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Jedi design tricks

Force Awakens_normal

As I was waiting for my friends to arrive at the theatre the other night, I was standing right in front of the poster for The Force Awakens. I observed how, from a design perspective, it’s essentially Composition 101.

One characteristic of good art is the right mix of dynamism and order. Think of Jackson Pollock: the individual gesture of splattering paint is chaotic and turbulent, but hundreds of gestures next to and on top of each other becomes a pattern. In a sci-fi movie poster, you need lasers and spaceships and explosions, but there has to be an underlying logic to how it is presented so that it becomes inviting to the eye, not threatening. Sometimes this order is subtle, working on a subconscious level. In this poster it is Tarantino-like in it’s obviousness, which makes it fun to dissect.

Images need a focal point. In this poster it is Rey’s eyes. The designer (apparently Bryan Morton, who is credited as the art director) has made sure that you won’t miss it by placing her eyes at the center of a giant X, right about at the point at which the red and blue light sabers would intersect if you traced their paths across the page.

Force Awakens_X

An X is a solid compositional structure. It shows dynamic movement – a line moving diagonally upwards crossed with a line moving diagonally downwards (and this is true whether you read left to right or right to left) – and also perfect symmetry, which is a stabilizing element. It’s like Econ 101!


So – you’ve got your dynamism and your order. There is actually another line you can trace, click here to read the rest of this post

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My 10 favorite arty & cultural things from 2015

In no particular order:

1. After whiffing on this for many years, I finally got to see’s Shakespeare in the Park  not once, but twice this summer. The production of Cymbeline was better than The Tempest, but there’s probably no better way to spend a summer night in Central Park – after waiting for nearly 5 hours in line the same morning to get tickets, of course.


2. After whiffing on this for many, many years, I finally got to see U2 play live for the first time, at Madison Square Garden. Once they became megastars (after The Joshua Tree, a zillion years ago) I basically gave up on seeing them, because I don’t really enjoy paying $200 to see musicians at a football stadium. But this year I was feeling like “mmmm… I just have to, just this once.” I still wasn’t happy about the money, but it was definitely worth it. I got goosebumps during the intro to Where the Streets Have No Name, and this surprise Springsteen appearance was perfect.

3. Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy-completing novel Lila (even though it technically came out in late 2014). Also, after whiffing on this for many years, I finally discovered David Foster Wallace. I stopped whiffing on a lot of things this year, is the point.

4. Jamie xx’s sparkling electronic album In Colour, featuring the sublime single Loud Places. As my friend said, the first album I’ve heard that actually makes steel drums sound tolerable.


5. Courtney Barnett’s brilliant debut-ish album and massive live performances.

6. In September I got to see the first large-scale exhibition of the work of Corita Kent at the Pasadena Museum of Art. It was a revelation. Corita was a socially-engaged nun, working outside of the mainstream art world, who deconstructed print advertising and the stylistic possibilities of letters themselves to create Pop Art that was powerful, poetic, ecumenical, and which feels utterly fresh: a pre-Photoshop graphic design hipster. The middle period of her work, roughly 1964-68, is especially compelling, and culminates in her two printed alphabets – the circus alphabet and the signal alphabet – which are inventive, witty, and layered with meaning. It’s hard to believe that her work has stayed under the radar for so long (or, because of her humble circumstances, it’s probably not). Expect a MoMA show soon?


7. The Juan Maclean‘s sold-out six-night residency at Cameo Gallery and Union Pool.


8. Puros Cubanos, this exhibit of poster art from six Cuban graphic designers which proved that there may be a lack of resources in that country, but no lack of creativity.


9. John Singer Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends, at the Met.


10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, duh.

And I didn’t “officially” put this on the list, just because I’m in it ever-so-briefly, but Leah Wolchok’s documentary Very Semi-Serious about the cartoonists of The New Yorker is a crisp, funny and occasionally poignant film, and skillfully made. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and is now available on HBO, and is well worth watching.


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Sister Christmas

Is it ever actually going to get legitimately cold out there? It almost feels like the wrong time to be uploading this.

I’m back with another mix of Christmas music, what else? The art for this is an homage to Sister Corita Kent, the pop artist whose work had a breakout year. Corita was a nun, an active member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, but her work was full of wit and visual inventiveness. I’ll write more about her in my year-end list, but that’s the same kind of thing I’m thinking about when I choose Christmas music. That, and maybe what St. Etienne said here recently about how Elvis fits Christmas (although they are wrong in disliking this classic Pogues Christmas song).

Anyway, here it is. Play or download. Merry Christmas!


I realized as I was uploading this that it’s the 10th one I’ve done. Not the 10th year, because I did two of them in 2014, just the 10th mix. So here they are. If you click on the thumbnails you’ll be able to download each individual one.













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May 22, 2015 · 3:03 pm

Merry Xmas! 2 for the price of none

OK, I like Christmas music. I shouldn’t have to apologize for it. Well, some of it.

An author once said that the reason he writes books is because he has questions, not answers. Every year I put together a mix of Christmas-related music here, and it is my own attempt to address the question “where can I find good Christmas music that I’m not going get bludgeoned with everywhere else, but that isn’t just different for different’s sake?” So I’m at it again. As per usual, there’s every type of music on here – cheeky mashups, golden-era chestnuts, juicy soul, pine-scented Americana, gluten-free desserts, firesafe lighting strings, vintage stockings, I don’t even know where this list is going. Just enjoy it. You can listen to it here and/or download it from SoundCloud.



And… just because I was feeling it, I decided to make another mix with all of the songs that I liked, but that were too snoozy, and would have killed the vibe of the previous one. Yeah, another! But its quieter. It’s pretty nice. I have to admit something: I tested this mix on animals. I totally did. Defenseless bunnies and rescue monkeys and a turtle. No worries: they freaking loved it. So I think I’m in good shape, legally. It’s here also. Enjoy!


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I just reheated the leftovers from last year’s Black friday.


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November 28, 2014 · 5:03 pm


I was already a fan of Fela Soul, Amerigo Gazaway’s full album mashup of Fela Kuti and De La Soul tunes, so when he asked me to do the cover for Yasiin Gaye, the second volume of his project mashing up the music of Mos Def and Marvin Gaye, it took me a hot second to mull it over before saying yes.

The record has something of a backstory. Gazaway’s previous release, Bizarre Tribe, which set the vocals from The Pharcyde over the music of A Tribe Called Quest, met a quick internet death.  It was effectively shut down by Sony, who cited copyright infringement despite the fact that Gazaway wasn’t actually sampling ATCQ – he was sampling the same jazz and funk recordings that the Tribe had sampled for their recordings. Big fat irony, right? (For a fantastic documentary on the evolution of the fair use exception in regard to art in general and remix/mashup music in particular, watch RIP: A Remix Manifesto, which features Girl Talk.)

So, this new release felt like it had a mission, like it was part of a thrill ride, or more to the point, a chase. And that was reflected in the imagery that we chose. This was an initial contender: 06

but in the end we chose to make it an airplane or a spaceship, because that seemed to fit better. And it wasn’t going to be so much of an action scene, but more of a conceptual journey, with Gazaway piloting Yasiin Bey and Marvin Gaye to new heights as they confabbed about their new venture.



cover rough 2a

final bw scan

and after a few drafts it came together nicely.

Yasiin Gaye The Return_finalcover

For the reverse side  click here to finish reading this post


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