It was an honor to illustrate for the LA Phil as 2018 came to a symphonic close. Seeing my work animated (by Daniel Anderson) was a real treat, as my drawings transformed in imaginative ways along with Olivier Messiaen’s vibrant Turangalîla Symphony. I’ve gathered additional illustrations for this piece, as seen below, to give you a more complete appreciation for the evolution of the video:
December 21st, 2018: Arizona was especially cold this winter. As my family & I admired the illuminated cacti at the Phoenix Zoo, fond memories of this Christmas tradition added an extra glow to the similarly decorated mesquite trees that lined its walkways. Mountain lions, gila monsters, roadrunners, snakes and all manner of desert creature scurried to the surface in decorative form, amidst the chatter of sneakers and other slow moving families trying to keep warm. As I cradled my paper cup of hot chocolate in my hands, grateful for each sip, I saw a saguaro cactus strung with brightly colored bulbs next to a howling coyote. “I still need to glue on those needles,” I thought, picturing the half-finished art project which would become this year’s Christmas gift for my mother: a paper cactus.
Firmly believing that birthdays make the best deadlines for artists, holidays are an equally powerful motivator. Fueled by the giving spirit of the season, I began crafting this cactus (seen below) in LA, finishing it back home in Arizona after an inspirational trip to the Phoenix Zoo. Just as the resilient desert plant stores water for the dry seasons ahead, I treasure these trips back home to charge my emotional batteries for the droughts in my life, giving back to those who mean the most to me. This year, I chose to leave my mom with a cactus, a model of perseverance and stubbornness…two of her finest qualities. By making something from the heart, why not choose to leave a part of your spirit with someone you love, instead of something factory-assembled? A new tradition, perhaps?
Working as a graphic artist for the USC Thornton School of Music has given me the opportunity to help visualize some incredible stories about its students & faculty. One of my favorites from last year was “The Magnificent Seven,” about a group of seven legendary drummers brought together to honor the legacy of professor Leon "Ndugu" Chancler. Faced with the challenge of completing her friend and colleague’s remaining weeks of instruction after his untimely passing last February, Patrice Rushen, Chair of the Popular Music Program, “…called seven legendary drummers, asking each to fill in for one week. They all said yes.” Having grown up listening to Chancler’s work with artists such as Michael Jackson, Tina Turner and Lionel Richie, it was a honor to express how much his impact on the music communities, both at USC and around the world, will be cherished and missed.
Story by Julie Riggott / Illustrated and Animated by Sean David Christensen / Music by Ricky Berger
Photographed on the balcony of his apartment in France, a birthday gift for my friend David Luraschi, director of “Penny Girl” by Cola Boyy. Previously featured in my blog as an art project with a great built-in deadline to inspire you (a friend’s birthday), this collage on a cradled birch panel is a nice format I’ve been returning to, which lends itself to mixed media application and weightier craft.
For a handful of mornings in late-October, I’d rise before work and whittle away at this gift, chattering crows on the other side of my kitchenette window. After awhile, a second skin of super glue dried on my right thumb and index finger, smudged with the wax residue of colored pencil illustrations I pressed onto the panel’s surface. Before wrapping it up, I could see that I’d left a fingerprint along the panel's edge, a faint “hello” to the friend I was making it for. I wondered if he’d notice. If you’re an artist, and wanting to strengthen your skills of accountability when it comes to delivering an original piece by a specific deadline, I can’t recommend other friends’ birthdays any higher. The wreckage of my latest collage (see above) was strewn with love for one of my dearest friends, a opportunity to test out some new approaches for an audience of one. Everyone has the ability to create things with their hands & heart, and for my money, nothing beats receiving a gift in the mail that only you know could've come from someone you love. After all, it has your fingerprints all over it.
Design for USC Thornton School of Music, showcasing their tuba faculty’s October recital. Accidentally deleting its black outline was a happy accident, giving it a sense of weightlessness and breezy fun I was more than happy to keep!
Serving as both a fun project and a locomotion behind building stronger habits for practicing faces, I’ve decided to create multiple series of trading cards (4 inches x 3 inches) based on the Instagram selfies/photos of my friends. I find that, whenever confined to a smaller space than usual, my senses of what feels right when portraying the character of a face, sharpen. On a card, for example. Here’s to hoping I can finish enough of these to line the molding that runs along my apartment’s walls, just beneath the ceiling. How’s that for a benchmark?
I'd like to develop the habit of drawing or creating something quick immediately after waking up and having my morning tea. Today (Tuesday) was my first attempt at this: a tiny paper taco. I crafted this tasty snack, all the while completely forgetting about my cup of Earl Gray, which was cold to the touch when I went to pick it up soon after. A small price to pay for getting lost in one's work.
What a joy to create this bright new color combination for my latest miniature, a recording studio from the mid-1960s. Partly historical, partly fantastical, this set was designed for my latest film, a documentary which utilizes archival recordings from the same era. I've always gravitated towards bending the rules of visually representing the past, and hope all of these pieces I've gathered come together as neatly as craft wood; Albeit, with some of their most endearing human imperfections imprinted upon the final product.
I had the good fortune to catch AmirSaysNothing at a concert showcase organized by the prolific Charlie Scovill, held at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles earlier last month. Amir's blistering set featured selections from his most recent collaboration with Scovill, Love Always, Mr. Right, which promptly made me an instant fan; Hence, this fan art. For more music from this electric pair and many more artists produced under Scovill's unique vision, please visit www.charliescovill.com to catch just a glimpse of this wunderkind's prodigious output.
One of my all-time favorite movie openings that elegantly incorporates hand lettered cinematic titles belongs to Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia. Masterfully pairing the film's theme (performed by Bruce Springsteen) with warm, cursive script, this sequence beautifully captures the shifting harmonies and subtle cruelties of an American city, one which claims brotherhood as its namesake (or brand), rather than an embodied ideal to strive for.
Even as a young child, I appreciated the feeling that came over me as I recognized titles on screen that weren't rigid and streamlined. Like in Philadelphia, these were deliberate, yet imperfect artistic choices. Handmade, preserving all their flaws. Their inclusion almost seemed like a clever trick, as if each card was an intruder, too sloppy for the big screen. Yet every time I'd come across this artist's work, whether I knew it or not, he evoked notes that I still can't describe. Going back through his resume, it's illuminating to realize his craft framed some of my favorite films as a child, my most formative to how I approach titles today: Dr. Strangelove, Harold and Maude, Men in Black & The Addams Family.
I'm speaking of the great Pablo Ferro, whose unmistakable style is still as bold and fresh as it was right off the page in the mid-60s. As I've learned, in creating my own handmade titles for my upcoming film, this approach takes time and a great deal of patience, much like re-fueling a B-52 in midair. Starting with a ruler, paper and some technical pens, I've reconnected with that childlike fascination of the bond between the hand and the page, an artistic choice that is imprinted with as much care as setting up a shot or smoothing out a piece of audio. Every bit counts.