, but she did not want to try the taste, so it must have been simply a visual thing for her.

The Place & Function of My Art

by David Adams

Art for me is the performance of ritual. The products that result are holy icons.

Art is but one form of my daily ritual of living. Of equal importance to me are playing the piano, writing, and reading. All these are forms of communing with spirits.

All of my art is transformational and are steppingstones of my spiritual & psychological growth. I work in absolute solitude.

Every art show I participate in is my last one.

I started doing watercolors at a small childís table when I was 2 or 3 years old about 60 years ago. I recall working there very vividly. My mother is behind me ironing clothes, and I am painting and eating paint.

Today I work in watercolor, pen & ink, pastel, acrylic, collage, photography, etc. Each work is my last one.

I work on a piece until it is finished, then it is good or it is not so good. This is determined by the length of time I can bear it on my walls.

I belong to no school of art and am self taught, as all artists truly are.

I donít do art to sell it. Pieces hang in my room and continue to grow there and develop in my mind.

Art is about seeing the world.

Particulars made with paint or ink are mere by-products of the more important task of making. Doing art is a labor of love. The product is an amazement to the artist who finds it on his walls in the morning.

All true art is a finding.

Only the artist truly sees the world. It is the hand and eye that make the world.

All else is blindness.

This is the last essay I will write on art

...until tomorrow.

May 27, 2004

7:45 pm

Bird Island, Minnesota

Unlike two of my three younger brothers, who became professional artists, I did not continue with my art during my high school years. The only other memory I have is painting a large Christmas scene in the first grade. I must have been a good painter then because the teacher put me to work on a mural of my own that I let other students work on as well to her displeasure. I recall that some of them just made scribbles on the page, which I turned into recognizable figures when I saw the possibilities in each scratchy mess. I thought the results were quite clever and engaging, but apparently the teacher thought otherwise.

I donít recall doing anything more with drawing or painting until I finished college when I spent four months doing water colors in my grandmotherís basement during my first year of teaching. I did do one project for my uncle in my senior college year by illustrating a childrenís book for him, but by then I was involved with writing poetry and music. Art was just something that the Adams boys could do when they wanted to -- a gift from their father, who was a talented natural artist. His name was Art.

In 1965 I was given the chance to teach art for a year in Minneapolis along with my regular music classes. To prepare myself I took a class in oil painting and learned how to stretch canvas and mess around with oils. I did three large paintings the summer before my teaching, which were all later covered over by my youngest brother, Ron, since we were working on various collage projects in 1966. His were large paintings, so he needed the canvas. Mine were small cards that I think are around somewhere. As I recall, they were interesting works -- surreal pictures with cuttings from magazines.

I did not do many things until the death of my father in 1995. Then, for some reason I decided it was time to see what I might be able to do with a talent I had neglected for so many years. I suppose it had something to do with a new sense of my own mortality.

Above all else, I wanted to be able to draw from nature. My only teachers were the great ERB artists: St. John, Frazetta, Krenkel, and the rest, whom I diligently copied with pen and ink. I worked nearly every day and night for several years trying to discover the secret of their magical lines. It was slow going at first since I hoped to find out how they got their effects by copying their works line by line.

After spending long Minnesota winters drawing indoors, studying other famous artists, especially the works by animal and nature artists, I would try my hand at drawing from nature during my summer vacations in the North Shore of Lake Superior. When I got home from these adventures, I would draw the trees in the grove in my backyard, using the new skills I always developed in the wild country of rocks and waters of the northland. Every year found me doing something new, but I continued with pen and ink drawing almost exclusively, only occasionally opening my watercolors for a wash.

I must say that I also learned a lot my looking at the pictures my son would sometimes do on the North Shore with me on my excursions in the woods. He is another professional artist, a graduate from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, who is presently working as a computer graphic artist in Minneapolis. His work is informed by surrealism and dada, but when he does something from nature, his work is always much better than my own. I guess those classes paid off. I had him doing watercolors when he was a tyke, and he drew and painted all of his life from ages two or three.

There is a lot more to this story. The Adams boys are artists in one way or another. I developed my talents in music and writing a little more than the others, but this is only because I worked at these things more. Duane, Ron, and my son, Matthew, are also gifted musicians and writers. Itís just the things they all did since they were little. We never really thought any other way. My daughter is a writer, probably the best one of us hands-down. We used to write poetry together during our quiet times on the North Shore rocks. She started around the age of seven with good rhymes and was always encouraged by her Dad. O yes, she can draw too.

I didnít intend this to be an essay on my artistic life. I just want to set up a little background to the things I did for Tangorís site for chapter 8 of Johnstonís Elmo story.

This summer I started messing around with watercolors again. What I want to do is combine drawing and painting like Rackham did with his great illustrations for fairy tales. Iím kind of new at this, so my results are mixed. Anyway, here is what I did for the Elmo project.

First Illustration: Zee-ho

I started out by trying my hand at a computer graphic. My intent was to produce a dada influenced piece, which I think turned out rather nice. I like working with Adobe Photoshop, but I havenít had a lot of experience with this medium. All of my things for this project are icons. They are spiders and baboons, which are in the story, but I did not try to actually illustrate the action.

Second Illustration: Elmo-Spider

I did a surreal Elmo-spider and added a water color wash. It turned out to look like a medieval icon -- kind of like something from an illuminated manuscript. I like the results even though it is not the usual Elmo illustration. You can probably tell that I donít like spiders, but I worked it through anyway. ďWhy does it have to be spiders!Ē I thought when Tangor send the chapter to me.

Third Illustration: Tarantula

This is just a black spider with a wash. Itís spooky to me. You can see that it is rather crabbed in style because I donít like drawing spiders.

Fourth Illustration: Ape head

My first baboon was a very quick study. I was thinking about Tangorís comment about my ďaction pen.Ē You can tell that I like doing apes because everything became free and easy. I got the whole thing with a few lines.

Fifth Illustration: Ape head and body

My second baboon was as free as the first. He is a big, hulking brute -- hair all puffed out and rather fat. This is a mangani-like ape.

Sixth Illustration: Spider collage

Since I donít like drawing spiders I taped one to the page and messed it up with color. This is collage with action and feeling. It will be interesting to see how it comes off in a scan. I think the tape might give an interesting effect.

Well, Tangor, I tried a variety of styles with this project. I suppose you donít want them all for the story, but you might send scans of all of them to me so I can see how they turn out that way. You donít need to send the originals back, unless you donít want them, but the scans would be nice to have. Iím just getting started with water colors again, and I imagine that the next ones I do will be a lot different. You have on hand some art pieces rather than illustrations per se -- all icons of the mood of the chapter as I read it.


October 28, 2000

P.S. You can't stop Nkima! He keeps going, and going, and going... I can't stop for Death, so Death will have to stop for me.