Something Good #83: Dangerously Prancy
The work of illustrator and animator James Braithwaite will be familiar to any regular reader of this newsletter, for he designed both the logos for Something Good and Barely a Book Club. But he is ever so more than that; one of the first people I know personally to have been nominated for an Academy Award (for the 2008 short I Met the Walrus), a winner of an Emmy, and generally—a very good and very hilarious guy.
His latest project, Dangerously Prancy, is a “daily art practice” in which he creates a new 11”x17” ink-on-paper illustration every single working day, which are then put on sale to the public. Sometimes words, sometimes pictures, very often a combination of the two, they are nothing less than delightful: absurd, deadpan, and often disgusting in the very best way.
Recently, we spoke.
Mark Slutsky: You’re a very creative person, and you produce a lot of output. But is it challenging to just starting your day and producing work? Because how to get that ball rolling every morning is always difficult for me.
James Braithwaite: Yeah. There was a long time where I was working on sports documentaries and the volume of drawing I had to produce was so large, but it was also so incredibly dull, that it was just impossible to get started every day.
It would get to be like, two in the afternoon every day and I still hadn’t started.
And so this new project was a way for me to have fun with drawing right off the bat, because there's no pressure on these drawings. They're meant to be done quickly and they're meant to be kind of shit. They’re supposed to be just spontaneous and fun and the stupider they are the more I like it. It was a way to grease the wheels of drawing before I had to go into the pain of doing sports documentary stuff.
MS: So the idea is like, “first thought, best thought”? You just start and don’t edit yourself?
JB: First thought, best thought for sure. There’s something very satisfying, because most of it is dip ink on this very smooth paper, and there’s this almost ASMR feeling to it, this sensation of applying this very viscous, very opaque black ink on this creamy paper that is very calming and just feels very nice to do.
And there’s no going backwards. There’s no control-Z, it’s always forward because it’s so permanent and so messy.
MS: You read a lot of writing advice that’s like, write 500 words every morning and don’t edit it. Which is much easier said than done in my experience!
The idea of using permanent ink, if you’re used to using digital tools, must feel really different.
JB: So I’ll start with 5”x6” index cards, and I’ll draw really quickly with either a brush or a really fat, black marker. Say I want to do a drawing about a magical healing crystal that actually hates the person using it. So I’ll draw like, five different versions of them until one makes me giggle, and I’ll put it aside.
When it does, I’ll put it aside, and then I’ll do the same kind of transformation with a large sheet of paper.
MS: You will do a sort of draft before you commit.
JB: Yeah. Essentially they’re all kind of drafts. It’s a never-ending draft process. In the same way I feel like, as a filmmaker, it’s nice to take ideas and pin them to a wall. By pinning it on the wall, you’ve made it into a kind of totem.
You’re like, this is a little thing on the wall. This is real now. It can be really stupid, but at least on the wall, it feels like something. And in the same way, I don’t know if you can see behind me, but they feel nice when you have 10 of them together.
MS: Do you keep a notebook of ideas as they come to you, or is this like a completely Surrealist-style, off-the-top-of-your-head process?
JB: I definitely have a list of ideas. Here’s the first one I ever did [holds up above image] This is the only time that anything interesting has ever come to me in a dream. I was half asleep, and I woke up with the image of a squiggly line with those phrases at the top and the bottom.
MS: That’s funny, because for me, all my best ideas come in dreams, or in that first moment when you’ve just woken up. I’ve actually given talks about this before. I really think my subconscious mind is much better than my conscious mind at working things through and coming up with ideas. Once in a while it’ll give me a little gift when I wake up in the morning.
JB: Well, after that experience I was like, I need to start keeping a notebook closer to my bed. So I did, and every once in a while I’ll wake up and write something down.
About six weeks ago, I got up and wrote something down. And I looked at it later, and all it said was, “Shazam for farts.”
MS: [laughs uncontrollably]
JB: Mark, I have one more thing I want to show you. Sorry if this is off-topic, but did you know I make dust jackets for every book I read?
JB: Yeah! I make my own dust covers, like Japanese bookstores do.
MS: I see. Is that for when you’re reading them or when you’re not reading them?
JB: For when I’m reading them, yeah.
MS: But that’s the worst time to have a jacket, because it slips around under your hands and—
JB: I tape mine to the inside cover, so it fits snugly on it. I know this is making you crazy.
MS: My stomach just turned over.
JB: There’s this thing now where softcover books have a satiny finish to their covers and it feels so disgusting to my hands that I had to start making covers for them.
MS: You make dust jackets for softcover books?!
JB: Yeah, exactly. For some reason, my body won’t allow me to touch that texture, so I have to make my own dust jackets.
MS: This reminds me of one of those stories where you have two rivals, each one representing everything the other person stands against, but they respect each other nonetheless—they’re the only people who truly understand each other. Like Jean Valjean and Javert. That’s how I’m going to have to approach this.
So, to put this dust jacket business behind us, where can my readers find your work.
Thanks to everybody who came to our theatrical premiere screenings of You Can Live Forever in New York last weekend! The response continues to be quite gratifying, including, but not limited to, a great review in the New York Times (props for the Breeders reference in the headline!), a deeply thoughtful and beautifully-written review byat RogerEbert.com, and much more.
The movie is now officially out on VOD for rent or purchase! If you’re in the U.S.A, you can check it out on Apple, Amazon, Google Play and plenty of other places, and we’re on Apple and the other usual places in Canada as well. U.K. and Ireland coming in June! If you saw the film and enjoyed it, a nice review on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB is very, very helpful to us. (No pressure.)
This week’s #nojacketsrequired comes to us via reader Jessie Jones, whose description I really liked:
[It’s a] book about iridescence in nature, and the colour of the cloth and the little splash of iridescence that hides beneath the dust jacket (which the pictures don't do justice to) was so pleasing and surprising that I laughed when I saw it.
As always, send your unjacketed finds to me, here, at your convenience.
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