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2021: The Top Ten Illustrations

2021: The Top Ten Illustrations

In a year when darkness dominated the headlines, and divisiveness drove the news cycles and our social feeds, we noticed a different trend. As we reflect on our year, our top ten illustrations, and the hundreds of hand written gift notes, one thing is clear: There is hope, love and resilience.

And there's a lot of it.

We're humbled and honored that our art prints serve as a physical touchstone and homage to your favorite writers and thinkers. We love that they've brightened your homes and brought a little cheer to loved ones you couldn't be with this holiday. 

Despite yet another dark year, there is still so much light. Our number one print this year is all about the humor, and that gives us much hope for 2022. 

Here are are top ten for 2021.


10. Why Nietzsche


From The Twilight of the Idols: or How to Philosophize with a Hammer

First: How awesome is that title?

Nietzsche's idea that hardship is not alleviated by reducing the burden of life, but by increasing our conviction to bear it with purpose strikes a chord. 

For the illustration, a constellation is depicted in the shape of a globe. The hand reaching across the star map reveals a figure who willingly bears the weight.  

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9. Lie Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky Illustration, Obvious State Art Print, Dostoevsky Quote

From The Brothers Karamazov. This passage is so awesome, we included the entire excerpt in our design to provide context for Dostoevsky's stunning insight into personal responsibility.  

A face comprised of text has been partially redacted, creating a self-inflicted blindfold.

The entire passage reads:

"And above all, do not be so ashamed of yourself, for that is at the root of it all… You have known for a long time what you must do. You have sense enough: don't give way to drunkenness and incontinence of speech; don't give way to sensual lust; and, above all, to the love of money. And close your taverns. If you can't close all, at least two or three. And, above all—don't lie... Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than any one. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill—he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful posturing..."

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8. Teapot T. S. Eliot 

T. S. Eliot Illustration, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock Art Quote, Obvious State

A man is trapped in a universe as vast as his desires and as constrained as the expectations that block them. As time runs out, he struggles with an overwhelming question.

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7. Diverted Jane Austen

Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice Illustration, Obvious State Art Print

Are't we all, though? With any luck, it's the fault of a delicious read.

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6. Bird Charlotte Bronte

From her classic novel Jane Eyre. Inspired by the three muses of ancient Greece, the illustration imagines the Brontë sisters (Anne, Charlotte and Emily) encouraging and building upon each other's creative endeavors to escape the trappings of an ordinary life. Their forms mirror the Hawthorn tree, which is native to the moors where they lived and where stories like Wuthering Heights are set.

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5. Boats F Scott Fitzgerald 

The final line of The Great Gatsby, the Fitzgerald novel that defined the jazz age. It was the era that ushered in modernity, a time of material excess, liberation, and intoxication. But even in the midst of the party, Fitzgerald could sense the toll such decadence takes on the human soul.

Like so many other Fitzgerald fans, we adore this quotation and its kaleidoscopic meanings. Gatsby, surrounded by unimaginable wealth, prestige and fanfare, dreams only of a future with Daisy that will recreate their past. And yet, his past is what prevents him from attaining that bright future. All pomp and circumstance aside, Gatsby is deeply relatable. Everyone, in their own way, aspires to their own vision of “one fine day.” Everyone is reaching toward the green light. And like Gatsby, we are all eventually borne, against our will, into the past. 

In our illustration, a figure rows toward an ethereal, glimmering girl as her dress forms the bay. Her belt resembles a shining city, and a green jewel dangles from a string of pearls.

With one hand she sets the sun, with the other she lifts the moon.   

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4. Hope Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson Hope is the thing with feathers Illustration, Obvious State Art Print

For this illustration, we used Emily Dickinson's own words as line elements to create the "thing with feathers" she describes in this extraordinary poem. The source of hope she depicts is a bottomless well of creative inspiration and strength, which for her manifested in poetry. Visually, her handwriting is a remarkable combination of beautiful flourishes and swooshes combined with an almost frantic energy - a pen racing to keep up with a quicksilver mind. 

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3. Miles to Go Robert Frost  

Robert Frost Miles to Go Illustration, Obvious State Art Print

From his classic poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Like many Americans, this poem was one of the first we learned in school, and there's something magical about it. Frost is known for his use of ultra-realistic, down-to-earth, colloquial language to explore complex social, philosophical and natural subjects.

The final line of the poem is repeated twice by the narrator at the end of the poem. The repetition, implies a double meaning, both a literal and metaphorical journey to be taken. We wanted to capture both in this illustration. 

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2. Becoming Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin The Awakening Illustration, Obvious State Art Print

From her beloved novel, The Awakening. In Chapter 19, Edna's husband worries she is "not herself," but doesn't realize that she is finally "becoming herself," leaving behind the story that he and society had written for her.  

In this illustration, we depict a woman slipping out of a garment made from the text of the story that once defined her role.

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1. Bear William Shakespeare 

"Exit, pursued by a bear" is a stage direction from Shakespeare’s "The Winter’s Tale" that is infamous for its hilarity and difficulty to stage. It's one of the best literary inside jokes (welcome to the club!).

Generally, Shakespeare limited his stage directions to the most basic instructions - [Exit Hamlet], [Enter Ophelia], [Dies] - simple enough. But in this particular direction, a lot of things happen at once without any warning or supporting dialogue. Antigonus has been tasked with abandoning the baby Perdita in a desolate place, but he's having second thoughts. Suddenly a storm wrecks his ship, and then… he "exits, pursued by a bear."

Wait WHAT? So, apparently there’s a bear in the woods, and it has entered. Hungry. Without so much as an “O help!” he is chased off stage and dispatched. How can this sudden deluge of violence and fur not be funny? How do you stage it without destroying the tone of the scene? Do you embrace the surprise and have a little fun?

We went with “a little fun” and for this illustration, a bear materializes out of the woods without warning and "just because."

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