31 May 2014

Serval Book of Lines at Next Door Gallery

Next Door crew. Photo by Susanne Erhardt
Last weekend, the Mrs. and I found ourselves in Geneva, Switzerland for the opening of Serval's first hometown solo show, Book of Lines at Next Door Gallery. Yes, he is Swiss, but thanks to a father from the BX and five straight years (or were they crooked) in Philadelphia from 1995–99 as a member of the infamous Fishtown crew OAL, he's able to fool most of us into believing he's an East Coast native. Yet his cultural ambiguity extends beyond remembering when hookers and bar fights dominated the streets under the El. Anyone who has seen his graffiti has trouble believing that this cat is from Europe. Just Google "serval graffiti" to see what I mean. It's a lesson to us all to put in the work, study the culture's history, ask questions, travel to meet the pioneers and never stop practicing.

My role in this show would be courier. The gallery had the catalogues printed in London, and I was to hand deliver them in Geneva.

One spread from the catalogue shows the thoughtful way in which the invites for the private view were produced. Serval painted onto a mosaic of small pieces of wood. These pieces were then taken apart and given to the legendary Swiss printer Christian Humbert Droz, who screenprinted "Serval" outlines onto them. Anyone who was invited to the show received a limited edition piece of art in the post. Sweet.

Another special touch to this show was that each painting was accompanied by a hand written poem (each in a different graffiti handstyle of course). The poems added context to the paintings by explaining the processes, life lessons, fun memories, dark times, etc. which led up to this moment of creative output. I teared up a bit when Serval gave me my own poem which pretty much summed me up (yeah, I said it).

All-in-all, the show was a success. Old friends came out of the woodwork, and the vibe was beautiful. The sun set late, the air was warm and the culture continued. If you're in Geneva between now and 15 June, pop into Next Door Gallery for a look. A special thanks to Sarah Csillagi for the photos.

30 August 2013

The Big Three

My new comic is now available at my three favorite London comic shops, Gosh, Mega City and Orbital. Joy! Also available worldwide from my website. Here's a drawing to express my sweet joy.

11 August 2013

Hand Lettering Portfolio Refresh

The other day I was wandering through central London when I came across a used book shop. Unable to resist, I stepped in and started digging through some piles of art books. I came out with a few gems, including an old science fiction illustration book with some Frank Frazetta work. Geek score! Another was a Dover collection of showcard alphabets – mostly hand lettered goodness. My portfolio site was getting a bit stale, so I thought I'd update it with some hand lettered typography of my own. To start, I went through the source book and planned which styles to apply to which words on my site with a rough thumbnail sketch.

Next, I plotted some guidelines with a ruler and did a more refined sketch of the letters, still keeping things loose and fast.

Then, I jumped straight to the scanner. I wanted the final lettering to be slightly irregular and not lose any character, so I didn't bother refining my sketch at all. The only refining happened in Illustrator, when I started drawing the vector lines. A vector trick I still remember from way back in college – always use as few points as possible and rely on your B├ęzier curves.

8 August 2013

Illustration Process

Here's a short video showing how I built up a recent illustration commission for the Wellcome Trust one layer at a time. Thanks J.Kid for letting me use your awesome music. To download his entire album, go to: jay-fly.com/muzziq/album/?id=15

17 November 2012

The Sketches That Give

This post is a continuation from the Iz the Wiz vest post. I was hiding out in Philly with no electricity after Hurricane Sandy's East Coast bitch slap. Before the storm, I had been up in the South Bronx with my old friend Floor Phantom. The trip was too short, but it was enough to get me fully into the bboy spirit. No electricity, no heat, no problem – I was happily training for a jam with my crew Ready to Rock the following weekend. To get into the crew spirit, I pulled the Iz vest back out and got to work sketching a Ready to Rock logo for the front.

The Iz lettering was drawn straight onto the fabric, but since the new RTR lettering would have to be fairly small to fit over the left pocket, I drew an outline on paper first, cut it out, pasted it down on the vest, hit it with some spray paint, peeled it off and then painted in the masked area – done!

Well, actually, not done. The jam was cancelled, because Sandy pretty much wiped out New York. I went back to London feeling a little bummed, but still pumped about my man Serval's birthday jam the following weekend in Geneva. To get hyped for it, I did another crew logo for my other fam, Seven Dollars. My friend Pervez was supposed to come a long, but had to cancel last minute, so I decided to paint his crew's logo as well, since he wouldn't be there to represent himself. Lastly, I added a logo for my little homies at Les Enfants de Dieu. I had been missing them since Dorota and I left back in September.

Luckily, Serval's birthday jam wasn't cancelled. Most of the crew made it, we danced a lot and it was bliss as always. As if a good party wasn't enough, Serval surprised me by organizing some of the artists there to do a tag-team sketch/auction to raise some cash for the boys at E.D.D in Kigali. Here's a short video to show how it went down, and I want to give an extra special thank you to everyone who bought a drawing. We made 300 Swiss Francs!

5 November 2012

B.Informed Publishing Nostalgia

During my recent extended visit to Philadelphia, I was able to dust off some old zip discs and CDs to find the digital pieces of a publishing puzzle which was smashed apart back in 2004–5. At that time, a small group of Philly friends and I were producing and publishing the urban lifestyle magazine B.Informed. We were working hard, being creative and simply having fun together making this thing and getting it out there. Suddenly, and to our surprise, people actually started to like it. Thanks to shameless cold calls, physically pressing the flesh, sending out press kits in the mail, handing out sample issues at events and spray painting our upside-down Phillies logo across town, B.Informed acquired some exposure as well as advertising money, and by issue #5 we were distributed across the U.S. and Canada by Tower Records, Ubiquity, Armadillo and Doormouse.

Sketch for unchosen "B" logo.
This was less than 10 years ago, but even then, online social networking and publishing barely existed, so our printed magazine had to spread through old school distribution. Self publishing back then was much more risky, because it meant large production runs with fingers crossed that issues would actually sell. That's exactly what we did. We pooled our own cash along with the advertising money and found a printer up in Queens. I remember the four of us, Amani, Jeanine, Ryan and I borrowing my mom's car and driving up to a print house in the industrial section of Queens (right next to the graffiti spot, Fun Factory). We would check proofs late into the night and then drive back to Philly with the car rammed full of thousands of magazines, the frame almost dragging on the Jersey Turnpike. Issue #5 was especially challenging, because we had to sit and stick the thousands of free CDs into the magazines by hand once we got back to Jeanine's apartment.

Original sketch for the chosen upside-down Phillies "B" logo.

To me, #5 was the quintessential issue. As art director, the design was where I wanted it. Ryan Hendon was producing beautiful black and white photos (yes, this was still the pre-digital era), and because he worked in a photo lab, we were getting quality prints. Jeanine Lee, our editor was fearlessly planning and writing content that was important to each of us at the time. Amani was a hustling machine and kept finding new ways to ram our foot in doors of the U.S. publishing monster and beyond. We were meeting, interviewing and photographing our personal heroes while producing content we could really be proud of. We worked for ourselves and we were building our own little dream. It was incredible.

People thought our logo stencils were anti-Phillies baseball statements :)

Issue #5 was our breakthrough issue. It gave us a taste of success, which felt great, but it just as quickly signaled the end. We never agreed on content or direction from that point on, because selling more magazines seemed to become the main priority. The fun was gone, our friendships crumbled and B.Informed Magazine died.

I recently visited photographer Ryan Hendon in San Francisco after barely seeing him since those days back in Philly. Talking with him now as well as with Skeme, who co-produced issue #5's insert album "Watch for the Fuzz", made me feel like it was time to share this again with the world. Looking back, it was a time in my life that I am grateful for. Looking at the magazine, I am still proud of that gritty, black, white and orange issue number five!

My father posed for this shot with a fake moustache!

I pieced the magazine back together with InDesign from an old Quark Express document. It was a mess at first, but now the images are all found and re-linked and the copy is flowed. I even resisted the temptation to fix some of my original bad typography! Below is an online version that you can read, download and share at will. It also contains a link to download the entire album "Watch for the Fuzz" produced by Fredy Blast and Skeme Richards of Sesion 31, but you have to read their article to find it ;) Sorry, but the below digital magazine can probably only be read on a computer (not iphone friendly).

27 October 2012

This IZ it!

I've been getting into the Halloween spirit lately from a hip hop perspective. Late night horror movies as well as the late night documentary Style Wars were both huge influences on me as a kid. The most memorable quote from Style Wars, for me at least, has always been "This is it! This is it!" by Iz the Wiz, when the bombed train comes past the camera. The pure child-like excitement in his voice sums up what hip hop is all about for me and my friends even today.

 photo courtesy urt.parsons.edu

The graffiti legend Iz the Wiz has always been an inspiration to me, quite frankly because he happened to be a white guy who achieved the extremely rare graff title of all city king of New York during the height of train bombing. I imagine him as almost a zombie creature of the night. He must have practically lived in those tunnels, and since his passing in 2009, his legendary status has only grown within my imagination. Years of exposure to toxicity were the eventual cause of his death, and in one of his last interviews he said that he would have traded all of it for perfect health. Something about that statement stuck with me.

In honor of Iz, I decided to combine his iconic two-letter throwie style with the lettering of one of the coolest horror comics, Creepy. In case you're not a fan, here is a cover to show you how incredibly cool these comics really are.

I painted the Creepy/Iz tribute onto a vest to wear to my annual pilgrimage to the long-standing Philly hip hop event, The Gathering, which happened to fall just before Halloween this month. I don't think I quite got it right (the streaks/drips looked more like icicles), but shoot, it was fun anyway!

To start, I stretched the vest onto a piece of cardboard and pinned it down to make it easy to draw on. I sketched out the letters with pencil. Can you erase pencil on fabric? Yes, you can! Then I started to fill in the lettering with gesso and a wide brush.

Along the bottom edges of the letters I pencilled in some streaks/drips/icicles or whatever you want to call them to make the letters more "Creepy" like.

Finally, I finished the gesso fill and gave it second coat, followed by outlining the whole piece with a black paint marker.

Ready for the jam!