A little bit of background
What’s Old and New?
— From the Old and New about page
That’s the quickest way to present Old and New. If we read more in details, here’s what we found:
Old & New provides a platform for contemporary graphic artists to exhibit works themed on Biblical stories and passages. It also aims to introduce a new online audience to Biblical art, attempting to replace popular, yet sometimes low-quality, contemporary Biblical artwork with the kind of accessible and honorable work that has historically been associated with the Bible.
The website will be a curated collection of single designs by a variety of international illustrators, artists and designers. The collections will be released in an indefinite series of rounds. The goal of these rounds will be to bring new light to well known Biblical passages as well as introducing less familiar (or comfortable) content.
In the Beginning…
Back in early 2010, Jim LePage began a project called Word, where he created at least one design for every book of the Bible. During the project he connected with Troy Deshano, a designer in Michigan who had a similar interest in the Bible and design. An online bromance followed.
When the two met face to face for the first time at the Cleveland-based grassroots design conference WMC Fest, they quickly realized that they shared an idea for a collaborative design project based on the Bible. After a several months of emails, Old & New was born in late 2011.
The Old and New Project – Anne Ulku – God Creates Man for Woman
Why are we talking about it here?
Old and New is a particular project for us here. Not only does it feature some cool peeps that we know well (we talked about Jim’s Word series on this very blog), it’s also born thanks to Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, the design fest put together by Jeff and the Go Media team. Which is exactly what WMC Fest is all about.
The other cool thing is that they’re not making $$$ from the project, as the proceeds from the sales of the first round of prints go to blood:water mission.
Jim and Troy were pretty nice and took some time to answer in a rather lengthy fashion to our questions, giving us a bunch of insight about the project. Enjoy the interview!
The Old and New project – Lisa Romero – Judah & Tamar
GoMediaZine: Jim, Troy, could you introduce yourself to the Zine readers as they might not know you?
Jim: I’m an artist/designer currently in St. Paul, MN, but soon to be in Bellingham, WA. The people on the internets who recognize my name probably know me from my Word Bible design project (which I talk more about below).
Troy: After enduring a variety of difficult circumstances through my twenties (cancer, autism, layoffs), I started a blog called Strong Odors, a magazine-style site with original content, including original editorial illustration—something which didn’t really exist at that time—with the hope that sharing brutally honest stories from my own life (and psyche) might offer hope to anyone able to identify in some way. Suffering after all, is one of life’s greatest binding agents.
After a couple years trying to promote myself as an illustrator I found more people familiar with Strong Odors than “Troy DeShano,” so I scrapped any advertising & half the content and the site became more of a portfolio, creative outlet and brand.
The Old and New project – Cassie McDaniel – Jephthah’s Daughter
Can you give me some background on the Old & New project itself, what sparked it and how it works?
Jim: In January 2010 I began a personal design project called Word. During the 2 year project I created designs for each book of the Bible. At the time, I was really getting into some of the collaborative design projects that were happening, specifically Evan Stremke’s Momentus project and Dan Cassaro’s State Mottos Project. As I got into the final 6 months of Word, I decided that once the project was over, I wanted to start a collaborative design project based on passages in the Bible.
I knew Troy via Twitter and we’d emailed a few times, but I finally met him face to face at WMC Fest 2011. We quickly discovered that we shared a similar vision and after a couple months of emailing back and forth about it, Old & New was born.
As far as how it works, basically we connected with 22 awesome artists who were willing to contribute, Troy picked out all the passages and did original write ups for them. We had artists choose their top 5 and then we made the assignments. We post a new design every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with a few other posts thrown in as well. We’re now nearing the end of our first round of 24 designs.
Troy: I actually have an undergrad degree in Bible/Theology, but hadn’t had much professional use for it (imagine that) in many years. My faith is pretty apparent in my blogging, but Strong Odors isn’t a “christian” blog. So I’m always looking for opportunities to exercise the theological part of my mind. Over the past several years I’ve read through the Jesus Storybook Bible a few times with my kids and absolutely love Jago’s fantastic illustrations. At one point a light bulb went off, and I got a vision to create a classic book of illustrated Bible stories—only written for adults rather than kids.
After meeting Jim at WMC Fest and hearing his idea for a collaborative project, I realized if I tried doing this book myself it would never happen. So after hemming and hawing and trying (secretly) to keep this idea “mine,” I finally recognized how much better the whole thing would be if Jim just did it anyway. So I told him to take it away, and he graciously offered to still include me to whichever extent I was willing to participate.
So that was the start of what’s turned out to be a fantastic partnership. I really enjoy working with Jim and our strengths complement each other so well it makes the project totally fun.
When Jim suggested that I do the writing for the project is when I really got excited about it. Rewriting these stories concisely enough for web readers has been an enormously fun challenge. Selecting just 24 passages across the entire Bible turned out to be an incredibly difficult process. I had at least three dozen options before I was halfway through Genesis! My goal was to choose passages that communicated the larger narrative of the bible somehow, while still including those weird, unfamiliar, uncomfortable tales that are fundamental to this project (but often ignored in sunday school).
In fact our commitment to Honest over Propriety is one of the core values that we took the time to write down and have really given shape to the project as a whole, including our decision to donate print proceeds to charity.
The Old and New project – Dan Christofferson – Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
Did you give any constraints to the roster of designers?
Troy: We both agreed that having a variety of voices from across all walks of faith was important to this project and to include some lesser known artists with those more popular. We also made a conscious effort to make sure that women designers were well represented.
With the guys we usually got a pretty quick “yes,” but many of the women we asked were too busy. We had to literally work twice as hard to get as many women involved in the project as men.
I mention in the introduction to Michael Cina’s interview how much thought we put into art constraints. I felt pretty strongly that we should limit the color palette the way Evan and Dan did with their projects, but eventually we both realized that trying to keep everything “similar” with a project of this (potential) magnitude would be a huge pain and entirely claustrophobic in the long run.
I’m glad we left it open because it’s really been awesome to see the contributors employ their own styles and artistic interpretations in a way impossible if only a few color options were available.
Jim: Like Troy mentioned, we wanted to get folks with a variety of faith perspectives. That was a really huge thing for me. The last thing I wanted was to have was a project where all the submissions were from church-going artists and designers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that still would have been great. It’s just that, and maybe this is just me, there seems to be a common mindset that the Bible is only for churchy or religious people or, even worse, that those types of people somehow “own” the Bible. I didn’t want to perpetuate that mindset because it’s complete bullshit.
Anyone can dig the Bible. There are a ton of amazing stories and characters that the most hardcore atheist or agnostic can enjoy and appreciate without needing to pray a sinner’s prayer. Plus, artists and designers outside the religious/church system are going to be able to see these passages in a fresh, honest and unique way. And that is a perspective that folks within the religious/church system (like me) need, whether we realize it or not.
Sorry for the sermon. It’s something I’m passionate about :)
The Old and New project – Andrew Lyons – Gadite Warriors
Any pieces/contributor you’d like to highlight?
Troy: I’ve loved every single one! Seriously I was hyperventilating with joy the night of our deadline as all the submissions were delivered. I was personally super stoked when Dan Christofferson agreed to participate, and his illustration for Elijah vs. the Prophets of Baal totally exceeded my expectations!
Jim: Yeah, I’ve really loved them all too. Personally, I love the experience of being surprised by art. By that I mean that the artist handles the subject in a way which I never would have thought to myself OR in a way that I would never have expected based on what I know of them and their work. In that sense, the submissions by Scott Allen Hill, Anne Ulku and Jeff Gill really stick out to me from the ones that have been posted so far. But, like I said, all of them have been amazing.
The Old and New project – Lydia Nichols – Nehemiah Confronts God
Did this curation work nurture you as a designer? If yes, how?
Troy: One of the great lessons I took from WMC Fest last summer is the power of collaboration, and that is definitely being realized throughout this project. I’m convinced that if either of us had attempted it on his own Old & New never would have happened. We needed each other to get off the ground and we needed dozens of willing contributors to really build something worthy of its nature.
Jim: Yeah, initially I was pretty resistant to working with Troy on this. Nothing to do with him, but I knew that bringing anyone else in may complicate things and make the process longer. That is exactly what Troy did, but in a way that added a ton more depth to the project. There are so many things he’s added that I would never have been able to do and we ended up having very complementary skill sets. Plus, it’s just been fun to get to know Troy better. He’s an incredibly cool guy.
Troy: This has been a huge nurturing process for me, as I’m pretty self-absorbed and like to do my own things. Much of my frustration in my design work is around doing it all myself, so it’s been exciting to see the difference it makes when you surround yourself with other individuals each bringing something special to the project. I really need to do more of that!
Jim: I don’t know that I’d say the curation part has nurtured me as a designer. The growth area for me in all this is learning how to lead and curate a project that involves a lot of people and deadlines. I’ll be spending a few hours creating my design for the first round, but I’ve spent countless more hours scheduling, communicating, planning, strategizing, etc. As weird as it sounds, all of that work has been really fun. I like the process of creating a well-planned setting where art like this can happen and be seen.
The Old and New project – Michael Cina – John the Baptist Beheaded
What’s coming up next? Like, art wise and for the series itself? A store à la 50 and 50?
Jim: We’ve actually got a store up now. Every design is available as a print on Society6 on the same day it’s posted to our site. One of our core values on the project is “Reaching Out” and we want to use the project as a way to help others so proceeds from first round print sales will be donated to Blood:Water Mission to provide safe drinking water for the village of Lwala, Kenya.
There’s a lot of boring and bland Biblical art out there and I think that’s a shame. No matter what you think about the Bible, you’ve got to admit, it’s weird, violent, beautiful, offensive… anything but boring or bland. Visually, there is so much to draw from. Love, war, ancient symbolism, plus there’s the whole supernatural aspect with things like angels and demons. As a visual artist, what more could you want for inspiration? Long-term, my hope is that we can do multiple rounds of Old & New, where we involve a bunch of great artists who create a bunch of awesome Biblical design and raise a bunch of money for good causes.
Troy: We’ve got high hopes for the future of the project. One idea is to release designs indefinitely in a series of themed rounds—like a round of miracles, one of women’s stories, heroes’ mistakes, visions, etc. Excited about the endless possibilities of this!
Personally I am looking for an illustration agent right now so that I can really concentrate on more appropriate client work over the next year. I’m also putting a lot of focus into my artwork—I do limited edition giclee prints in handmade frames from recycled materials, and this summer I’ll be doing a series of paintings using the same methods as these frames. I’m planning a trip to Chicago and Grand Rapids to find some galleries to be a good home for my illustration prints and paintings.
Any other things you want to mention that I didn’t ask about?
Jim: Neither of us have ever curated a project like this before. Early on and all throughout the project, I’ve connected with people who had led collaborative design projects before and asked them for advice. I know people are busy so I didn’t really expect to hear back, but I ended up getting some great advice and encouragement from Evan Stremke (Momentus), Alex Greindling (Raygun52) and Eric Smith (Live Now). Evan and Eric even ended up as first round contributors (and Alex is on our list to get for a future round). I guess the lessons there are 1) it never hurts to ask and 2) people are usually awesome.
Troy: Another cool aspect to the project is the blog. We’re able to share interviews and processes from our contributors, which is super rad. It also has interesting behind-the-story information like period maps and even some greek/hebrew lessons. In addition to that we’re soliciting guest posts from established authors and experts in biblical fields.
A goodbye note?
Jim: I just want to recognize all the first round artists who have donated their time and their work. This project would not exist without them. Being invited to participate in very first round of a “collaborative Bible design project” is probably not the sexiest sounding thing in the world, so a big thanks to artists who took a chance on us and the project.
Another big thanks to folks who have been spreading the word about Old & New. If you like the project we appreciate any type of buzz or sharing we can get, like this Go Media interview (thanks Simon and Jeff!). In the end, we hope it leads to more awesome Biblical art and more money being raised for good causes.
Troy: Please buy prints! I visited Kenya last year and have seen the both the devastation of HIV/AIDS and the life that better access to water can bring. Rad prints for your walls = clean water for Africa. I can’t think of a better win-win than that!