fluteI launched the studio six years ago today. No clients, no business plan, no seed money. Just a Macintosh G4 in an unused walk-in closet and a very patient fiancee with a full-time job. I still don’t know whether it was the most reckless thing I could have done or the most reasonable.

Six years out, here are some metrics:

dedicated studio spaces: 4
clients: 24
projects: 220
computers: 6 (2 still in use)
gigabytes dedicated to project archives: 50.95
gallons of coffee consumed: 703 (est.)

Traditional sixth anniversary gifts are iron, sugar, or wood. But more likely, I’ll be marking the occasion with hops, barley, and malt.

My senior thesis project at RISD was a graphic-novel-style adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story Shadow. The murky pencil drawings I was doing at the time borrowed heavily from the work of my heroes — including Jon J Muth, Greg Spalenka, Dave McKean, and Matt Mahurin. I got my friends and family to serve as my models and got my roommate Axel to show me how to typeset the dialogue using a new application called Quark XPress. I got through about two pages before it was time to graduate.

I kept coming back to Poe’s stories every few years, surprised by how much I’d missed the last time I read them. If you can get past the self-conscious writing style and look deeper than the lurid details, you’ll find a writer suspicious of the technological culture emerging in the early days of the American Industrial Revolution — the culture that culminates with us.

And I kept coming back to the idea of an adaptation every few years, always throwing out the drawings and design I had and starting over. It was starting to look like Axl Rose’s Chinese Democracy. Like Caden Cotard’s “big and true and tough” movie.

Enough. After all those false starts, I finally know what it wants to look like. Here are some of the chapter openers I’m working on, including (from top to bottom): the frontispiece, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and Berenice.

poelores

I’ve become obsessed with typography and page design, so it’s a book now — not a graphic novel. The page grid is based on the Van De Graaf canon — Gutenberg’s design for the Bible, only flipped upside-down. The display type is inspired by antebellum-era magazine design, which was where Poe published his stories. The title is a custom font I designed based on a Scotch Roman typeface — a family of fonts popular in Edgar Allan Poe’s day.

And then I need to figure out how to publish it…

melville

Despite her efforts, my 10th grade English teacher didn’t manage to ruin Melville for me. I finished Moby Dick a few weeks ago and now I can’t stop sketching about it.

 

progress

Last week, a blogger for Reuters claimed to have found the source material for Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama poster. When flopped, the Reuters photo did resemble the poster… But it didn’t seem like a close enough match to me.

After a little more searching I came across a flickr posting that suggested an AP photo was the source. No one was sure who had taken the photo, but one of the commenters had seen it on a CBS.com posting from 2006.

So I went over to AP’s image archive this morning and after wading through a few hundred images managed to find the photo.

It’s a shot from April 27, 2006. Then-Senator Obama was joining George Clooney in speaking at a National Press Club event in Washington about the situation in Darfur. The photo was taken by Mannie Garcia.

When you rotate it about 5 degrees, the photo is a dead ringer. Fairey adjusted the expression on Obama’s mouth (which seems a little closer to a smile), but all the highlights and shadows match up.

Shepard Fairey is scheduled to give a talk on February 5 here at the ICA. I sort of want to go now so I can ask him about it.

Jobless after the cancellation of Portfolio magazine in 1951, Frank Zachary accepted a position as Picture Editor of a struggling travel magazine called Holiday. Though orderly, the magazine’s design was markedly conservative. This all changed as soon Zachary started experimenting the photos to make his own layouts.

Inspired by the pioneering design work of his friend and former colleague Alexey Brodovitch, Zachary’s layouts featured heavy use of white space, asymmetrical compositions, and dramatic juxtapositions in scale. The effect is kinetic. And it got noticed: he was quickly offered the job of Art Director. At first he deferred, suggesting the editor hire Brodovitch, “the real master,” and even set up a meeting between the two. But they never hit it off, and so Zachary finally accepted the promotion.

Describing his approach, Zachary explains, “I learned that the picture is the layout. If you have a great picture, you don’t embellish it with big type. You make it tight and sweet.” He also developed the approach to photography called “environmental portraiture,” which is the standard in most contemporary magazines. “A photographer just couldn’t walk in and take a picture of a subject,” he said. “He had to assemble the components of the subject’s life.”

The next time you’re at a yard sale, keep an eye out for issues of Holiday magazine published between 1951 and 1964. You’ll be surprised to see how modern they look — and you’ll get an idea of the debt contemporary editorial designers (myself included) owe to this guy. In the meantime, here are a few samples.

holiday

chemex1I graduated from art school in 1995 with a portfolio full of figure drawings, $30,000 of student loan debt, and a very serious caffeine habit. Thirteen years later, the figure drawings are gone and the loans have been paid off but I still have the habit. Along with an exponentially-growing collection of brewing tools I use to feed the dirty monkey on my back.

The latest — and easily the greatest — is a birthday gift just given by my enabling wife. Designed in 1941 by Peter J. Schlumbohm, the Chemex coffeepot is a one-piece hourglass-shaped vase made of heat-resistant laboratory-grade borosilicate glass. Just drop a cone filter in the top, add coarse grounds, pass hot water through them, and serve.

But if you ask me, it’s really the handle — a corset-like wooden cuff bound with a leather cord — that takes this functional little beauty into fetish territory.

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