Ellen Weinstein
Collaboration with NY Public Library Labs
I was recently invited to participate in a weeklong event in digital storytelling hosted by the Brown Institute for Media Innovation and Columbia University.
“Bit by Bit” paired storytellers (illustrator, journalists, photojournalist, poet/architect, landscape architect, and songwriter) with technologists (artists whose work involves code, data science, and data development) and challenged us to create something new. A mash up of speed dating, maker faire and Improv Theater, the event was a celebration of collaboration and process without it having to result in a deliverable. The teams worked together on Thursday and Friday and on Saturday there was a presentation at Columbia Journalism School in front of a large audience. On the Saturday before there was a student event where I served as a mentor, which I wrote about for the DART newsletter.

I was very flattered when Mark Hansen invited me and the event was so far afield from anything I had done, I had to try it and see where it would go. I was fortuitously paired with the team from the NY Public Library Labs. All six members of the lab signed up together and cleverly composited their faces into one headshot on the event website. When I began my career as an illustrator, I would spend hours at the picture collection housed in the NYPL, gathering reference for projects. It was a gathering place for illustrators, filmmakers, writers, etc. Since the collection has been digitized, I now spend countless hours browsing it under the guise of “research.”

"Leaning in" to the experience of working in the library.

We met briefly on Wednesday in the labs office in the beautiful 42nd street library to get acquainted. We shared work and started brainstorming ideas to find a common ground and something we would all be invested in creating.
Thursday morning the organizers had a breakfast for all the teams to meet. It was an inspiring gathering of people who are all renown in their respective professions. Although this wasn’t a competition, meeting the other participants made everyone want to rise to the challenge. As a friend of mine said, “What constitutes a sailboat race? Two boats on Long Island Sound at the same time.”
So, off we went.
Back at the library we set up shop in a historic reading room. Over the course of a few hours, we settled on the idea of working with my visual world of animals whose shapes would shift based on data sourced from chat. The animals were divided into heads, torsos, legs, arms, tails and wings that were each mapped to respond to different letters, grammar and time stamp of a chat. The backgrounds would change base on the emotion of the chat: rain for angry, sun for happy, etc.

In the afternoon, I returned to work in my studio where I pulled different pieces from my existing archives, animal engravings from the library archives and painted some new characters. We continued to communicate through email and a call where all seven were on the speakerphone at the library and I was at home. Friday morning, I arrived at the library with my paints and brushes to fill in any missing elements on site. It felt like working in a steampunk time machine, sitting in the historic reading room, painting backgrounds with gouache that were scanned to become digital files that the team then mapped to code on their laptops. By the afternoon, I was walking down the hall to rinse my brushes in the restroom sink like it was no big deal. A reporter from the Columbia Journalism Review came in to interview us as we prepared for our presentation. There was another gathering for participants Friday night at the Hudson hotel, which I attended while the NYPL Lab team stayed and coded for a few more hours.
On Friday afternoon while the team was coding, I quickly pulled together some slides using the NYPL digital collection to describe the collaborative process. 1. We begin with the idealistic version of left brain and right brain volleying ideas back and forth.

2. Reality: we go around in circles for a while, everyone headed in a different direction.

3. Synchronicity: we develop our idea and everyone is working on different tasks in unison.

Saturday was show time. We met at Pulitzer Hall in the Columbia Journalism School and put together our presentation. I was mesmerized by all the talks that ranged from ready for market journalistic applications to live performances, one by Joel Gibb from Hidden Cameras singing from data sources created by Jer Thorp, an installation of different surfaces in boxes that landscape architect Diana Balmori walked on to create different sounds recorded by visual artist and game designer Phoenix Perry along with a poetic and heartbreaking discussion between Vito Acconci poet-cum-architect and visual artist cum computer scientist Jonathan Harris on the difficulties they had finding a way to collaborate.
Although I use paper and pixels in my own work, I am very much a front-end user. I consider it a victory every time I login to a website and remember my password. Like watching a flawless dance performance, the movement of code appears effortless until one attempts it on their own. I have come to appreciate the choreography and orchestration that happens on the other side of the screen.
The experience has made me curious and excited about new platforms for storytelling and the possibilities for image making beyond the printed page.The highlight was the actual collaboration with the wonderful team of NYPL Labs. Although it was unnerving at times to let go of total control over what my work would look like in the final product, by doing so we were able to make something together that we couldn’t have done on our own. A heartfelt thank you to NYPL Labs and to Mark Hansen and Michael Krisch of the Brown Institute. I can fully appreciate the level of care and planning that goes into creating an event like this.
Now that I have a glimpse into these other worlds, I want to see more.
I'm getting the band back together. NYPL Labs team from l to r: Paul Beaudoin (Applications Developer), Matt Miller (Applications Developer, Archives), Brian Foo (Applications Developer), David Riordan (Product Manager), me, Ben Vershbow (Founder/Manager), Clarisa Diaz (Parsons MFA student and Fellow), Mauricio Giraldo (Interaction Designer/Developer)

Above is a short video of the app in action wonderfully created by NYPL Labs, the full talk is below.
Humana Festival Poster

The Humana Festival of New American Plays, hosted by the Actors Theatre of Louisville, is the largest and most well established new play festival in America. The productions draw producers, journalists, critics, playwrights and theatre professionals and fans from around the world.
Each year, an artist is commissioned to create the identity for the festival; I am honored to be this year’s artist. Chip Kidd, Brian Cronin, Tomer Hanuka, Josh Cochran and Heads of State created some of the previous seasons’ posters.
The images created for the poster generally reflect the writer, the writer’s mind and the stage rather than the specific productions. Since there has been a disproportionate number of a male playwright depicted previously, we agreed to make the writer female. The art is now on the recently launched site and will be used for the posters, cover for the program guides, and local and national print advertising, among others. A big thanks to Andy Perez, Art Director and the team at Actors Theatre for the great gig.
As President of ICON8, I have the privilege of commissioning an artist and a designer to create the identity for the conference.
I have been following the wonderful work of acclaimed illustrator Carson Ellis for some time. Her work is intricately detailed, incorporating dark, whimsical imagery with beautiful hand-drawn typography. In other words, awesome! Carson, who makes her home in Portland, will also grace the ICON8 stage as a speaker.

For the design, I asked Paul Buckley, the multi-talented Vice President, Executive Director of Penguin Books, another artist whose work I greatly admire. Paul was a speaker at ICON7, of which I was Programming Chair. Needless to say, I was thrilled when they both graciously said yes.
Similar to ICON7, we decided to print a two-sided poster. I gave them each our theme of Work + Play, as well as the information that needed to be on the poster and watched them do their magic. Carson created a lush, beautiful painting that speaks to our theme and the location of Portland. Paul’s vibrant, eye-popping design plays off of this being ICON’s 8th conference. Their poster images couldn’t be more opposite but yet united since they celebrate the breadth and diversity of our world of image-makers. There has been a great response to the poster, lots of sharing of the images on social media, and we have been inundated with requests for the posters.

ICON8 will not be taking place exclusively in a hotel.  Instead we are making full use of the wonderful city of Portland and have coordinated great venues within a short walking distance of each other. The conference presentations will take place at the historic Portland Art Museum, our closing party is at the famed McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, and our preconference events will take place at our partner school, the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The Benson is the official conference hotel. The creative community in Portland could not be more welcoming and we have a team of local advisors helping us with our planning.
Our board members, along with our Conference Director, Mark Heflin, have been busy planning since the beginning of the year. We have a stellar new website, thanks to our Tech/Design Chair, Matt Sundstrom, an illustrator who also works at Instrument, a prominent web firm in Portland. Our PR machine AKA Mark Kaufman has been firing away since our first board meeting in January. The entire board has been lining up great speakers and events that will take place during the conference including a new two-day Educator’s Symposium, headed by Education Chair, Rick Lovell, where educators from art centers around the world will present and share ideas.
Continue to watch our website and updates with exciting announcements of speakers. Watch our registration page for an equally impressive list of attendees. It is the social component that continues to be the legacy of ICON and the best reason to attend, with a chance to hang out and trade stories and sketchbooks over drinks. I met Yuko Shimizu and Marcos Chin for the first time at ICON4 in San Francisco. Tickets are flying fast, register now and join us in Portland.


  • Ellen Weinstein — President
  • Robert Brinkerhoff — Vice-President
  • Melinda Beck — Advocacy & Workshops
  • Matt Sundstrom — Technology & Design
  • Susie Ghahremani — Bookstore & Road Show
  • Jason Holley — Stage and Event Production
  • Rod Hunt — European PR & Development
  • Mark Kaufman — Public Relations
  • Rick Lovell — Education
  • Owen Smith — Programming
  • Katherine Streeter — Secretary
  • Esther Watson — Bookstore & Road Show
  • James Yang — Treasurer & Sponsor Relations
  • Mark Heflin — Director
  • Melanie Reim — Volunteer Coordinator
The Patron Saint of Ugly

I was recently commissioned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to illustrate the cover for a new novel, The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla.
An exuberant novel about reluctant saint and alleged healer Garnet Ferrari—born with the map of the world rendered in port-wine stains on her skin—and her family's rich, tangled and most unusual history, from the Nebrodi Mountains of Sicily to the hilltop mansions of Sweetwater, West Virginia.
The manuscript contained lots of rich imagery including: flaming red hair, globes, volcano fables, cassette tapes, mermaids as well as colorful characters and beautiful settings. The book was a very enjoyable read and I had no trouble coming up with many ideas for the cover. A few of the rough sketches are below, I like to provide at least 10 different ideas for a book jacket. Once the direction was chosen, I was able to draw upon the hundreds of photos I had taken during my trip to Venice for the figures and architecture.
Best of all was a thank you letter I just received from the author. A big thanks to Martha Kennedy, AD for the great project and lovely design.

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Weinstein is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!