Kafka’s The Trial … again?

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kaf_pinup

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.

- Evan 

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Happy Bloomsday

Jame Joyce, Molly Bloom, Ulysses, by Evan Robertson of Obvious State

Many of us celebrate father’s day, but what about Bloomsday–the day James Joyce fans celebrate Ulysses?

My ode to Joyce is above, and was inspired by a portion of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in the book.

For anyone who believes that James Joyce wrote Ulysses as an intellectual exercise designed to torture English majors, I appeal to you to re-read the last lines of this incredible story, which in my illustration form the wings of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The additional details of the illustration (the body, hindwings and the cocoon below) are formed from the dominant word in the monologue, “yes.”

“I was a flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Want more? Open Culture shared a rare 1924 recording of Joyce reading from the Aeolus episode, here, and a link to a free version of Ulysses. Enjoy!

- Evan

Bear Ceuse Album Artwork

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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.

BearCeuse_AlbumArtwork_720x720

BearCeuse_Album_Artwork2_720x720

ENTERTAIN ME

[soundcloud url="https://soundcloud.com/bearceuse/entertain-me" params="" width=" 100%" height="80" iframe="true" /]

DIXIE BROTHERS

[soundcloud url="https://soundcloud.com/bearceuse/03-dixie-brothers" params="" width=" 100%" height="80" iframe="true" /]

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
Medical Records

Bear Ceuse on Facebook

Emerson, Fitzgerald and Gide

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I had some time this week to complete several designs for the Illustrated Quotation Project, and would love to share them with you.

MARTINI

“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Emerson, Evan Robertson, Obvious State

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.

HILL

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson, Evan Robertson, Obvious State

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.

QUESTIONS

“Believe those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it.” – André Gide

Gide, Evan Robertson, Obvious State

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. 

Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens Poster, Evan Robertson Obvious State

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.

Paris Traveler Series

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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.

ParisTraveler_Walk_pinupWalk 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.

ParisTraveler_Cafe_pinupLinger 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.

ParisTraveler_Bicycle_pinupCycle 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.

ParisTraveler_Drinks_pinupShare 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.

Paris Traveler Series, Original Illustrations by Evan Robertson of Obvious State

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!

Hand Painted 17th Century Map

Map, Francois Ollive, Marseille, 1658

This portulan (a type of nautical chart used from the 13th to 16th), by Francois Ollive is hand painted on parchment. Though it’s four centuries old, it’s still detailed, saturated and vivid. It was among many other maps and charts of a similar nature on display at the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits. Very tough to photograph the colors – they were beautiful.

Paris Neighborhoods

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[ylwm_vimeo height="371" width="660"]57692587[/ylwm_vimeo]

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.

- Evan

I Have Measured Out My Life With Coffee Spoons

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T.S. Eliot Coffee Spoons

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?

- Evan

Three New Illustrations

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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.

- Evan

Waxing Poetic

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Last week, Nichole and I paid a visit to the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits. They had an amazing collection of original manuscripts, including some from notable French writers, and they inspired a few designs. More on the museum later but for now I’ll just add that, apart from the astounding whisky list at Verjus, this museum was probably the highlight of the trip for me. Hopefully, the whisky balances out the museum geek factor. Yeah, prolly not.

Having just seen Verlaine’s manuscript for “Cellulairement” (which he wrote in prison after shooting Rimbaud!), I came up with the idea to do a pair of designs for Verlaine and Rimbaud that would compliment and contrast each other in some way. Given their styles and poetic dispositions, I wanted Verlaine to incorporate white space, and Rimbaud to be essentially black. The two men who were so close, were quite different in their temperament: Verlaine up in the air with his words and thoughts and Rimbaud down in the depths. I re-read “Autumn Song” by Verlaine and “The Drunken Boat” by Rimbaud – two favorites and easy choices.

Verlaine first. Like his language, I wanted the objects in the illustration to define the subject playfully and indirectly in negative space.

Rimbaud was trickier (how appropriate!). I read The Drunken Boat again and became obsessed with the idea of monsters in the deep that you fear – the Behemoths, Serpents and Leviathans that the boat encounters on its journey- and how those things become part of you. Rimbaud was young – and a little dramatic – but he was fearless. In many ways, he was both the boat and the leviathan, the wildman and the wilderness.

I played with some sketches in the Tuilleries, and ultimately arrived at this design.

The next day, while Nichole took some photos of the Tuilleries in the rain, I was thinking about Autumn – leaves falling, transience, all that – and we got to talking about Keats. I like Keats. But Nichole *loves* Keats, so I knew that I had to do a design for her, and that it had to be good. Unlike the self-destructive Rimbaud, Keats was terrified of dying, obsessed with the eternal and the transient. I asked Nichole what her favorite line of Keats was and instantly regretted it. She threw down the gauntlet. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Oh, crap. My head spun with 50 ways to screw that one up. It had to be simple. I played with an idea about a leaf, that was at once fully alive and progressively decomposing. Life is beautiful and brief. I suddenly missed my kids.

I’m really happy with the design. I hope Nichole likes it as much as I do and that it does Keats justice.

I’ve added all three designs to my shop this week, here.

- Evan

New Prints in Obvious State

Evan added a few new prints to his literary illustration collection. I love them all! Lots more in his shop.

You Are What You Underline

The best thing about books (apart from the smell, of course) is that when a little jewel of a sentence grabs you, you can underline it. If you’ve only ever read a book on a screen (hey, it’s not far off), then let me explain: Underlining something in your book is the original “interactive” media. Think of it as a hyperlink that redirects to your own thoughts, and like a hyperlink, it can leave the rest of the story behind and open up a new window of ideas, insights, musings.

That’s the spirit of this series of illustrations. I took little snippets of text and ideas from some of my favorite authors (with some notable exceptions that I’m saving), and let the words be a springboard for an illustration. The illustrations incorporate and interact with the text and hopefully add up to something that engages the mind as much as the eye.

The plan is to complete around 100 illustrations in a year. I’ve posted some of them below.  There are 24 completed, which you can see in my Etsy shop, Obvious State.

I’d love to hear what you think.

- Evan