Othello

I made this illustration a few years ago, but never managed to put it together into a book cover or poster. Sometimes it can be hard for me to marry something I've drawn with type. Maybe I'm too close to it, but I often feel the cold, vector lines of a font just don't gel with my clearly hand-drawn illustrations. When I saw that The Public Theater is putting on Othello this season at Shakespeare in the Park, I thought I would dig it up and give it another try. 

Book cover on the left, poster on the right. But you knew that already.

Book cover on the left, poster on the right. But you knew that already.

Of course, my answer was very simple: trace the font by hand so its sharp edges won't contrast against my drawn edges. Why didn't I think of that before? Since Othello takes place in Venice, and the original on which Shakespeare based his play is from the mid 1500's, I chose Mantinia for the font because it was based on the letterforms of Andrea Mantegna, an artist of the Italian Renaissance. It doesn't hurt that it's exquisite and has enough personality to hold its own with a minimalist illustration. 

For the illustration, I took the idea of a classical bust since Othello is described as noble, and is fêted for his military successes. The important change being that Othello is, of course, a Moor. By and large, most of those classical portrait busts are of white men (I can only think of a few specific portrait busts of POC) and are carved in white marble, so drawing him this way highlights his difference. I used charcoal to draw his profile to emphasize that as well. I thought a minimalist approach, with the simple profile on a white ground, would highlight it even more. When Iago schemes against Othello, he says that he will "pour this pestilence into his ear," so the ear was already a feature that I knew would be important. To imagine Iago, or perhaps his innuendo, as a snake, and then to make the snake into Othello's ear was a quick visual jump.

I learned a lot doing this—mainly to never throw out something I think I'll never finish! 

Corpse Flower 2016

This summer saw the blooming of the New York Botanical Garden's Corpse Flower! I went up to the garden with Evan Turk and Chris Brody, hoping to get a noseful of the infamous stinky flower, which only blooms once every ten years for about 24 hours, and is supposed to smell like rotting flesh (hence the name). The spike of the flower is supposed to reach around body temperature, both to help the scent travel, and to further mimic a decaying corpse. Eww! This is all in hopes of attracting carrion-eating flies and beetles which are the flower's main pollinators. The news of the flower's blooming had been well-publicized, so we had to wait in a long line of other corpse flower gawkers snaking outside the conservatory. Once we got in, we were a little underwhelmed by the smell. It was a bit garbagey, but maybe living so close to Chinatown—where the gutter in high summer develops a stench not for the faint of heart—has inured me to funkiness? In any case, while the smell was discernible here and there, we did not walk into the wall of stink we'd anticipated. I was surprised by the size of the flower's inflorescence (that big yellow spike that sticks up). It was about a foot and a half or two feet tall, with a giant cabbagey petal that wrapped around it. I went for some long, creepy shapes to further the deliciously grossed out feeling I got when I saw it.

Alas, it was hardly possible to view the flower like this. With as many enthusiasts as there were, my view was a little more like this:

So many Corpse Flower fans!
If your botanical garden doesn't have one, I highly recommend checking out this time lapse video of one blooming. You get to see the triumphant rise of the spike, and then the sad, sad wilting. Of course, you won't get the smell, but if you just watch it hovering over your kitchen trash, I think you'll get the idea. One last fun fact, the Bronx's official flower was the corpse flower, inspired by the garden's 1939 blooming. It was changed in 2000 to the day lily, which is much less exciting, to me.

Happy Thanksgiving

Last summer, I visited Plymouth with the Dalvero Academy to do some research around the Mayflower. Thanksgiving seems like a good time to dust these drawings off and post them here. The ship was in back in Plymouth after spending some time at Mystic Seaport in drydock for repairs.

The Mayflower II in drydock at Mystic Seaport, undergoing repairs.

In fact, this Mayflower is only a replica, since the real one sank off the coast of England not too long after it brought the Pilgrims here. If the replica captures the spirit of the real Mayflower, you couldn't get me on it to go 200 feet, let alone cross the ocean. Really, the Pilgrims had to be desperate or crazy, or possibly both.

The Mayflower II on the water in Plymouth.

Plimoth Plantation features a 17th century English village (since the Pilgrims still very much saw themselves as English), and the Wampanoag Homesite. Both sites have interpreters to guide visitors through a rich and complicated history.

A Pilgrim garden, and a couple of Pilgrim chickens!

The Pilgrims had a lot to be thankful for. Without the friendship of the Wampanoags (and Massasoit, their leader), they wouldn't have survived those first years. Of course, the history is a lot more complicated than the myth, and if you're Native American, that myth can be painful. My next visit to Plimoth Plantation will focus on the Wampanoag Homesite, and I can't wait for that. For now, I'll be reading up on why Thanksgiving is a National Day of Mourning as well as a time to give thanks.

The High Line

I went to the High Line a few weeks ago to spend some time drawing the unique combination of people, city views, and flora. I really don't know of anywhere else where the three come together in quite the same way. I think it's one of the nicest places in the city to spend an afternoon, and judging from the crowds, a lot of people agree with me!

Below the High Line, the new Whitney Museum offers bright green chairs for people to hang out, check their phones, and take a break. It's a pretty stylish crowd.

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And when I saw this crowd of servers from the Whitney's restaurant Untitled having a meeting, I couldn't resist trying to capture the rhythm of their black pants, grey aprons, and red straps.

Happy birthday, Herman Melville!

I was all set to do a post with some people drawings, but then my friend Carly Larsson reminded me that it was Herman Melville's birthday with her drawing of the Seaman's Bethel in New Bedford. I read Moby Dick earlier this year, and since then, my regard for Herman Melville is through the roof. Not just for his brilliance in examining America through the lens of whaling (although, yes!), but for the absolute unique quirkiness of the book and the voice that animates it: thoughtful, philosophical, tender-hearted. I mean, it is really one of a kind, and if it didn't exist, I don't know how one could even imagine it. (If you want to find out more, but maybe don't want to read 700+ pages, check out the Studio 360 show on it.) So, here's to unusual personalities that make astounding art! I've drawn him with the ocean on his mind, dreaming of whales. Happy birthday, Herman Melville!

Life Drawing

A few weeks ago, I decided that my studio needed a clean out. I pulled absolutely everything out of the space and tried to put things back very deliberately, if I really felt like they needed to be there. It's a tough process, and it's really no surprise that I stalled. Just when I'd resigned myself to having art and art supplies strewn all over the apartment, Ronnie asked me for a couple of drawings. I pulled out an old, giant roll of drawings from life drawing classes past. And I was agog. I'd forgotten how much I loved life drawing, how much I surprise myself when I'm forced to work so fast and dirty. So, I'm sharing a few from that giant, old roll, with a hope that I'll be in the studio again soon. And determined to finish my studio clean-up soon too!

If you're feeling that same life drawing itch that I am, my school, the Dalvero Academy, is having a Drawing Social on May 15th! Email them at dalveroinfo@mac.com. for more info and maybe I'll see you there!