Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ex Libris

Last semester one of my favourite typography assignments was to make a personalised ex libris, or bookplate. An ex libris serves the same function as scrawling your name in pencil on the inside cover of a book, but humans are never really ones for function without ceremony. I really get a kick out of it, that the design of this tiny device has over the centuries developed into a minor art form with its own visual language and conventions. I guess if there's anything that'll bring people's competitive design instinct it's a stamp that says "this is mine".

Making the linocut.

The print.

It was a really great project. I got to mix art nouveau, typography, Oscar Wilde, William Morris and aestheticism all into one big messy monogram for myself. And I really dig the focus on line and positive and negative space you get with printing. So a couple of months down the line when I saw the Roost's awesome Rubber Stamp exhibition the first thing I thought was "dude i should make an ex libris stamp". Which is pretty much the only time I've ever thought "Hey, I should design something ... for fun." But my bestie's birthday was coming up and I reckoned it would make an exceptionally awesome gift.

The circular vine device is gacked from a Kelmscott edition of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's verse. Plagiarism is ok if you steal from the dead.

Figuring out dimensions. 

Final artwork ready to be sent to the local stamp shop after a heap of scanning and finicking about in illustrator. And yeah, Newcastle has a local custom stamp shop - how cool is that?

The finished article! Thanks to the birthday girl herself for this photo. I was way too excited after picking up the stamp to remember to take a photo before sending in the post. It turned out great! So much of my work never leaves the computer screen, it was kind of satisfying to make a real object that needs to be physically stamped on physical books. And if you want to see some more cool ex libris art, check out the pinterest board I used for inspiration for this project.

Monday, September 17, 2012

good words pt. 2

We are here to witness the creation and abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.
Annie Dillard 
New drawings: soon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

good words

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.
- Anais Nin.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

clothes maketh the blog post

I have been thinking a lot about clothes lately. For one, because I bought an awesome coat:

previously: whatever, bleh. now: SO STYLISH!

And also because my lovely friend Jodi of tickleandhide fame asked me to do some illustrations for her adorable shop. While we were nutting out the details (in between cups of tea and cooing over fabric) she explained her whole philosophy of clothing, how it exists in this weird intersection between creativity and necessity, self-expression and consumerism. She said that now clothes are so cheap and essentially disposable, we've got wardrobes full of bargains that we never want to wear, and the real cost of that $7 pair of Guatemalan-made Kmart jeans is hidden from us.  So I've been drawing little pink ballet flats and painting stripy little watercolour hats and reading a lot of menswear blogs. 

It seems like with menswear the focus is on utility and versatility more than creativity and trendiness. In the forums and blogs I've been reading, the emphasis is on well-made "pieces" that you can easily pair together, fit well, and that'll be in good nick and good style for years. While I'm a little amused by the preoccupation the male fashion lot have with hammering down "the rules" in tutorials and infographics,  one thing menswear seems to grasp more than women's fashion is the actual value of clothing as a handmade object. Check out this guy who makes jeans:

Isn't that awesome?! And you know how much this guy's jeans cost? $340. But once you see the video it makes sense that they'd cost $340. There's a real human being doing real work behind a real machine in that $340. And even though Roy's Jeans are a niche product made by a one man operation, now that I have seen the video I have no idea how the big box stores cram all that into $10.

The other thing about menswear is that it's also really fucking cool. When done right it's all about subtle details and fit. Check these guys out:
Sam Lambert and Shaka Maidoh lookin' sharp in bespoke suits
Saville Row besties Sam Lambert and Shaka MaidohNever in my life will I ever look that sharp.

detail of a pocket square
detail of a wristwatch
More here.

I like the structured, simple silhouettes, rough textures, and clean, muted palettes.
young punk in patched denim and docs
dandy in a frock coat
friendly old man in a greatcoat and scarf

The further I went down this tweed rabbithole, the more interested I became in the actual construction and engineering of clothes. I guess it leads back to the invisibility of design - the fact that we take something like a t-shirt for granted without it ever dawning on us liminally that someone actually had to sit down and figure out how to put the pieces together. I found this absolutely incredible blog, The Cutting Class, that is apparently curated by a friggin' genius. They analyse fashion shows and pinpoint the construction details, explaining the craft and history behind each and every buttonhole and raglan shoulder, and relate it to the philosophy of that particular collection, designer, and brand. It is so easy to dismiss fashion as shallow, self-indulgent and wasteful but here it's plain to see that it's absolutely an artform. The whole blog is a celebration and affirmation of the skill and craftsmanship of creating clothes. If you need convincing check out the post on Alexander McQueen's last collection. Right there's some of the most beautiful pieces of anything I've ever seen in my entire life.

beautiful embroidered red gown with cape

Ok ok, so we can't all wear Alexander McQueen. But it goes to show that clothes can be beautiful, clothes can be well crafted, clothes can express something other than the need to keep your skin warm. And maybe it isn't a waste of money to buy something nice that actually fits from someone who cares about what they're doing. I think this whole post might have been a longwinded self-justification for being able to buys some new pants...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

tuesday afternoon talkies

When I was younger I used to think a good movie was one that didn't bore me, because I was kind of an unbearable snob who believed that movies were B-grade art, and good film was at best still in the same class as a second rate novel. But I am always older than I was and a few nights ago I rewatched Capote, which is a very boring movie based on a first rate novel based on real life, but nevertheless one of my very favourites. Enough of a favourite that I'm going to write an enormous boring blog post about why it's so great. (And if it wasn't obvious, here be spoilers.)

It's a subtle, understated, gorgeous film. One of the things that sets it apart from other run-of-the-mill biopics is the photography - the palette is full of dreamy greys, blues and browns, and both the establishing wide-angle shots and closeups are carefully composed and detailed. There is a stillness to the shots that is accentuated by tiny movements - a train crawling across the Kansas corn fields, smoke rising from a cigarette, an emphatic twirl of Capote's hand.

(The depth of field in this shot is perfect)

One of my favourite details is the use of the Clutter's real family portraits. The Clutter family was murdered by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, and the crime was the focus of Capote's novel In Cold Blood.

^^ And this shot from the beginning of the movie, where Capote cuts a clipping from the newspaper story about the crime. It only lasts a few seconds, but sums up how Capote intends to relate to Holcomb and the Clutters: he expects to walk in the town and nip out a neat, discrete story that he can fold up and take with him back to New York. Instead he gets drawn in and inextricably, messily enmeshed with the story.

The other thing that sets Capote apart is how deeply unlikable Hoffman's portrayal of the titular character is. In this movie Truman Capote is a self-centred, dishonest, and capricious drunk, who gets what he wants from people through bribery and manipulation.

Offering Smith aspirin for his cramped legs, and  -
bribing the prison warden for unlimited access to Hickock and Smith's cells.

The claustrophobic relationship with the murderer Perry Smith (with whom Hoffman's character is by turns vulnerable, nurturing, manipulative, cruel and redemptive) is what saves the unlikable Capote from being purely unrelatable. He contradicts himself over and over because he's unsure of his own intentions. He needs Smith alive and co-operative for his book, but finds himself enamoured of him and unable to maintain a proper professional distance. He visits the murderers on death row, reads their diaries, visits their families and even goes so far as hiring them a lawyer. There's a scene where Capote spoon-feeds Perry baby food to break his hunger strike. It's a moment of total intimacy and total dependency.

As time goes on, and Capote becomes more and more torn between his affection for the inmate and the need for an ending for his novel, the wheels kind of come off the relationship. He lies to Smith and lets him believe the novel will redeem him to the public, while trading in on the viciousness and callousness of the crime to sell his book in New York. Smith believes the author will help him appeal his death sentence, but in private Capote wishes for an execution and a neat ending. He loses the control he thought he had over his affection for Smith, and it ruins him. There's a shot of him sitting despondent on the couch, pouring whiskey into a jar of baby food to hide his drinking from his partner - it's a self-destructive act that mirrors the nurturing one he offered Smith.

And when, at the end of the movie, Capote meets Hickock and Smith (in chains in the minutes before their execution) and says, distraught:
"I did everything I could."

It's hard to tell who he's trying to fool more, Perry or himself. 

In the movie, and more so in the novel In Cold Blood, you get a sense that Capote was desperately clawing through Smith's life trying to find anything that makes sense of his crime. He relates to Smith and sees his own neglected childhood reflected in him. In the movie he says to his friend Harper Lee, "it's like Perry and I grew up in the same house, and one day I got up and went out the front door while he went out the back." He needed to find out how he and Smith were different, why he did what he did, and how one man was capable of murder in cold blood while the other wasn't. As in the novel, when he does get his confession, it's ultimately unsatisfying:

"He was just looking at me...looking into my eyes, like he expected me to kill him. Like he expected me to be the kind of person who would kill him. I was thinking, 'this nice man is scared of me'. I was so ashamed. I mean, I thought he was a very nice, gentle man. And I thought so right up until I slit his throat."

The scene echoes an earlier one where Capote's interviewing a friend of the Clutter's:
"Oh, it's the hardest when people have some notion about you and it's impossible to convince them otherwise. Ever since I was a child folks thought they had me pegged, because of the way I... the way I am. You know, the way I talk. And they're always wrong."

Both men were outsiders in a world where they were constantly butting up against people's expectations of them. They lived in two discrete worlds: Capote in a world of glamour, fame and privilege; Smith in a world of poverty, neglect and violence. This movie deftly, if briefly, explains Capote's fascination with weaving the two spheres together, especially because Clifton Collins Jr.'s portrayal of Perry Smith paints a far more sympathetic picture than the one in In Cold Blood.  It's a movie that leaves a lot unsaid, and a lot for the viewer to unpack themselves, but it never strays into cliche or melodrama and repays attentive viewing. 

And as a last note, I became a big fan of P.S. Hoffs (as he likes to be called amongst friends) after watching this. I can't wait to see what he does in The Master with Joaquin Phoenix!