Sunday, October 25, 2009

The art of mass production

Often when I'm invited to a birthday party or similar event, I feel compelled to make a card for the guest of honor. Usually this process involves carefully selecting paper, painstakingly cutting the paper to some specific dimensions that I've determined to be the exact right ones, then spending a couple of days glued to the project — agonizing over every little detail, finishing at the last minute, and inevitably wishing I had time to start the whole thing over from scratch.

This coming week presented a daunting challenge. I'm traveling to the Midwest for a birthday party for a woman who is getting married on the same day. Actually, the couple is already married, but they originally got married at city hall and now will be getting hitched in church.

So the first question was: which card is most important — birthday or wedding?

After going back and forth a bit, I decided it was the birthday card, and was therefore faced with a challenge. I actually don't know the recipient that well (I'm on the groom's side). Still, I did have one idea. She's from Dublin, and they are about to move home to Ireland after many years here in the States. So I thought a Dublin scene, drawn with my new Rapidograph pens, might work. I was pretty sure this would make a nice card.

Unfortunately, while having Greek food with a couple of co-workers, both of whom have been to Dublin, I mentioned this idea and got a less-than-enthusiastic response. "Sasha, Dublin really isn't that pretty," my co-worker Liam insisted.

But... what about "The Dead"? I always pictured that story as taking place in a neighborhood of stately brick row houses, with tall iron streetlamps gently casting light on the falling snow, while Gretta dreamt of her lost love and her husband's heart broke. In other words, a lot like Boston's Back Bay, but better because James Joyce lived there.

Well, after a frustrating afternoon with Google Images, I concluded that Dublin doesn't look too much like I thought it did. It was very disillusioning. My next idea, a sketch of an Irish country scene, started out OK, but I couldn't get inspired by it. After spending an afternoon on the illustration, I set it aside and couldn't get motivated to go back to it.

With my travel day (tomorrow) creeping up on me, yesterday I made myself go to the Paper Source to buy cards. However, I couldn't do it! The selection that day was crummy, and I figured that even if I do a half-assed rush job, the results would have to be better than any of those Paper Source cards.

So today I sat down and made two cards faster than any I have in my entire life. They are definitely not my best work, but I think they'll do.

I started with the wedding card: Both I and my friend Alex (the groom) have always preferred champagne "bows" to flutes, so I sketched two bows, and placed what I think of as art-deco rays of fabulousness behind them. I drew the glasses using my .18 Rapidograph and added accents with Prismacolors. For the champagne in the glasses, I sprinkled on flax- and gold-colored glitter.

The scanned version didn't come out great, partly because the USB cord was propping the scanner door open slightly (I'm such a pro!) and partly because you can't see the glitter, but I have added the image here anyway.

On the inside of the card, to the lower left of the message, I sketched a small bottle with glittery champagne spouting of it and, to the upper right of the message, a few jewel-like bubbles of the headache-inducing drink.

I made the card in about two hours — for me, that's break-neck speed, but it was nothing compared to how fast I did the birthday card. I'd promised myself I would be all done with the cards and packed for my trip before going out for Vietnamese food with my friend Steve, which we had planned to do for a while. When he phoned me 45 minutes before we were supposed to meet, I realized how behind I was. I kicked everything up a notch and very quickly began a sketch of a birthday cake on a pre-cut blue card. I did not actually finish before dinner, but I got most of the way through. I used my .18 Rapidograph on this one, too.

I actually like a lot of things about this cake, though the plate the cake is sitting on looks kind of goofy.

On the inside, to the left of the message, I sketched a slice of cake on a plate with a fork.

Someone asked me recently whether people appreciate the hours I pour into the cards I make. The answer is, often they do, though I guess not always. I think the worst case was a birthday card I made for someone who I don't think realized that I'd actually made the card. That was somewhat awful, because that card had been a lot of work. With that one, I had used an X-acto to cut out a genie lantern from gold origami paper (just obtaining that paper was an odyssey in itself). I'd then affixed the lantern to paper that was a medium-colored blue, a sort of dusty cerulean blue; the gold and blue together were very beautiful, I thought. The lantern sat at the bottom of a tall (probably about 10 inches tall) panel. To complete the image, I'd used several different shades of blue and gold glitter, along with varying shades of green and silver glitter, to create intertwining streams of magic that emanated from the lantern and flowed upward to the top of the card. To bind the illustrated panel to the second "page" of the card, I'd used a small amount of blue binding tape. I'd wrapped the whole thing in gold tissue paper and placed it in a box with a gift certificate to one of the birthday girl's favorite places. The recipient, a very nice person, didn't seem to notice the card but was thrilled with the gift certificate.

Sadly, I have no picture of that card. If you want to see it, first imagine that Dublin is the prettiest city on Earth, then imagine the card.

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Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.