Hi, everyone, I'm actually in process of transferring my blog to my main site at shortdivision.com, so bear with me and, in the meantime, check out my new, incredibly heartfelt "hire me" page here.

Also of note is that today Flux Theatre Ensemble unveiled a new logo I designed with direction and help from the company's creative partners. More on that later. For now, all I'll say is that I do not necessarily want to be a logo designer when I grow up, but there is a certain amount of satisfaction in the finishing.

Check it out in context at the newly relaunched Flux website.


The Briny Smell and Clinky, Decayed Sounds of Inspiration

If you enjoy the (promising, then boring) title sequence for "Boardwalk Empire" you'll hopefully love this. Near Astoria Park is a small area of waterfront near which residents show off their hot rods and nit-pick at sparkling engine parts. There's a particularly impressive T-bird that shows up regularly.

Hell Gate Bridge (also called Robert F. Kennedy Bridge) in background.
On the other side of the riverside railing lies the East River in the shadow of the Triborough Bridge, and, while pretty nice, no, that's not such an awe-inspiring thing on its own. But there's a detail that caught my attention for a full half-hour. The beach is practically covered in half a color wheel's worth of trashed glass. Every soothing tint of blue and green is there, worn down to something soft and then manhandled into millions of little petals. Seriously, they're shaped like petals. The process is constantly on view: bottles being broken up by the tide and then smoothed down little by little.
It sounds like a wind chime.

The pummeling picks up around 3 p.m.

The shards take on a mossy aspect, blending in very well with the larger boulders.

See? Petals.


Book. Cover. Club. Yes?

Yes. Philip Cheaney, one of the cleanest-working and exciting illustrators I personally know, recently invited me to participate in something that has already grown near and dear to my heart—like that baby squirrel you tried to save when you were a kid, but without the life-and-death issues—and it resides here.

The Book Cover Club is a venue for illustrators to test themselves in areas of narrative clarity (or deliberate, mysterious obscurity), design, speed—all of those things we're doing every day but are more fun to do together.

You might have seen selections from the project featured on Flavorpill NYC, in an article titled "20 Amazing Reimagined Book Covers."

My first submission, based on Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (first published in German in 1924 and published in English in 1927) is below, with a few digital process images to show how tweaking color all day gets you nowhere.

The final image:

The initial drawing was set quickly. I knew I wanted to show the main character smoking his thoughtful cigar, but also, perhaps, questioning the components of time and space, as he so often does throughout the book. Much of the narrative occurs through his extremely inward perspective. The mountain itself is merely the setting for the sanatorium where he is staying with his cousin, filled with yellowing, tubercular patients. The magic occurs inside his own mind. So I decided to let his outline mimic the profile of the mountain. It's not super obvious, but it's there.

I really liked the coloring at left, and in hindsight maybe I should have kept it, but it didn't really say what I wanted it to say at the time, which was that here is a man whose inward mind and separation from the world, insulated childhood, etc., are about to be shattered by outside forces that he can't daydream away.

Here, at near left, is a failed attempt to address his fascination with the passage of time in the cigar smoke. Once I decided to not try quite so hard to convey specific things and prioritized atmosphere instead, I had my final.

The first of many, hopefully improved, similar exercises.


Ajax in Iraq: a large idea on a small scale and in print.

The Ajax in Iraq postcards have arrived from the printers, and I'm relieved to see, in person, that the concept is working. When the first two of three cards are placed side by side, this is what you see:

Click to view larger size.

After receiving approval of the sketch from the highly creative and driven team at Flux Theatre Ensemble, I fell into the coloring process, using the same palette that was used for the postcard promoting Flux's February production, the wild and wonderful Dog Act.

The primary focus on this card is, again, the main character and, in particular, the eyes. Flux's Season Four slogan is "Don't Look Away," broken down this way on their site: "Our fourth season explores the cost of a society remaining always vigilant. In our see-something, say-something world, what happens when we're always on guard? What is our responsibility to those keeping watch? And what happens when our defenses are breached?"

In my view, this language takes an internalized look at a post-9/11 but present-"Patriot Act" world, focusing on the individual struggles of characters whose lives operate within black-and-white structures. For a static image, this puts the brunt of the heavy lifting on the emotional link between the subject and the viewer. The main character of Ajax in Iraq—certainly the most vulnerable character—is AJ, an American, female soldier currently deployed in Iraq. It was important to make her face the first and last stop for a viewer seeking the emotional message. I made use of shadowing to enhance the light that falls across her, and kept the area behind her free of distractions.

Secondary challenges included: making sure the graphics and lettering are obviously a part of the wall while maintaining legibility, keeping the various details clean and contained so that the message shines through, and leaving room beyond the bleed so that the final card, which will promote the final play of Flux's fourth season, is ensured a seamless beginning. At left, a view of the card midway through the coloring process, with the palette visible for access by the eye drop tool.

Below, the final card. Thanks goes to everyone at Flux Theatre Ensemble for their encouragement and trust as the project goes forward and to playwright Ellen McLaughlin for inspiration. Tickets for Ajax in Iraq, opening on June 4 and sure to be directed with earnest intelligence by August Shulenburg, are on sale via Flux's home page.

Click to view larger size.


Ajax in Iraq: a large idea on a small scale.

I've begun work on the second image for Flux Theatre Ensemble's fifth season of spinning tales about realistic characters in magically dusted situations. As you can imagine, it is easy to over-think a grand concept in your sketch pad and on your screen while forgetting that all the audience of your final result may know is the 6" x4" version. And this image is especially laden with potential pitfalls because Flux's second play of the season, written by the venerable Ellen McLaughlin, involves a mash-up of these two things: Sophocles and the Iraq war.

A challenge, for sure. Two meetings later and hours spent combing through images from books, The New York Times (before the new subscription rates kicked in) and then double-checking those against image searches of what soldiers are actually carrying on their bodies at any given moment, I am knee-deep in the final composition. My primary concern is that the emotional upset be front and center. However the details may change, this won't. I plan to build the image around the expression of the main character, and I plan to fix that overly fat finger on her right hand. Etc.

Get your tickets for Ajax in Iraq here.

Below is the sketch approved by theatre ensemble. Secret but important changes will be revealed in the resolved drawing. It's time to push forward.

As Flux describes the play, it "follows the parallel narratives of the ancient Greek military hero Ajax and a female American soldier, both undone by the betrayal of a commanding officer. Originally developed over sixteen months in 2009 with the graduate acting students at A.R.T. and inspired by material collected from interviews with Iraq war veterans, Ajax in Iraq explores the timeless ways soldiers struggle to make sense of war."

After reading the play and perusing this blurb I'm excited to explore how the two characters act as a mirror for each other's internal conflicts even as the physical environments in which their feet are planted begin to unravel in similar ways.


Ritual, and The Midas Touch

Working ahead often feels like falling behind. The first stage is thinking—thinking as an active pursuit, as a game of memory and links and embarrassing self-awareness. I hate to be inside my own head for too long: I quickly start to feel like I'm just recycling obsessions, doodling in circles. It's a relief to go blank, and I often need a book for this. An article won't do. I need a nice little object with a faint smell that is both like and unlike all other books.

The True Deceiver by Tove Janssen, popular Finnish creator of Moomin, which I admit I've never picked up, was a recently successful one. Each time I opened it I was absorbed, and calm, no matter whose elbow was perched against my ribs on a packed train. I even went back to Dave Sim this past week. I know, I know, everyone hates his perceived misogyny. Whatever that means in reference to someone who speaks primarily through an anthropomorphic aardvark, I am greatly enjoying Going Home this week, one of Sim's weighty "telephone books." I'm really reveling in the mastery of the pacing of each page and the reward of each finicky facial expression. May I have one more? Oman Ra by Viktor Pelevin. It's strange and personal and perfectly sized for my hour of daily, dystopian commuting.

After my head is less full of myself and more full of something else—something newly dear or revisited and feeling new or jarring enough that I've locked onto it as a temporary fixation—I draw again, looking at earlier thumbnails for reference but eventually forgetting to reference them at all. And I start actually enjoying myself. And something happens, something new, in my own head. I break out of the old loop. It may last all afternoon, or for a couple of days.

I don't know how playwright August Schulenburg works, but I'd love to. His writing overflows with every sacred human emotion and the wonder of trying to sort out their tendency to overlap and bind together like grafting organs. August, co-founder of Flux Theatre Ensemble and an energetic blogger on themes of theatre, community, and personal obsession is a contributor to issue four of Carrier Pigeon: Illustrated Fiction and Fine Art (warning: there's sound on the site upon loading, due to an introductory video), and I've read something of his that you haven't. Yet. The monologue "The Midas Touch," along with five corresponding illustrations of mine, will be available as part of a grand tome to be released in summer of 2011. Peeks from "The Midas Touch":

"Our jobs are to imagine lives as heroic arcs, and what you do every day becomes you, right, so it's natural that our delusions of grandeur would be grander than everyone else's."

". . . he looked more than just beautiful, he looked just . . . like I had rendered the judgment of God on him and it was really good."

August is one of those people who was born to write in a way that is obvious to the reader no matter what the example or current enjoyment level of that example. Maybe you've experienced this with Michael Chabon or Paul Auster or Brian Evenson, who is due for an update soon thanks to Astrophil Press. Don't judge by the sentences I posted from the monologue! I was more concerned with not giving anything away than with making a point, in those instances. Just trust me. 

I'm thankful for the brief moments when I can go outside of my head and into theirs. It's like being given the gift of reincarnation without any catches.


Dog Act

I've just submitted a finished illustration to represent Liz Duffy Adams' play Dog Act, tickets for which are on sale here. The brilliant Flux Theatre Ensemble is taking on the challenge of bringing an inventive story to life on the New York stage, and I can't wait to see it in person on opening night.

This image, which will be made available at first as a promotional postcard, is the first in a three-part series representing Flux's full season. Each postcard will fit together seamlessly. Read part of the collective thought process behind the imagery here.

Walking backwards through the rewarding, collaborative process:

Final image with .125" bleed. Click to see larger version.
Before submitting the final image I took a day off and then revisited it with my eyes open to how color leads the eye. I also responded to the group concern that, for the sake of the integrity of the larger season image, the action of this first stage should be pushed farther back (I had previously utilized a harsher crop but had given myself wiggle room in anticipation of just such a conversation.) I recommend clicking the image to see the larger version.

As soon as I started experimenting with application of color I submitted a jpeg of progress to the group, hoping to set minds at ease. Whether that was a totally successful move I don't know, but here we are today, hopefully happy at large with our final product.
The final drawing was pencilled, inked and scanned on a rainy Sunday that was memorable for the number of people bustling around my apartment/studio space, as there was—no lie—a film shoot happening at the same time. As I drew I watched the crew express collective emotions of curiosity/nervousness, skepticism, preparatory feelings of resentment aimed at the uncooperative weather, sleepiness, and, finally, an acceptance of having generally enjoyed themselves. 
After my first meeting with members of Flux Theatre Ensemble I sketched this image. I had read the play, but there were aesthetic concerns outside of the play since the image will be integrated into a larger whole, and we discussed the larger themes tying all three plays together. 

There are unending benefits to a collaborative plan of action. After the Dog Act image was well on its way I had the chance to see the press photos taken by Flux core member Isaiah Tenenbaum, and I feel, happily, that the aesthetic worlds are as similar as could be. I expect the world presented by the play itself to continue validating Flux's commitment to open dialogue.

Coming soon: illustrations for Ajax in Iraq by Ellen McLaughlin and Menders by Erin Browne, whose play Trying is featured in 2010's New York Theater Review. 

Incidentally, Flux Theatre Ensemble core member August Schulenberg, who is directing Ajax in Iraq, is also featured in 2010's New York Theater Review, for his play The Lesser Seductions of History, which was directed by core member Heather Cohn and the introduction for which was written by core member Kelly O'Donnell. I think 2011 will be their year.