An artist walks into a café. He’s got red paint on his hands, a sketchbook under his arm, and questions in his mind.
Meet Bobby Rowland. He’s doing the art direction for King of Shadows. What does that mean exactly? He’ll be providing images that will be used for the play, since one of our lead characters is a young artist who draws throughout the play.
Bobby and I are meeting at Blue Box Café to go over his initial sketches for the show. I can tell he’s a bit frazzled and maybe a little distracted. He’s running late when he arrives, and I quickly find out he was working when his dog, in the hope of getting his attention, knocked over a can of red paint in his apartment.
“It went everywhere,” he said. “So I had to clean it up before heading down.” Bobby lives in ArtSpace, a downtown Elgin hub, where artists of all kinds live in eclectic industrial-style apartments. So many ArtSpace residents are working and creating in Elgin and we are lucky that Bobby agreed to work on our fall show.
I first met Bobby at the American Jubilee event held at Side Street Studio Arts over the summer. He was interning at the time and manning the dunk tank, where yours truly and many others, were consistently dropped in the water by people passing by. Bobby is affable, engaging, funny, and a talented artist. I didn’t know this until I saw the show AWAKE at Side Street later that summer. Bobby’s work was on display and it was a mix of pop, fantastical and mythical art that revealed a landscape that was part dream and nightmare. (Of course, you could say that’s my personal opinion.) In any case, the work really affected me, but I didn’t know who it was until later much later at Dave Metzger’s Fez Fest event held at ArtSpace, where Side Street owner Erin Rehberg and I were talking about my fall show and our need for an artist to develop pieces for the production. She quickly recommended Bobby.
So…here we are sitting in Blue Box Café going over the sketches. They’re rough. Bobby knows this and he’s looking at me to see how I will react. Will I discard them? Will I say “Is that it?” This is a tricky time in the process because as the artist you’re guessing at what the client wants. It is a bit of a push/pull between two creative people. Together we need to find our way towards something we both can live with and like, and something that works for the show.
I look over the sketches and there are ideas hidden in the lines, the circles, the colors, and the feeling they evoke. We go back and forth and I let Bobby talk to get out his thoughts, so we can meet somewhere in the middle. He’s read the play and knows what happens, but like all things, he has a point of view and will see things differently than I do. This is a process like everything else. And it takes time. But time keeps ticking away and there never seems to be enough of it.
I take him to the Elgin Art Showcase, the space where the play will be performed, and we talk about the show, the space, the actors, and the overall atmosphere. So much happens that is unspoken during these encounters. He is processing everything around him, taking it in, and when the actors ask if they can see his initial sketches, he looks at me and I know he would prefer not to at this point. And he’s right because the ideas are still evolving in his mind.
So much of what we do is out of our control even when we are creating. We are led by impulses, feelings, and thoughts that take us on journeys of discovery. You pick a play, read it, have an idea in your head how it should look/feel, and then actors, designers, the space, and other variables start getting into the mix. Before you know it, you’re in the middle of the process, in the belly of the beast, out at sea, deep in the maze – you can pick your metaphor. But boy, what an adventure it is sometimes.
So in just a few days, after weeks of work, we’ll get to see where Bobby’s imagination has taken him and how it fits into the overall production.
It’s all a process…