Maria Popova is the founder of Brain Pickings, a website designed to introduce you to a broad variety of subjects that feed one’s mind and inspire creativity. Since founding Brain Pickings, Maria has spent countless hours researching and writing – hours that have taught her many life lessons. In honor of the website’s 7th birthday last fall, she was generous enough to share 7 things she learned from those 7 years of reading, writing, and living.
The 7 Lessons:
- Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
- Do nothing out of guilt, or for prestige, status, money or approval alone.
- Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words.
- Build pockets of stillness into your life.
- Maya Angelou famously said, ‘When people tell you who they are, believe them’. But even more importantly, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.
- Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. As Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
- Debbie Millman captures our modern predicament beautifully: “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.”
We at Alabama Chanin have long been obsessed with and inspired by Maira Kalman. She has a rich and singular voice – as a visual artist, author, illustrator, and storyteller – that imbues people, objects, and words with knowing wit and humanity.
Maira has written and illustrated 18 children’s books, all of which have been popular nighttime reading with my daughter Maggie. Maira’s illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style resides, beautiful and dog-eared, on my desk each day—as it has become part of our company style guide. And for years, I have traded and passed on copies of and links to her columns from the New York Times, The Principles of Uncertainty and The Pursuit of Happiness (both of which are now published exquisitely in book form).
We’ve written before about the importance of color – from a cultural standpoint and a design perspective. At Alabama Chanin, we tend to embrace more muted tones for our design color palette. Muted colors have a reduced intensity, so any saturated color stands out in comparison. We are drawn toward natural tones and some of our fabrics are colored with natural dyes to create rich, pure shades of color.
When it comes to individual style, our feelings about color can be personal; a color can make you feel happy or sad, energetic or depressed. Colors can transmit mood, thought, and feeling. When discussing the best way to exhibit the color options for our DIY projects, Olivia – a member of our design team – suggested that we approach the display as an art project. The result of her work, this wrapped canvas, is beautiful, simple, and focuses the viewer’s attention directly on color. Anything else you take from this, like your thoughts on color, is personal.
“In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.” –Josef Albers
Color, as we see it, results from our eyes and brains working together to make sense of the light around us. Since as early as the 15th century, artists and philosophers alike have tried to understand how this works and create a unified approach to color – a color theory – to understand how colors complement or contrast with each other and why they rouse our emotions and influence our decisions.
Essentially, color theory, like the interaction between our eyes and brains, helps us make sense of what we “see.” Perhaps one of the most influential color theorists was artist and educator Josef Albers, who published Interaction of Color in 1963. A tome of a book on color theory, it was made for interaction, to be pored over and actively, even emotionally, involve students as they learned Albers’ philosophy of color.
Sun Young Park, a freelance illustrator living in New York, is an integral part of the Alabama Chanin team. If you own Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or have ever browsed our Studio Style DIY Custom DIY Guide, then you’ve seen the beautiful sketches of our garments, illustrated by Sun. I met Sun several years ago by accident through a mutual friend, which resulted in an impromptu breakfast at The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s restaurant at the ACE Hotel in New York City. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and had been looking for a new illustrator for my books. Our chance meeting was good fortune.
Sun creates illustrations for a variety of projects, including April Bloomfield’s new book, A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, and Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing. We love Sun’s illustrations, doodles, and drawings and recently were able to chat with her about her beginnings in illustration, inspirations, artistic process, and desire to create.
Windows, New York, New York
We asked contributor Phillip March Jones to share the process and inspiration behind his daily photo project, Pictures Take You Places.
Seeing is everything. But it takes practice.
Modern Antiquity, Atlanta, Georgia
La Plage, Trouville, France
For the past couple of years I have been traveling almost constantly for various projects in the United States and abroad. As a result, I am often away from the studio and distracted from the kind of intense focus required and afforded therein. These circumstances have led me to rethink my artistic practice and even the way I interact with the world. The newfound freedom of a portable studio has forced me to develop exercises to keep my eye and mind focused and has led to several new bodies of work, including the creation of a daily photo project titled Pictures Take You Places.
In 1939, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein met a 19-year-old girl named Eveline Kalke, whom he nicknamed “Marie,” at a state fair is Wisconsin. The two married in 1943, and settled into their daily lives in Milwaukee where Eugene worked as a baker. Unlike most bakers, Eugene spent his free time composing poems on the subjects of love, nature, reincarnation and time travel. He made fantastical paintings of unknown universes, ceramic vases pieced together from dozens of hand-sculpted leaves, towers and thrones fashioned from chicken bones, concrete masks, and perhaps most importantly, elaborately-staged photographs of his wife and muse, Marie.
Cemetery Shadow, 2012
Contributor Phillip March Jones, introduces us to artist and photographer Lina Tharsing, who currently has an exhibition of her paintings on display at Poem 88 in Atlanta through October 19, 2013.
A few years ago, Walgreens launched a clever promotion for a reusable film camera in a world full of digital devices. The cheap plastic cameras, which retailed for about ten dollars, advertised “free film for life” in big letters. The catch was that you had to have the film processed at Walgreens, but it seemed like an opportunity to Lina Tharsing, a young painter and photographer from Lexington, Kentucky.
Lina Tharsing is best known as a painter but has been making photographs since she was a child. According to Tharsing, “I remember my first roll of film exactly. I was only eleven, and in an effort to amuse a bored child, my mother handed me a camera and told me to go out into the yard and take some pictures. At that moment, my view of the world changed, the lens revealed something my eyes hadn’t seen before. It was the ability to capture a fleeting moment and freeze it forever, to frame a scene.” Tharsing carries a camera with her everywhere she goes in a relentless pursuit of light and a self-described “singular moment where reality and fiction intersect.” She seeks out the brightly lit tree in the middle of a forest or the deep shadow that forms a portal into some other dimension. The resulting images of figures, interiors, suburban scenes, and natural landscapes challenge our perception of truth, offering a composed tension of multiple realities that would otherwise be forever lost.
Portal Light, 2012
A physical place can be filled with such meaning. Just think of your hometown; do you have recollections of your favorite spot? Or maybe you couldn’t wait to get away and that feeling is still palpable. Returning to places that I have lived before, I have a sense memory of how to get around and I associate feelings and memories with specific locations. In a city as large as Manhattan, the sheer number of these feelings and remembrances must be infinite, many times the number of inhabitants.
As we head to Manhattan this week with our newest collection, this conversation feels especially interesting. Our own personal map of the city, marked with new clients and boutiques, will guide us as we write another chapter into the Alabama Chanin story.
In 2007, Becky Cooper became interested in locations and maps after studying Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and she was inspired by an internship with non-profit organization CultureNOW, where she worked to map Manhattan’s public art spaces. She told the New York Times, “I’m really bad at geography. But I think it helped me to see maps more as a biography.”
Yesterday, we shared a post by contributor Phillip March Jones on self-taught musician, song writer, and artist Lonnie Holley. Holley’s second album, Keeping A Record of It, was just released by the Dust-to-Digital label in Atlanta, Georgia. A special, limited price offer of $20 for both of Holley’s albums are available for purchase in our online store.