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Pine Barrens Film: First Official Trailer

The Pine Barrens – trailer 01 from David Scott Kessler on Vimeo.

For the past four years I’ve been assisting my good friend the brilliant filmmaker and Pew Fellow David Kessler on his atmospheric, oblique, poetic film. Add the beautiful film score by The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra (Benjamin Warfield, Laura Baird, John Robert Pettit, Jesse Sparhawk, and Gretchen Lohse) and you have something that in the decades to come will be revered and cherished–not only as a great collaborative artistic achievement, but also as a lyrical document of a specific place and time that nevertheless transcends itself into dream.

As someone who loves this precious, threatened place, The Pine Barrens is the film I had always hoped someone would make of the Pine Barrens. I will always be in David’s debt for having devoted his considerable artistic energies to it. It’s been an honor, privilege, and joy to play a small part in its fruition. My congratulations to David and the Ruins crew on making this masterpiece happen. Stay tuned for live screenings/musical performances later in the year.

On Heraldry


Once every fifteen years, I get on a heraldry kick. I recently did a quick doodle of my ancestor’s coat of arms: Crawford of Ardmillan, an older branch of Clan Crawford whose family seat was in Ayrshire, where they were sheriffs for generations. Among my branch’s multiple claims to fame (including repelling a major Viking invasion by delaying them until the autumn storms destroyed their fleet) is that its founder was the maternal uncle of William Wallace. But enough bragging about historical trivia that I had nothing to do with…

If you start googling around for examples of heraldry, you’ll see a lot of heraldic illustrators who get caught up in their own facility, like graf artists will often do. They’ll often go way overboard with rendering everything, which is counter to the purpose of heradlry. The thing about heraldry is that it’s best when flat: they’re meant to function as symbols, first and foremost. Heraldry looks better when rendered in a flat, bold graphic style–much like the devices on the shields themselves, which were meant to be immediately recognizable on a chaotic battlefield.

One of my all-time favorite illustrated books is a children’s book of heraldry by Don Pottinger & Iain Moncreiffe, called Simple Heraldry, Cheerfully Illustrated–and it is. Published in 1953, the book is a joy: very informative to those new to the subject. The illustrations are brilliant: the figures are supple and the line work is spontaneous and vital. I could never match it. But the colors–the colors!–are something special: they’re those wonderful British postwar colors that you never see anymore, like royal blue and firecracker red. You want to eat them.

So yeah: one of my favorite things is thousand year-old coats of arms rendered in a mid-century style.

The Republic of August

August is the most serene, restful time of the year. The days become slightly cooler and drier, and the sun crouches lower in the sky, giving a day-long impression of late afternoon. The lightning bugs are fading away and the air is dozy with the drone of locusts, fat with vegetation. The living is easy and so is the daydreaming: one’s animal senses are at ease because of the benign, savannah-like climate and the bounty in the fields. This is when the best crops of the year begin to roll in: I’ve been gorging myself on local watermelons, blueberries, peaches, corn and heirloom tomatoes. It feels like I haven’t seen a piece of meat in weeks. I’m a model citizen of the Republic of August, burning my passport as I write this. Pass me the olive oil.

The August daydreaming has been very fruitful indeed of late: during my Portland visit, I spent an afternoon inside of an isolation tank–something I’ve wanted to try since I was a kid. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that my brain bore fruit: I saw the “glimmer”, and I want to see more. I’m hooked.

It’s been a busy summer, and I’ve been catching up on assignments since my return from Portland (an announcement from Tin House should be coming shortly about the posters). Promoting the Whitman book has kept me confined in cities for the better part of the season, so I’ve been trying to squeeze in some much-needed wanderings deep in the Pine Barrens before summer begins its final decline. I’ve managed to take in some of the late summer orchids, so this season hasn’t been a complete wash for me as far as bushwhacking goes.

I’m relishing this lull before September arrives and my calendar fills up once more. I have some Whitman-related events coming up, but for the moment I’m fixing my gaze on the next book project. I’m working up notes on four or five possible directions; we’ll see if one or two of them forms a gravitational field over the coming weeks, or if a publisher will take an interest in any of them. I’ve long anticipated that I may have to stratify my output among commercial publishers, small indie presses, and self-publishing, so this might be the point when I begin to explore crowdsourcing options for my less commercial books. We’ll see. I’m excited about what the winter may bring this year.

Much to my detriment, I always try to embark on a new course every time: most people like “brands” and a savvy artist will repeat themselves until people catch on. I’m more interested in exploration, seeing if I can pull something off: if I know I can do it, I tend to lose interest. I could bang out one kind of book fifty times, but the prospect of doing so bores me to death.  (Obviously I’m not very savvy.)

I might eventually revisit previous projects from a fresh angle, but at the moment I feel like I’m still staking out territory, working out just what it is I do particularly well (I’m a bit late to the game and so I have to conduct my education in public). If and when I manage to stake a claim, I’ll deepen my investigations. Until then, I’m wandering in the brambles and following my nose into the dark woods, looking for that elusive glimmer.