Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Spem in Alium


England, the mid-sixteenth century. The large, splendidly decorated banqueting hall in which you and your fellow guests are seated is octagonal in shape, with galleries situated on four of the opposing walls. Soon you and your fellow nobles (perhaps even the Queen herself is also in attendance) will be feasting on sumptuous delicacies. But amidst the hushed banter that precedes the opening of the banquet, you notice that some preliminary musical entertainment has apparently been appointed, as is not uncommon for such events. In groups of five, singers are gathering, on the lower level with the guests, and also up in the galleries, forming eight groups of forty singers, arranged all around the perimeter of the hall, above and below. The choir master makes his way to the center of the room as a hush falls over the throng of guests.

At his signal, a single alto voice from the five-person choir at the north end begins to sing, joined quickly by a soprano from the same group. After a few bars, the baritone, tenor and bass from the same ensemble have entered in. And then, the choir in the neighboring gallery takes up the theme, as gradually the music spreads around the room toward the east, weaving up and down as it goes.

Spem in alium nunquam habui . . .

As the music continues to make its way to the southern end of the hall, the realization begins to dawn on you that none of the singers is doubling the other - each of the exquisitely intertwined voices is singing a unique part. The choirs at the southern end awaken, and the swelling chorus of voices echoes off the walls—and the floor, and the ceiling. But then, just as the progression begins to make the turn round to the heretofore silent western side of the hall, the choirs to the north and east begin to fall silent, in successive order: a sonorous wave is encircling the entire room. When it reaches the northern end again, the choirs at the opposing southern side re-awaken. For a few moments, the stereophonic interplay of the northern and southern choirs continues and grows to an anticipatory crescendo, until suddenly, all forty voices burst forth together for the first time in a great, beatific roar.

Praeter in te, Deus Israel! . . .

After a few bars, the roar subsides and, as the text continues to unfold, the musical wave resumes, circumnavigating the hall again, this time in the opposite direction. Another forty-voice outburst ensues. And then, pairs of adjoining choirs begin a call and response with opposing choirs at opposite ends, and the music is hurled across the hall, back and forth from north to south, then east to west, then south-west to north-east, etc. As the thundering voices echo from end to end and reverberate from on high and down below, the dining hall is transformed into a musical microcosm of the universe itself, resounding the Creator's praises throughout.

Domine Deus! . . . Domine Deus! . . .
Creator! . . . Creator! . . .
Coeli et terrae! . . . Coeli et terrae! . . .


The musical kaleidoscope swirls for a total of about ten minutes, closing as all forty voices unite one last time, rapturously appealing to God for mercy. The sound reverberates throughout the hall for a long while after the last note is sounded, as you and your fellow guests sit in dumbfounded amazement at what you have just heard and experienced. No matter how sumptuous the food or delightful the entertainments that are yet to come, the rest of the evening - perhaps, in some sense, the rest of your life - can only represent a declension. At the very least, you know that, this side of heaven, you will never hear such music again—a hope far too audacious for mortal ears.

The man responsible for this musical miracle was Thomas Tallis, who died on this day in 1585. The above account is an imaginary recreation of what the original performance may have been like, based on sketchy circumstantial evidence. The earliest manuscripts of the work are associated with Nonsuch Palace, which may be where it was originally performed, though the exact occasion is uncertain. This fabulous palace, built by Henry VIII, no longer stands (it eventually passed into the hands of one of the mistresses of Charles II, who had it demolished and sold off in piecemeal fashion to cover her gambling debts), but it is known to have had a banqueting hall situated in one of its large corner towers, fitting the above description.


The Latin text is adapted from the apocryphal Book of Judith:

Spem in alium nunquam habui
praeter in te Deus Israel
qui irasceris et propitius eris
et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis.
Domine Deus Creator coeli et terrae
respice humilitatem nostram.


An English translation:

Never have I placed my hope in any other
save in Thee, O God of Israel,
who may be wrathful, yet will turn again unto graciousness,
and who absolveth all the sins of suffering man.
Lord God, Creator of Heaven and Earth
look upon our lowliness.


Composers and other artists often play numerical games within their works (Bach, most famously) and it is likely that some of the numbers involved in this composition were not mere happenstance but rather bore some significance in Tallis’ mind, especially when considered in light of the text. Five has long-standing mystical associations (quintessence), forty is the biblical number of judgement and suffering, while eight is the number of regeneration and renewal. The numbers could thus be seen to reinforce the theme of the text: hopeful expectation of deliverance in the midst of some sort of Divinely-appointed tribulation, perhaps related somehow to the violent religious upheavals of sixteenth century England. Some have even put forth evidence that Tallis may have inserted his own musical signature into the piece.

It is worth trying to follow along with the score while listening to a performance, though no recording techniques or surround-sound equipment currently in existence could come close to replicating the effects of a production in anything like its original setting and context. To experience that first hand would be nothing short of a dream realized.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

EHCS: Open House postcard



This concept, a promotional postcard design on behalf of my alma mater, turned out rather nicely, if I do say so myself. Sounds like they'll be wanting to use the “little red schoolhouse” on some other material in the near future.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Alfred the Great


Today is the Feast Day (in the Anglican Communion) of Alfred the Great, the greatest of the pre-Norman, Anglo-Saxon kings, and in fact the only British monarch in history to be honored with the appellation “Great”. He died on this day in 899 A.D. During his remarkable life, Alfred exemplified the virtues of a Christian leader: boldly and successfully defending his people from the invading hordes of pagan Vikings, yet showing noted kindness and generosity to the enemy once their threat was neutralized. (Guthrum, the Viking king, became a Christian and Alfred assumed the role of adoptive father toward his one-time foe.) Alfred the Great also did much to establish justice, to encourage and reform the church, and to promote learning in his realm. (Leading by example, Alfred himself took up the task of learning Latin at the age of 38.)

The ancient images of white horses carved in various hillsides of south-central England are often associated with Alfred. G.K. Chesterton’s epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse celebrates his reign, and was probably a significant inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Walker Party


On this day in 1833, a party of about forty men, in the command of native Tennesseean, mountain man, and trail blazer par excellence Joseph Walker, were trying desperately to find a way down from the Sierra Nevada mountains, where they had been wandering for almost two weeks, in search of a new and convenient route into central California. The men, exhausted by the steep, snowbound terrain and famished from dwindling supplies and want of game, were inching their way westward along a broad, high ridge between two steep river valleys to the north and south (now known to be the Tuolumne and the Merced, respectively). One member of the party, Zenas Leonard, kept a journal of the expedition and records the day’s events thus:

We travelled…still on the top of the mountain, and our course continually obstructed with snow hills and rocks. Here we began to encounter in our path, many small streams which would shoot out from under these high snow-banks, and after running a short distance in deep chasms which they have through ages cut in the rocks, precipitate themselves from one lofty precipice to another, until they are exhausted in rain below. Some of these precipices appeared to us to be more than a mile high. Some of the men thought that if we could succeed in descending one of these precipices to the bottom, we might thus work our way into the valley below—but on making several attempts we found it utterly impossible for a man to descend, to say nothing of our horses.

Based on the above description, it is concluded that the Walker Party were almost certainly the first non-natives to set eyes upon the incomparable Yosemite Valley, nearly twenty years prior to its official “discovery” by the Mariposa Battalion.


Walker is buried in a small pioneer cemetery, which overlooks an inlet of the San Francisco Bay. Here is a shot of me at the site, taken during a trip to the area several years ago.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tours



The Battle of Tours (or Portiers) was fought on this day in 732 A.D., wherein Charles Martel (Charles “The Hammer”), the de facto King of the Franks, clashed with an Islamic expeditionary force under the command of Abd-er-Rahman. Barely a century following the birth of Islam, the Umayyad Caliphate controlled all of the Middle East and North Africa, and its leaders conspired to seize upon Europe through concurrent, pincer-like invasions from both the east and the west. Their way upon the eastern front was checked, however, by the still powerful Byzantine Empire, with its glittering capitol at Constantinople. Following a second attempt to lay siege to the Byzantine capitol, the Arab forces were soundly defeated on both land and sea by Emperor Leo III in 718.

The situation in western Europe, however, was far less sure. Much of Europe was still pagan or only recently converted to the Christian faith. A great deal of instability prevailed in the centuries following the collapse of the western Roman Empire, as one barbarian tribe vied with another for supremacy across the whole continent. In fact, the Muslims first set foot on the Iberian peninsula at the invitation of the warlord Rodrigo, who, in 710, foolishly sought their aid in gaining the upper hand over a rival faction in a squabble over control of the Visigothic throne. Once gaining a foothold, the Islamic forces quickly swept Rodrigo and the rest aside, overran the entire peninsula, and began pouring over the Pyrennes, where they made mincemeat of the ramshackle collection of provinces and duchies which then constituted western Gaul (France, as we know it today).

But Charles, in his capacity as Mayor of the Palace (comparable to a modern-day Prime Minister) to the “do-nothing” Frankish King, was determined to oppose them. Despite the disorganized political atmosphere, and the fact that Charles' army consisted only of infantry while the Saracen host included a substantial contingent of cavalry, the Franks were victorious, driving the invaders back over the Pyrennes and into Spain, where they would hold sway for another 700 years, before the last remnants were driven out by Fredinand and Isabellla in the fifteenth century. As for Charles, his son Pepin the Short and grandson Charles the Great (Charlemagne) continued his legacy, and, upon the foundation made possible by the victory at Tours, established a Christian empire in central Europe marked by political stability and a revival of learning and the arts. This Carolingian Renaissance, encouraged greatly by two men from Britain, the missionary Boniface and the scholar Alcuin, would provide seed for the propagation of the gospel and of Christian culture all throughout Europe in the coming generations.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lepanto




Four hundred and forty years ago today (October 7, 1571 A.D.) the Battle of Lepanto was fought in the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece. The naval forces of the (Christian) Holy League decisively crushed those of the (Muslim) Ottoman Turks, who for neither the first nor final time were threatening to overrun all of Europe if left unchecked. A young Miguel de Cervantes was a participant in the battle, in the course of which he was severely wounded, permanently losing the use of his left arm. The battle also inspired a wonderful poem by G. K. Chesterton, first published a century ago, whose final lines pay homage to Cervantes.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Urn, Belmont University


I’m trying to cultivate the discipline of drawing and sketching more, as well as committing to some “art for art’s sake” time at least once a week or so. Here’s a sketch (pen) I made of an urn during some down time on this gorgeous autumn afternoon, on the campus of Belmont University.

Monday, September 19, 2011

30th Anniversary, The Concert in Central Park



Thirty years ago today Simon and Garfunkel reunited for an historic free concert in New York’s Central Park, before an enthralled audience of half a million. The iconic poster art promoting the event was created by (now) legendary designer/illustrator Michael Doret.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 AIGA CASE Awards, Think Tank



I had a great time this weekend at two events sponsored by AIGA Nashville. At Friday night’s CASE Awards Show I had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with over a couple hundred fellow designers from the local scene, while enjoying a first hand, up close look at all the pieces that I had only gotten a glimpse at previously, during the online judging. It was so good both to catch up with a number of old friends and to make some delightful new acquaintances as well, all in the context of some really incredible work. What a talented bunch of creative folks! I was very honored to receive the Best of Illustration award for my work on the HCSB Study Bible. Thanks everyone, and congratulations to all the other winners!

Saturday’s Think Tank Conference included an impressive lineup of speakers, each of whom had some very interesting and inspiring things to say: Raphael Grignani, Kate Bingaman-Burt, Justin Ahrens, and Joe Duffy. I found Joe Duffy to be especially impressive and inspiring: here’s a guy possessed of jaw-dropping talent who, while exhibiting an unmistakable-yet-understated confidence in his own abilities, displays surprisingly down-to-earth humility as well.

If you’re in the Nashville area and in the creative industry, don’t miss these events next year!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Legacy of Bosworth


On this date in 1485 was fought the Battle of Bosworth Field, in which Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (subsequently King Henry VII), heir of the Lancastrian line, defeated the Yorkist usurper of the throne, King Richard III (portrait at left). It would prove to be a watershed event in English history; many, in fact, point to it as the line of demarcation between medieval and modern England. Richard, who was slain in the melee, holds the distinction of being the last English king to die upon the battlefield. Richard is also regarded as the last of the Plantagenet line, whose dynastic rule had extended through thirteen monarchs and endured for more than three centuries.

For Henry’s part, his claim to the throne, though legitimate, was somewhat tenuous: on his father’s side, he was descended from Henry V’s widowed Queen, Catherine of France, but this connection served merely to buttress the real claim, which came via his mother’s heritage as the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, noted son of King Edward III. This link was solidified beyond all doubting (if not quite all disputing) when Henry married Princess Elizabeth, the only surviving child of Edward IV and heiress of the rival House of York. The battle, the marriage, and a few subsequent skirmishes brought an end to the Wars of the Roses, which had torn England apart for three decades. Despite changes in houses or family names, the heirs of Henry Tudor retain the crown of England to this day, as evidenced in the current Royal Arms by the inclusion (at the lower portion) of the red and white Tudor Rose.


It is impossible even to imagine how English and world history might have been altered by a different outcome at Bosworth Field. Without Henry VII, there could have been (most notably) no Henry VIII, and no Elizabeth I. There would have been no English Reformation, or at any rate, there would surely have been a decidedly different one, for better or for worse. And not to be forgotten is the extent to which the arts flourished under the Tudors. The Renaissance was first introduced into England during the reign of Henry VII. Both the strikingly vivid bust of Henry and the paired funeral effigies of Henry and his wife, Elizabeth, shown below, are the work of Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano.



Architectural innovation flourished under both Henry VII and VIII—indeed the royal house of Tudor lent its name to an enduring architectural style. Henry VIII is remembered for his patronage of the great portrait artist Hans Holbein, and the Tudor-dominated sixteenth century gave rise to incomparable luminaries in both music (e.g. Thomas Tallis, William Byrd) and literature (e.g. Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare), thus enriching by incalculable degrees the cultural heritage of England, the West, and, indeed, the World.

All this divided York and Lancaster,
Divided in their dire divisions,
O, now let Richmond [i.e. Henry] and Elizabeth,
The true succeeders of each royal house,
By God’s fair ordinance conjoin together!
And let their heirs, God, if thy will be so,
Enrich the time to come with smooth-fac’d peace,
With smiling plenty, and fair prosperous days!


—William Shakespeare, from King Richard the Third

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fire and Water, Nature and Grace


I just saw Terence Melick’s much-talked-about film The Tree of Life this past week. More like cinematic poetry or an art house film than a typical mainstream movie, it is both euphorically beautiful and intensely thought provoking. Above all, it portrays a creation that is super-charged with wonder, and spends much of its two-and-a-half hour length inviting us simply to bask in that wonder in true Chestertonian spirit.

There are so many avenues worth exploring and commenting on. (My friend Brian McLain has some keen insights, especially regarding the film’s reliance upon the viewer’s own participation via his or her own subjective experiences, relationships, and memories, which I commend to you.) Perhaps I will get around to surveying some of those other perspectives as well, but for now I want to start at the shallow end and speak to those aspects that I feel most qualified to deal with, which have to do with the nature of some of the visual symbolism engaged in the film.

First of all, with the noted exception of the evolutionary framework employed (though even that is intriguingly toyed with, raising some issues that I will shelve for later discussion, perhaps) the symbolism that Melick employs is pervasively and explicitly Christian and scriptural. The film opens with a quotation from the Book of Job, Chapter 38:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation...while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

The themes of Job resurface again and again as the narrative unfolds, and there is also a very early and explicit reference to the tension between “Nature” and “Grace”. Taken simply at face value, this is obvious and potent enough. However, I think it also helps to reflect that within the Christian tradition, this fundamental dichotomy (at times pushed to dualistic extremes) has gone by a number of other names, at least some of which I think there is good reason to believe that Melick is also intending to conjure up at various points. These would include, but are by no means limited to: Law vs. Grace, Justice vs. Mercy, Righteousness vs. Sinfulness, Love vs. Judgement, Forgiveness vs. Discipline and/or Punishment, Free Will vs. Predestination, Salvation vs. Damnation, Flesh vs. Spirit.

Visually speaking, two of the most recurring images employed in The Tree of Life are fire and water. It’s really essential to have a self-conscious grasp of the biblical associations of these two metaphors in order to adequately appreciate how Melick employs them throughout his own work here. To give a brief biblical catalog: Water is primordial (Genesis 1:2). It is mysterious (due, at least in part, to its hidden depths and to its elusive, undulating motions). Water is most often associated with its life-granting and regenerative qualities—with birth and with re-birth, but it also has to be remembered that it can easily be turned into a threatening instrument of judgement and destruction. When contrasted with dry land, for instance, it often represents the forces of wickedness threatening to submerge and wipe out the people of God (Isaiah 8:7-8). Fire likewise is thought of first and foremost as an element of judgement, condemnation, and ruination, which it certainly is. But fire is also associated with holiness, and with testing and purification (Exodus 3:1-6, Isaiah 6:1-7, Psalm 12:6). Following this line, its implementation is often towards radically transformational as opposed to purely destructive ends (II Kings 2:11, Malachi 3:1-4, II Peter 3:5-13). Significantly, both water and fire are associated with the Holy Spirit. (Bird images are as well, which is also worth noting with respect to Melick’s film.)

As should already be apparent by this point, it is essential to consider that the relationship between these two “elements” and their various associations is not one of pure or simple antithesis, but rather, the antithesis is dynamic and complicated—wondrously so. To illustrate this point, let me turn to the work of another visual artist who explored these same themes to great effect in his own work: the nineteenth century landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church. (Gene Edward Veith offers an excellent critique of Church and the other prominent painters of the Hudson River School in his book Painters of Faith, and I owe the following observations to him.) I was reminded a number of times during The Tree of Life of Church’s painting Cotopaxi.


Here we have fire: the volcano, the smoky ash cloud, the sunset, and the eerily glowing foothills. We also have water: the waterfall, obviously, but also (possibly) the cool tones of the sky (the waters above the firmament) in the extreme background. Interestingly, the two elements intermingle in the mid-ground, as the fiery sun is reflected in the lake behind the falls. The question to be posed is this: when it comes to “fire” and “water” which of these forces is destructive and which is regenerative? Meditate on this painting, and think about it some more. Are you sure? Is the question, and its answer, a simple one after all?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yosemite Valley, Tunnel View



A year ago this month I got to fulfill a long-time dream: my brother Jared and I spent three days and two nights backpacking in Yosemite National Park, culminating in a climb to the top of famed Half Dome. I’ve intended ever since to celebrate the occasion with some artwork but, the tyranny of the urgent being such as it is, only within the last few days have I been able (prompted both by the anniversary and a bit of a lull in paying work) to produce the first of what I hope will eventually be several pieces on the subject.

This illustration was executed on scratchboard with watercolor. The view is toward the west-facing mouth of the valley as seen from the lower end of the Wawona Tunnel. There are three different roads that lead into the valley, but this one, which connects to Hwy. 41 towards Oakhurst and Fresno, provides the most spectacular and dramatic view all the way up the length of the valley. Take this route into the park, and you’re just driving along through wooded hillsides and then, all of a sudden you turn a corner, there’s a break in the trees, and there it is—and you realize that all the paintings and photographs you’ve ever seen of it haven’t even come within fifty miles of preparing you for the arresting beauty and overpowering immensity of what is presented to you at that moment. El Capitan thrusts its enormous bulk straight up into the sky, Bridalveil Fall thunders, and Half Dome, that most peculiarly-shaped mountain, transfixes your gaze, beckons, and looms large, even from a distance of seven miles.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Logo Design: Parish Presbyterian Church



Another new logo design, this one for Parish Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN. Working at the moment on some printed material that looks like it has the potential to carry this design forward into some pretty cool directions, so hopefully stay tuned for more on that before too long.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gillian Welch: The Harrow & the Harvest



After a wait of eight long years we at last have an album of new material from alternative country queen Gillian Welch. I ordered my copy last night. (Had to have the CD, of course.) In fact, it’s hard to say which I’m more excited about: listening to the music for the first time, or getting to hold the one-of-a-kind, letterpressed, hand-stained-with-coffee cover art (printed on, or rather into, extra-thick, 100% cotton paper). Check out this nifty video chronicling the production process.

GW and partner Dave Rawlings (one of the most underrated guitarists around, in my opinion) put on an unforgettable show for my brother, myself, and approximately 200 other patrons who managed to cram into the legendary Station Inn on St. Patrick's Day several years ago. (That place isn’t much bigger than my basement, which is a plus, in my opinion. I’m glad I got to catch them early enough in their career when they could still play little joints like that.) I don’t make it out to many shows any more these days, but I might have to spring to see them again when they take the stage at the (also-legendary) Ryman Auditorium in December.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Brochure: Franklin Classical School



Here’s a very recently-designed 4-panel brochure for the fine scholars at Franklin Classical School.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Lark Ascending


Ninety years ago today saw the premiere of this stunningly beautiful work for orchestra and solo violin by perhaps the twentieth century’s greatest composer. Ralph Vaughan Williams was inspired to compose The Lark Ascending by George Meredith's 122-line poem of the same title. Vaughan Williams first wrote the piece for violin and piano in 1914, but work on the second and more familiar orchestral version was interrupted by World War I. In fact, in a somewhat humorous episode, the composer was actually arrested on suspicion of espionage after he had been seen jotting down what someone took to be a secret code (actually musical notations for the work here considered) while observing a large troop embarkation across the English Channel at the war’s outbreak. (My own artistic endeavors have caused similar run-ins with the authorities on at least one occasion, so I can relate, though that's another story for another time.)

The dream-like beauty of the music really speaks for itself, and its accessibility makes it one of the most popular pieces of classical music around (especially in England, not surprisingly). For my part, I’m intrigued by the way it somewhat paradoxically evokes both Olde England and (by prominent use of the pentatonic scale) the Orient.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Steal Like and Artist, and Other Sound Advice


Dang, the last several weeks have just been crazy. Seeing that life, for the time being, continues to prevent me from posting much of anything of my own devising, I’ll redouble my efforts to at least, with some regularity, point out the notable contributions of others.

Blogger Austin Kleon has some really valuable insights to share in his recent post HOW TO STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST (AND 9 OTHER THINGS NOBODY TOLD ME). In the course of this thoughtful treatise he challenges a number of myths that I also have taken aim at (or at least intend to take aim at, when I find time and opportunity for a clear shot). These would especially include what I like to lampoon as The Cult of the Artiste, referring to the modern image of the artist as a radical, bohemian purveyor of strident originality, inherently superior to the rest of us mere mortals.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Jonathan Rogers: Concerning Beauty


My friend Jonathan Rogers just posted a brief but wonderfully articulated reflection on the indispensable role of beauty. Man, do I need to be reminded of this more often—like, several times a day!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Barry Moser and The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible



At some point during my work on the HCSB Study Bible I became aware of this awe-inspiring project by master illustrator Barry Moser (with some help from other luminaries, such as renowned typographer Matthew Carter). As the prospectus claims, The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible is probably the most significant edition of a fully-illustrated Bible since that of Gustave Doré, in the mid-nineteenth century.

Working in a medium called Resingrave, Moser produced a vast series of black and white images to accompany the biblical text that are arresting in their graphic intensity. Considered on the whole, their undeniable beauty is offset by a jarring—sometimes even disturbing—coarseness and realism. The images range from the nearly abstract, to the poetically symbolic, to the indelibly human, and the work manages to exude, at the same time, a sort of timeless grandeur and an immediacy that is strikingly contemporary.

Another thing to appreciate is that, despite its lofty aspirations, this really is an edition of the Bible designed with reading in mind. The text of the Authorized/KJV translation is set in double columns with subheads to mark each chapter, but without verse notations, paragraph breaks or indents (pilcrows are employed instead) and italic type (used in most AV editions to denote words not present in the original text) to impede smooth and fluid reading.

I wish that I could convince someone, among the very few individuals I know who might actually possess the means coupled with the inclination, to invest in a Primary or Deluxe edition, so that I might have the borrowed privilege of perusing such an exquisite masterpiece of printing and binding. For those of us who don't have ten (for the Primary) or thirty grand (for the Deluxe) to spare, there is a reasonably priced, single-volume facsimile edition available in both hardcover and perfect-bound paperback. I ordered the latter a few weeks ago and was delighted to discover that the large format (8.25" x 11.812") faithfully replicates the text and illustrations at their original size. Only slightly disappointing is the fact that the margins are trimmed in a bit, so you don't quite get the benefit of the generous white space and luxurious page proportions of the original, which are a historical feature of Bibles and other “showcase” bound texts ever since the age of illuminated manuscripts, but given the need to economize that’s understandable, I suppose.

One slight word of caution to those who might consider a purchase: as alluded to above, several of the images are at least a bit disturbing and some might be said to push the boundaries of propriety. (One image depicts a woman kissing the feet of the crucified Christ, and possibly gulping blood flowing off of his toes.) There is a good deal of nudity depicted as well, though I would’t characterize any of it as gratuitous. Just take that into consideration—at any rate, it’s still a worhwhile addition to your library, in my opinion, and a very notable artistic endeavor.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Logo Design: Cornerstone Presbyterian Church



Here’s a “hot off the griddle” logo design for the saints at the newly organized Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chestertonian Musings, Part One


Recently, I actually got around to reading G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which has been on my “to read” list since time out of mind. As I suspected, I found that I’ve had considerable exposure already to direct quotations of various passages (particularly Chapter Four: The Ethics of Elfland) or have absorbed many of his ideas by osmosis, via my reading of others who were thinking his thoughts after him. At any rate, it was very enjoyable and refreshing to get to absorb these notions in their original context of Chesterton’s masterful and brilliant prose.

There were strains of Chesterton’s thought, however, that I, with a mixture of delight and dismay, discovered that I was encountering for the very first time. Most memorably, in Chapter Six: The Paradoxes of Christianity, I was enthralled to find a brilliant articulation of a notion that has crept in upon my own consciousness over the last several years, but which I have never really attempted to explain or put into words. In that chapter’s introductory paragraph, Chesterton writes:

The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.

As a visual artists who dabbles in other disciplines, this whole idea resonates with me very deeply. Indulge me here in a brief and somewhat random excursus:

Is it not very odd, for instance, that shapes so fundamental as the square and the circle, which can be drawn with exactitude using a ruler and/or compass, defy precise mathematical definition and analysis (at least when one takes the very first steps in trying to peel them apart)? I’m referring to the fact that &pi (3.142…), the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference, is an irrational number, one that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two whole numbers, no matter how large. The same goes for √2 (1.414…), which is the ratio between one of a square’s sides and a diagonal drawn between opposing corners. Other very important—and naturally prevalent—numbers have the same slippery characteristics: &phi (the “golden section”, or .618…), and √5 (2.236…), to cite two additional examples. The point is this: I encounter and use things like circles and squares all the time. How can something so basic, simple and ubiquitous be, at the same time, so downright elusive and mystifying—so irrational?

This stubborn refusal of the natural order to be brought into perfect conformity with nice and tidy logical definitions drove some of the ancient Greeks to the point of maddened distraction (the Pythagoreans). But the eventual acquiescence on the part of some to this paradox yielded some real aesthetic triumphs, such as the Parthenon, whose subtle and deceptive entasis and unevenly spaced columns testify to the awareness that a bit of carefully employed non-conformity here and there proves more satisfying than strict adherence to mathematical and logical notions of orderliness and “perfection”.

I think I will have to further explore some of the rambling rabbit trails this topic tends to generate in some additional posts, hence the “Part One” label above. Let me just wrap this one up by expressing my delight in discovering that Chesterton, who possessed a mind and a soul (to say nothing of a body!) far broader and deeper than my own, also acknowledged, exulted in, and reveled in this same phenomenon—and also felt within it the same spur towards faith that I feel. While this hardly constitutes some objective proof of the existence of God, I, like Chesterton, detect an audible echo of the Divine in these things—and a decidedly Trinitarian echo, at that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Signs of the Times


These difficult economic times certainly call for…well, economy. People (yours truly included) make do with less and find creative ways of cutting corners. More power to us all. Be that as it may, I’ve seen some rather striking examples recently of this sort of thing played out in some local establishments’ efforts to re-brand themselves—efforts which push the whole phenomenon almost to the point of a kind of graphical cannibalism. High scores are certainly in order for their creative bids to save a few dollars on signage, though the jury is still out I suppose on their effectiveness from a marketing standpoint.


Yes, brick and mortar video rental chains are fast going the way of the miller, the cooper and the blacksmith, but I think we’re still pretty far away from being able to offer a new hairdo via web streaming. So who knows, this Bride of Frankenstein-esque re-appropriation of the Hollywood Video brand might actually stick around longer than the original incarnation. Lucky us.


This used to be a little t-shirt shop called T-MAX. Now it’s home to—of course! Just a little switcheroo to the sign and, Voila!—a bookkeeping/income tax preparation service that has a decidedly laid-back and casual vibe going. (Not sure that’s exactly the kind of mojo I want working on my own 1040. I personally prefer my accountants to wear shirts with collars—and ties, pocket protectors and thick glasses in addition would’t exactly do anything to sink my confidence level either, but maybe my own personal preference in this regard is a bit off the ol’ bell curve.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

HCSBSB: New Testament Jerusalem



And so we come at last to the mother of them all. This illustration of Jerusalem as it would have appeared in the first century A.D. was the last one which I completed for the HCSB Study Bible, and it was also the most technically challenging. This was due to the sheer amount of detail, exacerbated by the large size required for the final since this illustration would be doing double duty: a close-up, detailed view of the entire temple complex and surrounding areas would be shown on the same spread which features the two views of Herod’s Temple which I have detailed here previously, and another spread would feature the complete illustration of the entire city.

I proposed two possible views during the sketching phase. One view was from the same angle (southeast) that all of the other, Old Testament views of Jerusalem had employed.


This had the advantage of continuity, but I really felt that a view looking over the Mount of Olives from the east would be more dramatic and would better display the more interesting parts of the city, especially the temple complex.


In either case, I wanted to position things carefully so that (for the complete view) nothing of crucial interest would get lost in the gutter, which is always a concern when working across a full spread, especially in a book which has a large number of pages. Ultimately the second view won out, and then began the process, which progressed in fits in starts over several months, of executing a detailed sketch at full size (19" x 24").


Once this was approved, I backed the sketch up to a piece of bristol board and rendered the final using a technical pen, with the aid of a lightbox. (I couldn’t bear the thought of actually transferring the sketch directly to the board, which essentially would have meant having to draw every detail not twice but three times!) At this point point the deadline was drawing near and I spent several days on end at the drawing table. There were oh so many individual buildings and houses! My drawing hand was pretty sore by the time it was finished, and I had a distinctive callous on the last knuckle of my middle finger, where the pen rested—but it was all worth it!

Here is a final, detailed view—and with this my posts on this particularly, big, exciting and rewarding project come to an end. Many thanks to those of you who have eagerly followed these posts over the course of the past few months. Please continue to check back in on a weekly basis or so; I plan to keep posting regularly on other projects and other topics that will merit your interest and attention!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bessie Gotto's 90th Birthday


A special lady who is very dear to my heart turns 90 years old today: my maternal grandmother, Bessie Lee (Gray) Gotto.

My siblings and I orchestrated a big birthday celebration for her this past weekend as well as a surprise gift, both of which called for some custom design work by yours truly. First the invite to the party:


My Granny has written a handful of verses over the years, until recently recorded only by her own hand in various notebooks which she kept. As a birthday surprise, we decided to have them “published” and presented to her in a book-length format. I created a custom-designed photo book—hard bound with a dust jacket—which features one of her poems on each right-hand page, complemented by photos of her, my late grandfather, and other family members on each of the facing pages.


As expected, the book was a big hit not only with her, but also with many extended family members and friends who attended the party and were able to view some sample copies that were on hand. Orders for several more copies were placed at the gathering, beyond the initial set which was ordered for my Granny and for the immediate family. A pdf of the entire book (minus the back cover and dust jacket flaps) is available for download here.


As a final tribute to my Granny on this day, I will close with the following bio, taken from the inside flap of the book’s dust jacket:

Bessie Lee Gray was born March 8, 1921, in Davidson County, Tennessee, to Alex Turner Gray and Annie Elizabeth Hulan. Her parents, both having survived their previous spouses, brought a total of seven children into the new marriage, thus making Bessie, the only offspring of their union, the eighth child of the household and the baby of their blended family. Her mother died in 1936, just a month after Bessie’s fifteenth birthday. On February 28, 1938—just a few days shy of seventeen—Bessie married Clarence Gotto. Together they had one surviving daughter, Cheryl Janice. The couple spent most of their years together living in Nashville, Tennessee, until Clarence passed away in the summer of 1976. The sadness of her husband’s relatively early death tinges much of the poetry in this collection. But, despite this tragic loss, Bessie is recognized by all who know her decades later as a lively personality and an uncommonly quick wit—one who enjoys nothing more than a good time, spent with loved ones, and filled with smiles, laughter and fun. She continues to live out her remaining years in the company of her daughter and her family, which includes five grandchildren and (as of this writing) ten great-grandchildren.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Steve Jobs on Soulful Technology


Technology alone is not enough. Technology married with liberal arts, humanities, yields the result that makes our hearts sing.

—Steve Jobs, at yesterday’s iPad 2 unveiling

I don’t (yet) own an iPad, nor an iPhone. In fact, I personally have never even owned an iPod. (There has been, since Christmas, an iPod Touch floating around our household somewhere, but I “touch” it only rarely.) But I’ve used Apple’s computers day-in-day-out for almost two decades now, and I believe Steve Jobs’ grasp of and commitment to the above principal is the number one reason behind the company’s phenomenal success and zealous customer loyalty.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Rookmaaker Syposium


The Christian arts blog Transpositions is hosting a week-long online symposium on The Life and Work of Hans Rookmaaker, best known for his seminal work Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. Daily posts by noted scholars will chronicle Rookmaaker’s enduring influence on Christians who are devoted to practicing the arts as an essential God-given means for cultural transformation.

Friday, February 18, 2011

HCSBSB: Herod's Temple, Interior View



It is very interesting to compare this rendering for the HCSB Study Bible of the interior of Herod’s Temple with the earlier one for Solomon’s Temple and to note both the points of continuity and discontinuity. As was noted in the post on Solomon’s Temple, the Scriptural descriptions are rather extensive, even if they are difficult to interpret on a number of points. With regard to Herod’s Temple, we have virtually no Scriptural information to go on. Our primary extra-biblical source, Josephus, gives a fair amount of information but it is quite selective, in some respects raising more questions than it answers.

Drawing upon Josephus, one overarching trend can be noted as a helpful guide to the would-be reconstructor: there seems to have been a Pharisaical trend towards austerity, simplification and abstraction that governed the decoration of this Temple. For instance, in the Holy Place, there seems to have been a return to one table and one lamp stand, after the manner of the original Tabernacle, whereas Solomon’s Temple had boasted ten of each. It also seems, based on some of Josephus’ comments, that any creaturely or quasi-human representations (e.g. cherubim) were deemed inappropriate (an interesting example of numerous and infamous Pharisaical attempts at a sort of “holier even than God” severity). With this as a backdrop, questions regarding the overall mode of decoration of the Holy Place, on which Josephus is pretty much silent, can begin to be begin to answered, at least with a fair amount of educated guess and conjecture.

Since the interior of the earlier Temple was decorated richly with garden and floral motifs, it seems reasonable to assume, given the symbolic importance of this imagery (Eden re-attained) and given that botanical representations seem to have escaped the pervading Pharisaical proscriptions, that these would have been retained in some form. We know that the Temple’s exterior employed the Greco-Roman Corinthian order, so it would be reasonable to transfer this to the interior as well.


Drawing on these assumptions, I developed a vision of the interior, worked out in the above elevation, which employs a three-tiered scheme of Corinthian pilasters interspersed with relief carvings displaying vegetative motifs. A good contemporary source of inspiration for these latter details can be seen in the Ara Pacis, in Rome.



The floor plan of Herod’s Temple followed the same dimensions as Solomon’s earlier temple, but the height was apparently even greater, which would have made for a very tall and slender sanctuary. Partly to help me get all the dimensions and proportions correct for the illustration and partly just for sheer personal satisfaction, I constructed a rough scale model and photographed it to use as starting reference for my sketches.



The Arch of Titus, also in Rome, which was built to commemorate the subjugation of the Jews and the destruction of the same Temple considered here in 70 A.D., includes a depiction of the lampstand, quite probably based on the actual artifact.


The publisher specifically asked that the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies be featured prominently. The gospel accounts make special mention of this veil as being torn in two from top to bottom at the moment of Christ’s death upon the cross, indicating that man’s alienation from God had been overcome. The writer of Hebrews (4:14; 9:23-34) explains that Jesus, in His death and resurrection, “passed through the heavens” themselves, into the very presence of God as our true High Priest, and thus fulfilled in reality what the temple and the earthly High Priest merely represented in shadowy form. With this in mind, it is very interesting that Josephus states that many of the items depicted here had cosmological or astrological associations: the seven lamps of the lamp stand represent the seven “planets” that the Ptolemaic cosmology of the time recognized, the twelve loaves of showbread the twelve signs of the zodiac, etc. With respect to the veil (there was also another one of similar design at the outer entrance of the Holy Place), Josephus specifically mentions that it was woven with some sort of design that incorporated the twelve zodiacal signs (though again, the depictions were apparently abstract or symbolic—no literal pictures of lions, virgins, rams, etc.). He also associates the colors used (blue, purple, red and brown) with the four “elements” of air, water, fire and earth. Inspired by these descriptions and associations and drawing upon other sources, I created a design that incorporates a symbolic conception of the universe that was pretty common at the time: a square-shaped earth in the center, surrounded by seven planets in concentric orbits, in turn surrounded by the twelve signs of the zodiac, beyond which lies the ethereal fire of the “third” or highest heavens.

Friday, February 11, 2011

ACS Warriors Logo


Here’s a new logo design, for the athletic program at Agathos Classical School in Columbia, Tennessee. Go Warriors!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

R.I.P. Charlie Louvin



Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin passed away last night at his home here in Tennessee at the age of 83. He and his brother Ira (who sadly and ironically personified many of the duo’s sin-denouncing numbers and who preceded Charlie in death by over 40 years) became legendary for their inspired harmonizing during the years in which they performed and recorded together. Charlie had a number of hits as a solo artist during the '60s and, in recent years, enjoyed newfound respect and a revival of his career thanks to his re-discovery by a new generation of old-school country and gospel music fans. But I will always remember him as the co-creator of this absolutely unforgettable piece of album cover art.

Friday, January 21, 2011

HCSBSB: Herod's Temple, Exterior View



This exterior view of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem would be a serious contender for my favorite out of all the illustrations I did for the HCSB Study Bible. The whole process, from research, concept sketching to final result was particularly enjoyable and highly satisfying for me.

There are a number of models and illustrations of Herod’s Temple in existence and they all bear a good deal of similarity due to the fact that detailed and accurate descriptions of the Temple’s appearance (primarily in the writings of Flavius Josephus) and even a few representations (albeit rather simplistic and crude ones—mostly from coins and ossuaries) have been preserved from antiquity. In spite of this overall continuity, however, I was able to identify at least a couple of aspects that lent themselves to some interesting interpretations which, to my knowledge, no other illustrator or reconstructor has exploited.


Virtually every modern depiction I know of presents a facade with a relatively small outer doorway of rectangular shape. There are two things that made the possibility of a more open and revealing facade an appealing interpretation for me. The first is the description Josephus gives of a vast ornamental vine wrought of gold which apparently occupied the space within the vestibule between the outermost entrance of the facade and the inner (veiled) doorway into the Holy Place. (It isn’t clear whether this was fully three dimensional or some sort of relief sculpture, but I chose to imagine the latter.) Especially given that the vine is a typical biblical metaphor for the nation of Israel (cf. Psalm 80; Isaiah 5:1-7) it seemed implausible to me that such a beautiful and potently symbolic piece of art would be entirely tucked away out of the general view behind a miserly opening. Secondly, I found this one ancient coin (above) which seems to depict a relatively tall outer opening with an arched rather than a horizontal top. This sent me off in the direction of having not just the doorway but the entire Temple facade conform to the proportions of a classical Roman triumphal arch. This solution was especially appealing given the fact that Herod himself was such a fawning afficionado of all things Roman.


After sketching it out I found that the measurements could be made to harmonize with Josephus and I went on from there to produce a complete front elevation (above). I chose a dramatic low angle for the final perspective rendering in order to emphasize the grandeur of what, at equal height and width of 150' and a surface finished entirely with white marble and gold, was no doubt a very imposing edifice.