Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ex Libris Bookplates I

L ike postage stamps and wine labels, modern Ex Libris bookplates combine words and images in unique ways that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. All three are produced at predictable sizes--and until the Digital Age--printed by offset lithography. They exhibit engraving techniques and letterforms that were developed over centuries.
  Unlike their graven cousins, bookplates were made for individuals, not companies. There is no hierarchy of decision-makers to put a design through rigorous stages of approval. A bookplate is simply commissioned by somebody who values his or her personal library. Within this field, quirkiness and innovation are virtues because they celebrate the individual. The more successful examples make a poetic or universal statement while honoring the patron's ego.
  In several future posts I will have more to say on the subject. For now, feast your eyes on these random examples of the genre at its finest. They were a gift from my wife, the cartoonist Carol Tyler. She purchased an almanac of bookplates at a fundraising sale for the library at St. Mary Of The Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana. Most of the plates date from the late 19th Century to the outbreak of WWI. They are from both American and European collections. All were glued onto heavy black paper, sometimes front and back, making razor blade triage necessary. I am now the temporary steward of this treasure trove and will store them in an archival setting. Come back in early '12 to see a new batch.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Kindle When You Can Schmindle?

This is the first Schmindle volume "published" (at Fedex/Kinko's) as an 8 1/2" x 11" double-sided sheet, folded in quarters and stapled. It is available through my Etsy Store:
  Though Ludwig Beethoven's (1770-1827) compositions are among humankind's greatest achievements, his love letters reveal the temperament of a frustrated suitor whose overwrought prose would benefit from a rewrite by the average Tin Pan Alley songwriter. The Schmindle Pamphlet Library has discovered a small cache of his letters, luckily never mailed, in an article from the March 1930 issue of The Etude Magazine

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ragtime Central

Every time I log onto Virginia (D.C. area) pianist "Perfessor" Bill Edwards' site ( I consciously think, "This is too good to be true." At first glance it's devoted to the preservation of Ragtime,  Popular Songs and Show-Tunes from the early Twentieth Century. Navigating through the various links, you'll soon discover that it's a veritable nexus of American cultural history. In the erudite commentary that accompanies all the original sheet music covers, the master pianist explains the historical context of each song and writes about its musical structure in easily understandable terms. More often than not, biographical details about the individual musicians and composers and the various bands with which they recorded and performed are provided. Over the past six years, Edwards' activities on the site have increasingly focused on writing and research. There are over 190 biographies of ragtime-era composers, publishers and performers from the obscure to renowned, such as George Gershwin, Charles Chaplin and Irving Berlin. It should take the average reader more than a week of full days to read through them all (starting at While hearing his spotless renditions of each song, you can feast your eyes on the cover art (these little postage stamp versions were the best I could download). The postage stamp covers (thumbnails actually) are actually quite useful.
  Hover the mouse over then and you find out more about each publication. Click on them and you get a separate window with a much larger sized cover and a MIDi with the information all in one. It was designed to allow for multi-tiered browsing, and focusing on one piece if need be through that method, making the most efficient use of space.
Please note that that the top of each of the pbmidi pages, the ones with the explanations and covers, the following text is shown:

Left Click on title to play MIDI or thumbnail to View full size cover
Right Click to Download either (in most browsers)

 With the exception of French fin de siecle posters, I don't know another era or site where there is so much drop-dead gorgeous hand lettering in one place. Even if you have little interest in ragtime as a musical form, reading his thoughts about its composition is like sitting at the feet of great tradesman/writers, such as the late Robert Pirsig ("Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance") or Anthony Bourdain ("Kitchen Confidential") who write with acute clarity borne of experience. Your horizon will be broadened by the encounter, even as it will be brightened by hearing Edwards tickle the 88s. By all means, buy his CDs and tell anyone who will listen about this Great American resource and living treasure.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sholem Asch: An Appreciation

Translated from the Yiddish, East River (1946) by the Polish-born American writer Sholem Asch (1880-1957) resonates like rare microfilm. If you are patient enough to crank the handle, the research will yield bountiful gifts attainable from no other source. His accounts of early Twentieth Century New York and the cultural clashes that defined its identity have a legitimacy that is informed by first-hand witness and exacting scholarship. Unlike the suave pastiche of the modern documentary style that partakes heavily of familiar borrowed images and formulaic devices, the grainy details that Asch’s prose reveal are stunning for their novelty and staying power. This is truly living history. The arc of the storyline is interpolated by polemics about such compelling topics as the infamous Triangle fire, the meteoric rise of Jazz and its immediate social consequences, conflicting ideologies within the labor movement, the clutches of Tammany Hall—such asides remind the reader that there actually is a narrator behind the scenes of this captivating drama. Journalism is only one component of his vital and dynamic voice: humorist, poet, epic storyteller, Asch is also noteworthy for his religious scholarship. His depiction of the dynamics of Irish Catholicism is as authentic (though kinder) than the harsh narrative of Chicagoan James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonnigan Trilogy.

Upon the microcosm of the orthodox Davidowsky family, Asch unleashes forces that constantly threaten to usurp the ancient traditions the patriarch Moshe Wolf attempts to uphold. This devout father is beset with adversity, and like Job, withstands the challenges to his enduring faith. His favorite son Nathaniel is stricken with infantile paralysis while in his late adolescence. The younger son Irving, the mother’s favorite, heeds the siren call of the American dream. He overrides ethical considerations using predatory business tactics to rise high in the garment industry. In his vivid depiction of the garment trade, Asch equals Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Amazingly, that is only a subplot! The story arc is driven by the inclusion of a devout Irish Catholic girl into the family. Her presence galvanizes the crippled boy into a religious healing. Her marriage to the successful brother rends the family asunder before transforming it on distinctly American ground. It is refreshing to see that no character comes out of these travails smelling like a rose. Through dialog and interior monologue, we see all the principles struggling with their personal and religious identities. The bit players, too, are vivid despite the broad strokes with which they are painted. In this seamless work of timeless literature, all characters are essential to the final outcome.

Asch is unique among Yiddish writers for his devotional literature about Christianity. His Christian trilogy The Nazarene (1939), The Apostle (1943) and Mary (1949) reveals his vast knowledge of history and of his people. Regardless of your stance on Christianity, you will be startled by the details Asch unearths and with which he embellishes the dusty lore (or True Religion, if you prefer). I strongly sensed that East River was part of his biblical continuum. His discussion of the issues in which various factions were embroiled within the Jewish community of Manhattan hearken back to the politics of ancient Jerusalem. He is unsparing in his critique of those power brokers who corrupt the message of his beloved Prophets. Perhaps it is the secular airing of those accusations in his literature, coupled with his upholding of Jesus as the true Messiah that made him a controversial figure during his lifetime. He is deserving of much wider recognition as one of the greatest American authors to have written in his native tongue. Among those “polemics” which I sited are several passages celebrating the egalitarian ideals of the early American vision. For all of his unsparing depictions of corruption and squalor, his vision of this country is ultimately a patriotic one.

From an NPR interview with Pete Seeger (who recorded a Christmas record written by Asch in the mid-‘50s), I learned that Moses Asch, his son, founded Folkways Records. This was the mainstay of the folk revival from the ‘40s and well beyond. During the late ‘30s when portable recording was cutting-edge technology, his father asked him to broadcast a dire radio warning from a portable disk to the Jews remaining in Europe: Get out while you can!
 "Sweatshop," William Gropper. No Date. Lithograph

Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Improbable Russian Superhero

This is a page from the "Boris Kirov" story, scripted by the late Bob Callahan, with whom the cartoonist Spain Rodriguez and myself collaborated in 2003. It was a sequential strip which ran for several issues in the L.A. Weekly. I'm still not sure if this project was satire or propaganda. Bob was a good egg and a gifted writer who had a passion for comics. His Dark Hotel series remains accessible on the web.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"Owning" Real Estate

Even industrial realty can be yours, just for the poaching. Make many visits (in this case,  a dozen) to a site at approximately the same time of day. This was the "magic hour" late Summer, West Sacramento, 1996. By the time this oil painting (12" x 24") was finished, I felt completely at peace with these surroundings. I knew that no other mortal had stood exactly there and watched patiently for the subtle changes of light and color that the sinking sun brought to that little corner of the world. The following year, this painting won an award at the California State Fair, where I was the official sign painter during the late '80s.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Linocut Dept.

This is a "varied edition" of 12 linocuts. The black line was originally done in 1974 for a cartoon titled "Kiwi Brown And The Statistics." It was just one panel of that 3 page strip, for which I received less than $50 per page. I had given the carved block to my friend Tony Mostrom years ago. He found it in his garage and loaned it back to me. Last year I constructed a registration jig for the many additional colors. I experimented with several new substrates for the additional blocks, which created bold textures. There is a tremendous attrition rate for this medium.  I began with at least 50 pristine sheets of heavyweight cover stock, of which only a dozen came to fruition.
  The term "varied edition" is another way of saying there is some hand-painting added and every print has a slight deviation from perfect registration or color distribution. This medium is not for perfectionists.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Great Moments In Marketing

This short-lived series surveyed great American icons, successful ad campaigns and products. Though artistically sound and well-written (and edited), the sales department at Signs Of The Times magazine 
didn't regard it as being cost-effective.  Scroll below for all three...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rune Image

  The only version of the ancient Runic system that I’ve used was formulated by Ralph H. Blum.  I have the ’93 edition of “The Book of Runes”, though there are many others available. A simple Googling will reveal the breadth of his work.
  I use this oracle system when I become enmeshed in thought forms that are persistent. There is usually good reason for the longevity of doubt or negative self-image. I use them when I have to make a judgment call based on factors that are known and intangible, yet felt. I sometimes use them to center my dispersed energies for an important task or meeting. I may question my feelings about specific people and situations.
  I never use the runes just for the hell of it. It’s not a parlor game, but a risky route to immediate self-knowledge. Other divination systems such as the I Ching or the Tarot have greater complexity. The 25 glyphs or symbols which comprise the runic alphabet embody energies or propensities which are basic or primal. There are many methods of casting the little stones. I’ve only the simplest method: selecting three random runes from all 25, which are spread on their backsides, then flipped in succession. They are read from right to left; hence, the “reverse” or counter-clockwise presentation of the seasons in this particular rune Harvest (Jera); Fertile Season; One Year.
  There is an ancient method of drawing in which a random pattern provides a hallucinatory ground. Leonardo painted a few landscapes this way. The artist Max Ernst perfected the “frottage,” a way of constructing images from rubbings on natural textures. When I see three runes together, I think of the specific energies I have put into motion sparking new thought forms related to the issue I have brought to the surface--like  drawing  over a pattern does.
  I only did a few Rune cards. Life took over.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Lecher's Lament

It's a wonder that many of those old stovetop hats didn't go up in smoke considering the torrid thoughts that were sparking underneath them. Possibly absinthe was as much a catalyst for this inflamed prose as were the feminine charms extolled below:

"To A Passer-By (Baudelaire)", ink & watercolor, 12" x 18", 2001 ©Justin Green

Amid the deafening traffic of the town,
Tall, slender, in deep mourning, with majesty,
A woman passed, raising with dignity
In her poised hand, the flounces of her gown;

Graceful, noble, with a statue's form.
And I drank, trembling as a madman thrills,
From her eyes, ashen sky where brooded storm.
The softness that fascinates, the pleasure that kills.

A flash...then night!-O lovely fugitive,
I am suddenly reborn from your swift glance;
Shall I never see you 'til eternity?

Somewhere, far off! Too late! Never, perchance!
Neither knows where the other goes or lives;
We might have loved, and you knew this might be!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Botanical Emblem Book

 From the University of Cincinnati Rare Books Library, Germany, 7" x 5", late 17th Century 

Seeing an emblem image on a computer screen is  pale shadow of experiencing one in its original context. While the content may be amplified by the brilliant backlighting, there is much lost in translationto the new medium. Think of a potato chip, a very bad one; now think of a deluxe health-food-store variety, thicker and heavier. Stay with me. Now think of freshly minted dollar bills, so thin they stick together. Between touching those bills and turning a parchment page is the difference between handling the cheapest and most expensive potato chip. Parchment paper is “crunchier,” too. You can hear the ancient paper crinkling as it’s handled. The ink has been impressed into thick paper by the pressure of tooled blocks, so that the fibers beneath the surface are thoroughly saturated. The pages splay out from leather bindings suspended like large plant leaves.
  As the images were printed in various sections (signatures), then folded, trimmed and sewn, there is an irregularity to the ink quality. (Possibly, the most consistently high quality specimens were reserved for a wealthier clientele.)  Through centuries of compression, the ink has transferred to opposing pages. Images, often printed on the right side of an open book have a blank page facing—which after centuries of compression bear a faint smudged impression of the ink. If the book has been stored flat, those verso ink deposits become darker, just from the increased weight of the pages.
  The craftsmanship is exquisite and breathtaking, too—considering there was no instant “white-out” tool or even a means of reduction (except the ancient grid method of proportioning down). It is difficult to believe that only the humble magnifying glass enabled such sharp focus and details. There must have been mechanical/optical aids of some kind which permitted that high degree of precise craftsmanship.
  This image is taken from a German botanical survey published in the late 17th Century. It seems to be a survey of beneficial herbs and flowers, which began earlier in the century. I believe that at least three artists worked on the volume successively, as there are slight deviations in style and ornamentation. In addition to the lush foreground detail, there is always a middle ground and distance which are depicted selectively with a painter’s eye—not a clunky common line width which marks earlier works. See the scores of images, I believe that the backgrounds are details of specific landscapes where the various plants thrive. Dover Books take note.
  I highly recommend visiting the rare books department of your local library or university. You might be able to access obscure and beautiful volumes of emblem images handed down through centuries, and untouched for decades. This is a vital art form! Though long slumbering, it awaits a Renaissance in the digital age. We now have the resources to survey and catalog the entire world treasury of existing volumes—and to imbue it with imagery and text expressive of our era and culture. For a brief summary of the Emblem tradition, see the earlier post, “A Forgotten Genre" at my other site


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Poetic License

“Musical Legends” ran monthly from ’92 in PULSE! Magazine, which was distributed at all Tower Records stores until the demise of the corporation in ’02. The money was never quite enough, though too good to abandon the strip. Each cartoon biography involved extensive research and the occasional interview. This is the only one I made up! I thought the word “Legends” gave me artistic license. The reason it sounds so believable is that I had first hand information from my father, who was the official bat-boy for the Chicago White Sox in either ’19, or ’20. As the local purveyor of dogs to the Chisox dugout, he was pressed into service by the hungry Ruth to fetch some top quality dogs pronto. When Pop, then a mere sprout of ten, delivered the goods, the “Bambino” palmed one down exactly as shown. As for Waller, I extrapolated several details from his biographers, such as the gin breakfast. In the unlikely event that I ever have to answer to St. Peter, I’ll justify my white lie thus: “Okay, Fats didn’t mimic Ruth’s gluttonous gesture, but it’s arguably a poetic reality.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Pause That Refreshes

  Over the decades, words come into vogue which connote some kind of intellectual currency. From that old-saw “realms”, we’ve now progressed to such lofty and vague terms as “epiphany,” or “paradigm,” to suggest that some kind of shift in consciousness is necessary to navigate a new reality--or that it’s already here--and you better get on board, buddy. Yet when these faddish words start showing up on bumper stickers and evening news items, perhaps it’s time to look inward and define mental phenomenon with more acuity. Something is going on, though, with the role of the artist in the world-at large. The marketing of original art and all the assumptions I had about earning a livelihood through my real work seem to be in a permanent state of flux.
  In the blogosphere, I am just one more self-motivated content provider. I question my motives. I’m not sure that this rigorous self-examination (or even Spell-check) is too common among my millions of virtual peers. Let’s face it, insanity runs rampant in many fonts, including the Times that I have chosen. I am amazed at the lack of meaningful response to the verbiage I have offered (or substantive comments on the images themselves). I have no doubt that my images are compelling or that my words have legitimacy, so I must question the new culture itself. There is little hope of reaping material rewards or recognition from this egalitarian medium. All agencies of certification and qualification are gone, save for the attendance records registered as STATS. My use of the King’s English is merely a personal preference and all notions of cultural conservation are fair game for mockery. Everyman is now king, and yet, it’s “every man for himself” as the saying goes, in the face of disaster.
  Mass appropriation is a raging phenomenon. Option G (which makes the little © ball) is an antiquated notion, much like double-spacing after a period or starting any letter with Dear. While my motivation for creating this site is still unfolding, The images and entries are intended for re-publication in some format, perhaps posthumously; I have cannily posted most at 72 dpi, assuring that free usage for print is impractical (though I have nothing against sharing files). So why not take a little time to scroll through the archives? If this were some coffee table book, you would surely thumb through it from random insertion points. Start anywhere. I will provide fresh content for your insatiable appetite next week, which you can accept or reject with a twitch of your thumb.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chris Farley 1964-1997

 "Chris Farley Memory", block print & watercolor, 9" x 12", 2011

  I grew up with the cerebral “sick” comedians. I caught the Second City in its earliest days, but I am not an aficionado of modern comedy. Nor have I kept up with film or television. Farley’s tormented antics, apart from all other comedians, consistently reached me at a visceral level. His death was a tragedy that could have been prevented with a little foresight. Now he comes unbidden from the shadows, perhaps from the astral plane, and still provokes astonishment and delight. Loftier art forms lack that telepathic power.

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's Later Than You Think

Silkscreen print, edition of 100, 18" x 24", 2006

Holidays and noteworthy events seem to occur at a faster pace as we careen around the yearly circuit,

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Signpainter Lusts After Co-Worker

© Justin Green, Watercolor, Lampoon of Vermeer Painting, 18" x 24", 2001

  This was the cover of Signs of the Times Magazine, October 2001. If the painter if viewed with his hat worn backwards then he is perceived as a Gallant diligent craftsman. However, if his hat is on right, he personifies the Goofus described in the title.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Burlap Campaign of '10

 Coffee Strongman, Mixed Media, 17" x 28", 2010

   This series began as an accident. After knocking over a can of One-Shot Sign Painter’s Enamel, I had some burlap handy for the mop-up. Over a few seasons, the idea of using coffee sacks as the substrate for a varied edition of prints came to fruition. One of my sign clients, Coffee Emporium of Cincinnati, supplied me with a dozen. I began to notice the graphics and weaves on the various bags. They come in a wide range of textures, subtle colors, and graphics. The lettering on the sacks varies from being refined to crude and usually includes ambient marks added along its mysterious travels.

  In this series, the dominant head and figures are lino-carved elements that were stamped (or more accurately, stomped) into place. Colors and inks were stippled and painted; the black line was augmented with textile needles, which dropped little paths of ink onto the gnarly surface. Well into the project, I realized that the original bags were most likely sprayed through hand-cut stencils. Something tells me that work environment did not include respirators or cross-ventilation. I showed them in Canada at the Show and Tell Gallery. The venture met with limited commercial success. The owner is kindly storing them until I can raise the funds for their return freight. For now, I have been cured of my yen for working on such a rugged texture. But I still wonder about the chain of events that leads from the Earth to my exotic and tasty coffee. Tea, too.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Medical Illustration

On Father’s Day, 1990, I had a spectacular ladder accident in Sacramento, shattering my left heel. An orthopedic surgeon told me that his only recourse was to perform a common medical procedure: fusing the damaged bone to the ankle. As a result, my left foot would neither flex nor move laterally ever again. In addition to having a permanent Frankenstein limp, my sign painting career was about to be limited to in-house production (which by that year had been completely subsumed by computer vinyl technology). The cynical sawbones told me that I’d better inherit some money. My resourceful wife was able to find a brilliant young surgeon, Dr. George Lian, who was performing a new type of surgery. Using bone material from the hip, the ruined heel could be reconstructed. Then with stainless steel pins, it could be attached to the tibia, the workhorse bone of the lower leg. With prolonged physical therapy, it would be possible to regain near-normal traction.
  Over the long course of healing, I became friends with George and he enlisted me to illustrate his book on sports medicine. These are some of the drawings I did under his watchful eye. He patiently vetted me on the highly abstract shaping of the bones and muscles. An early visit to an actual operation (in full surgical mufti) didn’t help the project much, as there was too much blood and I had no idea what I should be observing. But it was neat to see that doctors working so efficiently under great time pressure with Steppenwolf cranked up. Sometimes they used fake German accents: “Ze schalpel, schnell!” said Chief Surgeon George.  He explained later that a bit of levity cuts the tension.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Strong Marriage of Images & Letters

Shake It Records of Cincinnati is one of the greatest surviving music stores in the country (not even “arguably,” it just IS! Google them and order something). I had the honor of doing the sign for the thriving family business, owned by Darren & Jim Blase. It has become a local landmark and I was delighted to see this beautiful young wedding party suddenly appear underneath my ladder while I was touching up the sign. I bounded into the store and proudly announced to Darren that my handiwork was providing a backdrop for nuptial rites. In a deadpan voice he said, “That’s the fourth one I know of.”

Monday, January 31, 2011

My Most Enduring Art

   I won the contest held in the year 2000 for a new Hamilton County, Ohio official flag design. The county includes Cincinnati and its municipalities and townships. These are acknowledged in the little stars which surround the central H. Squint and you’ll see a tiny crown on the triangular crossbar. That is to glorify the “The Queen City.” Until mighty Chicago became a toddling town, Cincinnati was the greatest city west of “King” New York.
  I did the design entirely by hand using traditional drafting tools and art supplies which were becoming fast obsolete: rubber cement, color-aid paper, acetate, etc. I took a vindictive pleasure in trumping the scores of computer-driven entries. It didn’t hurt that I had inadvertently chose a Kwanza palette, as the finalists were voted upon by a committee with vested political interests.
  That's me in formal corporate disguise (my hair was white even then) which I use for funerals and weddings. Standing at center is the now powerful Republican Rob Portman. I had just given a pompous speech to a civic-minded crowd, saying with bravado that I hoped to see the new flag flying over the 2000 World Series. As we hoisted it, I remarked to Portman, “This is no Iwo Jima.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

One For The Brave New World

When we painted this one (Mark Rozic and I worked together on a scaffolding)  I was thinking that it's going to see some tumultuous times. Maybe Martial Law, Martian Life, etc. It might get covered with graffiti, but the letters will live long after I'm gone, perhaps after time is measured. My dirty little secret, though, is that I used a lot of linseed oil (it was a very hot day). I don't know if Mark did. So it's going to start peeling in the 2030s.

Monday, January 10, 2011