Nichole and I are working on text for an upcoming book today, and some of my sentences were getting complicated. It was clear I was applying the proverbial lipstick to a pig – dressing up an uninspiring thought. So I scrapped it.
I started playing with an idea for a simple matrix that would keep my ass in line. I mean, I know what I should do (keep it simple, stupid!), but am human and stray.
I liked it enough to take it from notebook to illustrator and printed one for our studio. If you’re tempted to gild the lily when you’re writing, you can download a copy HERE.
Raising my glass to clear ideas!
The half-baked version …
Oops, I’ve done it. I typed a dangerous keyword. I assume the NSA supercomputers in Utah (is that you, WOPR?) are monitoring this blog post.
I should have written Éd\/\/ård $nø\/\/dén. Or would that escalate suspicion? Can supercomputers identify irony?
I read Kafka’s The Trial in high school, and it only seemed relevant in an “over there” kind of way. Totalitarian control, spying, kangaroo courts and insurmountable bureaucracy were Soviet issues, not American ones. As such, my reading of the book then, and in college, always felt a bit casual. Not so anymore.
With the public debate about state surveillance now an American issue, Kafka’s work seems more relevant than ever. It’s a cautionary tale about standing on the sidelines.
For this design, I took two lines from the story: “Was he alone? Was it everyone?” They sum up Joseph K’s paranoia and capture the contradictions explored in the book – life without privacy, yet completely isolating.
The design is a pattern of doors. Behind them, endless hallways and agent offices – the machinery of man. Is there a human behind them who may help? Another conspirator?
Light floods through an open door. An exit? The light reveals the shadow cast by a surveillance camera, or perhaps all the doors are surveillance cameras, and the only way out is the final, permanent exit.
Fun times. It’s almost enough to make you nostalgic for the eighties.
To provide a little background on how The Paris Journal came about, I wanted to share a little of the long process that lead us here, including a few failures along the way.
Although there are many things about this project that are breaking new ground for us, the aesthetic point of view behind it hasn’t changed since Nichole first started posting photos in 2009. The aim then, as it is now, was to take the viewer to Paris on a vicarious walk around the city.
While Nichole was shooting the Paris Color Project, I was with her every step of the way. Because of my background in film, I was thinking about video as a narrative vehicle, and how it could compliment the intimate details she was photographing to bring the viewer as close to Paris as possible.
The first foray into video was a series of test videos called “One Place, One Time,” shot around Montmartre and the Marais, and partially shared on the old blog at the end of 2009. The idea was to keep them unedited and un-hosted in order to create a direct, voyeuristic experience. The hope was that a series of these unedited, one-minute snapshots would cumulatively capture the essence of a neighborhood.
But the videos were, well, awful. By refusing to edit, they had no real point of view, and by being formulaic, they had no story. However they made it clear that if the videos were to create the sense of walking around a neighborhood, they would need to be:
1. Focused. You can’t capture the essence of a place by filming everything.
2. Chronological. 50 videos of 50 street corners don’t add up to a cohesive story of a neighborhood just because you shoot them the same way. You need to create a sense of time.
3. Local: If you want to deliver a human experience, think on a human scale. Go for a slow walk and see how much ground you really cover. It’s less than you think.
The real revelation happened about a year ago while working on a potential project about Paris Light for Chronicle Books. I realized that Nichole’s photography and my videos could work together to tell a simple, intimate story of a walk if they were actually structured like a walk – linear (morning to night) and local (where we walked during that time). Each book would only cover one neighborhood over the course of one day.
Along the way, there were many more experiments, including writing commentary as if it were an actual journal. In that case, we found that the more we editorialized, the more it became about our experience instead of yours. The story had to be exclusively visual.
Creating The Paris Journal was a very slow and sometimes frustrating process: Years of trial and error, seven trips, months of editing and compiling, and some pretty steep technological learning curves (apps!), but it was worth it. We are really thrilled with the final concept and with the first volume. 125 photos and 14 videos are integrated into a digital book that tells the story of one day in one Paris neighborhood, from morning to night. It’s a true labor of love, and we can’t wait to share it with you this Tuesday.
I knew I was going to like Cameron Matthews right away because his band’s name – Bear Ceuse – was completely improbable. I met with him and guitarist Adam Home in NYC to hear some tracks, and instantly loved the hard-hitting, smart fuzz-pop sound of his demos and ended up doing the artwork for the album. So I thought I would share the final work and the first two releases.
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From an artistic standpoint, I love that everything about this band is a contradiction. First off, their name is a play on the term “berceuse,” a classical lullaby. And while their songs have a heathy dose of sweet, soothing pop melodies, they definitely bring the bear to it.
Cameron told me that the album name, Don Domestique, is about being the man of the house, and owning that responsibility. So aesthetically, I wanted to capture something solitary that was at once familiar and menacing. We joked about avoiding something silly – “no honey bears?” I asked. Cameron thought about it for a second and then replied, “well, if it was a particularly bad-ass honeybear, that could be cool.” I came up with the idea to draw a simple icon of a house, and then fill every crevice of it with a grizzly bear you can just make out. We played with what the bear may be holding – a broken guitar? a beehive? – and ultimately decided that since the main theme of Don Domestique was solitude, he is holding the door, removing the only way in – or out.
The full album will be released July 8th via Medical Records.
I’d love to hear what you think about the artwork, and of course the music.
Recorded at Seaside Lounge in Brooklyn, N.Y. | Engineered and mixed by Patrick Crecelius | Produced by Patrick Crecelius and Bear Ceuse | Mastered by Paul Gold at SALT | Written by CT Matthews | © Bear Ceuse 2012
I had some time this week to complete several designs for the Illustrated Quotation Project, and would love to share them with you.
“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The roaring twenties, when booze was illegal and dresses were flappy. I love this quotation from This Side of Paradise; it reminds me of the headlong intoxicated rush into mutual obsession, the kind of love that usually ends badly. Here, I’ve illustrated a flapper dress that transforms into a martini glass as it is unzipped.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I first read Emerson in high school, when cynicism was practically required. But with every year, I feel a stronger connection to his writing. After a long winter of indoor activities (ahem, sitting at my computer), Nichole and I have been looking forward to more outdoor time. I’m always recharged and awed by the stillness in the woods, and it makes me think of Emerson. In this illustration I wanted to explore nature as an animated, living thing, in this case the hill is also a buck hiding in plain sight.
“Believe those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it.” – André Gide
This André Gide quotation has always struck a chord with me, but I wasn’t sure how to visually represent what I think it articulates – that there is no shortcut to wisdom, and that the roundabout way is really the only way there, and that anyone who offers a shortcut is selling something. I take the phrase “find it” to be ironic, since the big questions are bigger than us. When you stop searching, you stop growing. I divided the illustration into two parts, the entire shape of a puzzle-piece-shaped question mark (“Believe those…”) and its severed tail, which now falsely resembles an exclamation point (“Doubt those”). In the end, I feel the quotation is actually quite positive, with a little warning, and I will be putting it on my wall as a reminder to keep investigating life.
I’d love to hear what you think of them! Prints here.
This is a favorite Dickens quote, and one that’s especially fitting for me today since I just returned from Paris – a place I visit, leave and revisit often. The design is based on a cobblestone street in Paris that has always fascinated me. Unlike other cobblestone streets, wihch typically follow a grid pattern or progressive arcs, this one appears to have been made by first laying out wandering paths that seem to stray every which way, then laying the rest of the stones to conform to the remaining space. The main paths generally head down the street, but hit a few dead ends along the way. I don’t think the builders intended anything metaphorical (I kind of imagine them drunk to be honest), but there it is. You wander to and from places, grope your way forward, and the rest of the details fit themselves to the random events that shape you. And then in hindsight, the toughest places and experiences become the most valuable.
I love travel posters – both for the sense of adventure they instill, and the way they allow the artist to take a complex subject like a city and distill it to a simple icon.
When it comes to Paris, it’s no secret that Nichole and I have a penchant for the pedestrian pleasures. So with this project, my aim was to create a series of travel-poster-inspired illustrations, but with a twist: to focus on the moments that you enjoy now and remember fondly later, rather than on the monuments, which instead serve only as an architectural backdrop. The result is a series of four prints that give a playful prominence to the things you do over the things you see.
Walk in the Rain / Arc de Triomphe
A stroll in the rain, the arc of the umbrella complemented by the Arc de Triomphe and its attending angels.
Linger at the Café / Pont Neuf
A row a cafe chairs, good for people watching – or in this case, the mascarons that line the bridge – with their cane backs complementing the rhythmic arches of the Pont Neuf.
Cycle Across the City / Notre Dame
A bicycle with its basket full of flowers in front of the Notre Dame cathedral – the wheel merging with the rose window, the basket with the upper arches and the flowers with the trefoils and quatrefoils of the church facade.
Share a Drink / Eiffel Tower
A pair of champagne glasses on a cafe table, the bubbles intermingling with the evening stars, creating a phantom Eiffel Tower in the negative space between the two glasses.
All prints are available in The Paris Print Shop.
There’s more to come, but I wanted to share what I’ve completed so far. I’d love to hear what you think!
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This video by Havas Worldwide Paris just made my day. Inventive, clever storytelling about different areas of Paris through simple illustration, bold symbols and evocative typography. Plus it’s just super-cool. Via Pret-a-Voyager and David Lebovitz.
While sipping my afternoon coffee today, I had the unsettling realization that I have ingested thousands of cups of coffee. I took it easy in college, but when I put the artist’s life on hold and had a stint in corporate America (oh, I did my time!), coffee became my twice-a-day escape. Just like Starbucks’ marketing team had planned it.
It didn’t take very long for coffee to become a weekend necessity as well, and with a few unpleasant exceptions, I’ve had about two cups a day ever since. That was 10 years ago, so let’s do the math:
1994-2003 (college, grad school): 100 cups per year X 9 years = 900 cups
2004-2013 (corporate workday, parenting, new business owner): 2 cups per day X 365 days X 10 years = 7,300 cups.
Grand total (est.) = 8,200 cups
To visualize the the obscene amounts of stimulating liquid that have coursed through my caffeine-addled brain, I drew 8,200 spoons.
So what’s your total?
I thought I’d share the latest designs for the Illustrated Quotation project.
“Is there no way out of the mind?” – Sylvia Plath
My mother (a Smith graduate) introduced me to Sylvia Plath when I was in high school and I was immediately transfixed. As a melodramatic teenage musician and budding writer, I was of course drawn to her later, darker works – Daddy, Lady Lazarus, etc – and she embodied my idea of the artist’s life at a particular extreme – suffering for your art and all that. But as an adult, I still love her writing, but respond to different pieces. I reread the Bee poems during the recent …ahem… spotty weather, and was struck by The Arrival of the Bee Box as a metaphor for both her psyche and her life as a kept queen bee of sorts in Suburbia. Quotation from her diaries, which Nichole and I tore through last summer.
“Good prose is like a window pane.” – George Orwell.
If you are a writer and haven’t read through Orwell’s essay “Why I Write,” you should. It’s a great lesson in finding your subject and sticking to it. Inspired by a recent bevy of emails from aspiring writers, I thought that this idea deserved some consideration. I’m of course a big proponent of the notion that good ideas are clear ideas, and that writing is largely a process of teasing your essential message out of the mess in your head. The jumbled, overlapping words form the window frame, the absence of which reveals a concise and transparent message.
“One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it’s left behind.” – Charles Dickens
This is the kind of sentence that either you relate to or you don’t. As a person who has been nomadic and walked down more than a few paths, I know how distance changes your feelings about places, people and periods of time in your life. The haphazard cobblestones in this illustration were inspired by a particular place in Paris that holds a lot of memories for me, that I’ve alternately fled from and to. I wanted the subject to be the place here, as it watches the person fade into the void. Quotation from Little Dorrit.
All prints are now available in the shop.