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Ross MacDonald
Boardwalk Paper
posted:

I have had the privelege of working on the HBO show Boardwalk Empire for 4 seasons, designing and fabricating props. I've made Nucky's desk checkbook and passport, Agent Van Alden's drivers licence and evidence tags, Al Capone's rap sheet, Jimmy Darmody's death certificate, Arnold Rothstein's calling card, pocket notebooks for many of the characters, coloring books, magazines, photo albums, catalogs, tickets, telegrams, agent ID's, maps, deeds, life insurance policies, medical charts, a newspaper, books, letters, bushels of legal papers, files and forms, and hundreds of other props.
Boardwalk Empire is set in early 1920's Atlantic City, during the opening years of Prohibition. One of the many things I like about the show, and about working on it, is the attention to correct period detail. Much of my time spent working on props is taken up by research - trolling through massive archives to find a 1922 New Jersey drivers licence or Irish passport so I can make ones exactly like them. I might take several long days to replicate some period prop that flashes past on screen for a millisecond. Until the episode is shot and edited, none of us know how much acreage a particular piece will occupy on screen, so I always make more prop than we need just in case. Sometimes the camera will linger lovingly on one of my props, other times you can't even see it. That's showbiz.
This piece is a good example. Originally it was meant to be a more visible hero prop, but in the end I think you catch a quick glimpse of the cover.

It's a fancy stationery salesman's sample book. Some of the envelopes and letterheads are copied from period examples in my ephemera files. Many of the example pieces were created from scratch – hand set in period type, and hand printed letterpress.
As is usual with these gigs, I get a 3 or 4 word description of what they need, a script page or two if I'm lucky, and then I have to hit the ground running. It was fun designing this one, but as with many paper props, part of the exercise involves generating the copy - in this case, coming up with names, businesses and addresses. It's harder than you might think, so I fell back on some real names. My intern and I became bond salesmen, my wife became an art milliner, and my kids book agent puts in an appearance as a fine chocolatiere.



The cover and endpapers are green and black elephant hide paper  – which is no longer made, sadly – and the pages are lush green paper with sheets of glassine between.



I'll share some other photos of Boardwalk props I've worked on in the days to come. In a few short weeks we start work on season 5 – can't wait to see where it goes from here!
Confessions of an ink-stained wretch
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My friend and fellow illustrator Kurt Hollomon invited me to participate in a show he was curating with Mack McFarland, called Tear-Sheet: The daily grind of illustration, at the Feldman Gallery in Portland OR. He further honored me with the request to illustrate the announcement for the show.
Here's the mission statement:

The image and word have never had a more successful marriage then in the newspapers and magazines. They are both expected to do what the other cannot on its own. These expectations are high and the timelines short.  Even before the onslaught of the 24-hour news cycle, artists slinging the ink of the brush have had to contend with claustrophobic deadlines and enigmatic editors. The resulting practice developed by these artists have become as ritualistic as one's interactions with print media. Tear-Sheet brings to light the extensive process of contemporary newspaper and magazine illustrators.  On display will be sketches with art director notes and coffee stains, next to finished and printed works.  Artist include: Catherine Lazure, Joe Ciardiello, Marcellus Hall, Philippe Lardy, Vivienne Flesher, and many others.


Given the show's focus on sketches, I chose to exhibit 32 doodles – some new, some old – from the vast trove of killed sketches that I've accumulated over the years. Now for the hard part - what to do for the announcement? While pawing through the dusty sheaves, deep in my killed sketches vault, little doodles from the past kept jumping out at me, crying for completion. Tired from my exertions, the clouds of dust turning the tracks of my tears into dry grey smudges, I curled up on a soft heap of crumpled ideas, and was soon lost in fitful sleep and dreaming. In my dream, the old sketches swirled around my head like cartoon stars and birds, chirping and beaming until finally coming to rest on the page, repurposed into a new comic – part autobiography, part cri de couer. When I awoke, there it was, tacked to the drawing board. Make of it what you will, pilgrim, and take heed of whatever measures and warnings you may find there.


Thanks Kurt, for helping to give these old cracked gems new life, and for including me among such great company in the show.

 
Let's We Forget
posted:

With the heat and humidity of the last few days it began to feel like I had somehow inadvertantly taken up residence on the surface of the planet Venus. The tiniest amount of movement or activity would produce sheets of perspiration. Even drawing – typically not an aerobic activity, at least how I practice it. So is it any wonder that, in a heat-stroke induced swoon, I began to have visions not unlike the one above?
 
Ben Franklin famously said "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" – except Ben never said that, but anyway... Any religion that looks like this, is one that I might be persuaded to endorse. That could be the heat talking, or my Canadian upbringing, or the fact that I'm getting really thirsty. Either way, given the recent hot weather, and the looming Memorial Day weekend, I thought it would be a good time to post this – cheers!
 
This illustration was for a fascinating article, in a truly great magazine, The Walrus. The article, Under the Influence, reveals how the Canadian breweries turned Canada from a nation of louche whisky-soaked sots, into the nation of wholesome, benign, beer swigging yoda-like beings that we know and love today. Yes, as much as we think of beer as the national drink of Canada, it wasn't always the case, as inconceivable as that may seem.
I encourage you to read about it here:
http://thewalrus.ca/under-the-influence/
Many thanks to Brian Morgan, to whom I owe a beer.
TONY! TONY! TONY!
posted:

It's not often I get the opportunity to draw jazz hands.
A quick cover for last weekends New York Times Arts & Leisure section. I wish I could tell you that these are all drawn from life, but unfortunately I haven't had a chance to see any of these plays. The closest I've come is my daughter's middle school drama club production of The Wizard of Oz, which was sadly overlooked for a Tony nomination.
Thanks to Shannon Robertson and Paul Jean for a fun gig.
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