Summer therapy project, part four

In the back of my mind I wanted the artwork on the bookshelf to be imperceptible. To be part of the wood. To appear as if it were coming out from the wood. Something that a casually observer might miss. But an astute observer would cast a second and a third glance and then walk up close to inspect the nearly hidden image.

Instead of painting the scenes on to the bookshelf, I chose woodburning. The results surprised me. And my kidlingers. The long process of transforming the graphite sketches into dramatic burnt dark figures amazed them. And the craft and process of making the art renewed my imagination.

Too often I spend my day in front of a screen reading, researching and replying to emails. It’s knowledge work. It’s spreadsheets, production reports, and project management. These are all important elements in the workflow of art direction and graphic design. But they can become a psychic vampire as one coworker likes to say. And this summer therapy project was part of the remedy.

Literary scenes from the East and the West

 

Summer therapy project, part three

What is a challenge if it is too easily accomplished? Why not decorate the salvaged-wood, no-plan bookshelf?

Who suggested the idea is forgotten. Whether it was one of the kidlingers, or my wife, or myself is not important. But through the summer week nights and weekends a conversation took place as to decorating the bookshelf.

Since the bookshelf was intended to house schoolbooks, I decided to draw a scene inspired from Eastern literature and a scene inspired from Western literature.

Earlier in the year I had been reading Tu Fu, the autobiography of a Chinese poet, translated by Florence Ayscough. The author records Tu Fu’s reflection of his early years,

“Aged nine, I wrote large characters
There were enough to fill a hard-bottomed bag.”

Tu Fu, from “Years of Strength Travel”

I intended on drawing a scene from that book. But decided upon Li Po instead. One poem captured my imagination.

I raise my cup to invite bright moon, . . .

I sing and the moon dances,
I dance, and my shadow tumbles
Sober, we share the joy we knew…”

from Li Po’s “Drinking Alone under the Moon”

I found a couple paintings of Li Po on the internet. That became the drawing for the Eastern side of the bookshelf.

For the Western side of the bookshelf, I selected the story of Daphne and the laurel tree. Years ago I acquired Myths and Enchantment Tales by Margaret Evens Price. During the first month of the safer-at-home orders from the state I rediscovered the book. The story of Cupid and Apollo caught my eye because of a detail I had overlooked. Peneus, the river god and father of Daphne, turned his daughter in to a tree in the forest to protect her from a love-struck Apollo. Price’s lovely illustration was the source of the inspiration. And gave me an excuse to play the woodgrain of the side boards into the illustration.

 

Salvaged-wood, no-plan bookshelf

Summer therapy project, part two

Jigsaw puzzles appeal to many people because the scrambled mess has a decisive solution. Usually, because the path to success is printed on the outside of the puzzle’s cardboard box. Build the edges first and then fill in the center. The strategy is fairly simple. The execution presents the delightful journey.

Building a bookshelf without plans is like dumping several jigsaw puzzles on to a table top, throwing away their cardboard boxes, and trying to create one solution from the many parts.

After selecting boards for the shelves, sides, supports, and legs, I started cutting the pieces to fit.

One of the therapeutic aspects of working with your hands is the tactile creation of the project. So much of what I do for a living is done by proxy. I design images for print and web. But I never touch the art. A pointer displayed on a screen by way of a handheld device that tracks two-dimensional motion allows me to design a variety of material. But it also presents a barrier. Glass, metal, and plastic separates me from the art I created. Should the art maker and the art object be divided in such a manner?

The physicality of this salvaged-wood, no-plan bookshelf presented joy. The smell of the sawdust. The feel of the drill boring into hardwood. The motion of sanding off the rough edges.

Sure, there were some mistakes. A board was too warped to use. Another board split when screwed in place. Four legs that do not match. But that is part of the riddle. Part of the delight.

When the assembled jigsaw pieces from several puzzles were set on the grass one weekend, it resembled a bookshelf.

Summer therapy project

 

It was as much a challenge as it was therapy. Discarded pallet wood salvaged from a curb. The pallets rested there for weeks. One of the kidlingers helped me load it in to the automobile and take it back to the apartment’s garage. The pallets were broken down into boards. Nails were removed. And boards stacked in order of length and thickness. As well as amount of damage. Some boards were broken. Others split when nails were removed. Some boards had mold while others had oil residue.

We formed plans. The kidlingers and I could build boxes. Handy, useful boxes. Boxes with handles. Boxes for storage. A doll house? What about a bookshelf? A bookshelf for schoolbooks.

And I needed something to do amid the quarantine. Something away from computer screens, teleconference video meetings, and email notifications. Americans adapted to local and state restrictions in order to mitigate the spread of the pandemic back in the Spring. Some worked from home. Set up remote offices at the kitchen table, basement desk, or spare room. For me, a window table I built in the bedroom became the office work space. Working and sleeping in the same room became claustrophobic. When the warm days of summer arrived I eagerly looked forward to the time of day when I turned off the computer, changed clothes, and went to the garage to work on a wood project.

I settled on building a few small boxes for starters. Something to get the hands and mind prepared for something bigger—a new bookshelf built from salvaged wood.

Raised cup to invite the moon

 

Bookshelf art – before and after

It was cold. A political rally mangled traffic downtown. Everything seemed off schedule. I missed the street car to the train station by minutes and had to walk. The winter weather depleted the battery of my smartphone. Commuters waited at the Intermodal. The last train of the night was late.

There was a special one-hour podcast on obscure tunes from the Real Book loaded on my smartphone. I wanted to listen to jazz music. But I didn’t want to run out of battery. In case the train was delayed. And I had to call my wife to pick me up.

The previous weekend I checked out a book of poetry from the public library. A collection of poems, translated into English, of Li Po. Before I knew it I had found a friend. The translator made it inviting to enter the world and work of Li Po.

Soon the train arrived and I boarded. Found a seat. Plugged my phone into the outlet. Opened the book and continued reading. The train passed over the river and had nearly cleared the Third Ward when I caught a glimpsed of the moon over Lake Michigan.

“I raise my cup to invite the bright moon, . . .” wrote Li Po.

Maybe that endured me to Li Po. Or at least inspired me to feature an illustration of Li Po on a bookshelf I built this summer.

There are a couple Li Po illustrations I made during the last year or so. But the one for the new bookshelf is the most ambitious and detailed. Maybe I will share some posts about the bookshelf project with you later. I had considered writing a series of short posts about how it all came together. Sort of a how-to, or how it was done, type of posts. But the story about why I chose to decorate the sides of the bookshelf seems to interest people more than how I built it.

As the nights grow longer and colder, the illustrated bookshelf is now installed in the living room.

Serious things

“What did you do last night?” she asked as we walked through the neighborhood in the pre-dawn moments of the day.

“I worked ’til six. Clocked out. Made supper. And spent a couple hours drawing.”

She did not say anything for a few dozen steps. She took the kidlingers on an adventure the night before. And she was tired.

I continued. “The challenge is that it takes me nearly an hour to set up. Not just gathering tools like pencil, ink, brush, illustration board, and setting up a space to work. But planning. Composing a page. Thumbnail sketches. Reference materials and such.”

She listened. We walked further. In the hour before sunrise, I looked East. I saw Venus. Or maybe Regulus. Possibly both.

“By the time everyone got home,” I said. “I had finished marking out a page and composing three panels.”

She told me about a conversation with the one of the kidlingers as we walked. We exchanged comments about plans for the day. We continued for a quarter mile or so before returning home.

Thoughts of last night’s drawings were pushed into the shadows of a day filled with choses sérieuses.

Try again another night

How long did I look at this drawing the other night? 15 minutes? 30 minutes?

Calculated the time it would take to complete the drawing. Did I have the time?

Considered if the time spent on this illustration was valuable.

Too late. A kidlinger requested help. Followed by a short list of other household chores.

The illustration was placed back in the portfolio with 60 other drawings in various stages of completion.

Try it again another night.

Inktober 2020 — #inktober #inktober2020

The #Inktober 2020 Prompt List.

Unbound sketchbook

What do you do when you find a 15-year old sketchbook with at least two dozen blank pages at the end of it? This sketchbook was something used many years ago to compose page layouts ideas.

It may be that as a young graphic designer I required the use of pen, ink, and paper to organize thoughts and ideas before turning to the digital tool of computer and software to complete a magazine page layout. Or a book layout. Or whatever design project it was that I was working on at the time.

Even back then, a lot of creatives were skipping the hand-drawn phase of graphic design and moving to digital sketches. I was one of those designers too. It did not take long to adapt to digital sketches using Quark Xpress or PageMaker. External and internal clients did not understand these hand-drawn sketches. I quickly understood that these initial sketches were best served between fellow creatives. A form of pictorial shorthand.

Sketches using human figures engaged clients. A point of connection. Composing advertisements and editorial layouts was enjoyable. Even when it was poorly drawn it was pleasurable. It was exciting to explore and play out ideas on pages. To balance text and image. To push the elements toward asymmetrical tension.

Sometimes referred to as “mock ups” or “work ups,” these comps (jargon for compositions) often featured ad copy or editorial headlines that I wrote. I preferred writing my own copy rather than using dummy copy, greeking, or some other form of gibberish used to represent where text was to be placed in design compositions.

These sketches bring back a lot of memories. Projects completed. Projects that never were approved. Abandoned. Like the craft of sketching designs and ideas.

I needed something to prop up the office laptop computer in order to avoid a kink in my neck as I work on print and web design tasks. MacBook Pros are not ergonomically designed. An old keyboard was located. And then a Kensington trackball mouse. And an old, unbound sketchbook. That did the trick.

This work-from-home solution is not ideal. There are days when my children see that I spend most of the time reading and replying to emails, joining video conferences, and moving file icons across the desktop to various folders synched to cloud-based servers. Graphic design looks so different from the point at which I joined the trade. It is less tactile.

The national safe-at-home quarantine allowed me to build a wood desktop and a wood stand-up-desk solution for the laptop, keyboard, trackball workplace arrangement. And the 15-year old sketchbook? Well, paging through the collection of ideas and designs. . . after a long hiatus, I began sketching and drawing on the empty pages at the end of the book.