Monday, November 29, 2010

Good news and the proper use of envy

I just found out one of the books I designed for Benu Press, High Notes, by Lois Roma-Deeley, has won a design award and will be part of the 2011 New York Book Show! Don't know yet just what it won, it is in the general trade/poetry category, but to be part of the show, an honor.

I became a designer because one day in my early 20s, as I was filing signed author contracts in a wall full of gray metal cabinets, I watched a graphic designer working in the spotlight of her full spectrum lamp. I was transfixed. She held up a bright photo and font sample, squinted at them as she held them at arms length and called over to me "Hey Carlson, do you think this type looks like cowboy boots?"

"Without pausing for thought I blurted, "I want your job!" I wanted her job, her work questions, and the drafting table with Pantone swatches and pots of rubber cement. I wanted her straight hair and 20-20 vision too but was wise enough to know that envy is a good prod for careers but rather undermining when applied to the realities of appearance.

I took design classes and was not one of the better students, the professors would say, "Carlson, stop illustrating the cover and use type and design features to express the author's concept!" I looked at the best work in the class, a bit enviously, and decided I'd figure out what they were doing that made it work so well.

I carried my portfolio from art director to publishing director looking for my first book designer job. One creative director took the time to sit me down and say "Carlson, see all the other people in the waiting room, they all want this one job. I am going to do you a favor and tell you I don't see anything in your portfolio that stands out, this is a tough low-paying field. Do yourself a favor and find well paid work where you can excel!" I looked at her shelf of design awards and decided I'd find a way to get there.

After years of designing book interiors I watched the brilliant Cynthia Krupat design a cover for a Farrar Strauss & Giroux book. She repeatedly photocopied some type to give it a weathered look. "Ah hah!" How cool, she had ways to play with type that made the design fit her aesthetic while serving the book...I hoped some day to create covers that looked like I had designed them, in the way everyone could identify a Krupat design. I envied the happy authors and editors and marketing folks who felt her cover was right, right for the vision and the marketplace. In order to get cover design experience I took on freelance work since my day job was as an interior designer.

Sometimes they turn out well, other times I wish the muse had visited with a larger bucket of ideas. I look at the work of the best folks in the business and know I still have a lot to learn. But it is lovely when the universe sometimes says "Hey Carlson, good one!"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, November 26, 2010

Why spend? Black Friday becomes Pencil Sketchday.

We're kinda broke and don't need any more things in the apartment at the moment (other than the digital camera I yearn for...but that can wait until it goes down in price or my ships sail in with full cargoes of cash). So here is Black Friday and Jim, Caitlin and I went to sketch folks at the local Starbucks while Natalie worked out at her gym in Queens.

I discovered the line for the bathroom offered quick sketch opportunities of people tense and expressive in posture. I tried to not make eye contact since that was when people figured out I was drawing woman tried to catch my eye and I managed to evade her! Then I heard her talking, it was an old friend Charlotte, who I hadn't spoken to in years. Hah!

So thanks to the models, mostly anonymous, and to the three of us indulging our inner artist. Natalie joined us glowing with health. Spending Black Friday in the gym puts her in the halo of workout ethic.

Yes, having a lovely holiday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book collections and book-a-brack

Last week we were invited to a lovely dinner party with new friends, Valeria Susanina and Jack Womack. They are both lively minds, he's a writer, and their bookshelves are well organized offerings of loveliness. Their friends were lovely too. Since Jack and I are the same age, he handed me vintage 1960s and 70s catalogs to peruse...each item of clothing, toasters, luggage, clocks, brought back time-shots, the way sniffing Chanel #5 invokes my Grandmother's elegant and yeasty soul. I hope to get back soon to devour his books on typography and design...

I came home and looked at my disorganized and doubled-up collection. The books used to be in order, by kind, before the fire. Then they were shoved in boxes and stored for three years. And when I put them back in our rebuilt apartment, I had half as many bookshelves. They are a hodge-podge, treasures hidden behind paperbacks and magazines and old mechanical cameras, all teeming in their shelf slums. I want to invite Jack to see my really cool books. Show Valeria some of my drawings and our family photos...and the truth is, I will have to, finally, go through the books and reorganize, prune fiercely and shed the unread or no longer loved tomes. Another donation trip to the housing works cafe is in our future...

It is a daunting thought. The books, just now, are shifting in mutiny and shoving their spines out in a j'accuse way. I pity the ones that will have to leave...but look forward to finding once again my 1910s books illustrated by Frank Pape, novels embellished with Ernest Shepard's amazing line work, and the small joy of having nearly every Diana Wynne Jones book... and the poetry, and the books about maps, and the design section, and the fine art... plus I need an entire bookshelf for the volumes I have designed inside and out, with maps, illustrations, and graphic design. Although even there I am willing to make cuts. Only the best, dammit, only the best shall remain.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to the Front Lines of the City Bloggage

There is an escaped robber somewhere in the bi-state area. Despite every danger, I have gone outside and returned safely. I need to stop listening to the news. I could have taken the dog for a walk without piling on any additional fears. There is plenty of threat on an ordinary day! For instance, the dog is color blind and does not regard red lights as any more significant than green. She leans towards traffic with a careless disregard for her own three-dimensionality. And given her height challenges--she barely rises above my ankles--I have to wonder if the ordinary car driver or lawless skateboarder can see her in time to avoid a calamitous collision. Plus she tries to eat hazardous roadside materials. She sniffs strangers and who knows what kind of weirdos they are? Worst of all, no matter where we go, someone says "ooooh, cute, a hotdog doggie!" I just told the hound we are no longer going to go into an orange alert state based on breaking news threats, besides, she doesn't see orange and only eats fruit if there is nothing else better to chew.
I read a poem at the Fall Marsh Hawk Press launch a few weeks ago and four short poems at the annual Brevitas Festival last weekend. I have now done enough readings that fear is at a low throttle, could be classified as excitement. My pulse goes up, I take a deep breath, brush aside an urge to flee or pee and then I am behind a podium and I have a wobbly faith that the words I wrote will not let me down. Then I start to enjoy reading my own work because it sounds right in my mouth. It only took a few decades. My very first reading, at an open mic at the Columbia U. Bookstore, I was so hyped I spoke in a freaky high voice at twice the speed of Minnie Mouse. And by the time my voice stopped racing my audience was snoring. Gotta start somewhere.
I am writing again. Poems and prose. In dribs. Drabs. Dabs. While listening to jazz violin. Something about syncopation and the almost voice of a fiddle. Wish I could write that sound. Draw that beat. Tried. Not in me. I will leave great jazz poetry to the folks that have a better ear. But I can listen, oh, yes, I can.