Monday, March 22, 2010

Questions People Ask Me

These have been building up for a little while now, so I’ve gone back and collected them all, rewritten the answers so they are more concise, and re-posted them below in chronological order from oldest to newest, with the number one most frequently asked question at the top. I’ll keep this format and re-post them all every time I get new questions.

First, the number one most frequently asked question is…

Is any of this art for sale?

It’s been amazing, and deeply humbling, how many times someone has asked me this question. I truly never ever expected that. The answer is complicated but I will try to make it brief and simple.

Right now, none of the Moby-Dick pieces are for sale. I want to keep the entire series of illustrations intact until I have completed all 552 because I would like to see them exhibited someplace, whether that be a small local gallery or a museum. If I sell even one individual piece, I can never make that happen.

Beyond that, I just really don’t know what I will do. I might sell them individually. I might try and sell the entire series as a single unit. I might see about setting up some kind of silent auction, online or in person, for all of the pieces sold individually. I might even keep them. I’ve become really fond of them. I really don't know right now, and I am not trying to be a diva at all.

I do have a number of older pieces of art, of which I am also tremendously fond and proud of, available at this link here. Each of the pieces has a price listed, so please take a look and email me if you are interested in any of them.

Now the rest of the questions...

06) Will this art be collected into a book when you’re done?

While I would love for that to happen, and would be thrilled beyond belief if it did, it is probably unlikely that there will ever be a book collecting these illustrations. There are several reasons and I’ll go through them. First, since I’m using found paper as the foundation for nearly all of these pieces, this found paper almost always has previously copyrighted material on it. In some cases, the paintings or images are old enough that they are in public domain. In other cases, the images or diagrams are obscure enough that there is very little risk of the original publisher even finding out about this project. However, in other cases, the text or the imagery is recent enough and well-known enough that there might be copyright issues. Honestly, I really did think about this when I started the project, and I came to the conclusion that I was sufficiently transforming the original pages enough so that there would be no copyright infringement. I’m comfortable with that, but finding a publisher that agrees and will risk funding a book might be a different story.

The second reason, and one which, to me, makes much more sense, is that a book could be staggeringly expensive. There will be 552 full color pieces of art when I’m done. That means that any book would have to be, at minimum, around 300 pages but more realistically around 550 pages. The production costs, even for a paperback, of 552 full color pages of art would make any book very expensive indeed and I’m not sure if any publisher is willing to risk that on an unknown artist like myself.

In spite of that, I am definitely very open to the possibility of a book and would love to make it happen. I’ll think more about how to pursue that when I get closer to completing the project. If anyone has any advice or guidance, I would be deeply appreciative if you would share it with me.

05) Why don’t you post more typical blog entries?

I think this question must be asking about why I don’t write more on this blog. Part of that answer is, as I wrote earlier, that I am by nature a rather private person. I think an awful lot of what is written online, in blogs and on Facebook pages and via Twitter and so on is incredibly self-centered and narcissistic. I have no desire to participate in this circus of digital narcissism and lay myself bare for the temporary enjoyment of web-surfers and cool-hunters that might follow some link, land here for a minute or two, wallow in some personal details of my life, and then disappear again searching for the next big meme. I want the focus of this blog to be the art itself, and so I refrain from writing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary or in service to the art. While I will occasionally post a bit about my working methods and processes, you will never find any other personal details here. Honestly, I’m really not sure that my life is that interesting anyway, and certainly not to total strangers.

04) Why Moby-Dick?

This is a difficult question to answer because the answer can easily go on and on. In short, it is my favorite book, I think it is one of the best books ever written in any language, and I think it carries within its pages nearly everything a reader needs to know about life, death, love, hate, God, the world, good, evil, morality, spirituality, sexuality, ethics, truth, falsehood and finding meaning. I’ve read it many times, and it is one of the only books that has continued to yield richer and richer treasures with each new reading. I hope that these illustrations, humble and rough as they are, contribute at least a bit of something to the greater body of research and discussion about this amazing novel.

03) Who are you?

That's a weird question. I’m really quite a private person, especially with the particulars of my life, but I will share a bit. I am going to be 41 years old this June, I am white, I live in central Ohio, I have lived in Ohio my entire life, and I wear glasses. I am not an artist, nor do I have any formal artistic training. For me, making images is something I have been deeply interested in for my entire life, but for various reasons I never pursued it educationally or professionally. I have experimented with making photographs (35mm SLR camera, pinhole, Holga, Polaroid and digital), drawings, collages, comics and comic books. All with mixed results. Sometimes I’ve really loved what I made; sometimes I’ve been a bit embarrassed. In the end, it’s all been part of the trip though. Let’s see, what else can I tell you? I’m pretty short at around 5’5” and I like to mow the lawn. A lot. I am deeply and passionately in love with my wife of 9 years and she is the smartest and most beautiful person I know. We don’t have any children, don’t want any, and have never regretted that decision. I guess that’s enough for now.

02) Where do you get all this found paper?

While I was in grad school, I worked in a used book store. Customers would bring in boxes of old books to sell to us, and we would evaluate them and resell most of them. Often, we ended up with lots of old books and maps and other paper ephemera that was just not going to sell due to condition, obscurity, or some other factor. Sometimes we priced these items at a dollar or even fifty cents and shelved them in our bargain section, but more often than not we simply discarded them. Dumpster time.

I began stockpiling anything that looked interesting. I was mainly interested in maps, diagrams, schematics, tables, science stuff and repair guides. I didn't know what I would do with it all, but I knew that some day I would use it. Now I am.

In terms of art supplies, I use whatever I want. Especially whatever I can scavenge or buy for cheap, like acrylic / craft paints, ballpoint pens, collaged stuff from magazines, crayons, ink, magic markers, nail polish, spray-paint, stickers, watercolors and whatever looks interesting. I don't use any digital effects on the art at all other than to scan the images and occasionally correct slight color or contrast imbalances so the digital image more closely resembles the actual art.

Some people have offered to send me some found paper. While I deeply appreciate the kindness, I have far more than I could ever use so it’s really not a very good idea for me to take on any more.

01) Did you get this idea from the artist Zak Smith?

Zak Smith is an incredible artist who created one illustration for every page of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. You can see them all online here, and there is a beautiful book collecting them all that you can order here. I don’t know Zak and I have never met him but I have seen his art and, while I don’t know whether or not he was the first artist to ever attempt something like this, he was the first whose work I encountered. I first saw his Gravity’s Rainbow project a few year’s ago so while it was not the direct inspiration for my own series of Moby-Dick pieces, it was definitely the genesis of the idea. In late summer of 2009, I was feeling very restless and unhappy and I wanted some kind of creative project to focus my energy on. Since I’m not a professional artist and don’t earn any kind of substantial income from art, it had to be just the right project. Something that would reward me personally yet keep me tightly focused and disciplined. A good friend of mine, Tobin Becker, casually mentioned in an email that he remembered me going on endlessly about Moby-Dick in college and that remark sparked my memories of Zak Smith’s series and this project was born.


  1. Re: Moby Dick, which is my favorite book, too. I agree that in it one can find all those things you list - but also a gentle, forgiving humor that makes all that information accessible and not dreary. Without it, in my opinion, the book would be completely different - more like a long, scary rant. And the humor is so unexpected, which makes it even more brilliant.

  2. Elizabeth, you are absolutely correct and it was an unfortunate oversight on my part that I did not mention the humor in the novel. At times gentle and forgiving, yes, and at others quite outrageous, especially in the early chapters. I loved your point about how, without the humor, the book would be more like a "long, scary rant." So true, that.

  3. I have another question, and if it has been asked/answered somewhere else please direct me with a link, thanks! I keep wondering what sort of preparation you did before you began? Mental or otherwise! Obviously you had read the book before, but did you read it through once more directly before starting the project? Did you think for a while about what lines you would use from each page, or did you approach each page on each new day and think, hmmm, what line should I take today? Hmmm, I could do this, or this ... oooh I know, I'll do this. Prior to starting, did you organise your workspace in a way that would, ahem, promote 'smooth-sailing' throughout your project? I'm intrigued!

  4. Sam, while I have addressed this several times in a rather diffuse way, I don't think that I ever directly answered anything like this online, in a blog post or otherwise. I think most of that has actually come from the appearances I have made for book signings and so on. It's a really great question, and I will actually answer it on video and get it posted by this Sunday. Thank you for asking.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.