Artist looks back on a year of drawing The Times
Los Angeles artist Erik Shveima set out last Jan. 1 on a personal project to draw the Los Angeles Times every day of 2011. In a guest post, he looks back on the endeavor:
This past year the paper kept me up at night.
Not because I worry about its future (although I do, in fact, worry about its future), but because of what that worry compelled me to do.
In late 2010 I decided to dedicate the coming year to drawing the Los Angeles Times — the front page in particular — every day. By the end I would have a portrait of the year’s news, a 21st century commonplace book dedicated to the mystery of news cycles, serif fonts and spadeas (which, I learned from a commenter, is what those half-page ads that wrap around the A section are called). I called the project Mixed Media Daily, and I posted the drawings every day.
It felt like the right time to do this project. Newspaper readership is in decline. Cities across the country were seeing their local rag stop the presses forever. If these ominous indicators eventually do add up to a death knell for my local paper, I wanted to at least try to give it a proper sendoff, and maybe help myself understand why exactly I was so sure that I would miss it if it were gone.
I settled on simple materials: a red correction pencil to work out the sketch, a B or 2B pencil to clean it up, markers for color, acrylic paint for fill and sometimes for other effects. About halfway through the process I began inking the drawings for a tighter, crisper line.
For the first several drawings I felt like I was still using reader’s eyes; I was reading the paper as a series of discrete stories interspersed with photos and the occasional ad from some guy named Bijan.
Eventually, I began to see the front page differently. I was no longer just reading the paper but also engaged in a daily dissection and reconfiguring of its guts. I read it as an object instead of a collection of stories, and in so doing found a network of repetitions and rhymes and curious text fragments embedded in the headlines — like the front page was having a conversation with itself.
These sometimes appealing, sometimes appalling, often funny relationships were so prevalent that mashing together rhyming couplets from the day’s headlines became a daily compulsion. There’s so much hidden poetry in each A1, and once you start looking closely it’s like getting on your knees to examine the desert ground and discovering a whole rich ecosystem thriving in what appears at a distance to be nothing but sand.
And I did draw the actual paper every day — the thickness of the A section, the particular way the pages were askew, the dog-eared corners that result from the paper being held and folded and unfolded and, you know, used.
I really do enjoy the feel of the paper, the inky residue left on your hands afterward, the smell and weight of it — I get tired of spending so much time in a digital world where half of one’s senses are completely neglected.
The common thread binding the mostly unrelated stories on the front page is that they all occurred at roughly the same point in time. That’s a lot of random information to cohere, and somehow the front page makes the union of this disparate information inevitable.
Even a day when the paper is devoted to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 and there at the bottom of the page is an ad announcing that the Kardashians are appearing in person at a local Sears — that feels about right. Of course it would happen that way; that’s our world, after all. I used to think of these occurrences as a hilarious friction, but now I understand that it’s just a big reflecting pool filled with soy-based inks. Every part of the paper, every story and every photo and every bar graph ultimately resolves into one big experience.
I still read the paper every day, only now the paper looks different to me. I’m pretty sure this is a permanent change. When I look at the front page I am confronted with a beautiful surrealist assemblage that floats up and out of the day’s top stories and sometimes gives me the real story. I don’t know if my way is any better or worse than the way the average reader sees the paper, but I will roll with it. I’ll get my news through a scrim of psychedelia.
— Erik Shveima, Mixed Media Daily
Photos from top: The Jan. 1, 2011, page; the page from Nov. 12; the Sept. 11 page. Credit: Erik Shveima.