Even successful graphic designers like Ken Carbone of Carbone Smolan Agency in New York City aren’t at liberty to do whatever they please on an assignment. Corporate clients dictate marketing objectives, brand parameters, visual subject matter, point-of-view, deadlines, budget, and a myriad other criteria. Ultimately, the client has to sign off on what you create, and the verdict on how wonderful your work is hinges on ROI, market results, elevated brand visibility, etc.
It’s not unusual to hear of designers who wrap up a long, hard day at the studio by creating for their own personal satisfaction. Designer/illustrator Jessica Hische assigned herself the task of drawing a Drop Cap a day and posting it online. Pentagram partner Paula Scher has devoted her off-hours to painting intricate maps of the world as she sees it. Ken Carbone has just concluded 365 days of creating one apple art piece every single day. Curious to know why, we sent him a list of questions. Here are his answers.
What made you start drawing apples?
Back on February 5, 2015, I did a quick painting of two Granny Smith apples with some left over green paint I had on my palette and posted it on Instagram. For some odd reason, I titled it “An Apple a Day. No. 1.” Shortly after, [New York designer] Jennifer Sterling posted, “Really nice.” I was encouraged. That marked the beginning of a daily art “drill” to see how many variations on this theme I could create. I intended to do it for about a month, but “followers” on social media liked what I was doing so I decided to see if I could do it for a year.
There are over 7500 apple varieties. An apple is a universal symbol,loaded with good meaning and free of irony. From Genesis to Snow White to a certain computer company, the apple serves as a memorable icon. The form is simple and allows for plenty of creative play in material and technique. Plus I like eating apples. Granny Smith with peanut butter is my favorite. Focusing on one subject eliminated the burden of “what” to draw or paint and allowed me the freedom to imagine “how” I would treat the image. I had a few simple rules: No limits, No repetition. No excuses. I learned to love the daily challenge. If my apples are ever exhibited, I want them to appear as if the show is featuring 365 different artists.
How long did you spend on each apple?
Some were done in minutes, others took hours. Once I decided to sculpt an apple out of clay; that took the better part of a day.
What size did you work in?
Mostly 9” x 12”, some larger, a few smaller. Maybe one-third were done digitally on my iPad or iPhone using various apps such as Brushes, Waterlogue and Art Rage. This mobility allowed me to work whenever I was inspired and while traveling.
What medium did you work in?
Drawing, watercolors, collage, sculpture, photographs and digital paintings. For one apple, I “painted” with a small butane torch, and for a few images I worked with video. This was all about experimentation and having fun, it was not about making masterpieces. This was about creating a lot of art over a year’s time.
Where did you work?
Everywhere. At home, in the office, in a bar, at the beach while on vacation, even during a conference call. Drawing always helps me listen better. It’s mysterious.
Did you keep an actual apple in front of you for inspiration?
There was no need, but I always had them around and they were always on my mind. I found that an apple is a very durable fruit. I made some images with pieces that I let decompose and dry. Their leathery texture and color is very beautiful. When I was executing a tight rendering, I always worked from the real thing.
How did creating apple artwork differ from your “day job?”
At the Carbone Smolan Agency, we collaborate with large companies on massive challenges that involve teams of very talented people. Some of these project take months even years to complete. There is not much room for personal expression because there is a clear business objective. Yet, I’ve been genetically imprinted to make art and have been drawing since I was a child. The need to pursue artistic endeavor runs deep. This Apple a Day experience added a rich rhythm to life, boosted my spirit and sparked a creative passion that had been dim in recent years. I have LOVED the experimentation in image, technique and materials. It has been glorious.
Any plans for your apples?
I’ve been asked to give a TEDX talk about “An Apple a Day” this spring, and plan to donate much of the work to a charity for a fundraising auction. I’d love to see my apples compiled into a book one day and have begun discussions with a literary agent.
What’s next? More apples?
No, no more apples. But the very next day after my final apple post on February 5, I was drawing again. It was a simple still life. I couldn’t resist! My inner “creative timer” is now set. I’m now planning a series of themes that can be executed a month at a time. Stay tuned.