Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Julia Rothman's Hello, NY

Monday night I popped on over to DUMBO to attend the book launch party for illustrators Julia Rothman and Wendy MacNaughton's books Hello NY: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs and Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in its Own Words, respectively. The two sat down for a Q&A session with Brain Pickings' Maria Popova about the process of creating illustrated books of their hometowns, where the trend of hand-illustrations is heading, the "godmother" of long-form narrative + illustrated storytelling Maira Kalman, and how they each took similar projects in two different directions. While MacNaughton let the characters she met tell the story of life in San Francisco in their own words, Rothman, being the native New Yorker that she is, completely injected herself into her book and showed us the city through her eyes. From the small island off the Bronx in which she grew up, to her odd finds paired with more popular attractions to pieces of her family history, and tidbits about NYC life that'll make out-of-towners go "Whaaa?" and natives go "Yup!" Rothman tried to give everyone a little something to chew on.

"Well that's nice to remove yourself," Rothman laughed after MacNaughton explained why she wanted the people she met to create the book in their own words rather than hers. "I put myself as the main character. I was born on City Island in the Bronx, a small island that nobody had ever heard of and I really wanted everybody to know about it. So I wrote a book about where I was from and what I liked about my city and everything else about it. I put some voices in there, but it's mostly all me...and my family, the people I've met, and my landlord. I don't know, maybe New Yorkers are self-obsessed and San Francisco people are really nice."

As the daughter of a bodega owner, I was especially delighted to see her write an ode to the bodega.

"I wrote something about bodegas that was like bodegas are really great and you can get anything you want and then I was like this is really boring and crappy. And it was kind of a last-minute thing that I sent to [editor] Bridget [Watson Payne]. It was just random, it wasn't really that thought-out. If I write a paragraph about how good bodegas are, it wasn't that interesting. I didn't feel like it was getting across the feeling and if I could write the light and the tiles on the floor then it would get across the feeling more than just bodegas are great," Rothman said before Popova added why it's such an appropriate piece for a book about New York City.

"It's actually such a beautiful poem that's really a metaphor for the city because the last line is how many pieces of chewing gum does it take stay alive, stay in business and that's kind of how the city is. How many little daily moments and little people does it take..." she said.

"How do these places stay in business?!" Rothman interjected. "There's so many people going in and out, every dollar...When I was in San Fracisco, there's no bodegas, in other cities there's no bodegas and you're like where do you buy your food?"

As for how she chose what to include out of love for her city versus an obligation to include more popular sites, Rothman said she tried to put in a little of both to please New Yorkers and visitors alike.

"There was always a balance like if I put the Statue of Liberty in is that cliché? But then maybe I can put in Minerva, the statue in Greenwood Cemetery and balance it. There was always something that was very New York and then well, if I'm putting this very New York thing in, what's a more obscure thing I can put in that will help make it not so obvious," Rothman said. "It was always who's the audience? New Yorkers or everyone? So if it's both you have to put in some stuff for New Yorkers and you put in some stuff for the rest of the world. You have to put in Grand Central, but you can also put in the Troll Museum."

What I liked about the book, which I pretty much blazed through in a couple of hours, is seeing my hometown through somebody else's eyes. The other day I was strolling through Union Square Park after having lunch with A. and said, "We live here...and everyone else thinks it's awesome." Do I think it's awesome? Most of the time, yes, but other times I'm just tired of the same sights, sounds, and pace of New York City. I want to live somewhere else and even if I end up returning years later, I want to have experienced life elsewhere. Until that happens, I'll continue to enjoy hearing about NYC through someone else's lens. It's probably why I love talking to those who visit for the first time ("Yes, please remind me why my hometown is incredible...") and I'm mildly obsessed with Humans of New York. A curiosity for other people's stories and the lives that I brush up against every day are what keep me intrigued about this place. As Popova said at the book launch party Monday night, "I think the beauty of both books is actually the deeper messages. They both answer the question 'What is it like to live like this other person that's sort of so close to me in the city, but is not me?' And what it's like to understand what that life is like."


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

DIY Art for Our Home

I'm happy to say that our apartment no longer has bare walls. After a few months of living in our new place and stalling on decorating it, I caught the creative bug and started churning out project after project in just two weeks' time. I just couldn't stop.

First, I wanted to create a photo collage wall in our foyer to showcase photos from our travels and of our families. That IKEA saleslady might have looked at me crazy as I laid out all those frames across their displays to envision what the wall could look like, but it was worth it to have a good sense of what I was working with. I took photos before throwing the frames in my cart and then recreated the layout on top of a large roll of paper. I traced around the frames and marked the exact spot where the hook was before cutting out each shape. Then I taped the paper to the wall, took a step back to see how it looked overall and made necessary tweaks to the layout. Once I was satisfied with how it all looked, I nailed hooks right through the paper, tore the sheet off, and replaced it with the frame.

Next, I approached A. with the idea of painting a wall in our kitchen with chalkboard paint, which he loved. We put it to good use when my sister and her boyfriend came over for dinner a couple weeks ago.

Benjamin Moore (and other brands, I'm sure) now make it easy to have chalkboard paint made in any of their colors. In fact, here's how you can DIY your own batch with some non-sanded grout if you have any leftover paint at home. Prepping the paint after it was applied was a pain in the ass though as we had to cover the entire wall with chalk and then erase it all. An easy feat, you'd think, but there we were busting out rags, mixing vinegar and water concoctions, even scrubbing the wall with a toothbrush to get the wall as clean as when it was freshly painted. I was hesitant to ever draw on it again, but thankfully we've since been able to wipe the chalk off with just a damp paper towel. Maybe we just went too hard with that first round.

The office, where I spend the majority of my day, still needed a couple touches of my personality - mainly on the big blank walls right in front of my desk. I started with a few picture ledges from IKEA. At $10 and $15 each they were fairly inexpensive and allows me to display the things that make me happy (like my washi tape collection, books, and prints) and change things out without leaving too many marks on the wall. For prints, I ended up purchasing The Every Girl's Success Is Not Easy print in navy and gold and Emily McDowell's colorful print on comparison. Both are great reminders for me.

What else makes me smile? Color. Lots of it. So about a million punch cuts of paper butterflies later, I created this colorful wall installation. Beside the aching palm after punching all that paper, it was incredibly easy to do. Just lightly draw a path on the wall in pencil and then affix each butterfly along that path with either glue dots or double-sided tape.

That was immediately followed by a raincloud piñata because why not? The project took about an afternoon to make and once you learn the basic steps behind a DIY cardboard piñata (mine is empty by the way), you could dream up all kinds of shapes and ideas to deck in crêpe paper fringe. See?

For the living room wall behind the couch I knew I wanted to go big and in multiples so I bought three 24" x 36" canvases from and after drawing out a pattern on paper, laying on the masking tape, and deciding on a colorway, I went to town with the acrylic paint.

This project couldn't have taken more than four/five hours total and the only stressful part was making sure I mixed enough paint of any custom color to cover the necessary areas without being left with too much unused. I knew if I had to mix another batch, it would be incredibly difficult to land the exact shade again. I guess I was also worried that the colors would look crazy once the canvases dried, but I was so happy to wake up the following day, pull off the tape, and see how my latest masterpiece turned out. What do you think?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Crawling Back

So I know I went and pulled a disappearing act for a couple months here, but things got a little crazed on my end. And by crazed I also mean lazy because sitting to write a blog post after working two jobs and designing greeting cards sounded like total torture. Sometimes I wonder if I couldn't just put out snippets of voice recordings created in my shower because it seems to be the only time I have to contemplate blog post topics in my head (but then you'd have to listen to me practice my renditions of Whitney Houston songs and Frozen's "Let It Go").

There's my wonderful trip to Chicago and the photos that I've yet to even look through, the DIY art blitz that occurred on the home front, the joys of hosting friends so much more frequently now that I'm back in Manhattan, the new book I'm reading about the benefits of meditation, feeling like I'm chasing too many things. So much to tell you and yet the idea of recounting it all leaves me feeling overwhelmed. It's like wanting to catch up with a friend you haven't seen in years and just postponing reaching out because of the time commitment you feel the encounter deserves.

But sometimes a little hello is all it takes to a least get the conversation flowing again. So, hello again.