First Found Puzzle Box - April 2019

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On April 20, 2019, the Lost Crate of HP Witherspoon was displayed to the public during Heathside Cottage’s Spring Festival. To commemorate the event, I was commissioned to create a paper puzzle box, a small parallel to the museum crate which was on display.

The Lost Crate is itself a puzzle box of clever design and many layers, and this paper box mirrors those qualities.

The box puzzle I crafted has more than twenty sides, but a folded box only shows six. As you fold and re-fold the puzzle, different exteriors remain. Three of those configurations are “solutions” - they have matching thematic sides, and if lined up correctly, the “lid” can be lifted to reveal a hidden message about the Lost Crate.

Baleful Botany 001 - March//April 2019

Baleful Botany 001 - Aeonium Arboreum began on the Batteries to Bluffs trail in San Francisco, California. I hiked there in January 2019.

The trail is the westernmost in the Presidio, a former military fort, with hundreds of years of battlements, gun emplacements, and other harbor defence infrastructure. Once federal military land, It is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is thus managed by the National Park Service, not the City of San Francisco.

Battery Chamberlin, on Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA.

Battery Chamberlin, on Baker Beach, San Francisco, CA.

That trail winds upwards from beachside gun batteries on Baker Beach, an-ocean-facing beach a mile south of the Golden Gate Bridge. The trail climbs across a series of landslide-prone hillslopes, many of which feature deposits of serpentine, a greenish-blue rock of slippery and greasy feel. It is there and in nearby neighborhoods that one can find stands of the succulent plant Aeonium Arboreum, the ‘Irish Rose’.

The original reference photo. January 2019.

The original reference photo. January 2019.

My goal was to recreate elements of that walk on paper, as a simplified &cartesian model of the landscapes I encountered. Standing in three dimensions over that map: the unique flora and fauna that flourish in it, starting with this Irish Rose.

My first sketches, soon after the initiating trail-walk. Thanks, Cam, for confirming the plant identification.

My first sketches, soon after the initiating trail-walk. Thanks, Cam, for confirming the plant identification.

I outlined the layout in my journal the next day, and created a physical prototype a few weeks later. I got very lucky with the initial physical drawing - I moved quickly from pencil sketch to pen to scanned art layer to printed prototype, with little rework. Most of my time was spent on the digital side, lining pixels up and creating graphical cut-marks and trim-areas.

A few interlinked stands, atop a prototype map of the Forest of Woe, an infernal encounter space from Geoffrey Grabowski’s  Dreams of Ruin  book.

A few interlinked stands, atop a prototype map of the Forest of Woe, an infernal encounter space from Geoffrey Grabowski’s Dreams of Ruin book.

The penwork is all Micron Plastic Nib pens, in black. I worked in layers, moving from half-inch dot grid paper to blank tile templates, flipping back and forth between physical drawing and digital composition.

I built out seven different versions of the worksheet, each one from a different world. I called these ‘flavors’, a bit like an ice cream shop - one kind of product (ice cream) , with many different flavor options to choose from (chocolate, vanilla, cherry, etc.).

The idea was to reuse the folding plant artwork, with a few different bases, and surround it with unique and very different commentary, secondary illustration, creature tiles, botanical tags, and other ephemera.

The  Newt Industry  flavor features  reticulated siren  engineers monitoring the magical industrial farming of aeonium arboreum specimens, in service of their annual and ever-changing festival calendar, the Liturgical Industrial Egg Ritual. Here, I drew the secondary art and text separate from the plants themselves. I combined them digitally to create the final worksheets.

The Newt Industry flavor features reticulated siren engineers monitoring the magical industrial farming of aeonium arboreum specimens, in service of their annual and ever-changing festival calendar, the Liturgical Industrial Egg Ritual. Here, I drew the secondary art and text separate from the plants themselves. I combined them digitally to create the final worksheets.

Each ‘flavor’ provided a different design constraint, and pushed me to work in a different direction.

  • Rampant Exofauna and Baleful Botany were the original two ideas - fantastical and science-fiction-appropriate terrain for tabletop roleplaying games, like Dungeons and Dragons, Gamma World, or Warhammer 40000. On a 1in:5ft grid, the plants are 20ft tall, twice the height of most adventurers, or space pirates. It was this use, as the highly visible centerpiece of a gaming table, which demanded the fold-and-seal format of the art: these plants must be viewable from all sides, with well-registered art.

  • I designed The Irish Rose of San Francisco for museum gift shops, park offices, school field trips, and other educational-and-fun needs. This version presents a variety of science and history facts about the species, suitable to encourage the intellectually curious to delve deeper into the field.

  • For our #instagram era, Paper Ritual combines #succulants, #papercraft, and #selfcare into one powerful worksheet.

  • A spiritual exploration, Jesus Loves an Irish Rose links the plant to the triskelion and the trinity.

  • A gothic, neo-victorian take, Dr Ward’s Vivarium presents the Irish Rose as a strange specimen gone wild with growth. Wardian Cases, briefcase-sized greenhouses for individual plant specimens, were an early form of terrarium.

  • Finally, Newt Industry presents the plants as part of a fantastical industrial ritual, with amphibian supervisors keeping careful track of magical growth rate.

Each flavor acted as another draft or test, and creating so many flavors honed the shared layout across all seven of them.

Draft of  The Irish Rose of San Francisco

Draft of The Irish Rose of San Francisco

Draft of  Paper Ritual

Draft of Paper Ritual

The grey guide marks were one of the many breakthroughs the iterative process allowed me to find. By cutting to the rectangular outline of each piece, then adhering the two sides, then trimming both sides of grey away, the end user keeps the art on each side correctly registered (lined up with its mirror), speeds up the assembly process, and gives additional visual assurance of correct cutting. Expect to see this method employed in future paper products.

To display the Irish Rose, I also created a paper greenhouse nook, based on Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory.

Glass and Steel

Glass and Steel

Paper

Paper

Baleful Botany 001 - Aeonium Arboreum is available as a digital product you print at home, and as a physical product I send you in the mail.

I’m excited to explore modeling other plant species in paper. Expect more Baleful Botany in the future, especially if this one sells well!

Dead Man's Hollow Treasure Map - March 2019


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On the Spring Equinox, 2019, the public, armed with maps of my manufacture, found two buried treasures in Dead Man’s Hollow.

A forty foot snake, a quarry, a few murders and shootouts, a brick manufactury, buried treasure, a clay pipe factory, a deadly fire.

Dead Man’s Hollow, a few miles upriver from Pittsburgh & Mckeesport, has seen seven generations of strange happenings.

Rumor is, the place is haunted by a half dozen ghosts. It’s told that a crazed old billionaire, HP Witherspoon, had his treasures buried there in the late 20th century. Local lore is that the bluff above the old boiler building played host to satanic, wiccan, and anarchist teen-meetings from the Led Zepplin era through to No Doubt.

In 2019, this treasure map was produced from the research fragments City of Play was able to recover from the burned archive where they had stockpiled that knowledge. The archivist left town years ago. We have shored these fragments against our ruin, and they are presented here, in a limited run of 50 treasure maps, from which we have just 15 left.

Two treasures - the box buried by HP Witherspoon’s crew, as well as the blade of a snake, were recovered using this very map, in March of 2019. Its poetry, illustrations, site diagrams, local lore, and curious symbology led the public right to these secreted objects!

Who knows what other treasures it may reveal, in the hollow of Dead Men…

Perhaps you yourself could possess this knowledge, this map.

Dead Man’s Hollow is a public open space about fifteen miles south of Pittsburgh, just off the Youghiogheny River (“The Yough”, pronounced like ‘rock’), which itself is a major tributary of the Monongahela river. The hollow was once a clay quarry, then a brick manufacturing company, and then the Union Sewer Company, which manufactured large clay pipes for storm and sewer drainage systems.

The Hollow is managed by the Allegheny Land Trust, a non-profit which stewards dozens of open spaces in Allegheny County. City of Play and the Trust worked together to figure out the logistics of the treasure hunt. The trust provided me with notes, archival materials, and reports about the Hollow, its history, and its lore.

I’ve done my own exploration of the area in years past, and during the planning process, I visited the site two or three more times. Once we had located a site for treasure excavation, we spread out and looked for clues in the landscape, which might direct the public towards the treasure.

The map I created represents, in the snippets of text and image it presents, a synthesis of these clues: the history and myth of the land, information about the flora and fauna of the Hollow, and the details of HP Witherspoon’s interaction with the Hollow.

Its success is in its use - the map worked! After a few hours of puzzling and digging, members of the public located the treasure, and subsequently unburied it!

Intimate Subjects - Map & Schedule

August 16, 2018
Carnegie Museum of Art

For this evening of performances and play, I designed, illustrated, and typeset an intricate map-poster, as well as its obverse - a detailed text schedule of the details of the evening's performances.

Full Poster
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Here's what I wrote about the making of the illustration, during my post-deadline celebration, but a few days before the event.

And it's off to the printers!

City of Play and Slow Danger are putting on INTIMATE SUBJECTS - an evening of dance, performance, and interaction at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I was invited to design and create the map / schedule for the evening, which will also be a take-home gift for attendees.

Creating the poster has only made more more hyped for the event - the museum is gearing up for the fall's International, and the hype is in the air. The contemporary galleries just reopened recently, and many of the evening's performances will be dance events that play within & relate to the newly presented works.

Third Thursday events really bring the museum to life in a different way than a regular visit. The Carnegie Music Hall Foyer's lush interior will ring with the sound of back-to-back DJs. The Grand Staircase will have a bar AND an art performance! The Hall of Architecture will see new structures rise, float, crash, and come apart!

Tickets are available on CMOA's website, or at the door.

NERDY DETAILS ABOUT THE POSTER DESIGN:

I drew each layer on its own sheet of Canson Comic Book Art Board, a really quality product - thick cardstock with no-repro blue gridlines. I prepped all the pages with the same perspective grid, to keep that isometric view consistent. Next time, I'll spend a little longer getting that isometric view set up just perfect.

The artwork started in pencil, for blocking and general shape. Most details were done in when I did the penwork.

I inked it with Pigma Micron PNs in black. I switched to a new pen twice per layer- they permanently lose their fine line quality after five or six hours of drawing, which is a lot longer than their felt-tip brethren hold up under my shaky and heavy hand. The final penwork was entirely black line on white background.

I scanned the layers and composed them in photoshop. The greyscale across the layers is all digital, as are the information boxes.

Map posters are challenging - they are a two dimensional rendering of a four-or-five dimensional object.

In this case, the Carnegie Institute is a multi-story building with many different institutions within it, not all of which are open for view that evening, with simultaneous events starting, occuring, and continuing across the space.

The greyscale shading was all done digitally, after I composited the layers together. The outside world is the darkest grey, with the active spaces on each floor getting successively lighter. Deactivated space on each floor is a shade darker than its active neighbors.

Compositionally, I think the poster ended up as well-balanced as I could make it. I tried to keep the baroque detail limited, and keep the text as clean and clear as I could.

The notes about start times and programming are *floating in the world of the map* - they are almost all one shade lighter than the floor they represent, so as to more clearly specify which space they are attached to or embedded in. I also tried to make sure the first floor tags were all *clipped* by the edge of the second floor, as a further visual clue that they referred to the lower spaces.

The print version has a matching text schedule on the back which more explicitly and clearly lists the details of each performance and the artists presenting it.

For the most part, the imagery is a match to the content of each performance.

The dancers, artists, characters, observers, and workshop participants are waxy flame-haired people, whose shapely bodies fill and warm the space they hold - the light and vision that illuminates the views and spectacles in each room.

The Scribe Bird and its Giant Pysanky Egg are 100% my fantastical artistic addition to the evening's vision - lemme know if you want to help build them in IRL for a future festival.

They started as part of the Bosch-esque Long Spoons room, but I ended up moving them to the transitional hallway between the Grand Staircase and the Music Hall Foyer when I realized they were going to be obscured by the second floor.

---

INTIMATE SUBJECTS will be this Thursday, 8pm to 11pm.
Tickets are $10! Pittsburgh folks, I hope to see yinz there, and I hope you are able to snag a copy of my work for yourself!

I assisted the evening-of as well, performing the role of the bird-cage negotiator in the SMALL PRECIOUS OBJECTS game which greeted guests as they first entered the event.

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We were quite a spooky and delightful scene! I'll update this post with press photos as they are released. All three institutions were recording over the evening, so I'm sure there are more and better photos than this one.

H Day - July 19, 2018

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H Day

July 19, 2018

H Day is the day Pittsburgh got it's H back after a long political struggle with the Federal Post Office and the (unelected) US Geographic Board.
The first H Day was 107 years ago, July 19, 1911.

My partner and I have been celebrating H Day since 2011, the hundredth anniversary, and the holiday was popularized with an article in The Glassblock, the premier Pittsburgh web magazine, back in 2016.

The traditional way to celebrate H Day is to bake an H Cake, which is a special kind of chocolate stout cake, from local ingredients and local beer. Participating in the local economy and local food system are critical means of keeping those systems strong.

Per my 2016 article about the holiday:

July 19th, then, represents a day of victory. Pittsburgh’s “H” is more than just a particular spelling. It’s a symbol of pride and identity—we are “PGH” after all—and it’s a triumph of regional variety over standardization. We should recognize July 19th as a local holiday: H Day.

For 2018, lets use H Day, July 19th as a day to remember the ways that we as a region push back, sometimes, when we know what we are doing is right.

2018 Events

(If you want your event listed here, lemme know on social media)

Happy Hour Honoring pittsburgH

5:30pm to 7:30pm, Hough's Taproom, Greenfield

Presented by Houghs and The Incline. RSVP here.

2017 Coverage:

Video:

WTAE - Happy 'H' Day! A celebration of how Pittsburgh ISN'T Pittsburg

Print:

The Incline - Happy H Day, Pittsburgh!

2016 Coverage:

Print:

The Incline - Solving a mystery: Why does our Pittsburgh still have the ‘H’?

City Spree 2018 Poster: 5K. No Course.

May 20, 2018

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The City Spree is an annual 5K run in Pittsburgh, with the twist of having no formal course. Instead runners start at a central point, and use a map to navigate through the city to waypoints scattered across town.

The Spree is hosted by City of Play, which hosts games, activities, and playful workshops throughout the city. They commissioned me to design flyers and a poster for the City Spree.

The flyer came first - it is a subset of the tiles used in the poster, and served as a "proof of concept" as well.

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The poster I designed shows the paths of three animals through the city - a deer, a toad, and a rabbit. Their paths are in bright colors, and jump over, under, and around a set of floating tiles, each a vision of one of the waypoints in the race. 

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Here are some process shots & detail shots.

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The Unlandmarks Project

August-December 2017

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The Unlandmarks Map is a map of landmarks in Pittsburgh which exist only in memory - the actual landmarks are closed, bulldozed, rebuilt, or otherwise gone.

The map was being built by Code for Pittsburgh, during the last half of 2017. Code for Pittsburgh is the region's civic technology meetup group - we gather together as a community to use technology to make the lives of our friends and neighbors better.

We worked on the project for the last half of 2017. The project is on hiatus as of March 2018, but be assured, the work will continue in new forms!


Data Day

CARNEGIE LIBRARY MAIN (OAKLAND), SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2017

Data Day was a community festival event put on by the Carnegie Library Main. During that day, community members took the time to nominate unlandmarks for the map, and share their personal stories about those now-gone places.

Below are highlight photographs from the day, including the nomination forms, a physical version of the Map, and the community at large!


Community Listening at Creative Nonfiction

November 3, 2017

The next phase of the Unlandmarks project was a community listening session in partnership with the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. This phase consisted of a training evening for volunteers, and then a community listening session at the Creative Nonfiction offices on Friday, November 3, 2017, during the monthly Gallery Crawl that happens in that neighborhood.

The first #unlandmarks map community listening session was last night at @creativenonfiction , during Unblurred, Garfield's art district crawl. Code for Pittsburgh volunteers interviewed 16 neighbors and recorded 40+ memories of things-that-are-gone. 
I was so pleased by the turnout, by the amazing interview volunteers, by the super friendly and fascinating CNF staff, and by the generous neighbors who shared their stories. We heard about childhood haunts, how long-gone bakeries once smelled, the social dynamics at an Insane Clown Posse concert.

Once the interviewers got going, the room was full of neighborly civic energy. Collaboration and celebration of a shared history.

I'm in awe of the connective power of these shared memories of place. By the end of the evening, there were no strangers in the room.
Just neighbors.
Just yinzers.
Just friends.

Gallery Show at Carnegie Library Main

December 2017

For the month of December 2017, the Carnegie Library Main hosted an art show inspired by the Unlandmarks map, including work by myself and two local artists, as well as historical photographs and reflective essays.

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Fantastic Adventure: Greenfield Bridge

GREENFIELD BRIDGE OPENING, OCTOBER 15, 2017

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This one-day event was in concert with the opening of the Greenfield Bridge, the second bridge to bear that nickname. The previous bridge was demolished in December of 2015.

City of Play, a Pittsburgh creative agency dedicated to encouraging creativity and overcoming fear, put on a play/show/adventure/performance/art piece within the larger "The Bridge is Back" celebration, a memory-making, Fantastic Adventure.

The Fantastic Adventure brought together more than 40 local artists to create two sets of locations and events (Wondrous and Wise) to be discovered and interacted with by those members of the public willing to purchase an apple (wrapped in a map!) and adventure! Tokens of Wisdom and Wonder were returned from these sites to maypoles at either end of the bridge, and at sunset, the most-decorated maypole (Wonder!) came alive and marched to the bridge's center, for the ribbon cutting.

For the day, I took on the role of King of the Forest, an ancient, overdressed spirit, picnicking in the city, meeting the public, and welcoming everyone back to Schenley Park.

I made a number of additional materials for the event, including two Appalachian Folk Songs and a tree of Forbidden Knowledge (the Pittsburgh Creed).

Press:

Tribune Review, October 14, 2017 "New bridge restores identity for Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood"

Album Art for "The Freak Show"

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Pen Illustration with Digital Typography & Design, July 2016.

The debut studio album by livefromthecity. Includes appearances from Tyhir Frost, VO, Jasiri X, Soulja Buck, Jordan Montgomery, Patience Roya'l, and Inky.

The album was released July 15, 2016

The cover depicts a circus tent pitched on the roof of the USX building in downtown Pittsburgh, with the Hill District and Oakland stretching into the back, to Penn Hills and the ridges of the Allegheny Mountains beyond.

An otherworldly seraphim reveals itself in the sky.

Several masonic and thelemic symbols are hidden throughout the piece.

More information about the album can be found here.

On Greebles

June 2015

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When C-3PO was being shiped through Tunesian customs, the beurocrats got tripped up on a certain entry in the customs manifest - "assorted greebles". The box it refered to was full of miscelaneous costume parts, meant to be affixed to the exterior of the robot. "What's a greeble?" they asked. "Oh, uh, it's something that looks cool, but doesn't actually do anything." 

The term was invented at Industrial Light and Magic for exactly these kinds of non-functional bits - items attached to costumes and shooting models which serve no function but are visually interesting.

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The original Star Destroyer, as seen in the opening scene of A New Hope, was more than eight feet long, and was covered with these greebles. The long, slow pan across the huge ship, with thousands of pipes, wires, portholes, and other visually interesting material, gave the film a sense of scale and wonder. It didn't look like a model of a ship - it looked like a whole ship, and it looked huge.

The effect was carried off by affixing thousands of spare parts from a dozen different modeling kits to the outside of the ship. Sherman Tank models, Spitfires, and steam-era locamotives were repurposed from thier original design and affixed by the score to the plywood Star Destroyer, until every square inch of the ship had its own unique textured surface.

There was a term for this already - kitbashing. Model companies might only make kits for certain kinds of planes, trains, and automobiles, but by combining parts from multiple kits, or crafting your own, a kit for one kind of vehicle might be repurposed and built into another kind. ILM replicated this impulse, but on a huge scale, and established an entire new style and understanding of spaceship movies.

Greebling has continued since, though in modern times it is typically done by computer alogrithm, so that an animator need not hand-place each textural item. 

What I find interesting about greebling as a practice is that it is about the illusion of scale, the illusion of complexity. The human eye and the human mind can be fooled, and can see paterns where none exist. Later technical manuals and novels within the Star Wars universe codified each piece of the Star Destroyer exterior, assigning meaning and order to each of the model-parts. But when it was being built, no such meaning existed - the modelers just kept gluing on pieces until they arrived at a ship that was visually interesting and showed up well on film.

They didn't need to write specifications for every subsystem a Star Destroyer might need, or even think about what systems it might embody beyond having engines, lasers, and a bridge. They just had to glue parts on until it looked good.

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I've been making role-playing game terrain recently, and have thought a lot about this Greebling. The maps are at a 5ft to 1in scale, which gives cause to have a whole lot of detail. At that resolution, individual leaves are visible on plants, and finger-sized rocks are distinct from one another.

What I'm finding in the drawing of these maps, and thier digital layout, is that the same process that worked for the ILM folks in the early 70s still works - kitbashing. I'll draw a few different kinds of spirals, or tree parts, or ground dirt, and then bash them together and tile them over and over. A few rotations and scalings, and just two or three different varieties of texture can manifest as a robust-looking set of "unique" items. In the above drawing, the spiraling roots of the trees are just two or three different root-spirals, stamped around with varying density and pattern. The ferns at the bottom left are a single image, rotated and layered, with some shadowing applied later. 

It makes the process interesting, since each item I draw is not so much a unique form that will carry through to the final map, but rather an "asset" or individual part, which I might duplicate, manipulate, and use over and over.