Filed under “Art”

December 19, 2016

How Postage Stamps Are Made

I just completed a nice little mini-documentary about the design of US postage stamps. The US Postal Service has four Art Directors who oversee the stamp designs, and I worked with one of them to make this video, Antonio Alcalá of Studio A in Virginia.

June 11, 2015

A short documentary about a street puppeteer, his craft, and an unconventional friendship

How has it been so long since I’ve written anything here? Is anyone still reading me? If so, I have something new to show you. I’m really proud of how my latest short documentary turned out.

It’s about Ricky Syers, a street performer in Washington Square Park, and his friendship with Doris Diether, a local community activist who spends a lot of time in the park. The two of them are so endearing, and a couple of real New York characters. Check it out!

March 26, 2014

How Captain America Got His Stripes

With a new Captain America movie about to be released, I think it’s time I tell the story of when I was 14 year old, and I saved Captain America from appearing on the cover of a Marvel comic without his famous red and white stripes.

The year was 1989. I was a huge comics nerd, and a big fan of artist Todd McFarlane. At first I thought his style was weird, with too many lines on elongated faces, but it quickly grew on me. He was making an appearance at a local comic shop in Phoenix, so of course I went. I got there early and stood in a long line. And once I made it to his table, I hovered.

I’m pretty sure I hung out at his table for two hours, asking him question after question while he signed comics for people who I hope I let get their own questions in. He never let on if I bothered him, and I felt like I was spending quality time with a huge celebrity.

Todd (I can call him Todd now, right?) had brought in some photocopies of artwork he’d recently finished for upcoming issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Among them was this cover of issue #323:

I noticed something was wrong. “Where are his stripes?” I asked.


“His stripes. Captain America is supposed to be wearing a blue chainmail half-shirt over a red-and-white striped long sleeve shirt. But this doesn’t show any stripes.”

As I remember it, Todd then said something like, “Oh my God! I have to take care of this right away! If I don’t fix it, the colorist will do it, and he’s going to mess it up!” and then he pulled out his cell phone to call Marvel HQ right away. But of course he didn’t have a cell phone in 1989 so my memory must be wrong. I think it actually went more like this:

“Oh, no. Thanks for catching that. I need to get that artwork back so I can add the stripes myself. If I don’t do it, the colorist will, and he’s going to mess it up.” And then he wrote himself a reminder note on the back of the photocopy.

“How would the colorist mess it up?”

“He might not follow the contours of Cap’s body. He’d make the stripes too straight.”

“Oh.” I beamed with pride that I found a mistake and he seemed to appreciate it.

A few months later, the issue came out, and I was glad to see that Captain America had his stripes. But I was a little sad that nobody would ever know how he got them.

Bonus: Here’s an awesombarrassing picture of me and Todd the first time we met, a summer earlier at Comic-Con 1988:

I can’t believe in Phoenix he acted like he didn’t even know me.

May 3, 2013

I wrote it, you made it: Cartoons I Didn’t Draw

A couple months ago, I posted some ideas for cartoons I wanted to draw but didn’t, for lack of time or (more likely) talent.

Since the internet is an amazing place, I received some absolutely fantastic responses from people who made my cartoon ideas real. And some of these people are actual working illustrators whose work you may have seen elsewhere. I’m humbled.

First, Sean Chen, who drew Iron Man for several years along with dozens of other Marvel titles, sent me this:

Awesome. I couldn’t believe how much work he did to illustrate something I just typed on my computer. This must be how Brian Michael Bendis feels.

Sean thought it would be fun to see how some of his fellow artists would take on the same concept as a creative challenge, so he passed it around. So next I got this take from Bernard Chang, who currently draws Green Lantern Corps and has a long history with DC comics:

The gator’s face in the rear view mirror is subtle. Click the image to see it big.

So awesome.

The next one comes from Gregg Schigiel, who both writes and draws for companies including DC, Marvel, Nick, Disney, Comedy Central, etc., and who notes that he wishes he spent more than 15 minutes on it:

Completely unrelated to Sean’s challenge to his artist friends, I got another take on the same idea from Ben Reinhardt:

Even though I listed 10 different comic ideas, all the above artists took on the same one. I only got one submission from anyone who tried one of the other ideas. This came from someone named Sam Saper:

Those are all awesome, and I’m totally humbled that such great talent went into making my silly ideas into art. I could never have drawn as well as any of the above people. If anyone wants to try their own hand at the “gator” comic or any of the others I couldn’t draw, feel free to send them and I’ll do a followup Part II.

March 21, 2013

An Inventor For Math And Magic Fans

This week’s episode of INVENTORS is about Mark Setteducati, a magician, artist, and one of the founders of the Gathering For Gardner (the biennial festival honoring mathematician and writer Martin Gardner). His clever toys and puzzles incorporate principles of math and magic.

In the video, he talks about hexaflexagons. If you’re at all a curious person, be sure to check out Vi Hart’s fantastic three part series about hexaflexagons on her YouTube channel.

February 20, 2013

The Gutenberg Eyebrow

There’s a story being told around the internet this week about a 15th Century manuscript which was recently found to have paw prints across two pages from a cat that must have walked across it while the ink was still fresh. I’m reminded of a little-known story about another 15th Century book that was found to have evidence of its creation embedded in the pages: a Gutenberg Bible.

A complete edition of the Gutenberg Bible is very rare. Only a couple dozen are still known to exist (the Morgan Library in Manhattan is hogging three of them). But some copies were broken up and sold piecemeal over the years, so individual pages are not as rare and are occasionally sold at auction.

About 14 years ago, while I was a photographer at Christie’s auction house, a particularly interesting Gutenberg Bible page came up for sale. While it was being prepared for auction, someone noticed a tiny hair resting on the page. Upon closer inspection, it was found to have become dislodged from where it was embedded beneath the ink. There was a clear line left behind on the page from where the hair had lifted the ink when it became dislodged.

This meant that the hair had been there since the ink was put on the page.

What if it was Johann Gutenberg’s hair? Could you imagine what that would mean for the value of this page? More likely, we guessed it belonged to someone who worked for him, or perhaps even an animal that was hanging around the printing press. But still, it was an incredible find.

I recall that the hair was delicately handled so that it could be analyzed.

This is how it was eventually described at auction:

Eyebrow hair, 12 mm, COMPLETE with bulb at one end and natural taper at the other, blond or white, [middle of the 15th century]. Soiled with printer’s ink over a segment approximately 2 mm in length.

Provenance: The present hair was formerly adhered to the surface of this leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, where it was held to the paper by the printing ink. It lay under the ink when the leaf was received by Christie’s and was inadvertently dislodged in the course of cataloguing for this sale. The impression left by the hair in the surface of the paper is clearly visible at II Cor. 7:10, as is the furrow of white across the first letter “t” of the word tristitia, where the ink which lay over the hair came off with it.

The hair must have dropped onto the forme after it was inked and before the page was printed. It is therefore presumably a body hair, probably an eybrow hair, from one of the pressmen in Gutenberg’s shop — conceivably from the master himself.

The estimate for the page including eyebrow hair was $10,000 - $15,000. The final price was $64,625.

February 15, 2013

Idea: The Brown Family Portrait

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

I’d like to see a family portrait, perhaps painted in an old Victorian style, that depicts the following people:

Charlie Brown, Mr. Brown (from Reservoir Dogs), Buster Brown, Molly Brown (the unsinkable), Encyclopedia Brown, James Brown, Gordon Brown, Bobby Brown, and Mr. Brown from the Dr. Suess book about the man who can moo.

Update: And Doc Brown.

February 13, 2013

Behind The Post: The Luke Hope Poster

You may remember that about four-and-a-half years ago, I made this image:

By popular demand, I sought to make it available on posters and t-shirts. But I wanted to do so through proper channels, and ended up partnering with Zazzle, which had an existing licensing agreement with Lucasfilm. (They no longer do, so don’t bother looking.)

But in order to get formal permission, I had to jump through some hoops. One question that came up — and I confess I found it a bit insulting — was whether or not I could prove that I actually made this poster, and wasn’t just passing off someone else’s work as my own.

I came up with a way to prove I did the work. I had kept all the layers intact from the Photoshop file I used to create the image (much later it was turned into vector art). Using all those layers, I created an animated gif showing the steps from start to finish.

I always liked how that animated gif came out, so the point of this story is to share the process gif with you:

February 7, 2013

Idea: Famous For 15 Minutes: The Movie

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

In 1968, the catalogue for an Andy Warhol exhibit in Stockholm first featured the quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Well, now we’re in the future. And speculation about the future is the stuff of sci-fi movies. So here’s my concept:

The movie’s working title is “The Warhol Paradox.” It starts in 1968, just a few months after Warhol’s Stockholm exhibition, when Valerie Solanis marches into The Factory and opens fire on Andy Warhol. But in the alternate universe of the movie, Warhol doesn’t survive. He is murdered.

Solanis goes to trial, but is acquitted on the grounds that she’s insane. Or some other reason. But she’s acquitted. There is a public outry which leads to the great Pop Art Riots of 1969. Cans of Campbell’s soup are thrown through store windows. Paintings of American flags are burned in the streets. Looters steal silk screen supplies from craft stores. Police officers are unsure how to deal with the unruly crowds, and things get out of hand. The sidewalks are covered with pools of blood or possibly tomato soup it’s kind of hard to tell.

The people revolt and overthrow the government. And now the pop artists and surrealists are in charge.

Jump ahead 30 years. It’s the future, 1999, and society is built around Pop Art. But power corrupts, and over the past 30 years the artists have become drunk with power. Warhol’s prediction that everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes is now a mandate. Every day, 360 people are chosen by the government to become world famous for 15 minutes.

One day, two young high school kids are chosen, a boy and girl who happen to attend the same school. But they don’t want to be world famous. They’re part of the emerging privacy advocacy movement that wants to return to a time when people could be anonymous their whole lives. So they run.

They meet a group of privacy activists that help people like them through the Velvet Underground Railroad.

The two of them become the most wanted fugitives in the world. And this, paradoxically, makes them famous.

That’s all I’ve got so far.

March 6, 2012

Inventor Portrait: Ralph Baer, video game inventor, who turns 90 years old this week

[cross-posted from my photography blog]

Ralph Baer, the father of video games, turns 90 years old on Thursday. One of his early inventions, the Magnavox Odyssey, was the first home video game system. It turns 40 years old this year. I photographed and interviewed Ralph over the summer for my ongoing Inventor Portraits Project, and this seemed like a good time to share some of the video in which we discuss, among other things, why he’s still inventing at 90 years old.

At one point in our interview he expressed frustration that modern kids don’t read anymore because they’re too busy playing with their smartphones. So I asked him if he thinks kids play too many video games today. Did he accidentally unleash a monster with his invention? His answer:

Yeah. I did a bit. What I thought I unleashed was a family game. If you’ll stop to consider for a second, what’s the ping pong game? You can’t play ping pong with yourself. It was meant to be played by two people. And we had four-handed ping pong and hockey games early on, also. I always thought of it as a family game. And it just sort of degenerated into a one player type thing which was never in my mind.

I thought that was interesting. I think I see a pendulum swinging back in Baer’s direction with consoles like the Nintendo Wii, which put an emphasis on group play.

Anyway, Happy 90th Birthday, Ralph!

July 18, 2011

San Diego Comic Con 1988

This week is the annual San Diego Comic-Con International, the largest fandom convention in the United States. If you’re heading to San Diego, there’s a very slim chance that you will pass through a time warp along the way and find yourself at the 1988 San Diego Comic Con instead of the 2011 event. But to better prepare you for that remote possibility, I am providing a few things that you may wish to review in advance.

[Note: you should know that the convention in 1988 wasn’t as big as it is today, when 125,000 people are expected to show up. In 1988, attendance was around 8,000 people. So don’t be shocked if the place feels deserted.]

First, here is a Progress Report newsletter [download the PDF]. These were sent out in advance of the convention to get you excited about who would be there, and let you know how to get around the brand new Omni Hotel.

Inside you’ll find that some topics being considered for panel programming include “Alternative Animation Techniques,” “Are Comics Too Realistic?,” “The Film Noir Approach in Comics,” “Japanimation’s Appeal in the United States,” “Martial Arts in Comics,” “New Directions in Comic Strips,” “The Physics of Super-heroes,” “Presenting Taboo Material in Comics” and “Why Aren’t Comics Fun Anymore?”

You’ll also find out where the masquerade is going to be held for the first time (spoiler: the Civic Theatre) and how to register for the masquerade. Please note that if you plan any acrobatics, swordplay, or special effects on stage, it must be cleared with masquerade coordinators in advance.

Here’s a sneak peak at who else is lined up to be there:

Once you’ve gone through the Progress Report, arm yourself with the actual Events Guide [download the PDF]

On page 16 you’ll find a complete listing of all the movie screenings happening during the convention. Don’t miss Condorman in the Silver Room on Thursday, or the rare 3-D screening of It Came From Outer Space on Saturday.

Here’s what else is happening:

If you can, go to the 4:00 screening of the new X-Men cartoon pilot on Thursday. It never got picked up as a series, but there’s a certain excitement in the air at the possibility that it just might. And you can participate in the discussion over whether Wolverine’s Australian accent ruins the whole thing.

In case you don’t make it to 1988, here’s the pilot courtesy of YouTube:

One more thing: Be sure to visit as many booths as you can, and meet as many people as you can. Instead of asking for individual autographs, it might be fun to get as many people as possible from, say, Marvel Comics to sign one piece of acid-free board. If they’re willing to draw a picture on it, even better. And if Todd McFarlane says, “I did draw a picture. I drew a spider,” when you really wanted him to draw Spider-Man, just thank him graciously and try not to be disappointed.

See if you can find all these people:

[Ron Lim, Archie Goodwin, Ralph Macchio, Mark Gruenwald, Jeff Purves, Ian Akin, Tom DeFalco, Terry Kavanagh, Peter David, Todd McFarlane, Steve Saffel, and a couple more people whose names I can’t make out.]

Oh, one more thing. Before you go, pick up a copy of the Dark Horse Comics preview booklet [or just download the PDF]. It showcases some titles like Flaming Carrot and Concrete. They’re a relatively new publisher, but I predict big things for them. Here’s what it looks like:

Bonus:Now that I think about it, as long as you may be time traveling, perhaps you should look over the Wikipedia entry on 1988 in sports before you go, just in case you have some free time. And be sure to change your 2011 cash for 1988 or earlier bills so you don’t arouse suspicion.

June 23, 2011

Three Drawings of Don Quixote

1. Pablo Picasso

2. Salvador Dali

3. My wife’s hair as I found it stuck to the shower wall

July 14, 2010

The Clavin

Once upon an evening cheery, while I drank a mug of beer, he
Came into the Boston bar, descending from the upstairs door.
As I sipped, between drunk and buzzed, suddenly there the mailman was,
Sitting near me at the bar, at the end near Diane Chambers’ door.
“Another beer,” I ordered, sitting near Diane Chambers’ door.
Quoth Cliff Clavin, “Hiya, Norm.”

Ah, distinctly I recall how he enjoyed his alcohol
And Carla waited tables, serving drinks that Coach would pour.
Short of cash, much to my sorrow, twenty dollars I did borrow.
For instead of going home to Vera, I wished to drink some more.
Vera, my wife, who would rather that I drink no more,
Faceless here forevermore.

Cliff knew facts on lots of things: jet lag, cavemen, word meanings,
And he liked to share his knowledge of things he’d heard somewhere before.
Like the time Coach fell in love and pondered the big question of
How the heart works, a question he didn’t need an answer for.
A rhetorical question, one he didn’t need an answer for.
Quoth Cliff Claven, “It’s essentially an involuntary muscle, activated by electrical impulses…”

June 2, 2010

Idea: The Inverse of the Guggenheim

The Guggenheim Museum has locations in New York, Venice, Bilbao, Berlin, and soon Abu Dhabi. The New York location was famously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and resembles an upside down wedding cake attached to a more conventional structure:

Looking at the spiral, I realized that the inverse of the building might also be an interesting structure. That is to say, if you put a large box around the Guggenheim, and then you remove the space taken up by Wright’s design, you’re left with another design for a building.

This view is from the opposite corner as the first image above. The cutout area facing us is where the tower was attached in the original design. I’ve made this building’s footprint a little larger than the original museum’s footprint to allow for more art gallery space, since otherwise the bowl (left by the cake’s absence) is so large that there’s not much building left.

While this design loses Wright’s skylight, it gains a colosseum-like courtyard that could be used as a sculpture garden, with windows that look down onto it from every floor. Here’s what it might look like if you’re standing in the garden:

Unfortunately, I have no idea what the interior of this building would be like, and I love the interior of Wright’s Guggenheim. I’ve often thought my ideal layout for a museum would just be one long hallway: you start at one end, finish at the other, and you know you’ve seen everything in between. Wright’s spiral gallery accomplishes that, being basically a hallway that follows a ramp. Visiting the inverted building would probably be a more conventional experience of moving from room to room.

Interestingly, the Guggenheim museum recently ran a competition called Contemplating the Void which invited people to re-imagine the museum’s rotunda. Perhaps I was thinking about it subconsciously when this idea came to me today. You can see the contest entries on Flickr and see the winners here.

February 23, 2010

They Don’t Make Computer Manuals Like They Used To

My family’s first computer was a Franklin Ace 1000. I think we got it in 1983. Franklin Ace computers were clones of Apple II computers, which eventually prompted a lawsuit from Apple and a court ruling that operating systems can be protected by copyright. The computers may have been clones, but the Franklin manuals were definitely original.

I recently found copies of manuals for the Franklin Ace 1000 and its predecessor the Ace 100. They were similar computers, so the manuals share a lot of content in common. Both are pretty incredible.

For example, the manual for the Franklin Ace 100 begins with about 40 pages of computer basics (What are they? What can they do? etc). And then, on page 40, two thirds of the way down the page, there is a chapter heading called “The Ancestral Territorial Imperatives of the Trumpeter Swan.” Here’s how the chapter begins:

I like how low-tech the manual is. The whole thing is done in a Courier typeface, with chapter headings in all-caps. Here’s how the same chapter heading appeared in the manual for the later Franklin Ace 1000:

You can see that this manual is more designed. There are friendlier fonts. There are cute cartoons of Benjamin Franklin throughout. But some of the written humor is lost. Gone is the reference to a “disgustingly cute phrase.” The chapter heading is cushioned with “A good title for this section might be…” This version of the joke is a bit too on-the-nose for me.

But the Ace 1000 manual isn’t just a watered down version of the Ace 100 manual. It has its own jokes, including several humorous glossary entries. For example, the first chapter of the manual lists things you can do with a computer, including “get a list of recommendations for wines to serve with Terrine Maison.” In the glossary, you’ll find Terrine Maison helpfully defined between entries for source and utility program:

Reading through the Ace 100 manual, I came across a section so shocking that I can’t imagine a modern computer company even considering putting it in a manual. In this section, you are advised to circumvent copy protection to make personal backups of programs you lawfully purchased:

And it still hasn’t happened.

The Ace 100 manual goes on to describe three categories of crooks in the computer world. The first category is “Them,” the computer salespeople who overhype their products with advertising gimmicks. The second category is “You.” Franklin isn’t actually calling you a crook, but they say that software manufacturers will treat you like one:

The last category of crooks is “US”:

Well they weren’t, technically, until the court ruling.

Most of the “Crooks” section is omitted from the Ace 1000 manual. A condensed version still appears in the section about copy protection.

Both manuals make 80s pop culture references, explaining the concept of computer programs by comparing them to TV programs like Hill Street Blues, The Dukes of Hazzard, or Live at the Met with Itzhak Perlman (who the glossary helpfully defines as “a violinist”). Former Good Morning America host David Hartman is described as “nothing but reconfigured electronic signals [you watch] over coffee in the morning.”

In both manuals, the author tries to explain what kinds of programs are useful and which to stay away from. He states that “the sole purpose of many of these wonders in programming is to separate you from your money.” And then he gives this warning:

This strikes me as a reference to Damon Runyon, whose stories of 1930s New York hustlers were the basis for the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. Damon Runyon wrote, “One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider.”

I wondered what other inside jokes the manual has that I wouldn’t know about. The manuals are uncredited, but I figured out that they were written by a guy named Sal Manetta, who later went on to work for Unisys and Intel. He is now retired. I couldn’t reach him, but I did get hold of Bob Applegate, a programmer who was at Franklin at the time.

Bob wrote:

We hired this tech writer guy who knew nothing about personal computers named Sal Manetta. He was the manager of the Publication group. Sal hired a funky artist [Frank someone-or-other] who did most of the drawings of Ben Franklin in the user manual. Sal was supposed to learn about computers like an average person back then, such as reading magazines, talking to salesmen at stores, etc. Sometimes Dave and I would head over to a local place where I used to work (where Franklin discovered me), would “introduce” ourselves to Sal and give him advice on buying his first computer, much to the annoyance of the sales staff there. Sal would get back to the office and tell us what the sales folks said about us once Dave and I left :)

Bob mentioned that many of the cartoons are based on real events and people Sal encountered at Franklin. Here are some of the cartoons along with Bob’s comments:

“Engineering was in a long, narrow building with no windows, nicknamed ‘the cave’. Sal was never exposed to engineers before Franklin, and we sometimes overwhelmed him. He often said ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter’ to people on their first visit to our building.”

“Look for the one of the boy soldering with an evil looking computer… that’s me… I wore Converse sneakers to work back then; look at the star on the side of his sneaker.”

“The computer salesman speaking BASIC code was my old boss at a local computer store.”

“The guy smoking a cigarette and dumping ashes onto the computer is a repair guy from the same local store.”

And where did the trumpeter swans come from?

“The ‘Territorial Imperatives of the Trumpeter Swan’ was also real. Resumes came pouring into Franklin, and we’d all look through them. One guy had written a research paper with that crazy title, and we all thought it was pretty interesting. So, Sal worked it into the manual as a chapter title.”

After Franklin lost their lawsuit with Apple, they continued to sell computers that were similar to Apple’s, but without any infringing code. I found the manual for one of those computers, the Franklin Ace 500. Sadly, there is nothing creative to be found within. It reads like stereo instructions. I was disappointed to see there’s even a chapter with the disgustingly cute name “Getting Started.”

Want to read the manuals in full? Here they are:

Franklin Ace 100 (PDF) - via
Franklin Ace 1000 (PDF) - via
Franklin Ace 500 (PDF) - via

That last “via” link also has the original Apple II manuals, for comparison.

Update 3/21/10: Sal has weighed in, leaving a lengthy comment here

December 21, 2009

I See Princess Leia

This painting is “Griselda” by Maxfield Parrish:

And here’s Carrie Fisher in Princess Leia costume for comparison:

Previously seen: R2-D2, AT-AT Walkers, the Death Star, more.

December 8, 2009

The Manhattan Tongue Project

Back in December of 1998, a friend handed me a role of 35mm color film and asked me to take photos of anything at all, and then give the roll back for her to develop. She wouldn’t tell me why, or what she planned to do with the photos. (I eventually learned that she planned to use the images as creative inspiration for a short story project, with me as her unwitting collaborator).

Not knowing her plans for the photos, and having no direction for what to shoot, I thought about the experience she would have picking up the mystery photos from the lab and seeing them for the first time. I wanted to take photos that would make her anticipation worthwhile.

These are the photos I took (click any photo to enlarge):

September 14, 2009

Idea: Anthony Michael Hall and Martha Stewart make an elephant lamp

See we had this assignment, to make this ceramic elephant, and um—and we had eight weeks to do it and we’re s’posed ta, and it was like a lamp, and when you pull the trunk the light was s’posed to go on. My light didn’t go on, I got a F on it.

Last week, Jerry O’Connell was on Martha Stewart’s TV show. You might remember Jerry as a young actor in such 80s hits as Stand By Me and that early FOX CTV show My Secret Identity. She showed him how to make a wood bunny lamp for Jerry’s new twins’ nursery. They sawed, drilled, hammered, glued, and assembled the lamp, just like shop class.

I landed on the show while flipping through the channels and it caught my eye because I suddenly realized that the 80s actor I really want to see make a lamp on Martha’s show is Anthony Michael Hall. Martha can show him how to finally make an elephant lamp with a light that turns on when you pull the trunk. Who do I need to talk to for this to happen? Do I need to start a petition? Does it need to coincide with something for him to promote? The eventual Breakfast Club release on Blu-Ray, perhaps (whenever that happens)? What would be a better promotional event than this one?

2010 is the Breakfast Club’s 25th anniversary. How can we make this happen?

Previously: The Breakfast Cereal Club

July 27, 2009

Esoteric Comic #2

Big Shoe Dance

July 9, 2009

Esoteric Comic #1

April 27, 2009

Post-it Note inventor watches Sticky Note Experiments

I recently photographed Art Fry, the inventor of the Post-it Note, for an ongoing photo project I’m doing about inventors. After the shoot, I asked if he’d ever seen the Sticky Note Experiments video by Eepybird (the Mentos and Diet Coke guys). It turned out he hadn’t. Well, I just happened to bring a copy of the video with me on my iPhone so I could show it to him.

I filmed his reaction as he watched it:

If you haven’t already seen it, this is the video he was watching:

January 16, 2009

First Line

For some reason I’ve had this line in my head for months now. So I decided to finally draw it and post it:

In my mind, this means something specific. Can you figure out what? And if so, how far can you continue the line?

January 5, 2009

The Breakfast Cereal Club

“You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a leprechaun, a monster, a cap’n, a tiger, and a rabbit. Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Cereal Club.”

The Breakfast Cereal Club

December 18, 2008

Idea: Noah’s Hand Everyday

Noah Kalina has famously taken a photo of himself every day for the last 8 years. The YouTube video of his first six years in sequence shows him growing right before our eyes.

Of course, Noah isn’t the only person who has done this, although he is probably the most famous example. But others have undertaken similar projects. All of them are fascinating.

Time-lapse portraits of a face may be the most obvious and compelling subject matter, but I think science and curiosity might benefit from time lapse portraits of other body parts, too. What if Noah had been taking a second picture all this time, of, say, his left hand? It would be interesting to see how his hand ages along with his face. There probably wouldn’t be much change now, but as he ages it would get more dramatic.

Less subtle and more interesting would be a couple who starts this project with a newborn baby, photographing its hand every day. We might not have as emotional a connection to a hand as we do a face, but wouldn’t it be cool to see a real person’s hand grow and change over a lifetime?

(I’m both entertained and disturbed by the thought of a day when this kid discovers that not all parents photograph their kid’s hands every day; and then the day he rebels as a teenager and refuses to let his parents photograph his hand anymore; but not until after he has a conversation where he tells his friends, “Sorry I can’t hang out longer, but I’ve gotta get home so my parents can take today’s hand picture.”)

November 17, 2008

Why didn’t anybody tell me about Ovation TV?

I know I’m becoming a High Def snob when I don’t even visit the standard definition stations anymore. But for some reason I was slumming it in basic cable today when I came across a channel I’d never really looked at before: Ovation TV.

Their slogan is “Make life creative.” For anyone with an interest in photography, architecture, design, music, etc, I encourage you to see what’s coming up and clear some room on your DVR.

Here’s an example of what they’re showing in just the next 48 hours:

• All six episodes of the BBC series “Genius of Photography”
• The documentary “Cindi Sherman: Nobody’s Here But Me”
• A profile of German photomontage artist John Heartfield
• Documentaries about architects I.M. Pei and Mies Van Der Rohe
• A concert by pianist Lang Lang
• A profile of Piet Mondrian
• An episode of their original series “Close Up: Photographers at Work.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Then there’s the Ovation TV website, which features TV schedules you can view by either date or subject matter, as well as interactive features like “art or not?” plus community and video sections that I look forward to exploring.

I wish I had enough time to watch it all. I could dedicate an entire DVR to the programming on their station. You can use the widget on their site to find out what channel it’s on in your area. Now if they would just upgrade to High Def I’d be in creative heaven.

July 30, 2008

Canada’s 1,968 foot wide movie

Forget IMAX with its puny 857 inch wide screen. I saw a move this weekend on a 23,622 inch screen. That’s 600 meters wide. More than a third of a mile. That’s also about how far back I stood to watch it.

Above is a photo of the Bunge Grain complex in Quebec City. The complex is made up of 81 individual silos 30 meters tall. In celebration of Quebec’s 400th Anniversary, artist Robert Lepage used the complex as a screen for an incredible site-specific motion picture called The Image Mill. The film tells the story of Quebec’s 400 years through video, pictures, and sound. I expected a cheesy patriotic movie. But what I saw was subtle and elegant.

The below video, which shows 10 minutes of the 40 minute film, gives a good idea of what the movie was like. It shows how Lepage made innovative use of the contours of the silos, turning them into bullets, candles, a printing press, cigarettes, etc, and how he turned the entire complex into other kinds of buildings completely, such as a factory and an airport.

You can also watch a behind-the-scenes video at Lepage’s website where he explains some of the technical issues that went into making the movie.

I would recommend that you fly to Quebec to see it, but unfortunately the movie’s 66-night run has just ended.

According to Lepage’s website, the movie is playing every night until August 24.

June 23, 2008

Idea: A giant Lego made out of Legos

There are a handful of artists out there making incredibly detailed sculptures using Legos. If I had the time and the resources, I’d make one, too. I’d make one big Lego made entirely out of Legos. I’d call it the Lego Lego.

After making one Lego Lego, I would recruit a bunch of friends to help me make a few hundred more. Then they could be used to build an even bigger sculpture built entirely out of Lego Legos.

Previously: Idea: Paintings of descriptions of the paintings

June 2, 2008

Idea: Corporate Artists in Residence

Many large corporations have philanthropy departments. They donate money for medical research, public television, city beautification, arts organizations, and more. But I’d like to see corporations use their philanthropy in part to spotlight individual artists through residency programs. It could give a big boost to an individual artist, and give a public face to the company’s support of the arts which may better promote arts in general.

Each company could pick one artist each year whose work exemplifies the company’s brand or ethos, provide financing for a year during which the artist develops a body of work, and then offer a performance or exhibition space — perhaps in a flagship store or corporate headquarters — to showcase the result.

For example, Apple’s first artist in residence could be a sculptor who integrates technology in his work, and they can display his pieces in select Apple stores across the country. Starbucks could pick an undiscovered singer/songwriter and finance her first album under their record label. Boeing’s artist in residence could be someone whose work is inspired by aviation, to be displayed in airport terminals.

I figure some corporations must already do this, but I was only able to find one example of a large company that has had an artist in residency program: Siemens, though its hearing aid division, has funded musicians through its artists in residence program, culminating in live performances in New York City. Are there others I’ve overlooked?

May 8, 2008

How bold can Darth Vader be?

The above word-cartoon is the end result of that quote rolling around in my head for weeks. I’m not sure how successful it ended up being, but I know there’s a font pun to be made somehow with that line.

I started out trying to literally depict that scene from Star Wars using letterforms, intending to use bold letters for Vader and light letters for Princess Leia. I loved the idea of the @ sign filling in for Leia’s hair bun. But after a few attempts I concluded that I’m no LIDA when it comes to making art from letters. I just couldn’t get the fabric to look like fabric without making the entire thing out of parentheses and tildes of various sizes. And that kind of misses the point. The letter “M” sort of did what I wanted, but not really. It’s too rigid.

Then I wondered if maybe I needed to stop trying to depict the scene from the movie, and just draw Darth Vader alone, made out of bold type. In many ways it’s the most visually striking of the attempts, but I felt like I overlapped the letterforms so much in his helmet that they were becoming mere shapes rather than letters. But here’s how that ended up:

So ultimately I decided to just use different fonts and weights to write their names (seen at the top of this post). But just floating in the frame without a sense of place, I’m not convinced that works, either. And it’s less amazing than pictures made of letters.

March 4, 2008

The Other Art of Courtroom Sketch Artists

In 1996, Supreme Court Justice David Souter told a congressional panel that “the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it’s going to roll over my dead body.” While the controversy over whether or not cameras should be allowed in courtrooms rages on, sketch artists remain fairly non-controversial, covering even the most important trials. The general public sees their artwork on the news, online, and in print. These artists see the trials for us, and often their artwork is our only glimpse into the proceedings.

I found myself wondering who these artists are. Is courtroom sketching a full time job? Are these people fine artists or commercial artists? And what kind of artwork do they do outside the courtroom? I decided to contact a range of courtroom sketch artists and see what I could find out. There are many more talented artists in courtrooms than just the seven I contacted, and I present them in no particular order. (All artwork shown with permission of the artists).


In the courtroom: Mona has been covering celebrity trials in Los Angeles for more than 25 years. Her courtroom sketches have appeared on ABC, CNN, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She recently released a book called Captured! featuring sketches and commentaries from a quarter century of celebrity trials.

Outside the courtroom: Before she began sketching trials, Mona was a fashion illustrator. She has illustrated several fashion books and has taught fashion sketching at UCLA. Some of her fine art is available in posters from Winn Devon. I think she conveys a lot of elegance in seemingly simple lines.

On the web:


In the courtroom:In 1975, Steve was passing through Philadelphia on his way to Hollywood, when a photojournalist friend offered him a press pass to watch the moving of the Liberty Bell with him. As luck would have it, the bad weather that day prevented the photographers from getting the shots they needed, but the fact that an illustrator was present meant that the media could at least get an artist’s rendition of the event. The Philadelphia Daily News was impressed by his work and asked if he’d ever done courtroom sketching before. He hadn’t, but he was willing to give it a try. For nearly 30 years since then, Steve covered court cases for every major media outlet, drawing his courtroom pictures with color markers. A drawing Steve made of Judge Lance Ito, his staff, and all the major players from the OJ Simpson trial hangs framed above the juror box in Judge Ito’s courtroom.

Outside the courtroom: Steve finally made it to Hollywood, where he has a prolific career drawing storyboards for major motion pictures including The Day After Tomorrow, Along Came Polly, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Steve also does fantasy and sci-fi illustration and is working on a book of stories from his illustration adventures. Here’s an example of his storyboard work for The Day After Tomorrow:

On the web: and


In the courtroom: From 1973 to 1998, Marilyn worked for WABC in New York, covering some of the city’s most famous trials. She was there for the courtroom appearances of Woody Allen, Martha Stewart, Don King, Sid Vicious, Mick Jagger, and more. In a 2006 interview, she recalled drawing notorious mob boss Jon Gotti: “He was always turned out in his Armani suits with his hair blown out and back, he exuded charisma. I saw him as terrifying. I used to watch him through binoculars. And one day he wagged his finger at me and pointed to his neck. I had been drawing his fat neck, and he didn’t like it.” Marilyn recently released a book called Art of Justice recounting 30 infamous trials from the artist’s perspective.

Outside the courtroom: Besides her illustrious career as a courtroom sketch artist, Marilyn is an accomplished painter whose post-impressionistic work has earned several solo exhibitions. Here are some examples:

On the web: and


In the courtroom: Patrick recently moved to a state that allows cameras in the courtroom, which pretty much put the kibash on his courtroom sketch art. But for 10 years prior to the move, Patrick’s courtroom art appeared in numerous regional and national press. I quite like his style, which he executes in chalk pastels and colored pencils (“very messy” he notes) because it’s not exactly what I imagine when I picture typical courtroom sketch art. These sketches are from the Kirby Puckett trial and the Marilyn Manson trial:

Outside the courtroom: Patrick describes himself as “a reality-based artist” adding, “I do still lifes, landscapes, and illustrations that make wry comments and witty observations on modern life.” His website features oil paintings depicting Bob’s Big Boy, a series of Pez Dispensers, and a cow-shaped creamer. Others depict seemingly mundane corners of suburban landscape. And his portfolio is rounded out with commercial work showing both creative and technical illustration skills.

On the web: and


In the courtroom: Dana says that the most memorable court case she’s sat in on was NBC Sportscaster Marv Albert’s sexual assault trial, which she describes as “one big surprise after the next.” In that case, Albert was accused of biting a woman, and it was revealed that he sometimes wore women’s underwear. Sometimes, Dana says, time restraints don’t allow her to finish her sketches in the courtroom, so she adds the finishing touches afterwards, even if that means setting up shop in the courthouse bathroom, using the sink for her watercolors. Dana’s courtroom art has appeared on CNN, ABC, FOX, and elsewhere.

Outside the courtroom: Dana’s illustrations have been featured in national publications like Newsweek, which used her work extensively for its article “The Day That Changed America” about the attacks of 9/11. On a more local scale, Dana does commissioned portraits for clients, and is even available as a caricaturist for events.

On the web:


In the courtroom: Paulette says about courtroom art: “Being a courtroom artist is like capturing lightning in a jar. The artist must grasp the image of the moment, hold it, and express it onto an 11x14 drawing pad in their lap without spilling ink, paint or supplies onto the lap of the person sitting beside them. The composition must tell the story at a glance. In all my art I go for essence. The essence of my subject in the mood of the moment is my goal. I have written a biography with artwork of the great radical criminal defense lawyer J. Tony Serra, and I’m working on a book about the world’s greatest mime, Marcel Marceau. I learned about essence from Marceau and about drama in the courtroom from Serra.”

Outside the courtroom: In addition to being a courtroom artist and author, Paulette is also a photographer, a magician, a mime, and a fine artist who work was first exhibited in a joint show with her father, designer Paul T. Frankl. Here are two of her portraits:

On the web:


In the courtroom: The United States Supreme Court is Art’s regular beat, drawing for NBC News. But he has covered cases across the country, and even as far south as Guantanamo Bay where his sketches are the only visual records of various military proceedings. He began doing courtroom sketches in 1976, and works mostly with colored pencils and watercolor markers. I asked Art what he thinks of cameras in the courtroom. He said, “My fear is that trials could become reality shows. The viewing public, not realizing that the trial they are witnessing, with commentary from pundits and sandwiched between commercials, is very different from the case the jury gets.” Here is Art’s sketch of last week’s Supreme Court arguments in the Exxon Valdez case:

Outside the courtroom: Art’s courtroom work make up most of his visual artistry these days, but he does practice two other kinds of art that I think are worth mentioning. First of all, he writes an interesting blog where you can see Art’s latest drawings, along with commentary about the cases he covers. And until recently, Art was playing Mandolin in the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra. You can see Art in this photo, partially obscured, third from the left:

On the web:

Thanks to all the artists for their participation!

November 27, 2007

Idea: Truly Crappy Statues

Poo Statue
Based on photo by FatBusinessman
Sculptors sometimes choose their medium based on how that material will change over time. When Frederic Bartholdi decided to make the Statue of Liberty out of copper, he knew that years of wind, rain, and sun would give it a nice green patina, and he must have had that final look in mind when he designed it. I think a sculptor should be brave enough to take a similar approach to another natural phenomenon that can change a statue’s color: bird poo.

Perhaps a bronze statue in homage to a historical figure who had salt-and-pepper gray hair can be erected below the branches of a tree. At that time, the sculptor’s work would be finished, but the statue would not. Only after enough pigeons have crapped on his head to give him a greater likeness to his subject would the statue truly be complete.

Or maybe a statue could be made depicting a child holding up a delicious cupcake. A nice bird crap patina on the cupcake could portray delicious frosting. Or, if he holds an ice cream cone, dripping bird poo flowing from the cone to his hands could emulate melting ice cream. Maybe the child could even be depicted as about to lick it off.

Or, even more simply, how about a statue of someone wiping bird crap off his shirt, placed somewhere that the statue is sure to be pooped on? A great work of art, depicting a modern Sisyphus.

Previously: Michelangelo’s David meets George Bush

November 5, 2007

The Constitutionality of Storyboarding

With a tip of the hat to Gilda Radner’s old SNL character Emily Litella, I present this blog entry on the constitutionality of storyboarding:

America has a serious question to answer about storyboarding. I’m not talking about whether or not storyboard artists should join the writer’s guild and go on strike this week, or about whether “storyboard” is supposed to be written as one word or two. I’m talking about the more serious issue of whether or not storyboarding amounts to torture. Somewhere, in a parallel two-dimensional universe, I imagine last week’s Attorney General confirmation hearing of Michael Mukasey looked something like this:

What? Water boarding? Ohh. Nevermind.

(This thought popped into my head shortly after I woke up this morning, and it wouldn’t go away until I posted it. Don’t know why.)

September 27, 2007

Idea: The Histogram as the Image

Yesterday, I posted the image seen here and told you that there is another picture hidden somewhere within it. I challenged my readers to find it. After a bit of confusion in the comments, someone finally declared that they found it: “Hahahaha! Cool! It’s the NY skyline!” Another reader noted, “The first thing I did was to try to tweak the image using the Levels command. I was greeted with a surprise right there in the dialog.”

Yes, the New York City skyline is hidden in that picture’s histogram. It looks like this:

Several people have asked how I did it. So I’ll explain, but I might get a little longwinded in my attempt to be clear. Feel free to just skim and look at the pictures if you don’t want to read it all.

The idea for this project started with a question: Is it possible to create an image that depicts its own histogram? (A histogram, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a bar graph representing all the tones in an image — it typically looks something like a mountain range). I played around a little bit in Photoshop and the closest thing I came up with was this image:

…which has this histogram:

Yeah, okay. That was neat I guess. But I couldn’t come up with any other shapes that worked. But all this thinking about histograms and what they represent got me wondering if I could control what a histogram looks like by manipulating the image. Could I create something recognizable? To try it, I would need to find something that would be entirely black, horizontal in orientation, and not require any holes or vertical gaps. A skyline seemed perfect.

I did a Google Image Search for “manhattan skyline silhouette” and was tickled to see that the perfect image came up in a result from my own site! I once posted an entry about New York City as depicted in the animated film Antz. Google showed me this image from that entry on the first page of search results:

A typical 8-bit grayscale image can have 256 possible shades of gray. A histogram represents the amount of pixels at each level from 0 to 255, and is 256 pixels wide. So the first thing I did was shrink down the Antz skyline to 256 pixels wide. This meant that each vertical band of black pixels in the skyline represented a value from 0 (black) to 255 (white).

Then I created a new document. The first column of pixels in the skyline image represents value “0” and has 43 black pixels. So my new document needed 43 pixels with the value “0.” Column 2 of my skyline represents value “1” and has 46 black pixels. So my new document needed 46 pixels with the value “1.” And so forth.

Another way to think of it is to say that I took all of the “skyline” pixels from this image:

…and put them in a new document, with no other pixels. Then I rearranged all those pixels into a square from dark to light. The result was very close to perfect. The histogram looked pretty much like the skyline, but it was stretched vertically.

Normally, a histogram is scaled vertically so that whatever value has the most pixels reaches all the way to the top of the graph, and everything else is sized proportionately. In this case, it is the shade of gray which forms the World Trade Center antenna that has the most pixels. So this is roughly what the histogram looked like:

I was thrilled that it worked, but I didn’t want it stretched vertically like that. In order to prevent the WTC tower from being too tall (and everything else scaling upwards with it) I had to put extra pixels of one value in my image, so there would be more pure of that value than any other value, which would push the others down so that the graph remains proportionate. I chose pure white, because this creates a thin black line at the far right side of the histogram where you don’t notice it.

I could have added this row of white pixels at the bottom of the new image, but instead I typed my website name in white, and placed it within the image. In doing so, I copied over some other pixels, which altered the skyline. So I had to put it in a place where the “damage” to those buildings wouldn’t be that noticeable. It took trial and error, but I found a good spot. It changed the skyline on the left side a little bit (compare to the “Antz” image). But it still looks like buildings, so I accepted it. Also, this way I get some credit if the image gets passed around without attribution.

I did it all tediously by hand, but I think with a little tinkering, someone could write a program to simplify the process, taking a 256 x 100 silhouetted image and extrapolating a new image with that as the histogram. And the final image file doesn’t need to be a square with a gradient, either. Those pixels could be in any order. They could be completely scrambled. Or they could be laid out in a way that shows an image of an Apple (as in “The Big Apple”). As long as no new pixels are introduced or deleted, the histogram remains the same. But that is a lot more work than I was prepared to do.

Oh, I almost forgot: I doubled the image size so it would look a little better on the website. As long as I resized it using the “Nearest Neighbor” method instead of some other interpolation method, every pixel (and therefore every shade represented in the image) would be duplicated identically, keeping the proportions in the histogram the same.

Update: A reader has taken this idea even further!

September 26, 2007

Puzzle: Find the Hidden Picture

The below image looks like a simple gradient with my website’s name on it. But it’s more than that. There’s a picture hidden in that gradient. Can you find it?

I’m not sure if this is a cool way to hide an image, or just a gimmicky parlor trick. And I don’t know if this will be easy or difficult to solve. But when you figure it out, post the answer in the comments.

If nobody figures it out in a day or two, I’ll post the solution.

Update: I’ve written a follow-up post which explains the answer, and includes a detailed explanation of how I did it.

September 17, 2007

Adam Rex Contest: The Winner

Congratulations to “Jon the Geek” for winning the Adam Rex “Character in Search of a Story” contest. Jon’s suggestion for a character was “AMBIGUGUS, The Remarkably Unmemorable Man.” Wow, you people really took the notion of abusing the artist seriously. How Adam is going to draw a remarkably unmemorable man in an interesting way, but without any features that make him memorable, is beyond me. That’s quite a challenge!

But Adam says he’s up to the task and he’ll have the character posted on his blog in the next day or so. Congratulations, Jon!

September 13, 2007

Adam Rex Contest: Vote for the winner

Wow, there was a great response to the contest! Lots of entries are really funny. Some of you took the notion of abusing the artist pretty seriously!

Now you get to pick the winner. Vote for whichever one of the following is your favorite, the one you would most like to see Adam Rex draw. (The voting will close at Midnight EST Friday night).

Oh, and remember to check out Adam’s new books Pssst! and The True Meaning of Smekday

[Note: If you read this blog through an RSS reader and you don’t see the vote above, come to the site to make your opinion count.]

September 10, 2007

Contest: Win original Adam Rex artwork


A Contest in Search of a Winner

I’m excited to announce that author and illustrator Adam Rex has joined with Ironic Sans to hold a contest where the prize is an original custom drawing by Adam. If you’re not familiar with Adam’s work by now, he is a children’s book author whose books are marketed for kids, but contain humor and details that are definitely of a level aimed at grown-ups. His 2006 book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich became a New York Times best seller, and is well on its way to becoming a Halloween classic. This fall, Adam has two new books out:

The first book, Pssst!, is an imaginative picture book that tells the story of a girl who goes to a zoo where the animals make some unusual requests. Pssst! is available now.

The second book, called The True Meaning of Smekday, is Adam’s first illustrated novel for kids. It tells the story of Earth’s takeover by an alien race called Boov, and one girl’s journey to Florida — the only place the Boov have left for Americans. The True Meaning of Smekday comes out October 2. More information, in the form of a puppet show, a guide to Boovish uniforms, an excerpt from the book, and more can be found at the book’s website

Now on to the contest!

Adam has a recurring series on his new blog Editpus Rex called Characters in Search of a Story. He’s been sketching some great characters, like “G.I. (tract) JOE, The Cuddliest Tapeworm,” and “MR. BABY, The Boy With No Birthday” (seen at right). The winner of this contest gets to invent a new Character in Search of a Story for Adam to draw, and that person will also receive the original artwork!

How to enter:

Step One: Visit Adam’s blog Editpus Rex. Look at the other Characters in Search of Stories to get an idea of what the series is like, and get inspiration for your entry.

Step Two: Come back here, and suggest your own Character in the comments. You have until Midnight EST on Wednesday night to make your suggestion. You must make your submission with a valid e-mail address to be able to win. Limit one suggestion per e-mail address. Anything profane will not be considered.

Step Three: On Thursday, I’ll round up all the suggestions and put up a poll where you can all vote on your favorite. Voting will continue until midnight Friday night, and a winner will be announced on Monday. In the event of a tie, my vote will decide the winner.

Step Four: Adam will post a drawing of the winning entry on his own site, and he will send the original artwork to the winner.

Adam says, “I kind of like the idea that I wouldn’t be involved in the selection process at all, so that I don’t end up just picking something I like drawing already, or that’s easy to draw. So that if, God forbid, the winning entry is PICKLEHEAD, THE MAN WHOSE HEAD IS ONE THOUSAND AND ONE PICKLES or something, there would be a fun ‘abuse the artist’ aspect to it.”

So if you’ve ever wanted to abuse an artist, here is your opportunity. The contest is open to entries now!

Previously: Interview with Adam Rex

July 27, 2007

Bad Fake New Yorker Cartoons

Gawker has asked its readers to submit their worst fake New Yorker cartoon. So I came up with this one. Unfortunately, I can’t decide if it’s too obscure a reference or too obvious an idea. Is it possible to be both?


Hmm. Maybe I should have drawn a scalpel in there somewhere…

June 25, 2007

She’s a vector girl. I’m a bitmap guy.

David Friedman and Ellen Butters
Photo by Guy Ambrosino
I don’t really write much about my personal life on this site, but I’m going to make a big exception to announce that I recently got married to graphic designer Ellen Butters. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with an album of wedding photos, but I do think there are a few aspects of our wedding that readers might find interesting.

Back in December, when we started planning the wedding, we were interviewed for an episode of Wallstrip, the daily video podcast about stocks which are at an all-time high. This episode was about, a website that helps couples plan their weddings. CBS purchased Wallstrip last month (congrats to them!), and I have a strong suspicion that our participation in that episode helped seal the deal. Here’s the video:

The wedding took place at the Society of Illustrators in New York City, an old carriage house turned gallery that doubles as a sort of clubhouse for illustrators. “Illustration” was the theme of the wedding. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before the wedding where we exchanged rings and vows before our family and friends, we were legally married at City Hall, accompanied by fellow photographer Brian Berman. Brian’s portraits don’t always capture people in their most flattering light, but it’s his photos of people in their awkward moments that are always the most interesting. Here’s his favorite photo of us at City Hall:

David Friedman and Ellen Butters

Don’t worry. He took photos showing how happy we were, too.

The wedding at the Society of Illustrators took place in their third floor gallery, which featured an exhibit of illustrations from the seven women’s magazines that dominated the market in the 1950s. Paintings by artists including J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg and others provided the perfect setting for the event.

David Friedman and Ellen Butters
Photo by Tim Griffin
For dinner, each table featured a lantern centerpiece (made by Ellen and her mom) featuring a biography of an illustrator plus examples of their work. Instead of being assigned a table number, guests were assigned an illustrator, and they had to look at the lanterns to figure out where to sit. To make it even more interesting for the guests, each illustrator had at least one painting hanging somewhere in the room, to encourage people to walk around and look at the artwork.

Music plays as important a part in our lives as does art, and we were honored to have great talent on hand. Guests arrived to the music of pianist and arts critic Vivien Schweitzer. The procession was accompanied by cellist Yves Dharamraj, and Ellen’s father provided a Piano interlude. At the reception, pianist Kayo Hiraki led a jazz trio in setting the musical tone for the celebration. The whole event went as smoothly as could be imagined, and a great time was had by all.

In a few weeks, we’ll be off to the Galapagos Islands for our honeymoon (with me sporting a fancy You Say You Want An Evolution T-shirt). So I hope everyone is itching to read a post about giant tortoises, because I suspect there will be one coming.

Ellen Butters and David Friedman

May 4, 2007

Interview: Morgan Taylor, creator of Gustafer Yellowgold

(The fifth in a series of occasional interviews with people I find interesting or who work on interesting projects.)

Gustafer YellowgoldMorgan Taylor is a singer-songwriter who just released a DVD and CD set full of sing-along songs about a mellow yellow character named Gustafer Yellowgold. While the DVD is supposedly for kids, the songs have a definite grown-up appeal, a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of bands like Wilco and the Polyphonic Spree, both of whom have had Morgan perform Gustafer’s songs as their opening act.

Morgan answered a few questions about Gustafer’s growing appeal, but before we get to those let’s take a look at one of the songs from the DVD:

Who is Gustafer Yellowgold?

Gustafer Yellowgold is a friendly creature who immigrated from the Sun to Earth and now lives in a cottage in a woods-y area of Minnesota with a pet eel and dragon.

The Gustafer Yellowgold DVD seems to be targeted towards kids, and you regularly perform the songs in live kids shows. But you’ve also taken Gustafer Yellowgold on tour opening for bands like Wilco and the Polyphonic Spree, performing to an older crowd. Who do you consider your target audience, and what do you think explains Gustafer’s crossover appeal?

My target audience is anybody who gets into it. There are many levels of humor in it and the music wasn’t written with any specific demographic in mind. I’ve always had a more whimsical side to some of my writing, so it seems that’s why it fits in with kid’s stuff quite naturally, but it isn’t kid-music-whacky, so the adults go for it too.

What was your creative and technical process for putting this together? Did you start with the songs? The characters? The art? What medium do you use for illustration, and what software was used in putting it all together?

For the music on the current DVD, it all started with the music. I had accumulated over the course of probably five years of writing since moving to New York City, about a dozen or so songs that were unusually “cartoony” compared to my other songs. It was those songs that I started to illustrate out into a picture book. We ended up crossing paths with an animator who used Adobe After Effects and we started making what would become our first DVD. To draw I use pencil on bleed-proof marker paper, then ink it with Sharpies and fine-tip black ink pens. Then most of the coloring is Prismacolor colored pencil, with some larger areas done in Crayola crayon. Then I scan into Photoshop and set up layered files for the animator with eyelids for blinking and small elements for movement. Ultimately we’re going for the “moving book” type feel. It’s what gives the work it’s mellowness.

Some of the songs on the Gustafer DVD already appeared on your earlier albums. When you wrote them originally, were you writing with Gustafer in mind as a future project? Or did you realize retrospectively that you had several good songs that would fit in Gustafer’s world?

Yeah, I had recorded some of this material with my old band a while back without any real foresight into using them for anything else later. It wasn’t until I started drawing stuff that I went back and pillaged my back-catalogue.

What is your background? Do you have formal training in music and/or art?

More like I ended up studying it because I had a natural knack for art and music. Nothing I ever learned in any class compares to just doing it. I constantly wrote, recorded and performed over the years, trial and error with various projects and bands. (mostly error unfortunately) I used to obsessively draw all the time when I was younger, making comics and taking life-drawing classes outside of school too. I took a break from serious drawing for a few years, and I this has been kind of a re-launching of my cartooning. So I’m really glad I found an application for it finally.

The New York Times called Gustafer Yellowgold “a cross between Yellow Submarine and Dr. Seuss.” Others have compared your music to the Beatles, and there’s definitely a surreal element to your style. So who are your musical and artistic influences?

I grew up listening to 70’s pop radio. I was the youngest of three kids, so there was a record collection waiting for me already when I was born. A lot of soft-rock. I’m a huge Beatles fan and I’m obsessed with KISS. I went through an 80’s cheese-metal phase until I discovered R.E.M. in 1985. I loved Marvel comics and still do collect a little bit. There are some great creators working in the comics field today that are really inspiring.

Gustafer YellowgoldTake a look at this image. On the left, we see Gustafer engaged in one of his favorite hobbies, jumping on cake. On the right, we see a tile mosaic from a New York City subway station. Every time I see the mosaic, it reminds me of Gustafer. Coincidence?

Yes! That is an amazing coincidence! That kinda freaks me out a little actually.

What’s next for Gustafer? Is a sequel in the works? A series? Feature film? Toys? And what’s next for Morgan? Any non-Gustafer projects coming up?

The 2nd DVD/CD set is near completion, and hopefully will see a release later this year. And we just received our first shipment of our Gustafer Yellowgold plush-toys. I’m sitting here among all the crates right now. We may have to get rid of some of our furniture to make room. All this time, as I’ve said “we”, I’m talking about me and my wife Rachel Loshak. She’s my partner in this and if it weren’t for her, Gustafer would still be a stack of drawings on our kitchen table. She’s the reason we’ve made it this far already, so I’d be remiss to not tip my hat to her in all this too.

Thanks, Morgan!

Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wide Wild World is available as a DVD/CD set exclusively through Barnes and Noble. To get more of a glimpse into Gustafer’s world, check out Gustafer’s website where you can tour his home, meet his friends, play some games, and see more of the videos from the DVD.

February 5, 2007

Idea: An Orange Clockwork

An Orange ClockworkHi hi hi there, droogs. This weekend, oh my brothers, I, your humble blogger and narrator, had a thought in my rasoodock to create this orange clockwork. Viddy well this malenky clock which you can hang in your domy for just a little pretty polly. Perhaps your pee and em, or some other veck or soomka you know would find this clock real horrorshow.

Now available in the Ironic Sans store.

February 1, 2007

Le Reve - The Blog

Le Reve The Dream Auction PosterA few weeks ago, I wrote about a poster I was auctioning on eBay. The poster was from the Christie’s auction of Picasso’s painting “Le Reve,” a painting with a recent history that is arguably more interesting than its early history. The story in a nutshell: The painting’s owner just sold it for a record-setting price, and then accidentally stuck his elbow through it.

Well, here’s just a quick follow-up: The guy who bought the poster from me has started a blog about it called Le Reve and Me. On his blog, he wonders if he should expand his new collection of Le Reve memorabilia to include the auction catalogs, and he ponders whether or not he should stick his elbow through the poster. I have no idea what else he plans on doing with his blog, as I suspect the amount of Le Reve memorabilia to be had is fairly limited. But I’m sure he’d appreciate your input. It’s a fascinating story, and it just keeps getting better. Who knows what his collection will fetch some day?

January 24, 2007

Idea: Paintings of descriptions of the paintings

Painting Information

If I had the time, the means, and the resources, I’d make a series of large paintings of those little cards that describe paintings in museums. They would be paintings of the cards that describe themselves. For example, I’d do a painting in oil on canvas that describes itself as being an oil painting on canvas. Then I’d hang it in a gallery next to a little card that’s identical to the painting, but is actually there to describe the painting. I’d do a whole series, with different materials. Oil on canvas, Acrylic on wood, etc. See the photo illustration above for an idea of how it might look.

January 16, 2007

Have your own millionaire Picasso experience

This is the story of a Picasso painting, an art auction, celebrity multimillionaires, and a disastrous blunder that put a hole in the most expensive Picasso ever sold. If you keep up with news of the art world, you may have heard it already. But this is also the untold story of an original poster connected with the original auction, why I have it, how you can get it, and how you can make your own experience similar to those celebrity multimillionaires.

Le Reve The Dream Auction Poster
The poster of the auction of the painting
The story begins in New York City in 1941, when Victor and Sally Ganz spent $7,000 to buy a painting called “Le Reve” (also known as “The Dream”) by Pablo Picasso, depicting his lover Marie-Therese Walter. This purchase began a lifetime passion of collecting works by just their five favorite artists: Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Eva Hesse. Over 50 years, the Ganzes spent around $2 million building their entire collection. Victor Ganz died in 1987, and Sally died 10 years later.

In late 1997, their art collection went up for sale at Christie’s auction house in New York. Le Reve sold for a record-setting $48.4 million to an anonymous buyer — the most ever spent on a Picasso, and the second highest amount paid for any painting ever (the record was held by Vincent Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which sold at Christie’s for $82.5 million in 1990 and has since gone missing, an interesting story itself). The entire 58-lot collection sold for $206.5 million, setting a record for the sale of a private collection.

At the time of the Ganz sale, I worked at Christie’s in the photo studio, where I photographed fine art and other collectibles for the auction catalogs. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The anonymous buyer who purchased Le Reve sold it to casino magnate Steve Wynn in 2001. He in turn sold it to hedge fund mogul Steven Cohen for $139 million, setting a new record for the most money spent on a painting. All the formalities of the deal were finished, but the handover of the painting had yet to take place when a terrible event occurred. Just a few months ago, before turning the painting over, Wynn had several famous friends over to show it off. Among the guests were Barbara Walters, Nicholas Pileggi, and Nora Ephron, who described on Ariana Huffington’s blog what happened next:

The Ganz collection went up for auction in 1997, Wynn was saying — he was standing in front of the painting at this point, facing us. He raised his hand to show us something about the painting — and at that moment, his elbow crashed backwards right through the canvas.

There was a terrible noise.

Wynn stepped away from the painting, and there, smack in the middle of Marie-Therese Walter’s plump and allegedly-erotic forearm, was a black hole the size of a silver dollar - or, to be more exactly, the size of the tip of Steve Wynn’s elbow — with two three-inch long rips coming off it in either direction. Steve Wynn has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that damages peripheral vision, but he could see quite clearly what had happened.

“Oh shit,” he said.

Oh shit, indeed. As recently as last week, the story remained unsettled, as Wynn sued Lloyd’s of London in dispute over how much insurance is required to cover the damage.

As I mentioned, I worked as a photographer at Christie’s auction house from 1997 to 2000. It was pretty cool photographing priceless collectibles for every department at one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world. I photographed thousands of paintings and sculptures, including many by Picasso, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, and hundreds of other artists. I photographed documents hand-written by Presidents as far back as George Washington. I shot movie memorabilia including Edward Scissorhands’ gloves, the amulet from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and one of the Robocop costumes. I got to see the Archimedes Palimpsest first hand. And I shot photos of Neil Armstrong’s space suit. Okay, it wasn’t the one he walked on the moon in, it was just the one he did his training in, but still it’s pretty cool.

And I was there to see Le Reve sell for $48.4 million.

Working at Christie’s, I occasionally kept mementos of high profile auctions. I have a bookshelf overflowing with catalogs I photographed, but I only kept posters from one auction, the first high profile auction to happen during my time there. I kept the poster for the auction of the Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz, featuring Le Reve.

And now, history repeats itself on a much smaller scale as I am putting one of these original posters up for auction on eBay. I guarantee that as of right now, Steve Wynn has not punched a hole in it, and I will do my best to make sure that he does not punch any holes in it before the auction ends.

If you are the winning bidder, the poster will be sent to you in the same cardboard tube in which it has sat rolled up since I took it home nearly ten years ago. This poster has not been hanging on my wall, and is in excellent condition. It has no folds. There may be slight wear and tear on the edges, as might be expected of a poster rolled up in a tube for ten years. But you’d hardly notice unless you look closely.

Once the poster is yours, you are free to do with it as you please. Sell it to an investment banker at great profit. Hang it up. Invite your celebrity friends over to view it. Recreate a historic moment by shoving your elbow through it. I’m not sure whether or not you’ll be able to get Lloyd’s of London to insure it, but you’re welcome to try.

The auction can be found here.

December 28, 2006

Pointless Vandalism

I saw this the other day in a restroom in Bethesda, Maryland.

Pointless Vandalism


November 18, 2006

A museum recommendation and a recommendation for the museum

Part I: A Museum Recommendation

On Thursday I had a chance to attend a preview of a new exhibit called Magritte and Contemporary Art which opens tomorrow at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Of course, the art is impressive, including more than 60 works by Magritte, and another 60 or so by artists including Barbara Krueger, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, etc. But the exhibit installation is one of the best examples of museum space enhancing the artwork that I’ve ever seen.

LACMADesigned by John Baldessari, the museum space is transformed into a surreal experience worthy of the artwork it contains. The floor is a carpeted Magritte-esque sky. The ceiling is covered with images of freeways. The guards all wear suits and bowlers, like they’ve stepped out of a Magritte painting. The entrance to the exhibit is a larger-than-life replica of Magritte’s painting The Unexpected Answer. When you enter the exhibit, it’s like walking into Magritte’s world. For a different exhibit, something like this could have been distracting, cheesy, or overbearing. But for this exhibit, it was just right.

Part II: A Recommendation for the Museum

After looking at the wonderful exhibit, I was thinking of buying the museum’s accompanying book. So I went to the gift shop to check it out. I’m sad to say that the paintings in the book are ugly. The colors are all wrong. I have experience photographing fine art for publication, and I know it’s tough to reproduce colors accurately, but we have the technology to at least come pretty close. But these were so far off that even someone unfamiliar with the paintings might wonder if that’s really what the artist intended. Some paintings had weird tints to them. Others were over-saturated. A painting with a deep blue nighttime sky was printed so light that it practically appeared to be daytime. The different colors changed the whole feel of the artwork. It was really unfortunate. I hope they can fix this problem for future print runs.

musuemAlso, LACMA needs to check their cash registers. When I made a purchase, I received a receipt with the name of the museum misspelled. How long has it been like that? Someone should be paying more attention to detail.

Update: The New York Times has a nice video about the exhibit including interview segments with John Baldessari.

October 10, 2006


The art in this airport food court reminded me of Super Mario Brothers:

Mario Cafeteria Mario Cafeteria

September 5, 2006

Interview with Adam Rex, illustrator and author of “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich”

Adam RexI’m beginning a new series here at Ironic Sans: occasional interviews with interesting individuals, or people working on interesting projects. I’m kicking it off by interviewing Adam Rex, illustrator and author and friend of Ironic Sans, whose new book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich has just been published by Harcourt.

The beautifully illustrated and quite hilarious book includes poems like “The Mummy Won’t Go To His Eternal Rest Without a Story and Some Cookies,” “Godzilla Pooped on My Honda,” and “Count Dracula Doesn’t Know He’s Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach In His Teeth.” Blending Norman Rockwell-like talent, Shel Silverstein-esque poetry, and starring a few Universal Horror monsters, Adam has created a book perfect for children and adults that makes a great Halloween gift.

How would you describe “Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich” to someone unfamiliar with your work?

Frankenstein Makes a SandwichJust because you might be a monster, that doesn’t mean life is going to be all terrified villagers and biting. There’s a down side—monsters have problems, too. Bigfoot and the Yeti are always being mistaken for one another. Frankenstein has trouble meeting new people. Witches, on the other hand, are constantly being scrutinized by hag enthusiasts. They have clubs for that sort of thing.

What medium do you work in?

Mostly oils, but I used a lot of things for this book—gouache, brush and ink, scratchboard, modeling clay, and a little digital as well.

What kind of training do you have?

I have a BFA from the University of Arizona—I was lucky to study under David Christiana. I also have an Associate’s Degree from the School of Life. It’s a vocational school.

What was the last sandwich you made for yourself?

Is a burrito a sandwich? I made a breakfast burrito in a flour tortilla with eggs, fake bacon, cheese, and homemade tomatillo salsa. If a burrito isn’t a sandwich, then peanut butter.

How long did you work on “Frankenstein…”?

Off and on for five years. I first started writing poems in 2000, mostly to occupy my mind while driving. In 2005 I put what I had together and sold it to Harcourt. After that the art probably took three or four months.

What piece of advice did someone give you that you would pass along to aspiring illustrators?

If you find you’re spending a lot of time defending your draftsmanship or the choices you made in illustrations because that’s your “style”, then you probably have a problem to address. There’s nothing wrong with exaggeration, distortion, intentionally drawing “incorrectly”, and so forth, as long as you do it boldly and with a solid foundation of drawing skills to back you up. But good style never gets mistaken for bad drawing.

What advice would you pass along that you only wish someone had given you?

Save your receipts. Marry someone with health insurance. And don’t move to a city that charges you a business privilege tax just because you’re self-employed.

Do you have a favorite poem from “Frankenstein…”? A particular illustration of which you’re most proud? And why?

I don’t think it’ll be the one others cite, but I’m especially proud of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Henderson.” It’s the longest, I think, and the story just came together exactly like I wanted it to, despite an obstacle course of internal rhyme that I laid out for myself. I guess I’d say it’s the biggest achievement—the one I can’t believe I actually finished. I also happen to think it’s funny.

My favorite illustrations come from “The Dentist”—the characters are an homage to Charles Schulz and Peanuts. But I’m pretty proud of the ink work on “Zombie Zombie” and the aforementioned Jekyll poem, just because it’s a medium with which I’m not totally comfortable yet. The Jekyll illustrations were inspired by the early twentieth century work of Charles Dana Gibson—mine fall far short of that ideal, but it was fun to try.

What do you tell people who point out that Frankenstein was the scientist, not the monster?

After another little piece of me dies inside, I assure them that I know this already. I tell them that the tomato is a fruit, that it’s a berry, even, but that doesn’t stop anyone from calling it a vegetable. I may tell them that Pluto is still a planet if they want it to be. And, while I would never think of calling Mary Shelley’s monster Frankenstein, I would tell them that a big dumb green guy with ill-fitting clothes and a flattop is Frankenstein. They’re totally different things.

Oh. And I would thank them for their interest and ask them to please buy my book.

RELATED: I took the above photo of Adam Rex at an event in New York last April where I photographed several artists’ paint palettes and published them in an entry called Boris Vallejo’s Palette.

August 9, 2006

Idea: Take “jowlers” to the next level

JowlersHave you seen It’s a website featuring pictures of people captured while shaking their heads back and forth really fast. It makes me laugh out loud every time I see it. They encourage people to shoot their own “jowler” photos using point-and-shoot cameras and send them in. I love it.

So I was thinking, what if I took jowler photos with more just a point-and-shoot camera? What if I set up lighting and a backdrop and treat them like more formal photos? Do they work just as well when they’re this stylized, or does the spontaneous look of a point-and-shoot camera work best? Well, it turns out that I can’t stop laughing when I shoot them, and I think they look absurdly great when they’re done.

Jowlers Jowlers
Jowlers Jowlers

But I need more volunteers. So naturally, I turned to Craig’s List in my search. But for the first time ever, Craig’s List let me down. I once used Craig’s List to get rid of a used bag of dirt (someone came to get it in less than an hour), but I couldn’t find anybody willing to pose for a Jowler photo. So I now turn to the blogosphere. If you are in New York City, and are willing to stop by my place for 10 or 15 minutes for an extremely silly project, drop me a line and we’ll set up some time for one of these weekends. I’ve got ideas for more elaborate jowler setups if you have even more time. You’ll find my e-mail address on the right side of this page.

July 27, 2006

A parallel istaverse

If you live in a major city anywhere in the world, there’s a good chance that there’s an “-ist” website covering your town. Beginning with Gothamist, covering New York City, the “istaverse” as they call it extends to Los Angeles, London, Shanghai, and beyond.

Gothamist logoEach “-ist” website has its own cute logo following the same theme: a few sillhouettes of buildings, other architecture or landmarks, followed by “citynameist.” Each one also features a different colorful background. The original Gothamist logo, above, was designed by Sam Park, of Tiny Factory.

So I got to thinking. What if the “istaverse” people existed in fictional cities? I’m sure they would write about the new Starbucks being built in that up-and-coming neighborhood in Townsville, or some event being put on by that funky art collective in downtown Delta City. And I’m sure is where the Flintstones would point their, um, rockputer to see what the mayor said in his latest news conference about all those layoffs at the quarry.

But what would the website logos look like? I imagine they’d look something like this:



Delta City


Hill Valley

The Island


Orbit City



The Village

Bonus: There are two more that I didn’t think worked quite as well as those above, so I didn’t include them in the list. But you can click to see them anyway: Bonus 1 and Bonus 2

Update: Other -ists that I considered but rejected, partly because I couldn’t really think of any architectural icons to go with them at 2:00 this morning when I wrote this piece included Pleasantvilleist, Mayberryist, Funkytownist, Bumfuckist (oh, crap, I totally forgot — I was going to do a broken-down shack and some tumbleweeds for this one; oh well), CrystalLakeist, Dogpatchist, Grover’sCornersist, TwilightZoneist, and a few others. Was there a name for the town where the Smurfs lived?

Update: I just added Lilliput. I couldn’t resist.

July 24, 2006

Turn of the century racist jokebooks

Ventriloquism bookMy friend and fellow photographer Brian Berman has been working on a series of portraits at off-beat conventions around the country. He recently came back from the Vent Haven Ventriloquists Convention where he purchased this book from 1902, Callahan’s Easy Method for Learning Ventriloquism Quickly.

I wasn’t really too surprised by the racist depiction of the ventriloquist’s dummy on the cover, but I was surprised when I turned the book over and saw the advertisements on the back cover. The publisher, Wehman Brothers, featured a selection of racist joke books, available from their store in lower Manhattan. Some of the books are tame titles like Choice Riddles but then there are titles like Coon Jokes and Hebrew Jokes that would never fly today.

Racist Jokebooks
Racist Jokebooks

July 17, 2006

The Art of 1010 WINS

1010 WINSThe radio station 1010 WINS is for New York City what CNN Headline News is for cable television. It’s just nonstop headlines, weather, and traffic, repeating every 22 minutes. Their slogan is, “You give us 22 minutes, and we’ll give you the world.” Their website,, features local headlines and news stories mixed in with syndicated newswire stories.

But for me, the real treat is the unintentional art gallery at Sometimes, 1010 WINS uses photos from the newswire. But often, some Photoshop Whiz Kid Artist at 1010 WINS smashes together some stock photos with a Photoshop filter and makes some of the greatest image mashups on the internet.

So I now present a small gallery of artwork from 1010 WINS that I call, “You give us 22 news stories, and we’ll give you bad art.”

The Featured Exhibit

1. Peace Grannies on Trial for Times Square Protest

1010WINSThe crown jewel of the 1010 WINS Art Collection is Peace Grannies on Trial for Times Square Protest. For a story about a group of senior citizen war protesters, the artist placed a black shadow behind one of the so-called “Peace Grannies,” representing the plight of the protester during a deadly war, even while she herself is heading to her grave. The cane represents the narrow band of freedom on which we all lean, while her hat signifies oppression from above. Her coat, of course, is the cloak of dignity. A powerful image indeed.

2. Man Charged with Having Crack in Sundae

1010WINSIt’s a classic struggle for every artist. How do you illustrate a news story about a man caught smuggling two rocks of crack cocaine in an ice cream dessert? Well, the artist at 1010 WINS found a creative way to solve that problem, using photos of crack cocaine and an ice cream sundae. By superimposing them both on a pile of powdered substance — representing both the popular drug and the sweet sugar used in making delicious desserts — he unifies the images thematically, while the black background represents the health problems implicit in too much of either substance.

3. Forecast Predicts Another Rough Hurricane Season

1010WINSThe influence of conceptual artist Barbara Kruger is obvious in this piece, which uses imagery and words in montage. When the AccuWeather Hurricane Center predicted a strong hurricane season, the 1010 WINS artist chose to ironically juxtapose two simple sandbags hurricane warning flags with the power of one giant hurricane, representing the futility of man against nature. The disproportionate scale of the flags represent mankind’s desire to hold back the winds, even as they overtake us. The label “2006 Hurricane Season” acts as a forecast, but may in the future be seen as an accurate description of what the image depicts.

4. Final Moments on Tape. Family Hears WTC Call

1010WINSNearly five years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, audio tapes were released featuring conversations between 911 operators and people trapped in the World Trade Center. For the event, the 1010 WINS artist created this commemorative work. On the day the tapes were released, a cell phone was so clearly important — a modern technological luxury but also an icon of this day in history — that it seemed like an object as large as the towers themselves. Or perhaps slightly larger, in black and white, looking a bit like it was photocopied and then faxed a few times before being scanned in for a montage.

5. Rockland County Joins Gas Sales Tax Capping

1010WINSThe ashy, veiny hand reaches out, gas pump nozzle in hand, a stream of “S”es pouring forth from its spout like precious drops of gasoline. Together, the hand and pump give off an eerie glow as Honest Abe looks onward, his gaze obstructed by an exaggerated dot screen. George Washington is barely visible, shrouded by an orange shadow of depression. The message is clear: Rockland County joins gas sales tax capping.

The Extended Gallery

6. Fatal Shooting in Brooklyn


7. Murders on the Rise in NYC


8. Untitled


9. Westchester Law Locks Down Wireless Networks


10. Jury — Merk Liable for Vioxx Users Heart Attack


11. Subway Stabbing in Brooklyn


12. NJ University Drops SAT Scores, Gains Applicants


13. Conn. Officials - Lyme Disease up 26 Percent


14 & 15. The “Police Line” Diptych.

1010WINS 1010WINS

Individually titled, “1 Killed, 4 Injured, in Parkway Crash (Blue)” and “5 People Struck in Hit and Run (Red).”

16. FBI Commish Orders Review of 911 Tapes


17. Strong Earthquake Strikes Central Indonesia


18. Quick Thinking Student Saves Teacher with CPR


19. Rockland County Woman Arrested for ID Theft


20. Fatal Car Crash in Brooklyn


21. NYC HDC Earmarks $179m for Apt’s


22. Study - Less Time, Passengers Reduce Teen Crashes


June 6, 2006

Georgia O’Kleenex

Georgia O'Kleenex

This is what I saw when I reached for the last tissue in the box.

May 18, 2006

When Isamu Met Bucky

Noguchi and FullerI had the pleasure this evening of attending the opening of a new exhibit at the Noguchi Museum in Queens highlighting the work of sculptor Isamu Noguchi and his good friend Buckminster Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller, many people will remember, was the man most famous for inventing the geodesic dome, an incredibly strong structure made up of a network of struts. Fuller’s invention was conceived as an extremely lightweight but stable building that could be erected simply and inexpensively. While the dome was a big success, he designed it after a long string of other inventions which Fuller hoped would create a better life for humanity, but which never caught on.

A chrome sculpture of Fuller by Noguchi overlooks several exhibits
Several of those inventions are showcased in the new exhibit. One highlight is a scale model of Fuller’s Dymaxian House, an easy-to-ship and easy-to-assemble home that hangs from wires around a central column (“Dymaxian” is Fuller’s made up contraction of the words Dynamic, Maximum, and Tension). Fuller imagined this as the wave of the future, an ultra-efficient, ultra-affordable, mass-producible home. But only one Dymaxian House was ever built. It was lived in for 30 years before being relocated to the Henry Ford Museum in 2001.

A visitor examines a model of the Dymaxian Car
Fuller’s Utopian vision extended beyond homes. In 1933, he built a prototype Dymaxian Car, a highly efficient vehicle that seated 11, reached 120 miles per hour, got 30 miles per gallon (unheard of at the time) and did it all on only 3 wheels. It was 20 feet long, but barely needed more space than that to do a full 180 degree turn. Sadly, an accident at the 1933 World’s Fair prompted investors to abandon the project, and the car never passed the prototype stage. It’s a shame it never went any further in development. It’s hard not to imagine how automobiles would be different today. For the current exhibit, the Noguchi museum has brought together models, pictures, and video footage of the car in action.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The exhibit explores many more of Fuller’s projects, but these were my favorites.

The sculpture garden at the Noguchi Museum
The exhibit, called “Best of Friends: R. Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi,” reflects the friendship and values of two men, each dedicated to improving the lot of the common man, one working through science and the other through art.

The lives of both men are presented nicely through an exhibit designed by graphic designer Tomoko Miho, who the AIGA called “the design world’s best kept secret.” Along one wall, an extensive timeline follows the parallels of both men’s lives, and is included in full as a gatefold in the exhibition brochure, making it a great souvenir.

The exhibit opens this Friday, and continues through October 15.

May 1, 2006

Idea: A remake of “Fred Ott’s Sneeze”

OttIt seems these days that Hollywood scrapes the bottom of the barrel for movie material. Of the movies opening this summer, 7 are sequels and 17 are remakes or adaptations.

Well I’ve decided to do Hollywood one better. I’ve gone back further than anybody ever has before to remake a movie. I’ve remade one of the earliest known movies, an 1894 film called Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze, also known as Fred Ott’s Sneeze, starring Thomas Edison’s assistant Fred Ott. You can view the original film here, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

My remake is more of a re-imagining, really, than a remake. I’ve decided not to make a period piece, but instead to modernize the story of one man’s struggle to remove an irritant from his nostril, setting it in the present day in a small apartment in New York City.

Here is my film, simply called Ott. Enjoy.

Bonus: Watch the extended Director’s Cut of Ott.

April 12, 2006

Museum store shop for is open inspiration!

Museum BannerI saw this banner outside a museum last week, and I had to take a picture. I haven’t seen such a confusing use of type is a long time.

First I thought it said “museum store shop for is open inspiration!” but of course that makes no sense.

I tried again, separating the small 2D letters from the big 3D letters. This time I ended up with two sentences, “store is open” and “museum shop for inspiration!” I’m pretty sure the first sentence makes sense, but I don’t know about the second one.

Trying again, I attached “museum” to “store is open” to get “museum store is open” which makes sense. But that left me with “shop for inspiration!” which I guess makes sense grammatically but seems overly exuberant for a gift shop.

In the end, I guess I may have figured out what the designers meant, or I may not have figured it out. I’m sure there are other equally-likely ways to parse the sentences that I haven’t even tried. I have no idea. But if it takes more than a couple seconds to figure it out, that can’t really be a sign of a well-designed banner, can it?

April 11, 2006

Boris Vallejo’s palette

Vallejo paintingIf you’ve ever walked through the science fiction and fantasy section of a bookstore, you’ve seen the artwork of Boris Vallejo. This weekend, I got to watch him create one of his paintings, a rather detailed picture of a dragon that he completed in only four hours.

I attended an event called Art Out Loud at the Society of Illustrators where Vallejo, Julie Bell, Jon Foster, Dan Dos Santos, Gregory Manchess, and Adam Rex demonstrated their techniques to aspiring illustrators, and answered lots of questions. I think proceeds from the event go to the Society’s student scholarship fund, so it’s great that the artists were all so gracious.

When Vallejo finished his painting, and everyone gathered around to admire the finished product, I noticed his palette sitting there. I realized that while millions are familiar with his work, few have probably seen his palette. So I took a picture of it. Perhaps it will provide insight or inspiration for those who were unable to attend the event this weekend.

Boris Vallejo palette

I’m told that his use of disposable palettes is significant, as the romantic notion of an artist would have him using a permanent wooden palette. Take note, students.

Artist links: Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Jon Foster, Dan Dos Santos, Gregory Manchess, and Adam Rex.

Bonus: Here are the palettes of Dan Dos Santos and Julie Bell:

April 7, 2006

Flat footed art

I’ve seen these around the city for years in various boroughs. I assume this riff on the old-shoes-on-a-wire trend is supposed to make some sort of artistic statement. But what is it?

Flat feet

April 3, 2006

Idea: The Pacifist Chess Set

Pacifist Chess

Chess is a game of war. So for those who disapprove of war, I’ve come up with the Pacifist Chess Set. The concept is illustrated above.

At first glance, it looks like you could play a legitimate game of chess with this set. But once you start playing you realize that you can’t play for very long — at least not very easily. As you play, and your pieces get closer to your opponent’s pieces, it becomes apparent that one side’s pieces are indistinguishable from the other side’s pieces. They are all the same color.

It’s not really a functional chess set. It’s more of an art or conversation piece. It makes the statement that, no matter what side of the battle we’re on, we have in common that we are all human.

[I got this idea while wandering through the Imagery of Chess Revisited exhibit at the Noguchi Museum in Queens. The exhibit is only around for two more weeks, but if you get a chance I highly recommend a visit. It features works by Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, and others. A book is also available, in case you miss the show.]

March 29, 2006

Idea: The Ishihara Triptych

The Ishihara Triptych

Remember when you were in third grade and the school nurse gave you that test to see if you’re color blind? The one where she shows you a circle made up of smaller colored circles and asks you what number you see? That test is the Ishihara Test of Color Vision.

I’m fascinated by perception, especially by the uncommon traits that make some people’s perception different than the rest of us — color blindness, tetrachromatism, synesthesia, monocular vision, etc. I also enjoy original art. I decided to combine the two interests by making a triptych out of three Ishihara color vision test plates.

At greater expense than I anticipated, I obtained a set of Ishihara color vision test plates. I picked out three plates that I felt looked good together, and blew them up to a size suitable for framing. The entire finished triptych, seen above, hangs above my bed. I think it makes a compelling piece of art.

It’s titled “57-74-8, or 35-21-3”

Want to make your own? Click each thumbnail below to download a high-res image you can download, print out, and frame.


March 12, 2006

Viral Life imitates Bad Art

A few days ago, überblog BoingBoing linked to a “silly short video” of a grandma kicking a baby. I watched it, and they were right. It was silly and short.

But what caught my eye was the still image from the clip that they used for their entry:

It looked so familiar. And then I remembered the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), the “world’s only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms.”

The MOBA was founded when a particular oil painting, later dubbed “Lucy in the Field With Flowers,” was pulled from a streetside garbage. The woman in the painting, later identified as Anna Lally Keane, bears a striking resemblance in pose and wardrobe to the woman in the viral video.

And any excuse to tell people about the wonders of the Museum of Bad Art is a good one. So here’s a link to MOBA and here’s a link to the story behind the painting. Check it out.

February 27, 2006

Michelangelo’s “David” meets David’s “George Bush”


While traveling on business through Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport, I was struck by this statue of George Bush (the senior George Bush) in one of the terminals. What struck me was the eerie similarity between this statue and Michelangelo’s David.

The 8 foot tall George Bush was sculpted by David Adickes, the Houston artist whose busts of all the Presidents grace two different Presidents Parks.

I can’t help but wonder if the similarity is intentional. Michelangelo’s David depicts the second King of Israel, with a sling over his shoulder that he used to slay the giant Goliath of the Philistine army who threatened to destroy Israel. With that in mind, if Bush represents David, who represents Goliath in this scenario?