Archive for October, 2011

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Every three months my all-time favorite magazine, UPPERCASE, arrives in my mailbox, and productivity in the studio comes to a screeching halt while I drool over each gorgeous page. I’ve been a subscriber since almost the very beginning (if only I could get my paws on those first two sold-out issues!), and impossibly, every new issue is even lovelier than the one before.

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So you can imagine my giddy delight to be included in the latest installment. They had a submissions call for a feature on “labor-intensive illustration,” which was so squarely up my alley that I had to laugh at myself. But I never imagined my little birds would actually be accepted—let alone given a full page. A letterpress colleague received her copy a day or two ahead of me and tipped me off, and I swear I did a little dance around the room.

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UPPERCASE is the brainchild of a gallery by the same name in Calgary, Alberta. The magazine is tailor-made for anyone with a creative soul; every page is devoted to sharing visual inspiration, shedding light on obscure or vintage art and design work, and detailing the work lives and creative spaces of people who do what they love for a living.

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The whole thing is a perfect mix of vintage nostalgia and cutting-edge design, all wrapped up in a sumptuously printed package. If only everything in the world had this much thought and craft behind it.

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But my favorite—I mean, favourite—parts of the magazine are the recurring features. There’s an abecedary in every issue, each with a different theme (which does my bookish* heart good), as well as a series of collections of vintage objects: bottle caps, cereal boxes, even alarm clocks and—in this issue—fishing lures.

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This magazine is truly a thing of beauty, and I hope it’s around for me to keep my subscription going for many years—and issues—to come. You can buy single issues, or start your own subscription, right here.

(* Pssst! Try adding a coupon code to your order!)

Speaking of hodge-podge collections of odds and ends, you should see the piles of things, er, occupying (hint!) my drafting table this month. You see, Art at Work month is almost here, and I’m scrambling to get ready for all the events coming down the pike.

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Who is this, I wonder?

First up is Studio Tour, that crazy-amazing weekend where it seems like half of Tacoma (the entirely wonderful half, as it turns out) stops by for a visit. This is my third time on the circuit, but our fair city is celebrating its tenth fabulous year of shop crawls and arts extravaganzas. So stop on by next weekend—you can print your own letterpress keepsake (trust me, they’re über cool this year!), pick up free Tacoma swag (better get here early, because it’ll disappear fast), shop for a whole bunch of brand new art and handmade items, and be the first to catch our brand new Dead Feminist, a mystery maiden indeed.

10th Annual Tacoma Studio Tour
Saturday and Sunday, November 5 and 6
10 am to 4 pm, Free!
For more info, full artist list, maps and directions, see here

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Look! New stuff!

If you can’t make it to Studio Tour, you can catch a whole bunch of Tacoma artists at the annual Holiday Artist Craft Fair, put together by the lovely folks at Indie Tacoma and Tacoma is for Lovers. Jessica and I will be sharing a table both days, and it’ll stuffed to the brim with bunly goodness illustrated and letterpress goodies.

Holiday Artist Craft Fair
Saturday and Sunday, November 19 and 20
11 am to 4 pm, Free!
King’s Books
218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma

Last but not least, a gigantic virtual heart-shaped thank you to everyone who made a pledge to fund the Apocalypse Calendar! The project is officially a “go,” and we’ll be on press in November. We’re expecting to ship calendars and Kickstarter rewards in early December, and you’ll find calendars in various retail shops this holiday season. If you missed the Kickstarter project, you’ll be able to place online orders here, starting later this week.

Happy Halloween, and see you in November!

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Commencement Bay from the North End, Tacoma, WA

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Pumpkin patches, Vancouver Island, BC

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First squash haul of the year from Zestful Gardens, Puyallup, WA

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Cranberry harvest, Long Beach, WA

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Japanese maple, Butchart Gardens, Brentwood Bay, BC

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Proctor District in the rain, Tacoma, WA

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St. Johns Bridge, Portland, OR

Have I mentioned that I love autumn in the Northwest?

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You already know that I have a thing for hidden, quiet spaces tucked away within large cities. So imagine my delight when Jessica turned me onto this place.

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Bell’occhio has quickly become my favorite (and most regularly visited) haunt in San Francisco. It’s easy to miss—it’s just a few steps off of the main drag of Market Street, but the little lane upon which it’s situated is so quiet that it seems transplanted from a different era.

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The feeling doubles as soon as you step foot inside the shop. The place is a living, breathing Kunstkammer, with all manner of beautiful odds and ends you never knew you so desperately needed.

My favorite part, though, is the overall presentation. All her inventory is kept in baskets, drawers and wooden cabinets, like a Victorian general store. Each price tag is hand-calligraphed in flowing script. And whenever you purchase something (and I just dare you to visit and not buy something!), your items are packed in vellum envelopes and muslin drawstring bags. Which just about makes me swoon.

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The owner, Claudia Schwartz, was very kind to let me take a few photos and spread the word about the place. She opened Bell’occhio in 1988, but now that this sort of aesthetic is all the rage again, I’m sure she runs a huge risk of having her ideas lifted by copycats. Ever walk into an Anthropologie? I’m pretty sure they stole their whole schtick from her. So Claudia, thank you for allowing me to share your world.

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Now, whenever I return to San Francisco, I have a separate Bell’occhio budget—as crazy as that sounds. It’s the one recommendation I can offer if you’re going to come here. Otherwise, this place will have you impulse-buying before you can say, “I’ll take three of those!”

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Since I’ve had parrots on the brain for so long, I thought it would make a fitting end to my San Francisco trip to go in search of them. You see, according to legend documented fact, San Francisco has a wild population of feral parrots—if that isn’t nautically themed, I don’t know what is. Yarr!

So I recruited Sarah and Jesse to complete the quest, and we planned to set out after breakfast. I’d been told, however, that while popular culture has named them “the parrots of Telegraph Hill,” they didn’t actually spend much time there—so we had no idea where to look for them.

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Jessica’s uncle, who’s lived in SF for decades, came to the rescue. He told me that actually, Telegraph Hill was a good place to look on Sunday mornings in September, and even if I didn’t find any birds, it made for a nice wooded walk. He even scribbled a little map to show me a likely spot. Somehow, that little gesture made the whole thing a hundred times more exciting—I tend to explore cities without atlases or guides (or Googles) anyway, so this little scrap of paper turned a morning hike into a treasure hunt.

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Now, I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I’m a northern gal, so when somebody suggests walking through the woods, this is what pops into my head.

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This, on the other hand, was a surprise.

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Compared to the mossy pines and cedars in my frame of reference, Telegraph Hill felt like a tropical jungle.

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We had the place almost entirely to ourselves—it was a dark, dreary day, which discouraged all the sun-lovers. So as we wound our way up the steps, it felt like we’d stumbled upon our own private garden, or maybe a path to some other world.

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It was easy to forget that we were in the heart of a densely packed city (in California, no less)—this felt more like a secret, slightly English enclave through which we’d been granted safe passage.

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Around every bend was a door, or a courtyard, or another track. Each felt like a gateway to something else, to maybe more and more and more worlds beyond our little slice of perception. It was a hint that what we could see was just the beginning—that what we couldn’t see was out of reach, and all the more tempting for it.

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That sort of feeling is just my cup of tea, you know?

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Every time that pleasant disorientation threatened to overwhelm me, though, out popped little hints of where I really was.

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And whenever the trees gave way to open sky, guide posts appeared, showing us the way back—

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and reminding us that reality was a stone’s throw away.

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I almost forgot that we were even looking for parrots.

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At the top of the hill, we heard a telltale squawking. I glanced up to catch a quick glimpse of two green birds with long tailfeathers speeding away to the west—unfortunately, my shutter finger wasn’t fast enough on the draw.

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It’s like a ‘Where’s Waldo’ of SF—can you spot Lombard Street? The Golden Gate?

Oh, well. The view alone was the perfect end to the walk.

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The vista of pastel stucco seemed like a gift, a reward at the end of an uncertain journey. It reminded me of what I love most about the place: that the city itself is like a garden of color—an urban forest in bloom.

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Thank you so much for the amazing response you’ve had to the Apocalypse Calendar! Literally overnight you’ve helped us raise over $1000. We have until the clock strikes midnight on Halloween to reach our goal—thank you for helping us get there!

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Just wanted to give you a peek at what I’ve been doing these days. I try not to think about it too hard, because I officially unveiled the thing almost a year ago, but I’m still working on my book.

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Big dang pile of box parts; coffee cup provided for scale.

You see, it’s one thing to get the prototype done for the exhibition, but when you’re making an edition of books, that means you have to finish all the rest of the copies, too.

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Obviously, I have my work cut out for me.

Now, to hear the ancient Mayans tell it, I’d best hurry—because time is running out. And there are still so many pictures to draw!

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Illustration by Zander Cannon

So my good friend and old-tyme RISD buddy Thomas Quinn had the ingenious idea to count down our remaining days in style by designing and curating a 2012 Apocalypse Calendar, featuring a different artist for each month. The result of all his hard work (read: herding cats) is a fabulous collection of artwork—and possibly a niggling sense of dread as the days count down.

Besides the added bonus of working alongside old friends (Maris Wicks! Dan Hertzberg! Ryan Browne!) and rock-star artists I’ve admired for years (Jay Ryan! Zander Cannon!), I loved the fact that T.Q. let me interpret the theme however I pleased. Rather than going down the illustrated path of mass carnage or Biblical archetypes (I figured those topics would be well covered by the other folks), I decided to time-travel back to my favorite mass-hysterical era, the 1950s.

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I did a little research, and dug up a whole bunch of vintage advice on how to survive the end of the world—including a handbook on how to build a fallout shelter, and how to keep yourself amused once you’re in there.

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This thing just cracked me up. It has all kinds of “expert” wisdom (like how to fend off the roving bands of contaminated neighbors who will inevitably stop by to borrow a cup of sugar) and cheery photos of housewives preparing dinner with a can opener while dear ol’ Dad bonds with the kids.

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Which, of course, reminded me of my other favorite relic from the 50s: illustrated cookbooks. Talk about a goldmine! Everybody from uncredited production interns to the late, great Charley Harper did a cookbook back in the day. The fact that these illustrators were often limited to cheap, two-color printing actually made for surprising, innovative and beautiful results.

And of course, as you already know, I am completely fascinated by the sheer number of terrifying Jell-o recipes and ill-advised casseroles that crop up in old cookbooks.

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And since that got me thinking all sorts of wonderfully twisted things about housewives at the End Times, and how Jell-o can probably survive a nuclear holocaust, I decided to combine the two.

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So here’s my contribution to the calendar: how to bury your head in the sand, in style. I asked T.Q. for October, since it’s my birthday month, and he was kind enough to oblige. So I went nuts with the pumpkin orange and threw a Halloween party. Complete with absurd salad recipe (that you could actually make, but I wouldn’t advise it), shelter decorating hints, and just a little untold destruction, for garnish.

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Illustration by Steve Seeley

We decided that spiffy, large-format, high-quality offset printing is the best way to show off the artwork, so we’ve set up a Kickstarter project to fund the thing. (We even put together a nifty and hilarious video!) Kickstarter is a fairly new phenomenon, and it’s proven to be a wonderful resource for artists, especially—and since the Kickstarter logo uses the same font as the Dunkin Donuts logo, it makes my designer’s lizard brain happy.

Kickstarter works the way an NPR pledge drive does—you get various gifts in return for your support amount. Twenty bucks will buy you a calendar, and there are a bunch of goodies available at other pledge levels, like signed calendars, original art, and even the ability to make the artist of your choice do your bidding and draw your apocalyptic portrait. (Yes, you read that right.) As of today we’ve got 24 days left, and if we meet our goal, we’ll be shipping calendars in December.

Now, the tricky thing about Kickstarter is that it’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing. If we don’t make our set funding goal by the time the clock runs out, the apocalypse will come early we don’t get any of the moolah pledged so far. So pretty please, do us a huge favor by doing your annual calendar shopping a wee bit early—you can make your pledge here.

After all, if the Mayans have their facts straight, this is the last calendar you’ll ever need to buy, right?

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It’s hard to think of a better weekend activity than taking a quick trip to San Francisco.

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First of all, Jessica and I got to visit the lovely Sarah and Jesse, who live here—

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and whose back yard contains this,

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and this.

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And then we got to raise a fantastic ruckus and make guerrilla street art with a whole bunch of people looking on.

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SFCB’s got this thing down to a science. Between the small army of volunteers who took care of the inking and registration (line-up),

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and their probably-patented methods for keeping street schmutz off the prints, the results were impressive. In fact, this is my fourth steamroller print (and Jessica’s fifth), and I’ve never seen one turn out this well before.

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Besides, we really needed to keep our hands clean this time, because we upped our personal ante and just plunked ourselves down on the sidewalk for a bit of on-the-fly hand-coloring (though avoiding the very wet ink felt kind of like playing Twister).

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That turned out to be the perfect tag-team job, actually. I do a lot of hand-coloring when I print, as you know, but never anything this big—

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having two sets of hands to blend colors and two sets of eyes to look for missed spots was definitely the way to go.

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So thar she blows. Let me introduce you to Eliza Thorrold, and our latest honorary Dead Feminist print, Even Keel. Eliza was the first licensed female tugboat master on San Francisco Bay. After Charles, her husband who piloted the Ethel & Marion before her, died an untimely death, she fought for and received her operator’s license to continue their tug business in his stead and provide for her family. Her quote says it all: “My circumstances compel me to become master of my own boat.” Hear, hear, Eliza.

After she left the high seas and entered retirement as a landlubber, she became master of her own taffy pull by opening a successful ice cream and candy shop with her son. Hence all that salt water taffy. And as if the nautical sweet-shop theme weren’t enough, we couldn’t resist throwing in all our favorite things about San Francisco. So go hunting around the image, and see what you turn up. Then, on your next trip to the City by the Bay, visit the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and learn more about Eliza’s life and those of other women mariners.

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We weren’t the only ones that day who focused on San Francisco for our steamroller print (sorry for the bad images here; conditions weren’t exactly ideal). We were in total awe of what our fellow printers whipped up—like this fabulous Go-zirrah by Eric Rewitzer.

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And this stunning piece (called Dürer 1510, by Rik Olson) was so chock-a-block with gorgeous, make-you-cry detail that I had to skip the big picture and zoom right in.

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So, yeah. It might not fit the traditional idea of a productive weekend, but it’ll do. We came away with new friends, blue fingertips and a whole lot of ideas to make our own humble little steamroller party better.

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Many thanks to all the staff and volunteers of the San Francisco Center for the Book, who made the day a smashing success—

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and to all the kindred spirits who lent a whole bunch of helping hands. Like the super-nice TSA employee who took such great care of our linoleum block and didn’t bat an eye that we had to bring something so huge and bizarre onto an airplane. Like Sarah, who manned our table; and Jesse, who shot most of the photos; and the huge, huggable posse of Jessica’s extended family, who helped schlep things and kept us company and bought us beignets. And especially Jessica’s ten-year-old niece, Luciana, who basically designed our table arrangement. ‘Ciani, you’re one awesome ragazza.

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And of course, to Eliza—thanks for standing proud at the helm.