My Big Fat Greek Revival

The Biography show Haunted History, a Saturday afternoon delight, has introduced manse after decadent southern manse of delicious Plantation, Classical, and Greek Revival architecture styles which cause my pulse to quicken. Seeing these Plantation-type homes has ignited something O.C.D. and primal in me, as I would imagine a past-life suddenly recognizing something familiar (if I believed in that sort of thing). I get stuck on a style and drift off into a hazy maze of lustful reverie for months or years. I’m on year 30 of my obsession with old ships, year 33 of obsession with castles. All I can do is swoon and seek real estate outlets online to drool over. And I found my treasure trove at a little site called – I could indulge for hours on this site, scheming of how I could sell my Chicago loft and move out of state…to the middle of nowhere…away from family and friends…with no job…and this is the part where practical reality painfully seizes my vision, inserts the knife, and twists. Ah well, a girl can dream[home], can’t she, Rhett?

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Art Collaboration Trifecta

My Facebook friends got this memo (and are surely sick of my self promotion by now), but for everyone else I want to ‘yell’ about how cool this is.  Unable to embed my audio player into this blog post, I’ll provide the direct link to the sound piece I’m referencing in a sec.

I drew the following piece, entitled “Theater of the Mind” (2011)

My friend Tom Curry, a Chicago poet, was inspired to write about it and my other friend, Mike Hayden, a San Diego musician, created music to enhance that spoken poem. Tom is a member of the Waiting 4 The Bus Poetry Collective and Mike is a member of the band Sleep Lady.

This fantastic collaborative project can be heard here. Just scroll down and click play.

Tom has also written a poem on my 2010 drawing “The Springheeled Piper“.

I’m so proud that I am surrounded by talented folk and that in this digital age, this type of collaboration can occur across the country or globe. I’m grateful to live in the age of Web 2.0 – where consumers are publishers. I will consume. I will publish. And I will invite others to get involved in “group art” and communal promotion. There are too many unsung talent heros out there.

Additionally, this slick link was posted to my Facebook wall by a friend and I would highly encourage everyone who has a Facebook account (because login is required) to try this. Even though it is a very egocentric interface (all social media is) it is a cool way to visualize your network.

Charlie Chaplin Makes Me Cry

In one of my graduate classes we examined the subtext of Charlie Chaplin’s films and the social commentary he presented in a time when it was rather risky to do so. We watched part of Chaplin’s Modern Times in class. I had to put both hands over my mouth to stifle the uncontrollable laughter I was gripped with during the following “eating machine” scene. Tears were coming out of my eyes and my husband, who was also in this class, just laughed at me as I tried to contain my hysterics. Imagine, a silent film causing me to laugh harder than I have laughed at a film in years. That’s what I call a great time-transcending comedic art.

We plan on walking over to Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center this week as I am in luck – Charlie Chaplin films are currently being featured.

The context of the clip below: the men are testing out a more efficient way for a factory worker to quickly eat lunch, to maximize productivity. This was blatant commentary on industrial working conditions and employee treatment during the Great Depression.

Modern Times Movie Plot

Modern Times portrays Chaplin as a factory worker, employed on an assembly line. After being subjected to such indignities as being force-fed by a “modern” feeding machine and an accelerating assembly line where Chaplin screws nuts at an ever-increasing rate onto pieces of machinery, he suffers a mental breakdown that causes him to run amok throwing the factory into chaos. Chaplin is sent to a hospital. Following his recovery the now unemployed Chaplin is arrested as an instigator in a Communist demonstration since he was waving a red flag that fell off a delivery truck (Chaplin intended to return the flag to the driver). In jail, he accidentally eats smuggled cocaine, mistaking it for salt. In his subsequent delirious state he walks into a jailbreak and knocks out the convicts. He is hailed a hero and is released.

Outside the jail, he discovers life is harsh, and attempts to get arrested after failing to get a decent job. He soon runs into an orphan girl (the “gamine”), played by Paulette Goddard, who is fleeing the police after stealing a loaf of bread. To save the girl he tells police that he is the thief and ought to be arrested. However, a witness reveals his deception and he is freed. In order to get arrested again, he eats an enormous amount of food at a cafeteria without paying. He meets up with the gamine in the paddy wagon, which crashes, and the girl convinces the reluctant Chaplin to escape with her. Dreaming of a better life, he gets a job as a night watchman at a department store, sneaks the gamine into the store and even lets burglars have some food. Waking up the next morning in a pile of clothes, he is arrested once more.

Ten days later, the gamine takes him to a new home – a run-down shack which she admits “isn’t Buckingham Palace” but will do. The next morning, Chaplin reads about a new factory and lands a job there. He gets his boss trapped in machinery, but manages to extricate him. The other workers decide to go on strike. Accidentally paddling a brick into a policeman, he is arrested again. Two weeks later, he is released and learns that the gamine is a café dancer, and she tries to get him a job as a singer. By night, he becomes an efficient waiter though he finds it difficult to tell the difference between the “in” and “out” doors to the kitchen, or to successfully deliver a roast duck to table. During his floor show, he loses a cuff that bears the lyrics of his song, but he rescues his act by improvising the story using an amalgam of word play, words in (or made up of word parts from) multiple languages and mock sentence structure while pantomiming. His act proves a hit. When police arrive to arrest the gamine for her earlier escape, they escape again. Finally, we see them walking down a road at dawn, towards an uncertain but hopeful future. (According to Wikipedia)

About Charlie Chaplin

(Born April 16, 1889 – Died December 25, 1977) In 1915, British-born Chaplin burst onto a war-torn world bringing it the gift of comedy, laughter and relief while it was tearing itself apart through World War I. Over the next 25 years, through the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler, he stayed on the job. … It is doubtful any individual has ever given more entertainment, pleasure and relief to so many human beings when they needed it the most”. George Bernard Shaw called Chaplin “the only genius to come out of the movie industry”. He co-founded United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. This meant more freedom in producing his own films. His high-profile public and private life encompassed both adulation and controversy. Chaplin’s identification with the left ultimately forced him to resettle in Europe during the McCarthy era in the early 1950s. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Chaplin the 10th greatest male screen legend of all time. In 2008, Martin Sieff, in a review of the book Chaplin: A Life, wrote: “Chaplin was not just ‘big’, he was gigantic.

Font-astic Friday

I could rattle off a string of technical typography characteristics; ascenders, descenders, kerning, leading, etc. etc. but when I see a font I really like, I usually have an emotionally associative reaction to it. Here are 6 of my favorite fonts with my very non-technical impressions of them.

You can see this font used in the header on this blog, too.

This font makes me want to visit 1895 Savannah, Georgia.

I used this font for my wedding programs in 2000.

This lighthearted Honeymooners-era font speaks of more innocent times.

This font reminds me of the Art Deco filled video game, BioShock.

I've never been to the Ravinia Festival north of Chicago but would like to go.

An Interview with Chicago Graphic Designer Brooke Becker

I was lucky enough to sit down with the lovely and talented Brooke Becker. In this interview she gives some insight into her design-rich background, what she digs about art, and how she stays sane as a graduate student and professional.


SARAH: Brooke, you’ve got a great sense of design. Did growing up around art influence your education?

BROOKE: My mom was an art teacher; I was exposed to art at an early age. Other than elementary and middle school art classes, my first art class was my senior year of high school. I played the viola and my mom insisted that I be in the orchestra all four years and take four years of math! So, this was the first year I had extra electives that I could take an art class. Thankfully, the teacher knew my mom and allowed me to join with the other senior classes, Illustration and Commercial Design. In college, I was a Visual Art major with a concentration in Graphic Design. This program didn’t really get established until my junior year, when they built a new Mac lab and brought in adjunct teachers who were in the industry. Currently, I am getting my Masters in Arts in New Media at DePaul University.

SARAH: What’s your favorite kind of art?

BROOKE: I have always been drawn to photography. I like the idea that the moment captured by the photographer will be forever saved and documented.

SARAH: What is your key advice to others just getting into the creative arts field?

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BROOKE: I recommend getting exposed to creative environments and industries by doing internships or summer jobs. I wish I would have been a bit more focused on the types of creative companies out there and tried to get in at the ones that excited me.

SARAH: What is your “expertise specialty”? Has this stemmed or grown from something else?

BROOKE: I consider myself an expert in design for print and web. I am much better executing print work. However, I feel I have become more of a design consultant for print and web projects. Assessing bad design and making it better. I think this has just stemmed from being exposed to both print and web design for so long, and having a strong art background helps me communicate my ideas.

SARAH: What have you found to be most valuable being in the New Media Studies Program?

BROOKE: I love the fact that the NMS program is interdisciplinary allowing each NMS student to explore their own interests. I also have enjoyed the people I have met and collaborated with on projects.

SARAH: How do you keep life balance as a “constantly connected” new media artist?

BROOKE:  I used to do a lot of improv comedy…I’m still doing a little here and there. I play volleyball. I’m also trying to take more fine art classes. I took an oil painting class last summer and it was amazing the amount of anxiety I had from starting the painting. You can always delete or create multiple versions in digital art, so I feel that pushing my creativity to be more decisive is a good thing.

SARAH: And lastly…where can we view your current portfolio?

BROOKE: – I use WordPress for my site which allows me to easily update work and include descriptions.

[And be sure to follow Brooke on Twitter]

Craving St. Basil’s Onion Domes

America isn’t known for its breathtaking architecture. There, I said it. I live in a Daniel Burnham-designed loft building that used to be a paper binding factory. It is as close to era-inspired as I could get (or afford) in Chicago. Seems that ours is a young nation hell-bent on beauty-free, modern efficiency. There are few castles here. Churches look more and more like Costco warehouses [insert sarcastic statement about capitalism and religion here] and the few Victorian Gingerbread homes left are weak and cookie cutter [why do I suddenly crave gingerbread cookies?].

I want structures that will serve my imagination.  And  to fulfill this desire I have to cross oceans of time. I raved over the Kostnice (Sedlec) Ossuary and St. Barbara’s Cathedral in Kutna Hora outside of Prague, I loved strolling through Notre Dame in Paris and I  attended mass at St. Peter’s in Munich. I just stood there with my jaw hanging open looking around in awe at these places. If architecture was an animal I’d be a constant hunter, if only I could match my trips with the ever-growing number of arrows in my quiver.

Me at the Sedlec Kostnice Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

If you’ve ever “experienced” Dr. Zhivago you know that Russia simply drips with tragic historical romance in both its literature and architecture. The Romanovs, czars, czarinas, Rasputin, Lenin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, nesting dolls, the beautiful characters that comprise the cyrillic language, etc. It is that velvet-y revolution of mind to which I’m drawn. Near the top of my Bucket List, which consists entirely of travel destinations and architectural delicassies is the Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat (phew!) a.k.a. St. Basil’s Cathedral.  This magnificent onion-domed church was built bewteen 1555 and 1561 by Ivan the Terrible in honor of the capture of the Kazan Khanate, part of the former Golden Horde. It stands on the edge of Red Square in Moscow.

Until 1600 it was the tallest building in the city and marks the geometric center of the city.

According to, legends have it that the builder of this Cathedral was blinded so that such a beautiful structure could never be built again. The Cathedral is vividly colorful and contains redbrick towers that add to its beauty. The church’s design consists of nine chapels, each mounted with its individual dome that marks the assault on the city of Kazan.

The Cathedral provides a strong religious symbolism and is based on architectural designs found in Jerusalem. Eight of the domes make a circular form around the ninth dome, forming a star (if viewed from the top). The number eight is considered an auspicious number according to Jewish calendar. There is a deep contrast between the interior and the exterior of the Cathedral. The interior contains modest decorations and is not that spectacular. The corridors inside are narrow and don’t have adequate space for worshippers seating.

Many times in history, the Cathedral has suffered damage due to violent communal incidents. If stories are to be true, the French ruler Napoleon wanted to take St. Basil back to France with him, but due to the lack of such technology, he ordered his army to destroy it so that no one else could occupy the church. His army had prepared to attack the church and had also lit up the gunpowder, but a mysterious rain shower prevented the explosions. These are legends, but people really believe in St. Basil’s mysterious powers and there are a lot of committed worshipers.

The small dome on the left marks the sanctuary of Basil the Blessed (1588).

According to our friend Wikipedia: The building’s design, shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, has no analogues in Russian architecture: “It is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to fifteenth century… a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design.”  The cathedral foreshadowed the climax of Russian national architecture in the 17th century. The church has operated as a division of the State Historical Museum since 1928.  It was completely secularized in 1929 and, as of 2011, remains a federal property of the Russian Federation. The church has been part of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. It is often mislabeled as the Kremlin due to its location on Red Square in immediate proximity of the Kremlin.

The church acquired its present-day vivid colors in several stages from 1680s to 1848.  Russians’ attitude to color in the 17th century changed in favor of bright colors; icon and mural art experienced an explosive growth in number of available paints, dyes and their combinations.  The original color scheme, missing these innovations, was far less challenging. It followed the depiction of Heavenly City in the Book of Revelation:

  “And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.”

Color scheme of the cathedral is best seen by night.

I think I would either cry or faint if – nay, WHEN – I behold this cultural gem. It resembles a whimsical jewel-like castle from my dreams. Or like a sandcastle made by God. All I can do until I step foot in Red Square is to swoon and swoon. Additionally, I would also make time to travel to St. Petersburg to visit the St. Basil-inspired cathedral, The Church of Our Savior of Spilled Blood.

Inspired by St. Basil's Cathedral.

Is There Art in Suffering?

The subject of suffering has been covered by artists, writers, singers, and poets since the beginning of time. The suffering I’m talking about is the basis of masterpiece, the breaker of hearts, and the mover of souls. I believe there is art in suffering, but it’s not the duty of the artist to merely say “look at this suffering”…I think it is equally the co-duty of an artist to help end suffering. To be genuine and truthful in one’s art, I believe the artist should have a meaningful experience in which they closely examine that particular ethos. The suffering of others is more graspable, more deconstructible and more serviceable than our own. As an artist I’m developing a growing hunger for “the transformative experience”. Ironically enough, I wasn’t prone to these overt desires to help others in my community until I (ta da!) left Catholicism. Maybe Jesus Christ, Ghandi, or St. Vincent will analogously tear out of me in an altruistic flurry of chaos – like the chestburster in Aliens – but in a good way. Call it the existential anxiety of a heretical believer, but whether or not these experiences reflect in my own art, the fact is that I’m getting anxious to partake in meaningful encounters that will benefit the less fortunate. As I view the world through the eyes I have now, I think a louder understanding of what matters begins to ring in my ears. Ecclesiastes 1:18 states it well: “For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”

I recently took a step toward quelling this (oxymoronic) “selfish need” and I’m going to shamelessly plug it here. I signed up for The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s 26th Annual Hunger Walk in Chicago. It takes place on Saturday, June 25th, 2011. The Hunger Walk is an annual 5K (3.2 miles) event to raise funds and awareness for the Food Depository’s work in Cook County and network of 650 agencies (food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters). The Food Depository covers the overhead expenses for the event so all funds raised can be divided amongst the agencies to help supplement their budgets or, in some cases, serve as their entire annual budget. This is the largest one-day anti-hunger event in Chicago that brings together all of Cook County.

My fundraising goal is a modest $275 but since I’m kind of a newbie, I see this as the shallow end of the “doing good” pool where I need to step in rather than dive in. So, if you read this and would like to do me (and the hungry others) a solid favor and donate to this great cause, you can do so here.  And thank you = )


Good Cause-Related Resources:


Suffering-Related Resources: