I’m designing a t-shirt for a jazz club. Or trying to at least. It’s pretty open-ended. Not much guidance aside from the example of the shirt and logo they already have. I start with the obvious thing: drawings of musicians and dancers. But that doesn’t feel right for this place. Too anecdotal. It needs to be more univeral or maybe abstract. So I take the drawings apart.
A t-shirt is sort of like a billboard. It should be readable at a distance. I know I only have a maximum of four colors to work with so I have to make them count. I dump a bunch of drawings into Photoshop and start playing around.
I’m listening to Jeannie Berlin read Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge as I work. I try to imagine her spurned newlywed from The Heartbreak Kid but the weathered voice is basically Cyd Peach from Succession. I like audiobooks but find I retain almost nothing I’ve heard. I’m enjoying listening but after five hours (with about thirteen to go) I can’t tell you what this book is about. I wonder why that is. Not that my memory’s so great from reading but it feels qualitatively different. A completely other experience and activity. More passive maybe?
There’s almost nothing identifiable left of the source sketches in the designs I’m coming up with. Don’t know if that’s good or bad but each new one suggests the next. The possibilities expand. Kandinsky claimed he was painting music but I think he was deluding himself. No painter could do what music does no matter their self-confidence or talent. Visual art is a lesser, more limited form. Best to just accept that and work within the given constraints. Still I’d like this shirt to at least hint at what you might expect if you went to this club.
On a break I go to the museum and look at the new show of Bridget Riley drawings. She’s spent decades and decades measuring out shapes and arranging them mathematically to cause sometimes unsettling optical effects. There are handwritten notes on the margins of the bands of color and instances of mistakes or questions that undercut the cold perfection of her finished paintings. I never had much of a reaction to those. But these drawings are really engaging because they show the struggle to transcend into a heightened, clean realm, but not quite getting there. I like when you can still tell the things are made by hand. They’re uneven and imperfect in a human way.
Because I was given so little direction or guidance I just keep going. I change this or that setting in the program and each opens a trapdoor I fall through. I never learned to use Photoshop correctly so oftentimes each move I make involves two steps forward four back. But if I knew what I was doing this would be really boring.
The club used to be a storefront theater. I saw a few plays there. It’s down the street from the latenight bar I worked at twenty years ago. Places like this, even in their new guises, echo memories decades back. This is what happens when you stay in a city long enough. Intersections and buildings trip associations every time you pass by. The area where this club sits is fraught with ghosts.
The owner saw my collages at the Rainbo and bought four. That’s what led to this job. It’s nice when things work that way. One thing leading to another. I’ve sent him about ten variations of the design so far and he hasn’t written back. Maybe none of what I’ve made is doing it for him. Who knows? So many unknown variables. I’ve spent days on this and have enjoyed it. I sort of don’t care even if no shirt is printed.
I’m gonna keep going. There’s so much left of the Bleeding Edge for Jeannie to read before I’m through.
—Listen to this great Meridian Brothers record.