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.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Take that, all you two-spacers!

“A page of text with two spaces between every sentence looks riddled with holes; a page of text with an ordinary space looks just as it should.”

Writing for Slate, Farhad Manjoo lucidly explains why typing two spaces after a period is not only completely unnecessary, but a crime, in fact (typographically speaking).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

HCSBSB: Babylonian Invasion

One of the items on the list of illustrations that Holman wanted me to do for the HCSB Study Bible was some sort of depiction of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians which occurred in the sixth century B.C. This could have gone in any number of directions: a battle scene, a view from behind the city walls looking out over the surrounding armies, another long view from above showing the layout of the city and estimated positions of the Babylonian forces, etc. However, upon considering the various options I felt strongly that, since most of the other illustrations highlighted architecture, it would be nice to do one in which people took center stage. After hashing this out with the publisher, it was decided that a depiction of the defeated captives leaving the destroyed city of Jerusalem on their way to exile in Babylon would be a fitting theme.

I wanted to convey not only the sorrow and despair but also the horror and brutality that no doubt attended such an event. The initial sketch above assumes a viewpoint somewhere close to the foot of the Mount of Olives looking back across the Kidron Valley toward the Temple Mount and the city of Jerusalem, with multiple columns of smoke rising ominously into the sky. Haggard, emaciated and stunned captives file by in a long column, past the dead and mutilated bodies of victims, with threatening—tormenting, even—Babylonian soldiers lining the way. Siege engines are visible beside the breached city walls above and the landscape bears the typical scars of war: sparse vegetation and the twisted and splintered stumps of hewn-down trees.

Not utterly to my surprise, my initial sketch pushed the envelope a bit too far. I was asked to refrain from showing dead bodies and any actual brutalization on the part of the Babylonian soldiers. I needed some good photographic reference of folks of all ages for this one, so every member of my family got to help out with modeling. (My kids love this part, and my wife—she REALLY loves it. The neighbors no doubt find it amusing as well. Oh yeah, and while I’m at it, I might just as will head any potentially snide comments off at the pass by acknowledging that the shirtless guy in the foreground of the above photo collage doesn’t exactly look “emaciated”. If this means a few blows to my vanity then hopefully it ratchets up respect for my skills as an illustrator to a commensurate degree.) The results of our back yard photo shoot are assembled in Photoshop®, and this serves as the basis for a revised, tight sketch. This second sketch is approved without further changes and so I move onto the final, which is executed on an 8"x10" piece of Claybord®, with color applied digitally after scanning.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Starbucks: the Logical Next Step

With the unveiling of a new logo this week which features the brand’s iconic mermaid image sans the company name, or any words whatsoever, Starbucks Coffee has finally joined other luminaries such as Nike and Apple in attaining corporate identity nirvana—and it only took them forty years to get there. I’ve had more than one client over the years who had trouble accepting that a few hours and a few hundred dollars (or even if it were a few thousand, for that matter) for a logo design couldn’t exactly guarantee them a comparable level of branding gravitas right out of the gate.