November 07, 2008

What's Happenin't

Well, hello all. There's a lot going on these days, though you probably wouldn't know it because this blog has been *crickets... crickets...*. I will make no excuses. I will just plunge headlong into the news.

Volume 17 went out last week (pre-election) and seems to have been a big hit. It originally was not meant to be a book, but rather a series of paintings I did for the Wassaic Project.. I wasn't able to make it to the opening, but Eve and Bowie sent photos, and hey diddely, those paintings looked pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.


I admit, though, that the location and the photographer helped them out quite a bit. That show has been extended through this weekend, so if anyone happens to be up anywhere near Wassaic, NY, stop by and have a look.

In other news, I was reminded today from a guy I met at SPX that they would like to have a piece of art to auction off at the Pittsburgh ToonSeum, for some sort of benefit. I think the ToonSeum is trying to move out of the Children's Museum and into its own space, because, evidently, they just hate children. So I got out the pen today and had the rare pleasure of just plunking out a drawing (haven't done that in a while...). Of course, I don't really know what it's about, but luckily, I don't need to explain myself.


I'm in the process of working on Volume 18, which is going to be similar in style to 10,000 Stories, which was our big gimmicky coup. This means I have to do lots of thinking about execution, which I usually don't do (meaning: I just sit down and draw, normally, and now I kind of have to plan out where things are going to happen - drag-o-la!). The interesting thing is that there was a dispute this weekend over whether or not there are really 10,000 stories in that book or 1,048,576.


Yes, during our studio tour, the local high school math teacher came in and got all wiggedy about 10,000 Stories (as math teachers seem to do). She bought it, went home, and the next day wrote me the following email:

Of course as a lunatic math teacher and more importantly, a lover of creative arts such as your books, I couldn't let go of thinking about how many stories you really have in one of your wonderful books.

The more I pondered it, the more I became convinced that I'd done the "wrong math". (This very much differs from doing the "math wrong", which we definitely did not).

If you and your husband ("you") had written/illustrated a 4-page book, with 10 options per page, you would have created 10,000 stories. (10 to the 4th power)

Instead you produced a 10 page book with 4 options per page. The "combinations" this produces is 4 to the 10th power which equals 1,048,576 different stories!

I don't have the patience to show the different variations, but I just thought of a simpler problem of the same nature, flipping coins. The coin is the "event" (just like a page in your book) and heads/tails are the possible outcomes per event, (just like the sections on a page in your book). Flip one coin and there are two outcomes, (HT), represented mathematically as 2 to the 1st power. (Not 1 to the 2nd power). Flip two coins and there are four possible outcomes, (HH, HT, TH, TT), represented mathematically as 2 to the 2nd power. Flip three coins and there are 8 possible outcomes (HHH, HHT, HTH, HTT, THH, THT, TTH, TTT). This is represented mathematically as 2 to the third power, not 3 to the 2nd power.

The algorithm to follow is find the product (multiply) of all the outcomes from each independent event. (The events must be independent, i.e. not influence each other, like flipping coins).

I think your book satisfies these "requirements" so I think the real number of stories is over a million, but I think Ten-thousand stories is a much catchier and "believable" name.

To this I say: Wow. I'm 1,038,576 more of a genius than I thought I was! Life is grand!

As far as I can tell, her logic holds. But, as you all know, I'm a totally flaky artist, so I don't have a whole lot of credibility. I was the one who thought I could actually count all the stories - AAAA, ABAA, AABA, AAAB, etc. (I only got to 17 before I gave up. That might have been the smartest thing I've ever done in my hapless math career.) If any of you smart math types can weigh in, I would appreciate it. The lady teaches stats, so if you are just a third grade math expert, be forewarned. She can bust out the imaginary numbers and all that.

And, finally, if you're in town this weekend, we are open again on Saturday and Sunday from 10-5 for studio tours. Stop in and see what I've really been up to.

Or just come see me scowl.


Posted by ribbu at 12:17 AM

February 24, 2008

Idiots'Fest 2008: Day 1

Okay, it's been over a week now since the big shindigenanigans, and neither of us has yet to post about it. We are very good about posting about little nothings, like our dog and my increasing girth, but when something REALLY important comes along, we're just unable to put it all to paper/pixels. The reason here is that Idiots'Fest was so great and awesome that it totally blows my mind to even think about. So many things went JUST RIGHT and there were so many great moments and there was so much that just flew by because we were both running around like crazies that it's hard to even know where to start.

That being said, I think it makes at least nominal sense to start with Day 1. (btw, I just looked up "nominal" to make sure it meant what I thought it did (it only kind of did, but whatever) and the fourth definition listed was this: 4 informal (chiefly in the context of space travel) functioning normally or acceptably. What the...? I wonder how often THAT definition comes up...) So, Day 1 was the kick-off event at the Rose O'Neill Literary House at WC. Matthew and I did a reading with Drew and Brian underscoring us. We read Unattractive and Inadequate and debuted Volume 14 (can you believe it? It's already written and drawn - even though Vol. 13 has yet to be sent out! Thanks, baby, for making me have to do advance work!). If you're at all intrigued, Volume 14 is called "The Vast Sahara". Brian and Drew rocked it with some crazy middle-eastern influenced jazz or something (can you tell I'm not a musician?) - trust me, it sounded awesome. We actually got a recording of it, so someday once it's mixed down, I'll post it (apparently matthew was yelling into the mic so drew needs to pull him back a little bit on the recording). There was a fair turnout of the college crowd and some community members, and the rest of the performers for Saturday trickled in throughout the evening.

During the break between sets, there was a demo in the press room showing how the broadsides were made. I got to crank one of the suckers through - Emma and Mac had already printed the black plate and most of the yellow plates, but left a few of the yellows for the demo. Check out my mad letterpress skillz:

How cool is that? I love printing. There's something so gratifying about the fact that you can just crank out as many of those things as you want, if you have enough paper and ink. There's something about multiplicity that I'm a real sucker for. I don't care what someone's doing, if they do lots of it, it's just plain impressive. Yeah, okay, it's a lame way to pass judgement, but what can I say, I have no standards. Quantity over quality, every day. Isn't that how the world goes 'round, anyway?

Some other folks got to print their own broadsides too:

Can you tell we're related?

Anyway. They turned out beautifully, and I only wish we had sold lots and lots more of them. We did our best to hype them up:

And then matthew and I tried our best to match talent with brian and drew, but they totally rocked us out:

From the looks of this picture, they're being very casual about their rockittude, but trust me, they were amazing. It was all improvised (they had never even seen or read The Vast Sahara and hadn't really played with each other in years) and they really did a stellar job. I keep thinking to myself how excruciating this whole event could have been if the (self-proclaimed impromptu) musical talent had been mediocre, or even talented but unable to mesh. I wasn't worried, but the greatness that was evidenced really brought into focus the potential for it to have been really really bad. If one cog had been off, it really could have sucked. But it didn't. Thank goodness, because then next year we might have had to call the festival Subscribers That Suck. It just doesn't have the same ring to it.

We finished off the evening by setting things up for the band over at Bookplate. There were still some random things in the back room, which Matthew put to good use.

There were lots of shenanigans, some pizza and some belly shots, and we got to hang out a little with Bren, who is officially our most dedicated subscriber, bringing in some dozens of new subscribers from her home state of Iowa. There have never been so many idiots in the great midwest.

There was also lots of fiddling and faddling with sound equipment that left the ladies glazed and irritable. But I suppose it was all necessary. We parted ways for the night around midnight, abuzz with anticipation for the main event.

And by "abuzz with anticipation" I mean "completely physically and mentally exhausted".

Posted by ribbu at 11:52 AM

February 13, 2008

Barbecue on the Horizon

For those of you who are not already aware of this, Idiots'Fest 2008: Subscribers That Rock is happening this weekend. THIS WEEKEND! Which means that Matthew is getting twitchier by the minute, and I am falling into the stupor of denial (some might blame it on pregnancy).

Now, this weekend's events will include all kinds of awesomeness, most notably Jim Shepard (National Book Award finalist and all-around great guy) and Brian Slattery (first-time novelist and full-time rocker), but I'm going to reveal to you, here on this blog, the secret recipe for the C-town coup:

Alright, now, this isn't the most flattering picture ever, and you might be thinking, "Holy Shit! Is Hall & Oates going to be there?! Are they even still alive?? And did they totally get haircuts???" unless, of course, you're big fans, in which case you know that they are still alive, didn't get haircuts, and will be (gently) rocking Atlantic City come April. For those of you who aren't big fans of Hall & Oates, I guess it wouldn't be such a big draw, then, to imply that they might be coming to C-Town. So - the truth of the matter is, these guys are going to be catering Idiots'Fest. And they aren't small-time caterers who just throw a pig on a stick and turn it while getting themselves equally baked. No no no - Sam (on the right) has catered for the stars, year after year, at Wolf Trap, which is, for those of you who don't know, a huge music venue outside of DC. He is putting together a menu for us that is just unbelievable - including barbecue ribs, brisket, slow-cooked chicken breast, stir-fried veggies, sesame noodles and some kind of tofu dish that includes almonds and mandarin oranges, which automatically makes it an A++ in my book. They came last week and showed us some pix from past events - I had no idea we were dealing with such hotshots. Wild Bill (on the left) is sort of like the honorary crazy uncle to the Behr family - he has come up to Alaska with us many a summer, and works the Philadelphia Flower Show with us every year. So, he's only a hotshot-by-association. I imagine he could probably turn a pig and get baked with the best of them, though. But Sam's the real deal. And to top it all off, they are both just the nicest damn guys you'll ever meet.

All this is to say if you aren't tempted by great literature and music, at least be tempted by a cheap meal ($10, all you can eat!) that promises to be delectable, and prepared by capable and kind hands.

Posted by ribbu at 12:36 PM | Comments (1)

February 04, 2008

Explorer Experiments

So, we are putting together a pre-Idiots'Fest program that will be happening up at the Lit House at WC on Thursday afternoon (4:30, if anyone's interested in dropping by). It's basically a talk about the kind of collaboration we do (the kind that makes books, not babies) - and so we've been going through old projects and seeing the different paths we've taken to get them to their finished states. Matthew has kept a box full of old papers and whatnot (which we all know I would have thrown away in a heartbeat), that have proven to be of great archaeological interest.

We found some failed initial attempts at the French Explorers, which must have been so bad in my estimation that Matthew claims never to have seen them before (though somebody must have dug them out of the trash). I remember drawing them and falling into a profound funk for a couple of days, because they didn't come out all magically like things sometimes do.

I think the magic of the final explorers lay in the paper - although, ultimately I think it was the combination of the paper and the gouache... the difference between the black and white versions and the color versions is pretty remarkable.

There's just something about adding the color that makes it pop. I learned in school that an illustration that isn't legible in black and white isn't going to be successful in color, but I have to say that the way I draw seems to always be greatly improved (legibility-wise) with color.

Anyway. It all goes to show that sometimes the right tools make a project. And that sometimes, when you're not feeling it, you're just not feeling it. And that you should just go into a funk for a couple of days and try again later.

Posted by ribbu at 01:56 PM

January 13, 2008

Things to Avoid

So, Matthew and I are currently in the wilds of Massachussettssttstst teaching this class on "Literary Collaboration." I would like to say, here, and to the world, that our students are AWESOME and make other classes I've taught seem like I was doing long division (math + robbi = no fun at all). I know that like you're not supposed to have favorite children, you are probably not supposed to have favorite classes, but I'm breaking all the rules here and saying this class is the best: great ideas, great critiques, lots of enthusiasm and general fantasticness abounds. Now, in defense of everyone else, these students have the benefit of only taking one class at the moment (it's a January term), the class only lasts 3 and a half weeks, and they only get a Pass/Fail, no real grade. And matthew's up there teaching with me, which makes the faculty end of things double the fun. But, in their defense, they have a LOT to accomplish in this short amount of time. Anyway. It's really really gratifying to be teaching this class, and I am so glad that we decided to do it.

One of the pairs of students wrote themselves a list of Things to Avoid in their collaborative process, and I think it really ought to be a treatise on collaboration. Or, at least on the kind of collaboration that matthew and I like to do. It is brilliant, and I wish I had been astute enough to come up with it myself. It is as follows:


1. Regurgitation (especially of stuff you've done outside the collaboration)
2. One dominant voice
3. Overstatement
4. Self-indulgence
5. Hallmark Classics (sentimentality, melodrama)
6. Didacticism
7. Opacity or artsiness
8. Ignoring your instincts

Now, I realize there are all kinds of collaboration where this would be a totally inappropriate list of things to avoid, but it really captures the spirit of our particular brand of collaboration. I should print it out and have it by my bedside to read every night before I go to sleep. Especially the self-indulgence one. It's remarkable that these two students so accurately captured what we've been trying to sell them. Perhaps they are trying to gain extra points for listening to and distilling what we've been saying, and if so, well then double check plus. My ass has been properly kissed.

In other news:


Ok. Just kidding. We just borrowed some. Some very very well-behaved ones. They taught us some very important things, like how grateful we are that when our baby arrives, it will be outnumbered 2 to 1.

Posted by ribbu at 09:16 PM

September 19, 2007

(Don't) Stop the Press!

So, a couple days ago I got two phone calls from "the press". They had received the press release about St. Michaels, the Town that (Somehow) Fooled the British and were just chomping at the bit to fact-check. Chesapeake Life Magazine just wanted to make sure that they had all the info right (after last time we were briefly mentioned and they referred to Idiots'Books as children's books - which made us really worry that some poor parent would buy Richard Nixon as an educational history text only to find page after page of a couple lying in bed together, and the big (or not so big) finale of the guy's full frontal at the end). I thought the synopsis was quite good (maybe they just cribbed it from matthew's press release), though I had to correct them from referring to Matthew as "children's book writer Matthew Swanson". Instead, I suggested "accident-prone gimp Matthew Swanson". You'll just have to buy the magazine to see if it made the cut.

A writer at the Kent County News also called and wanted to interview us. Unfortunately Matthew is over on the western shore this week helping us support our book habit with some writing/consulting work, so I was stuck doing the interview by myself. I invited him over to see the studio/digs, and, as usual, babbled incoherently about this and that. So, look forward to that great article in this week's local paper. Actually, Matthew called the guy later and did a little phone interview, so I'm hoping he goes for matthew's quotables instead of mine ("don't trip over those things on your way out" being the thing I probably said most clearly).

Well. Excitement is in the air (at least where I'm sitting). We have a reading and signing down in St. Michaels this Friday and I hope to god that someone, anyone, shows up. It would be awesomest if Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld, or Frederick Douglass showed up. They're locals, you know.

Posted by ribbu at 01:47 PM | Comments (1)

September 05, 2007

Matthew gets his due

Well, I might have mentioned before that the next Idiots'Book is going to be a little bit more experimental than usual (in fact, I might have mentioned it just in the last post). I am doing the illustrations first, and then matthew is going to try to write a story around them. Well, finally, it seems that he's starting to see why it is I am so full of angst when it comes my turn to illustrate one of his near-incomprehensible stories. It's no easy task. And I have not set him up for an easy task either. Beware, subscribers: disaster ahead.

Here is a piece of a panel that Matthew must author to:

Just a sneak peek, though. There's more to it than that.

So, while Matthew struggles and rants and sweats and pants, I have been reliving my glory days of Pokemon Puzzle League, which is a highly addictive, tetris-like game of scooting little tiles around to frantic music. Why I find this so absorbing, I have no idea. But there are times when my heart rate is really whizzing and I can't put the damn controller down. In theory, I recognize how pathetic this is, but in practice, I am GOING TO BEAT THAT DAMN POKEMON MASTER, I AM!!!!

And this game is on the old Nintendo 64, so it's doubly pathetic. I mean, sure, it's color graphics, but it's no Wii (which, in case you're wondering, we STILL can't find anywhere).

Which also brings me to this: my good friend ming sent me a link today to THIS, apparently the smallest pong game known to man. Though I was delighted and suckered into playing for (ahem) too long, I have to say that pong is about 10x as frustrating when you can't actually see the ball. Try your hand. It's not as heart-poundingly gripping as, say, Pokemon Puzzle League, but its entertainment value is quite elegant in its simplicity.

In other, triply exciting news, my new computer will arrive tomorrow. It is grand, it is beautiful, and it will blow me right out of my chair with its mightiness. I have already received CS3, which just makes me want to pee with excitement all day long (I got a wicked education discount for ordering it and my computer at the same time - which more than makes up for my paltry income from adjunct professoring at WAC). So, if you call me anytime in the next few days and I don't answer, it's because I'm too in love with my new computer and software to give you the time of day.


(not really)

Posted by ribbu at 11:29 PM | Comments (1)

June 16, 2007

Hot off the Stovetop!

Spent the wee hours of today (last night?) (it's weird how the start of the day actually starts in the middle of the night, isn't it? It would be a lot easier if 12am were sometime around sunrise, so that when you're "up past midnight" it's really saying something...) trying to put together something a little flashier for the home page of Idiots'Books. Matthew pointed out that though it is spare and full of white space (something we're both quite fond of), it has a representative example of his writing but no indication of the fact that we are a writing/illustrating team. Early in the evening (say, around 11) he suggested I draw something, like him typing and me drawing or something. I immediately nixed that idea, in part because the whole idea of me illustrating the way that I get to illustrate for Idiots'Books is that I don't just draw the obvious, the representational. And, also in part because I can't do a convincing drawing of myself. Apparently, I have no idea what I actually look like.

There was also the issue that just having an image of me drawing and him writing didn't really show that we were collaborating.

So, we thought and thought. At one point, this was the idea:

(sketch compliments of matthew). "That's pretty basic. And not all that interesting," we thought. I think, now, in retrospect, we couldn't have been more right.

I then suggested that we take the writing side, and add a word, say, like "cat", and then on the drawing side, have an image, but not necessarily a cat, but related to a cat in some weird way.

I couldn't come up with anything good, so I put down a table. There is really no convincing way that I can relate a cat to a table other than putting it on top of or underneath it. But, you get the idea. In fact, at one point while we were brainstorming, I actually suggested that the connection could be that the cat eats the table. Clearly I was depending on Matthew for a genius solution. Matthew liked the general idea, but hated the cat and the table, which, in retrospect was, again, completely in the right.

Then he suggested that it's really the space in between the writing and the illustration where something unique happens - that space where the reader has to determine his own narrative, to reconcile the often divergent storytelling that's going on (and in this case, that would be inventively connecting the cat and the table in your head somehow).

So, I added the thought bubble. Please notice how well drawn it is, compared to the rest of it.

At this point (around 12:30) we realized that "cat" was way too literal. We might still be able to work with the table. Then we thought, okay, how about a more vague word - one that captures an idea. So I said, "Well, how about "colonialism" and then I draw a ship on the other side, and then the thought bubble has people massacreing(sp?) the natives" (this was fresh on my mind after the mural at Bookplate, I guess. Never one to avoid using old ideas again and again...).
"Well, um, except that's what colonialism actually is".

Hmph. I got in a huff over his being quite right, and we went back to thinking.

"Plus, that's so heavy-handed. Colonialism? Come on. It has to be something more basic."

True. We thought and thought and thought some more. Then we decided that we were making it too complicated.

"Perhaps we're making this too complicated," said Matthew. (Perhaps this was us giving up in frustration.)

And then, somehow, it changed from pages of a book to frying pans. People always ask us what's with the frying pan logo. I'm not sure where it came from originally, but dammit, I like it. I like its versatility. And I like that we're up here cooking things up. So, I spent the next three hours drawing, waiting to dry, scanning, patching together in Photoshop, laying out in GoLive for web, and posting. Go have a look over at Idiots'Books. I don't think it's half bad.

And that gives you an idea of how we work together. We talk ideas to death (literally) and then from the ashes something almost completely different springs, full-formed, and we say, "Why the hell didn't we think of that before?"

Posted by ribbu at 01:58 AM | Comments (2)

May 18, 2007

Aptly Named, By Consensus

Yesterday, an Idiots'Books envelope was returned to us. This happens very rarely - usually only when someone has moved and forgot to tell us, or lives with someone else and the USPS only recognizes the someone else as the addressee, or lives in a foreign country and we negelected to write the name of the foreign country on the envelope. Well, this one was returned, and as far as we can remember, these folks have received the first six volumes at this address with no problem.

But it was returned with "NO SUCH NUMBER/STREET" X'ed off on it (as you can see), and "NSS/NSN" written above the address. (I've blurred out the actual address to keep the stalkers from finding Heidi and John quite so easily, but in real life, it is crisp and clear and legible as a bell).

Well, the best part about this, is that if you look closely at the label:


some postal worker saw fit to introduce a funny editorial note to us! Isn't that hilarious? I'm so glad we weren't named something like "Going to Hell Books". I just wish I knew the whole scenario - was it the delivery person who was so clever? Or the lady behind the counter in Clayton? Or maybe someone in OUR post office (they really hate us here, and roll their eyes and sigh heavily whenever we walk in the door) who added it on before delivering it to us? I know it wasn't our own delivery person, because she nice, and gives Iggy treats all the time. Not that writing 'how true' on the envelope is mean.

Anyway. It was funny to get some actual sass back from the USPS, instead of their standard cro-magnon dragging around and rolling their eyes and being irritated that we like to use the post office to, like, mail things.

Posted by ribbu at 10:17 AM | Comments (1)

April 05, 2007

Beat, but not Beaten!

Okay, so we got back from painting the mural a whole two days ago, and I'm only now starting to see straight again. It was quite an operation. The gist of it is as follows:

1. left chestertown at 6am to go see matthew's mom in baltimore
2. ate several pounds of good food at our favorite baltimore restaurant, the Golden West Cafe, while recounting torrid library convention tales (matthew's mom), march madness excitement (matthew), and status reports of our dog (me).
3. dropped matthew's mom off at the airport and headed to DC, to meet with our favorite reverend, Chappy D. We're working our way up to believing in god, and hanging out with a dyed-in-the-wool collar-wearer is a damn good start.
4. got to Chappy D's early, and went to our favorite DC bookstore, Politics and Prose, where we dream of someday having our very own books, but in the meantime pore over their collection and buy lots of books that we haven't got time to read.
5. had another two pounds of food with Chappy D at Guapo's (watch out, that link plays CRAAAZY music) while listening to Mexican Klezmer music.
6. headed over to H+F to start the mural at 3pm.
7. Painted till 4am.
8. Slept on the floor of the gallery for three and a half hours.
9. Painted till 2 am.
10. Headed home. I was so tired, but I heroically tried to keep matthew company (he had slept for a few hours after being retired from duty for lack of skillz, yo) for the drive home. I wasn't successful. I remember spending a lot of time giggling about things that really weren't funny at all.
11. Got home at 4:30, went to bed at 5.

Whew! If you would like to hear the whole story, with lots of pictures, head over to theBarnstorming, where matthew has documented it all in excruciating detail.

But, here's the upshot of the whole shebang:

And, I have to say, I think it turned out awesome. Awesomer than I ever could have imagined. I used flat wall paint for all the fill colors and shiny acrylics for the linework, so it has a neat quality in real life. If you're ever over in the area, drop by, have a look, and buy some books.

In the meantime, I will be tending to my sore muscles (my balancing-on-a-ladder muscles) and sleeping like the dead. Actually, not really. Now I have to finish The Town That Fooled the British, like, right now.

What a tough life I have, wah wah wah.

Posted by ribbu at 06:34 PM | Comments (1)

April 01, 2007

Striking Fear in the Heart of Robbi

So - just a quick entry -
I'm leaving for DC this morning, where I will paint mural #2 for Idiots'Books - this one is on a 7'x13' wall that will be above our book display. I will be recreating a panel from For the Love of God, an especially hi-LAR-ious one, the one where Kyle destroys the world like Godzilla.
Since I am a relative newbie in the mural-painting business, I fear that there are likely some tricks to the trade that I don't know about, and only after several days have been spent painting will I realize, for example, that murals look HIDEOUS if you use flat paint on them. Or something like that. So, I'm a little worried.
We'll be camping out in the gallery for the next two days (literally - we've brought sleeping bags and everything) so, it should be good blog fodder, if nothing else.

I just wanted to write this entry before I left, so that once it's over and looks hideous because of x, or y, or z, I can say, "I told you so."

There's a reason why I'm scared. I know there is.

Posted by ribbu at 06:28 AM

March 25, 2007


Though I might be alright at drawing in general, I continually find myself flummoxed by having to draw things that actually LOOK like things, people that look like people, etc. My penchant for pointy boobies and googly hands, nubby teeth and bags under the eyes, big ears and noodly arms makes it hard for me to do much in the way of caricature. It's a real weakness of mine. And, if I get a caricature right once, there's no guarantee that I'll get it right ever again. I've even gone to the library and gotten out books on how to caricature (turn out I'm not so good at that book learnin') (and, the big problem is that people who really know how to to caricature the way I like it aren't going around writing how-to books... I'm a big fan of this guy, who somehow manages to really capture what someone looks like with just a few little identifying features - favorites are Woody Allen (though, he's practically a caricature already), Yoko Ono (somehow you can tell she's all Japanesey, even though she's got sunglasses on - even from across the room!), and Barbara Bush (holy shit! he didn't even have to put a face on her and I know who she is!!)). There's some real magic in that, in being able to pick out the most defining characteristics in a face and character. Because it's not like those are particularly technically skilled renderings (I mean, it's not like they're highly nuanced oil paintings or anything). Anyway. I'm always impressed by caricature, even though everyone else considers it such a low art. You try it, ya jerks!

Anyway - so, the exciting news (is it news? I can't remember...) is that we're doing a custom book for Artiste Locale, a store down in St. Michaels. It's going to be a professionally printed, hardcover book - similar to a children's book but still with some pointy boobs and googly hands in it (what can I say, I can't get away from them!). So - not as totally weird as the Idiots'Books, but not as saccharine as your average children's book. It's called, "Saint Michaels, The Town the Fooled the British". It is chock full of historical inaccuracies and blatant fabrications. I think, as far as we know, there is only one sentence in the whole book that actually has any truth to it. Just the kind of book we like to write. Anyway, part of the story is riffing on some local celebrities, which means I had to actually draw some people who looked like who they are. See them below:

Now, the first person to correctly identify all three celebrities will win a free softcover Idiots'Book of his choice (or, any other item I have in my house worth $12 or less). And please know that my feelings will be hurt if:
1. No one enters this fabulous contest
2. Everyone guesses "Robin Williams in that crazy hat in The Fisher King", "Your Dad, but with a little more hair and a clothing budget", and "That pasty dude from 'The Office' (who, incidentally and offensively, someone suggested reminds them of Matthew)"
and 3. Anyone else suggests that Matthew reminds them of that pasty dude in The Office. I mean, even I have my standards.

Posted by ribbu at 06:16 PM | Comments (10)

February 06, 2007

Not Wonky Enough

So I'm working on Volume 5 these days - we kind of have to get it done quickly and move on to Volume 6 because we'll be busy for about two and a half weeks getting ready for and selling mom's pottery at the Flower Show in March. So this batch of illos is a little messier (can you believe it?) but I'm getting to do some finger painting, which is way fun. I don't want to give away any of the story/themes/general mayhem for any of our subscribers, but here's a mistake that I made:

Yeah, I didn't like how that scribble at the bottom to the left of the house was looking. (Click to make larger to see what I'm talking about).

Just kidding.

When I said messy, I meant that I don't have to worry about shit like that. The problem is actually that the house is supposed to look small and oppressed by the sky, where here it looks like a spastic jack-in-the-box, if ever a house looked like a spastic jack-in-the-box. So, axed it is. I'll have to try again tomorrow.

Now that I look at it again, I don't like how cartoony it is feeling either. It was supposed to feel messy and wonky but instead it feels a little stiff and cartoony. Like Dilbert. Except he's funny, and a dog. Or, is Dilbert the guy? Whoops. He's the guy. Dogbert would be the dog. Dur.

Posted by ribbu at 12:13 AM

January 17, 2007

Man Joe Rises

Okay. So, I've discovered a way to time travel.
Here it is:

So, like a week ago, I was still working on getting the wall painting done. In fact, I was really just starting. The problem was this: I had to actually figure out how I was going to illustrate Volume IV before putting it up on the wall. And, in order to figure out how to illustrate Volume IV, I had to figure out how it was going to play out on the wall. One of them Catch-22-type-dealies (incidentally, I am quite fond of Catch-22, partly because it was an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question that I just totally pulled out of my you-know-where and stunned my otherwise insanely superior opponents with). So, after figuring out where things were going to go (walls), I had to figure out what they would look like (book) then put them (book) back on the walls (walls). It was all very circular, and I finally got straight what it was I was working on, when, and where.

Once that was all figured out, I had to print everything out life-size to transfer to the walls. Matthew had kindly made me a 3D model out of matboard which I was going to use to sketch everything out on. However, after a few jostles to my desk while I was tracing something else, the whole thing collapsed in a pathetic heap, and then he accidentally used a bunch of parts of it to make a drilling jig until all that was left when I tried to put it all back together again was the ceiling. So, I ended out laying it out on the computer which worked a lot better. Sorry, Matthew.

So once the printouts were done, we had to transfer them onto the walls and ceiling. The longest and most complicated piece was a long panorama meant to run the length of the ceiling. We got it all taped together and made sure it fit before taping it up on the ceiling.

After that, we left Kate alone with some chalk and a pencil for 6 hours while we went home and ate crumpets. When we came back, the transfer was done. How's that for a prize-winning intern?

In order to know where the individual spot illustrations would go, I had to map out the writing. We didn't bother with transfering it, partly because that would take WAY too long and partly because it would be too messy to clean up and partly because I wasn't going to try to reproduce a serifed font on the wall, because that's just crazy talk.

Then, it was time to start painting. I believe this is actually the following day, though. Basically (not to give everything away) the book is fairly monochromatic. So we just needed to fill in most of the objects with grey, which we did first. Kate had realized after an hour or so of neck-cracking labor that a stool would be a most helpful accessory. That's what we pay the interns for - groundbreaking ideas.

Once the greys were filled in, I sent Kate home and painted in the black linework. This actually took a couple of days. The first night (Tuesday?) I felt like I was getting close to being done, but my hand cramped up and I couldn't hold the brush anymore without getting all twitchy and palsied. It was pretty ugly. So at 5:30 am I had to stop, even though in all other respects I was ready to finish it off. But the next day (Wednesday) I got it done - in the end, my favorite part of the whole deal was the skyline dripping from the ceiling down the front wall:

So as not to repeat ourselves, I will refer you to thebarnstorming for all the in-between bits. Head on over there, and you'll get the added bonus of seeing me shake my groove thing.

At any rate, the next night (Wednesday) I pulled another all-nighter and painted in the text. For the text, I used my real, nice gouache, instead of the elementary school-grade stuff I had gotten for the rest of it. Ooh, did it go on nicely! I wish I had used it for the rest of it, but it probably would have ended up being kind of expensive. The best part was how I was just about to start a new sentence (about at the 5 page mark in the book) and had a bad feeling that I had skipped something. In all my immaculate planning and laying out of the words on the computer, I had somehow managed to skip a whole page. So I had to improvise and cram it in the best I could, otherwise it would loop the whole rest of the text around so that it didn't end in the right place. WELL. If you're especially attentive, come to the show and look at the wall and try to figure out the spot where the text goes all crazy back and forth in a weird little clump - that's where it all happened. But I think I faked it pretty well. So, if you do figure it out, write in, and if you're right, I'll send you a prize. I might even send you a prize if you're wrong. In the end, it was 8am and I was pretty much done.

Thursday we were busy in book-making mode. Now that I had laid all of Volume IV out, we had to actually produce them. Matthew and Kate did an incredible superhuman job getting them all printed and trimmed and bound. They were pretty much working non-stop, while I ate some more crumpets. At around 3 in the morning, Kate started to wonder when we were planning on eating dinner and going to bed.

Friday I had to finish up a few things on our display - Matthew made a mock oversized book for Man Joe to rise up out of. I had to add in the words and attach the previously floating, legless Man Joe to the decapitated legs that were in the oversized book.

It was way fun. We were hoping people wouldn't touch and move the book around, but we both absentmindedly did both, even though we knew that there was nothing extra in the book (as in, no other pictures, blank pages, nothing, nichts, nada). Huh. There must be a psychological study in there somewhere.

At any rate, all of the art pieces were finally done. The question was, how many softcover regular books should we expect to sell? We had no idea. So, Matthew being the "positive thinker" insisted that we make an exhorbitant number of books. Which we did. Into the wee hours of Friday night.

We had been asked to give a gallery talk (along with the 12 other artists) - the challenge was thus to keep it short, but still make sure we got across what we were all about. We spent a lot of time agonizing about what it is we do and why (artists are supposed to have some sort of purpose, where nobody asks such things of writers/bookmakers. I guess because it is supposed to be self-evident with a book...). We're not really sure what we're all about, but we had a lot of ideas that made us sound halfway legit. After staying up late cutting, trimming, stapling and taping, we insisted that Kate stay up for another 20 minutes to help us practice our speech. She was gracious, but essentially told us to stop babbling on for so long.

It was excellent advice.

Okay. Time travel's done. It's now today again, and right now again. Time for bed. Good night!

Posted by ribbu at 01:31 AM | Comments (1)

January 15, 2007

Exit the Whirlwind


It is now two days after the Next Generation opening, and my head has finally stopped spinning. It has been a crazy couple of weeks, and I've been neglecting everything for the sake of getting things done for the show. Everything and everyone. Sorry, you.

I really wish that I had been more attentive to blogging so that I could give you a really in-depth checklist of all the things I have recently accomplished. Because, really, it's a rare time of high production for me. Instead, I didn't keep any record at all of what I was doing, but do have a checklist that matthew was kind enough to print out for me when he was having a nervous breakdown because I didn't seem to be accomplishing much of anything:

Granted, some of these things were things for him to do, but basically, there was a lot. For both of us to do.

First off, final work needed to be delivered to the gallery by Jan. 7, which was a Sunday. The illustrations from 10,000 Stories had been framed, as had the portraits from Facial Features (thanks to Jenny An and the folks at the Finishing Touch):

They looked really good. I mean, not to toot my own horn or anything, but damn. I would totally buy them, if I couldn't make them myself. Actually, it really is the framing that makes them look so good. And I might end up having to buy those, since they didn't all sell (spoiler, sorry!).

However, framed illustrations aside, I was woefully behind as far as getting work in to the gallery by Sunday. The truth of the matter is that my prints were still drying on Sunday morning. How that ended up happening, I have no idea. Once I actually started printing, it was hard to figure why I had waited so long. Matthew insists that I was really really busy doing other things, but I don't really know what they were. I try to take comfort in the idea that if I hadn't waited so long, they would have come out totally differently, and I really actually liked how they came out, so don't mess with they way things happen to work. Next time (if there is a next time) I swear I will not be doing this kind of crap at the last minute. (Hm, where have I heard that before?)

Anyway, luckily for me, Carla had given us a key so that I could access the gallery to start painting the mural on Monday. She wasn't there on Sunday and would be checking in till Monday. So, my frames came in on Friday (I ordered them through the ever spectacular who, incidentally, also happen to have the finest customer service on the planet. And nice wooden frames to boot) and rather than try to frame things at the barn (con cat hair, dog hair, and dust bunnies) we just took everything up to the gallery on Sunday night and framed them there.

Kate helped trim the backboards, tack on the prints, and clean off the plexi:

What can I say - it totally sucks to be an intern.

I just kind of patted things once they were all finished and said, "Good job. Whew! I'm tired."

This is the biggest one we framed:

Bigger than I am! (Ok, I know, not so remarkable, but still!) (- and, another spoiler, this one sold! Yeehaw! To a nice couple who introduced themselves and were way ecstatic about having it, which is what made me most happy. I didn't dance for joy right in front of them, but I did go outside and jump up and down for a minute after they left).

Altogether, it made a nice little nook-o-Robbi once they were hung:

(there's actually a fourth one which you can't see here, which is my favorite of the four, but oh well. I'll try to get another picture of it up some other time.)

Oh, here's a picture of it:

I just like all that red. And ochre. You know how much I like red. Did you know how much I like ochre?
LOTS. (especially with red)
Now you know. File it away, but please don't purchase me any clothes in that color scheme. It's not nearly as yummy as a fashion statement.

Ok. Well, I was going to give you the whole rundown in one shot, but it's already gotten way longwinded, so I'll save the next installment for tomorrow. My new plan is to have a schedule, and, like, do things according to it. That's a wild idea, isn't it?

So, tomorrow's schedule goes something like this:
1. walk the dog
2. work on syllabus
3. walk the dog and the neighbor's dog
4. work on syllabus
5. oh, eat. maybe eat should be 1.
6. and, by now, eat again.
7. write another blog entry.
8. work on syllabus.
9. print out more man joes.
10. oh, right, eat again.
11. sleep?

some schedule. It seems to need a little more fine-tuning. Maybe that will be number 12.

12. fine tune lame-ass schedule.
13. good night!

Posted by ribbu at 06:24 PM

December 01, 2006

Fame and Fortune

Well, better late than never.

Today (yes, today!) is December's First Friday, which means Matthew and I will be down at the Book Plate giving a little chat about Idiots'Books and life in the barn, and signing books. I found out Wednesday night that the illustrious Prof. Tsui from the Art History dept at WC will be introducing us. This is partly terrifying because she's so smart, and also because it suggests that we ought to have something smart to say ourselves. Well, as with our wedding vows, I think we're going to end up totally winging it at the last minute. Because right now we are in high production mode. (Of course, working furiuosly up till the buzzer, as always...) The only reason I have time to write right now is that I'm waiting for our dense and lumbering printer to process all the info and start spitting some paper out. So, feel grateful.

I finished Vol. III of Idiots'Book in record time - started drawing last Saturday and completed printing and binding last night at 2:15am. And, not to brag, but I think this one is a real coup. And not because I finished it at lightning speed and didn't consume any amphetamines to do it, but because this book frickin rocks. I mean, even mom and dad were delighted:

(and, Matthew was delighted with that).

I haven't posted any info about it yet at Idiots'Books (it isn't getting sent out until next week, or maybe a little later) but when I do, I'll let you know. Not to be so mysterious, I just don't want to be a spoiler for all you subscribers out there. Actually, there's no spoiler about it. We didn't even know how cool it was until it was all collated and bound and in our grubby little hands.

So -
here's a little teaser:

= FUN!

I could flip through it for hours. Really! And I usually am so sick of books after we're done with them that I can't look at them for months with any real appreciation. So, I'm delighted too. Yes. We sound like a bunch of leprechauns.

So anyway, if you happen to be around Chestertown at 6:30 tonight, stop by the Book Plate on Cross Street, say hello, and get a sneak peak at the real deal (the new book, not me) (or matthew) (or the leprechauns).

Posted by ribbu at 11:29 AM | Comments (3)

November 26, 2006

Working on Volume III

So I flew back from Denver on Friday so that I could get a leg up on illustrating Volume III of Idiots'Books - it's a particularly complicated project this time around, so I need all the extra time I can get. Of course, we are on a compressed schedule because of the First Friday book signing that is happening, ohmygod, THIS FRIDAY. We figured if we're going to pretend to be all legit by signing books at the Book Plate, we should probably have more than two books on hand for review. So, we're rushing Vol. III in hopes for a big holiday gift push. Go ahead. Raise your eyebrows and say, "yeah, right." I've already done it myself several thousand times.

I was able to fly back early because Southwest was selling crazy cheap tickets from Denver to Baltimore for $59 one-way. $59!! Seriously, how can that plane afford to fly at that price? I sure hope they weren't skimping on the gas. Well, I made it home, anyway. Anyway, back to what I was talking about - I've been working up some sketches for the next book. I was going to go to bed now, but I'm realizing I have to get these inked and colored and laid out and printed and trimmed and bound before THIS FRICKIN' FRIDAY.

Ok. Let me go and have a heart attack, like right now.

While I do that, you can look at one of the sketches:

This is Igor. He wants to be a ballerina. It's my favorite bit of writing in the book, but maybe not my favorite illustration.

Um, and, yeah, I'm still hyperventilating about this FRIDAY so I better get back to work. Just wanted to update you on the fashizzle.

er, whatever.

oh, ps has anyone noticed how I always start my entries with "So -" ? It's kind of annoying. But, it seems strange just to jump right into the action. Perhaps someone can assist me with some new conjunctions, or adverbs, or whatever. But not like, like. I use that one too often, and not really correctly, and it's a lot more annoying than so. And, now that I've written it down like that (like, like), it looks like a weird frickin' word. Like it's all nordic or something. Like some kind of Norwegian pickled fish. Like, like - like.

Posted by ribbu at 11:20 PM | Comments (1)