|Artwork for 4-song EP|
It was a chilly October night in 2011, where on Fifth Avenue, Tristâme's Rami mentioned that he'd be interested in having me do some artwork for his next musical project. Over a year later, on another cold New York street, he told me about his latest project - an EP about his homeland, Syria, with proceeds going to benefit organizations helping refugees afflicted by the ongoing violence there.
Unless you've been living under a rock or have the ability to avoid media entirely, everyday there is news about the escalating battles between Syrian rebels and the Assad regime. I'm not going to give you a crash course in current events because a simple Internet search will provide you with the pertinent information. But needless to say, it's a dire and bloody situation. To me, it seems that what started out as a wave of protests against a dictatorship has escalated into an all out civil war.
Obviously, with war comes trauma, destruction and displacement. And it seems the innocent are always the ones suffering disproportionately during periods of conflict...
Designing the Artwork
When Rami again contacted me about the project, he still didn't have a title for the EP nor any concrete idea of what he wanted in terms of art. All I knew was that it was intended to be a digital release, so it really just required one illustration for MP3 files and subsequent promotion. He also gave me a very brief synopsis of each song and stressed that the music was intended to be politically neutral, not to take sides but to draw awareness to the plight of refugees inside and outside of Syria. The storytelling and charitable nature of the project are what ultimately appealed to me and so I agreed to get on board.
After I'd agreed to design the artwork, Rami got back to me with some ideas, offering suggestions about symbols I could incorporate into it, things that would reference Syria or the city of Damascus. Some of his suggestions were Damascene swords, Syrian Mozaique and Damascene jasmine flowers. Although, he did mention that he liked my illustration for the cover of Funkyum issue #2 and suggested that maybe I pursue a design similar in style and color. At first I had considered a photo-based composition but eventually decided to go the illustrated route.
I presented Rami with three ideas. One being the image of a maternal figure (a "Mother Syria" perhaps) coddling an infant (the "children of Mother Syria", that is, symbolizing the vulnerability of refugees) while surrounded by jasmine flowers. The black zig-zag pattern being a metaphor for the jaws of Death. Another idea was a hand holding up a rose towards the sunlight...or jasmine flower...I wasn't quite sure which one I wanted to go with. This, in my opinion, being the most optimistic.
As the work progressed I found myself having a difficult time drawing the little boy, especially after doing some research on the Syrian conflict. Google Search is pretty good at displaying the consequences of war otherwise sanitized by U.S. media. I saw image after image of traumatized children, their eyes pleading and accusing, not understanding the reasons but fully aware of the realities. Some were bleeding, some missing limbs, some dead. All of them casualties of the fighting they had no part in.
Rami and I even discussed the boy's eyes once I had finished the illustration. In an email exchange I had written:
Actually, I did start out with his eyes open but as I progressed on the image he looked too "dead eyed" and traumatized. Hence another reason I had to rework it a little bit. To me, he seems like he's regaining his composure or lost in thought about the jasmine. His cheeks are rosy from crying, not really to make him look cherubic. So I tried to balance it out more so like the "sun' is rising to stop Evil, otherwise, originally it looked more like he was about to be consumed by Evil. Which is why it was getting too gloomy....yes, considering the subject matter...but I can't stand seeing children harmed so I wanted the art to feel more hopeful. Of course, it's open to interpretation and I wouldn't disagree it's a terrible scene!
Creating the Illustration
First, I began work on the background and type box in Adobe Illustrator, beginning with the major contours. It was a lengthy process of trial and error to achieve just the right brushstroke for each line. I didn't bother working in color at this stage as I was more interested in establishing the overall composition and pattern details. Once that was completed I then began changing line color in order to achieve the "sun" effect, going back and forth in Adobe Photoshop as I experimented.
After completing the background and placing the type, I then turned my attention to drawing the figure that's so central to the work. Again, I developed the contours in Illustrator before finishing up in Photoshop. It was at this stage that I added all of the finer details and overall texture.