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Question: Why Is A Block Of Stone Like A Block Of Text?

May 12, 2016

Put another way: what do Michelangelo and Mark Armstrong have in common? (besides artistic brilliance, I mean)

The answer lies in the following quote:BlankVertSpace.6pixels

Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.
–MichelangeloBlankVertSpace.6pixels

I agree– I’d just phrase it differently:BlankVertSpace.6pixels

Every block of text has an illustration inside it and it is the task of the illustrator to discover it. –Mark ArmstrongBlankVertSpace.6pixelsBlankVertSpace.2pixels

It’s a mistake to think that certain industries, businesses, or topics don’t lend themselves to illustration. There’s an illustration in every block of text, no matter how technical or obscure the subject. That’s good news because we live in a visual age. Images are crucial for social media and content marketing success.

I love the challenge of finding the illustrations hidden in blocks of text. The articles I illustrate for The Rumpus can be a challenge, because they often feature difficult, sometimes off-putting subjects.BlankVertSpace.6pixels

One memorable Rumpus assignment featured 7 short vignettes. Here’s the first one:BlankVertSpace.8pixels

I miss that warble-y fake pathos from the 80s, à la Ric Ocasek. We will never be the same. Our pathos is real, but turned inside-out so as only to appear that way. When I was in 7th grade I had a science teacher called Mrs. Harris. She collected road kill and kept it in the classroom freezer for use during animal anatomy lessons. One time she pulled out a fresh raccoon, stuck her hand in its ripped abdomen, flipped its skin inside-out and waggled its leg. The classroom duly exploded in screams and groans. I remember noticing how much she enjoyed her performance. One time there was a weekend-long power outage and all of Mrs. Harris’s specimens defrosted. On Monday morning the school reeked and the classroom was cordoned off, but I must have gotten in somehow because I know that this was the first time I saw maggots.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

Which conjured up this “cheerful janitor” image:blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

woman in labcoat with broom sweeping up roadkill, enormous pile of dead animals including camel, monkey, rhino, shark, bear, snake, sheep, wolf, donkey, raccoon, many others

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highI have friends who are deeply committed to animal welfare, so it’s important that I say this: no animals were harmed in the making of this illustration!!blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
detail image woman in labcoat with broom sweeping up roadkill, enormous pile of dead animals including camel, monkey, rhino, shark, bear, snake, sheep, wolf, donkey, raccoon, many others

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highThis next “block” has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it, and uses a non sequitur (the itchy scalp anecdote) to add a little shock value.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

When I can’t fall asleep at night first I count backwards from one thousand, and then I try to figure out why I am awake when the body most often possesses the means of its own mitigation—you rub spit on a mosquito bite, step on your stubbed toe, feel metaphoric, e.g., “make the most of every moment” (your life is not a bag and the capacity of time is always the same). We are so pleasingly self-contained, like one of those triangular single-slice pizza boxes you see at the airport. Of course, once it’s emptied and thrown away it looks like a head, homesick for its all-but-self-same contents. Did you read that story in the New Yorker about the woman whose unrelentingly itchy scalp caused her to scratch right through her cranium? The itch was imaginary, but what’s the difference? She scratched all the way through to her brain.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

I’m not a gambler myself, but scratching made me think of lottery tickets.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

bogus scratch-off lottery ticket called itchy scalp match any two scalp diseases to win, lice, fungus, fleas, yeast, ringworm, fingertip scratching ticket

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highAnd speaking of shock value, here’s a larger detail image.blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
detail image bogus scratch-off lottery ticket called itchy scalp match any two scalp diseases to win, lice, fungus, fleas, yeast, ringworm, fingertip scratching ticket

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highOur friend Michelangelo gets a nod in this next one.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

When I was eight I cut off a third of my right index finger by shutting it in the door of my parents’ Ford. I remember standing in the driveway with my hand against the car, stock-still and hesitating to scream because I didn’t want anyone to come open the door and let my finger fall out. I think it was Michelangelo who talked about releasing the man from the marble, although I might have read that in The Agony and the Ecstasy, which is an incomparably cheesy novel. In any case, I was severed that day from the fact of my shape and rendered over again in veiny gray stone. They sewed my finger back on but it’s always felt like the wrong one, a victorious foam extremity stabbing from the neck of Winged Victory. There was a crowd around her at the Louvre, or was that Venus?BlankVertSpace.8pixels

Surgical reattachments and the famous Venus de Milo sparked this idea:blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

Venus de Milo statue, doctor wearing scrubs with needle and thread has sown Venus's arms back on and she's striking a muscle pose

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highVenus seems to be expressing possible Arm-strong family ties. Hmm– could be…blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
detail image Venus de Milo statue, doctor wearing scrubs with needle and thread has sown Venus's arms back on and she's striking a muscle pose

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highHere’s one more:BlankVertSpace.8pixels

When I was young I loved catching, no, standing on the threshold between states, say when the streetlights stuttered on at twilight. I would try to see the stick-numbers rearrange on the digital clock. What I really wanted to see, though, was the green flash that is said to sometimes spread across the sky at the exact moment of sunset over the ocean. I gazed at the horizon until it became painful. Research reveals disagreement about whether or not this is even a real phenomenon. Either way, to see it would apotheosize the threshold, although I am equally rewarded with this triangular or tripartite space between real and not-real and the unknown. What if there isn’t even an answer? Here I am, stuck in a staring contest with the void while over there my kid’s lower lip is twisted, trembling with potential energy. Just don’t wake me when it’s over.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

The idea of a staring contest with the void made me laugh. I tried to envision what it might look like…blank vertical space, 32 pixels high

woman standing on cliff with clenched hands staring into the void which is a big slimy dark cloud with bulging bloodshot eyes and jagged yellow teeth they're locked in a staring contest

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highWho will be the first to blink, eh??blank vertical space, 32 pixels high
detail image woman standing on cliff with clenched hands staring into the void which is a big slimy dark cloud with bulging bloodshot eyes and jagged yellow teeth they're locked in a staring contest

blank vertical space, 32 pixels highBlankVertSpace.8pixelsNow it is true that the above text examples are colorful, even a bit bizarre. And yes, that does help stimulate illustration ideas. But even so, I stand by my original premise: all text has an illustration inside. Almost always more than one.

A good illustrator can discover that image, refine it, and yes, sculpt it to align with a brand. That image will bolster the text by drawing attention to it. Ideally, the image will also attract advocates: people who will want to share the image (and the post) with their friends.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

One interesting final note: you may have noticed that the four text blocks are about the same length. That was no coincidence.

The author concluded her mini-essay collection with this statement:BlankVertSpace.8pixels

As a poet I know of the surprising things that can be said under the pressure of constraint, and I wanted to apply the same pressure to the lyric essay. Each essay in this series is exactly 150 words long.BlankVertSpace.8pixels

I agree with her about the power of constraints. If an artist works without constraints, doing whatever he wants, his work will tend to be weak and self-indulgent. With constraints in place, however– the client requires that the work have this, that, and the other thing– the artist has to focus and find creative ways to satisfy the constraints. The result is almost always a stronger, more successful piece of work.BlankVertSpace.6pixels

As mentioned, the Rumpus article had a total of 7 short essays. I did an illustration
for each. You can see the entire post here, on the Rumpus site. (Note: click on the illustrations to have them display at full size in their own window.)

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    *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *blank vertical space, 16 pixels high

Would you agree that good customer service always involves working under constraints, i.e., meeting specific customer needs?

Do you think believing there’s a solution (that it’s present, but hidden) makes us more likely to discover it?

Have you ever used a coin to scratch someone’s head on a lottery ticket??

Hope you’ll leave a comment.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

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I also invite you to get updates. Just click the Get Updates button in the sidebar below the Portfolio Thumbnails, or click + Follow in the blog menu bar.blank vertical space, 24 pixels high

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:BlankVertSpace.8pixels

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Illustrator Moons Own Work, Achieves Brilliant Effect

Mr. Puddle Opens A Store
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footer for all future blog posts showing picture of blog author Mark Armstrong, along with short bio and contact information

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2016 9:10 AM

    Michelangelo and you have a lot more in common! The sparkling brains to begin with! Of course Michelangelo is lacking one thing, he can’t use the computer, can he?!!!!!!! 😆

    Wait, there’s more: he certainly doesn’t have your humor! Come to think of it… I’d pick Mark Armstrong any day. He is guaranteed to make …my day! 🙂

    Bless you, my friend! 🙂 🙂 🙏

    Like

    • May 13, 2016 9:54 AM

      Ha! My dear Marina!! How did you find out about my sparkling brain?? Oh wait, that’s right, you’re a goddess, you know these things. I have a little hinge on my skull. I can flip it up, remove my brain, sprinkle on some glitter, and put it back in. That’s the one drawback of a sparkling brain– it requires daily maintenance… ✨😊✨

      Poor Michelangelo– no computer!! There’s a cartoon in there somewhere: Michelangelo sitting at a computer in the Sistine Chapel. He’s looking up, scratching his head, thinking: “Now how the heck do I scan in the ceiling??” 😢🎨💻🚽🚑

      Ah, these wonderful comments that rain down on me from Mt. Olympus! They water my sense of humor and make it bloom in all its weedy splendor!! Thank you, dearest Marina!! 😍🚀🌖💥👽👽👽

      Liked by 1 person

  2. May 12, 2016 11:20 AM

    “If an artist works without constraints, doing whatever he wants, his work will tend to be weak and self-indulgent. With constraints in place, however– the client requires that the work have this, that, and the other thing– the artist has to focus and find creative ways to satisfy the constraints. The result is almost always a stronger, more successful piece of work.” ::applause::

    That’s brilliant. Really. I’ve thought it for a long time, known it was true for me but have never heard anyone else talk about it. It’s like a master class in creativity, right there. Some people may not work that way, of course. But I suspect that most creative people do.

    This is going to be a long comment – do you mind if I share a quick anecdote (not a head-scratcher, I hope)?

    When I first got a job assisting the person who lead the training program where I worked I was scary-young, had no knowledge of photography, etc. She took a chance on hiring me. We had a project for which we had to make a slide show about hazardous materials. We did a few days of shooting and had PILES of slides from all around the manufacturing plant. The plan was to show BAD BEHAVIOR around liquid hazardous waste and then the right way to do things. We couldn’t use actual hazardous waste, of course. So we used water. Spills, run-offs, etc. and employees behaving unsafely. Turns out that water doesn’t show up as anything exciting in slides. LOL…it’s clear! The shoots had gone on too long, we were crashing into our drop-dead deadline.

    When my boss went to lunch on the day the thing was due I sat at my desk, surrounded by innocuous water shots, and realized that I had to do something. So I found a match and held it under one of the water-running-into-a-drain-pretending-to-be-hazardous-waste slides. The emulsion (or whatever it’s called) on the slide bubbled and the edges of the bubbles turned dark. By the time the match burned my finger the water looked hazardous enough for a disaster movie! No idea why or how I thought of burning the slide. Panic, probably. But after a few more matches gave their lives to the cause we had a very scary show to present to management. Wooohoooo! Success.

    Without deadlines and constraints and boundaries people do tend to morph into amorphous blobs of dwindling energy.

    This post is soooooo good! Your illustrations of illustration are super! I esp like the “staring contest with the void” one.

    And the premise of the post is inspiring. I always believe there’s a solution. Somewhere, somehow. May take time and, in my case, whining, but we can always reach it.

    Like

    • May 14, 2016 12:16 PM

      Wow! Wow, wow, and double wow!! This comment is epic!! No more calls, ladies and gentlemen, we have a behemoth!! : )

      Many thanks, my dear RK! Yeah, constraints don’t get much respect these days. Neither do rules and regulations. Everyone has to be “free” to do what they want. Sounds so appealing, but it’s such a trap. You wind up with self-indulgent work (and behavior) that’s of little interest to even a bored audience of one. Every artist eventually comes to understand that you can’t successfully break a rule until you understand the reason for its existence, and have gained mastery in following it. Hey, wait a minute now– how did I get up on this soapbox??

      Burning the slides to create toxic waste– brilliant!! What a great story. And yes, a perfect example of constraints (requirements) creating an intense focus on a problem, which in turn sparks that flash of inspiration (which is so often virtually indistinguishable from desperation!!) which enables discovery of a solution– excellent.

      And I really like your point about how a lack of constraints actually saps your energy: how can we stay upbeat, focused, engaged, when there’s really no reason to?

      I do think there’s no underestimating the power of belief. There’s a famous quote by Henry Ford that sums it up perfectly: If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right. In the context of this discussion: If an illustrator believes there’s a visual “solution” to a block of text, he’s right– and he will find it.

      Thanks again for a truly epic, entertaining, and insightful comment!! : )

      Liked by 1 person

  3. May 12, 2016 12:18 PM

    This was a very interesting read, Mark. I am a very visual person so I have often found that reading sparks an image in my mind, though sometimes it can be very abstract or just the interplay of colours. I, therefore, found it really interesting to read about how your imagination sparks from the text you are illustrating and see how you synthesise these flashes of inspiration into a finished illustration.

    Like

    • May 14, 2016 12:38 PM

      Hi, Laura! You are indeed a visual person– I know, because I’ve seen your lovely and very appealing work.

      Yes, it’s interesting how text can trigger such a wide variety of images. I’m just guessing, but I think we all bring a certain sensibility to what we read (perhaps ‘personality’ is a better word), along with a unique set of personal experiences. As a result, we all free-associate differently. I haven’t really thought about it before, but that probably explains why certain artists create very unique worlds, where all the images seem to “fit,” almost like a matched set. Hmm. I must speak to Dr. Freud about this at the earliest opportunity… : )

      Always great to see you, and thanks very much for your kind comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • May 14, 2016 12:55 PM

        You are absolutely right I think. We all bring our own baggage of life experience, psychological make up, knowledge, and references to our interpretation which means things carry different connotations for each of us. It’s something I used to explain to my students when I was teaching them literature.

        Like

  4. May 12, 2016 12:57 PM

    One of the great lessons in life is realizing we live in a world of possibilities. It’s up to us to discover them. True for artists, true for everyone…

    Good question. Excellent answer! Absolutely.

    Like

  5. May 14, 2016 10:07 PM

    “Every block of text has an illustration inside it and it is the task of the illustrator to discover it. –Mark Armstrong”

    I love this, Mark!

    Like

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