Here is to another amazing CODEX 2017: International Artists’ Book Fair experience! It was great to see old friends and make new ones, share and see recent work, get new book ideas and collaborations flowing and celebrate the art of the book in all of it’s glory. Many thanks to Peter Rutledge Koch, Susan K. Filter, all the organizers, exhibitors and book admirers for making this happen! Here are a few snapshots that I managed to get while running around and trying to absorb everything. All the rain and me losing my voice for almost two days only added to the experience. Back on the east coast now, shoveling snow and looking forward to 2019!!
On January 10 we got the news… We were in LA then and on KCRW they played Bowie songs all night long. Each one I revisited represented a certain era, a certain feeling in time and a unique artistic achievement. One of the true artists to walk this earth was gone. A couple of days later, I listened to the Blackstar album on a continuous loop and drew.
This book that I’ve created as a Grad student at Central St. Martins’ is celebrating 10 years! The experience of creating it was magical and it opened quite a few doors for me. This was my entryway into the publishing, illustration, letterpress and Fine Press book world. The book was handset with metal type, the illustrations were done with linocuts and everything was printed and bound by hand in the college’s print shop and in my tiny room in an East London flat. It took about 7 months from start to finish and I made enough prints for 20 editions of the book. Since then, those books have been exhibited and found their new homes all over the world – England, France, Netherlands, different parts of the States (one of the last ones was on it’s way to Missouri last week).
I’ve done quite a few book projects and have a few in the works right now, but the experience of doing this one is always fresh in my memory. Everything was new. The feel of metal type, sounds of proof presses, smell of printing ink, finger cuts from lino cutters… That feeling of uncertainty, trial and error, constant mistakes and revisions, something completely new, unexpected and real.
Some time ago, my mentor Mihail Chemiakin presented me with a book – a collection of short stories by Alexandr Chayanov. Chemiakin suggested that I should have a go at illustrating some of the writing.
As I started reading, the stories blew me away by their dark and whimsical narratives, the nature of the characters, the picturesque descriptions of early 20th century Moscow, its surroundings… A man falls in love with a doll depicting two conjoined twins and sets on a journey through Europe to find them, another man buys a mirror in an old Venetian shop and becomes a prisoner of his own reflection. Some of the other characters include ghosts, mermaids, circus performers and mannequins. The narratives are filled with mysticism and grotesque.
The stories were first published in the 1920’s in Russia and became quite a sensation. In her memoir, Mikhail Bulgakov’s wife, Elena Belazerskaya mentions that Chayanov’s stories had a huge influence on Bulgakhov and eventually influenced his masterpiece “Master and Margarita”.
However Chayanov never became a household name. His books were never translated into any other language. Chayanov’s fate is as mysterious as his stories. His main profession was an agrarian economist, he was a scholar of rural sociology and an advocate of agrarianism and cooperatives. In 1930 he was arrested by the Soviet officials and his books became banned. In 1937 he was arrested again, tried and shot to death on the same day. His writing did not resurface until the late 80’s, and even then they were published abroad.
Creating visuals for those superb stories created a true challenge. I knew that I didn’t want to use the linocut technique that I’ve used illustrating Meyrink, Gogol and Poe. There was a softer tone; dark, melancholic and at the same time whimsical and sometimes even humorous. There were some hints of Art Nouveau, something from the Impessionists with a bit of Goya and Jacques Callot.
Leaving the carving tools behind and getting out of my comfort zone, I’ve started doing charcoal drawings, constantly looking at a lot of turn of the 20th century photography. The atmosphere in those photos helped me understand Chayanov’s environment.
At this point I’ve done 6 illustrations that were drawn, collaged and then digitally manipulated. Still a work in progress with many more to come. Stay tuned!
A couple of weeks ago, I have participated in a 2-man art exhibit with a fellow illustrator Igor Karash. What brought us together was the work that we have done for The Folio Society, a British publisher of illustrated books.
The Folio Society is known for producing beautiful books and working with illustrators from all over the world. Back in 2010, its art director, Sheri Gee approached me to create illustrations for Gustav Meyrink’s classic The Golem. In 2012, Igor Karash won the House of Illustration Book Competition. The winning prize was a commission to illustrate The Folio Society’s edition of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter.
The illustrations were done in completely different styles (Igor used watercolors and mine were linocuts), but there were some similarities in the subject matter that we have worked with. Both books by Meyrink and Carter revolved around dark and mystical themes. Also both authors used traditional tales, myths and legends as a source of inspiration.
Besides being book illustrators and working with the same publisher, what also tied us together were our Russian roots and our Texas experience. Igor lived in Houston for a long time after moving to the US and I have spent a bit of my formative years in Dallas, where my parents still reside.
We were introduced earlier this year by Sophia Grinblat, the president of the Russian Cultural Center in Houston. She was the one who proposed that we do a show together at her gallery, which was located in the heart of the city’s art district.
It’s always tricky and challenging to do group shows, especially when the artists live in different cities and have to fly in a few days before the exhibition for installation. This time, I wasn’t so much worried. After briefly talking to Igor over the phone for the first time, I knew that we were on the same page with this.
When I have to exhibit and install the show in cities other then mine, the first stop after the plane lands is IKEA, which has the best deal on frames. You can also count on them for having a bunch of them in stock. That way one can carry a whole exhibit of graphic works in a large folder or a roll. Igor took a very similar route.
With the generous help of a fellow Houston artist Boris Kaplun and the staff of the gallery, Igor and me were able to frame and install the whole show in one long day.
There’s always something that breaks or needs to be matted right during the installation, and as the fate would have it, the only business that was open within two blocks on a Thursday night was a frame shop…
Igor has exhibited original drawings, prints and sketches for The Bloody Chamber.
Since my prints for The Golem were smaller, I have also decided to show the illustrations from Meyrink’s Walpurgisnacht, Andersen’s The Nightingale, Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum and some of the work that I have recently done for Amanda Palmer.
Also on display was some of the most recent stuff that I am currently working on inspired by ancient myths and the writing of Alexandr Chayanov. In a typical manner, some of those were finished the night before I boarded the plane for Houston.
The opening night was held on Friday, April 5th.
The Folio Society was very generous to send the Russian Center copies of our books for signing. We set up a table in the middle of the gallery showcasing the books and prints.
And here’s a photo taken at the very end of an exhausting but gratifying day.
Go here to see all illustrations from The Bloody Chamber and other works by Igor Karash.
Here you can see all of my illustrations for The Golem.
This is the site of The Folio Society, where you can check out all the great books that they publish.
More about Russian Cultural Center and Caviart Gallery is here.
This is one of several posts to come that will talk about my work with Alina Simone. Alina is an amazing person, musician and writer from New York City. We’ve met back in 2002 at one of her shows in Brooklyn. We’ve been in touch ever since. Over the years, I’ve designed a few CD and vinyl jackets for her albums, as well as a tour poster. In 2010 her collection of essays was going to be published by Faber & Faber.
At first Alina asked me to do a mini-graphic novel insert for the book. Then I was approached by Charlotte Strick, the Art Director at Faber & Faber and a wonderful designer, to do the cover art.
Above is a little glimpse of the graphic insert that I did for the book that illustrates the life and times of Yanka Dyagileva, a Russian musician who had a huge influence on Alina (she actually recorded an album of Yanka’s cover songs a few years ago). In the future posts I’ll talk more about the process of creating those illustrations. I wanted to share a small part of it now, since one of the main graphic elements for the cover was inspired by the depiction of the smoke coming from the smokestacks, a typical scene of any small industrial Russian town.
Here is a little excerpt from the synopsis of the book:
“In the wickedly bittersweet and hilarious You Must Go and Win, the Ukrainian-born musician Alina Simone traces her bizarre journey through the indie rock world, from disastrous Craigslist auditions with sketchy producers to catching fleas in a Williamsburg sublet…”
The writing was great! After reading the first chapter and discussing the book with Alina and Charlotte, I knew that the cover needed to capture a lot: humor, irony, tragedy, the setting of the main events and the overall tone of the book. Alina had this idea of having an amp on fire, which would be symbolic of a lot of things that she talks about in the essays. Charlotte suggested to try and use the type in a similar way that I have used it in one of my previous projects, “The Book of Sound”.
I got down to work and presented a few drafts. Though we went with the idea of the amp on fire, the other ones didn’t go to waste. The draft on the right has inspired the cover for Alina’s next album.
The title of the book and author’s name were originally done on a letterpress using wooden type. Once again, I’ve used the facilities at the Otis Lab Press, gathered letterforms of all shapes and sizes and made a bunch of prints.
Later those impressions were scanned and digitized. The prints themselves were almost eaten by my daughter.
Once the typography was resolved, I moved on to carving the lino to create the main image of the smoke and the amp.
Those I printed in the studio using my little etching press. One of the challenges with the image came up as I was working on the smoke and the typical Russian church domes, that we decided to use for the cover. Since the domes are used so much to represent Russia, my job was to give them enough subtlety so the image would not appear to be cliche.
I used the technique of “ghost printing” (when the plate is run through the press several times before the final impression is made) in order to achieve this. The smoke and domes started to appear distant and ghostly, yet still had the necessary presence.
The image was designed to wrap around the spine and go on to the back. Here’s the final file combining the physical print and type.
You will notice that the final cover includes a quote by Neil Gaiman. An interesting coincidence is that I was introduced to Neil around the same time I saw that quote on the cover for the first time.
Did I mention that this book is great? It is! Get your copy here.
Back in 2010 I was approached by Matthew Broughton, a senior designer at Vintage, to do a cover for The Call of Cthulhu by the great H.P. Lovecraft. This was going to be one in a series of 5 classics that they were releasing that year that would feature a 3D cover. This was the really cool part! Each book would come with a pair of 3D glasses and obviously the cover needed to be dimensional. I was quite intrigued by this challenge and got down to work.
After brainstorming, a few pencil sketches and ink drafts, I moved forward with the lino. In addition to the image, we decided that the title should also be carved out.
I usually print proofs and drafts on my little etching press in the studio, the final printing in this case was done at the Otis Lab Press on one of their Vandercooks.
Once everything was printed, scanned and digitized, I skewed the type a bit to give it more of a dramatic look and make it fit with the image more. At this point the trick was to get the image working with the 3D glasses (final version on the right).
After some internet research and looking through tutorials I reached out to my good friend Jim Campbell for some tips with this. Jim’s an expert. He collects antique photographs and gives them a 3D effect (some of this stuff can be seen here). Jim was quick to respond with some pointers.
Then it was on to more Photoshop for me. I first broke down the image and title into many layers, depending on how close or far I wanted them to appear. Bellow are the two main separations, but there are quite a few little sub layers within them. Those were placed on top of one another using the Multiply blending mode (third image).
From that point on it was a matter of sitting in front of the screen for a few hours with the 3D glasses on and shifting layers left and right, up and down. Don’t want to get too technical here. The main trick is this: the more the red and cyan layers are off-register, the closer that part will appear to the viewer, the more they are in line with each other – the farther the image will be.
If you get your 3D glasses out you can see the effect, however your monitor colors might be off. So the best thing to do is get the book and see it in person. The 3D glasses come with it!
Seems like every time I make it out to the Bay area, there is a little discovery that I am fortunate to stumble upon. This time was no exception. A couple of weeks ago, on my little excursion to Half Price Books in Berkley, on the top shelf in the Old and Collectable section I found this little tome: “The Doyle Diary: The Last Great Conan Doyle Mystery”. This was a facsimile of the bizarre and hauntingly beautiful sketchbook diary of Charles Altamont Doyle, father of Arthur Conan Doyle. The drawings and writings in the journal were created in the late 19th century while Charles was a patient of “Sunnyside”, a part of the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum in Scotland. Epileptic and ailing, he would spend the rest of his days in asylums. After Charles’s death, the journal was lost and discovered only in 1975. It features truly exquisite watercolor sketches, cartoons, curious observations, allegories and puns. Here is the introduction to the journal: “Keep steadily in view that this Book is ascribed wholly to the produce of a MADMAN. Whereabouts would you say was the deficiency of Intellect? or deprived taste? If in the whole Book you can find a single evidence of either, mark it and record it against me.”
A few months ago, the awesome and amazing musician/performer/poet Amanda Palmer (formerly of the Dresden Dolls, now performing solo with a new band The Grand Theft Orchestra) reached out to me to create some art for her upcoming book and tour. Her plan was to get a bunch of artists to create visual interpretations of her new songs and herself. The results were going to be compiled in a book that would be coming out around the same time as her new album. In addition to this, she was going to do a set of acoustic performances/gallery shows where the art would be exhibited. Being a fan of such artistic collaborations and AFP, I jumped to the task! As a result, two pieces were created – one based on the song (more on that in the future post) and one depicting Amanda:
So as far as the process goes… Bellow are some images of Amanda that provide just a tiny glimpse into her personality. Her live shows are incredibly theatrical and electrifying, going way beyond being defined by any one genre. The lyrics are smart, sharp, funny and poignant.
Bellow is the initial sketch that I have actually done a year ago while working on some t-shirt designs for Amanda. Since that time, I’ve gotten to know and understand her art and music a little better. While coming up with ideas, some old medieval alchemy images started to come to mind (like the one on the right). The final result turned out to be a hybrid of those two approaches.
The initial image was a linoleum cut (on the left), actual print (on the right).
After scanning the print into Photoshop, I’ve started to think of how this could appear in color. I broke the image down to three colors and also added a background layer of the smoke in the background. Bellow are the four files I’ve used to create the screens from, initially deciding that one is going to be black, the other brown, next one dark green and the last one light blue. Some of those would overlap when printed.
And here’s how it all started to come together when the screens were all done and the printing process had begun.
As always, the plan was to crank this out in one night. As it happens, it took two whole nights just to get all the inks mixed and figured out. Of course there were little surprises along the way. This time after spending a few hours coming up with a perfect color combination I had to throw the inks out and start from scratch, simply because those particular inks would not cooperate with the paper.
Working my way from background to foreground, light to dark. The final pass was the black layer.
And here are a few detail shots.
This is the print alongside the one I’ve made for one of the songs.
Since sending those out to Amanda’s headquarters they have traveled to London, Berlin, Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston. They are also now available at Etsy for sale. Bellow is a picture of Amanda in front of them at one of the gallery show events (I believe that one is from London). More on those events, shows, the book those will appear in and the art talk that Amanda and I did in San Francisco a bit later.
In the summer of 2011 I have met Mihail Pogarsky, a man who is hugely involved in the Russian Artist Book art scene. He organizes annual Artist Book Fairs in Moscow, publishes a magazine on the subject, initiates a variety of international book projects and creates beautiful books himself. Over coffee we’ve discussed many aspects of what we do and what’s happening in the book art world in Russia and USA. Several months later I have received an email from him asking me if I would be interested in participating in a project that he is curating entitled Music of the Book. 12 artists from Russia and 12 from Germany and Austria were involved. This was designed to be a multidisciplinary project between Artist’s Book and multimedia. The books that were to be created would be part of an international traveling exhibition. Bellow is my entry.
The brief was to create a one or two spread book that will reflect visually a certain piece of music, sound, noise, etc. I initially wanted to take a piece of music for the interpretation (Gavin Bryar’s Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, for an example). Then an idea came to use a sound that is not a sound at all. To visualize something that we all hear sometimes inside of us, but that can not be projected or recorded. So here are the process stages of The Sound of a Migraine:
I wanted to use the image of the rats scraping away at something. I “borrowed” the rat linocut image from a piece that I have done last year for a story by Adgar Allan Poe. The choosing of the background followed.
This was going to be a collage. I wanted to actually cut out the “pounding headache noise”.
After a while, the studio desk was filled with x-acto knives, ink, prints, chipboard and paper.
In addition to the cut-out red “sounds”, I made a rubber stamp that would be stamped in black over the final inside spread.
The cover image would serve as an introduction to what’s inside. Prints and cutouts were mounted onto a chipboard.
This book was an edition of two. Both copies were sent to Mihail in Russia. So far they have been exhibited at the Central House for the Artist in Moscow and the Tretyakov State Gallery, among other places. Germany is next, so you might catch them floating around Europe at some point! Check out more about the concept and see other artists’ submissions here.