PDX Pop Now! Vol. 16
Depression Mountain 3: Fear of Literally Everything
Stream now on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and Amazon.
PDX Pop Now! is an all-volunteer organization that provides support for live performances and recorded materials that are accessible, contemporary and local to Portland musicians. Through their annual compilation and summer festival, PPN showcases the best up-and-coming music makers.
Past years’ compilation cover artists include Carson Ellis, Dan Stiles, Santiago Uceda, Guy Burwell, Tyler Stout, Mike King, Emek, Ryan Bubnis, Jodie Beechem, among others.
Last fall, I accepted the job to make the art for PDX Pop Now! Vol. 16.
Printing and production techniques limited the color options of yore. Today, PPN has access to every cone in our retinas. I wanted to make something colorful (despite my predilection for black, white and red). I looked to Heinz Edelmann and Peter Max for inspiration.
I blended the marching band motif, bright colors and sunbursts with local fauna as players in the band. The concept was approved and I began sketching an assortment of characters, instruments and the final layout.
I sketched several characters, tested different drawing styles and layed out the composition to fit an illustration and all the pertinent album information. Things were going fine, until they weren’t.
At the eleventh hour, I got stuck.
I Don’t Wanna Know What’s on My Mind
A week before the final art was due, I had a crisis of confidence. I was playing the rolls of art director, illustrator, designer, production artist and project manager simultaneously. I had exceeded my bandwidth and I got the yips.
My first brilliant folly was to pivot. Imagine a Navy destroyer, against all the rules of seamanship, changing course on a dime in an effort to dodge an obstacle but, by doing so, exposes itself to a direct hit.¹ I did that, but with marginally lower stakes.
What that looked like in real life was scrapping the original concept completely and distilling everything down to—get this—instruments. That’s it. That was the whole idea. Cool, right? I know. And then I talked to PPN and showed them my new direction and they said—can you believe this?—no.
And they were 100% right.
Lemme Talk to You
It was after hearing the pushback that it clicked: I needed an art director.
An art director can zoom out from the situation. If the designer is the conductor on a train, the art director has a god’s eye view of the train, including the context of its environment, all the passengers aboard and its past and future obstacles. Typically, I wear this hat comfortably, but, you know, the yips…
Fortunately, I am privy to a nimiety of art director friends who are willing to offer a pep talk, helping hand or crying shoulder. On this dark night of the soul, I called on Lettie Jane Rennekamp and Julia McNamara.
Immediately, they were able to get me feeling very Olympic. This deae ex machina took all of 20 minutes, equal parts real talk and pep talk. It went something like this:
Lettie: It’s good. Keep going.
Lettie: And the yellow is all wrong.
Julia: You have to just draw it.
Buchino: But it is hard.
These abridged exchanges aren’t too dissimilar from the actual conversations we had. Deceptively banal, the direction Lettie and Julia offered was acutely calibrated to my needs. A benefit of knowing each other as artists is the growing equity in and understanding of each other’s work flows and thought processes. It pays dividends in moments like this. Also, friendship is nice.
I contacted PPN to ease their minds: we were sticking to the original plan, and it was gonna be rad. We were back on track.
So what did we learn here? It was hard for a lot of reasons, but hard doesn’t mean bad or impossible. Uncomfortable maybe.
I was trying to blend together a lot of my favorite things: Portland music, a kickass organization that fuels local music, design heroes, bright colors… Smashing all these things together could make anyone a little effrickable, but it doesn’t mean the challenge is insurmountable.
Hard is okay. It’s not a reason to abandon a plan or quit altogether. Some people might suggest that the inherent difficulty of a task is the very reason to pursue that task.²
Keep your head on straight. Stick to the plan. Don’t give up or change direction on a whim. If you start to freak out? Even solo design projects may necessitate a team effort, so check in with your support system. You’ve got this. You’re doing great!
For more on Michael Buchino, visit buchino.net.