March 6, 2016

Guest Editing the Latest Issue of Pith + Vigor

Rochelle Greayer of Pith + Vigor quarterly and I are not only fellow bloggers, but we are friends, and we are neighbors. We both live in central Massachusetts. So, besides finding most any excuse to get together on a weeknight for Neapolitan Pizza, Middle Eastern food or BBQ, we chat about plants.

A few months ago, Rochelle asked me if I would be interested in helping a bit with her publishing project Pith + Vigor, a project which many of you probably already know, sits on our desks and side tables (if you don't pick one up at your local Anthropologie or Terrain, you can subscribe here on line). P+V is not only a different magazine about gardening, it speaks to a broad audience who appreciates that special mix of visual design, real horticulture and lifestyle. Something few other publications do without leaning towards landscape design, or ending up looking more like a big ad for lawn and garden more than garden.

I wanted a masculine hand to contrast with the past 5 issues which featured a floral theme. Tattoos were a plus, but as my full sleeve wasn't compete yet, I didn't want to use my fabulously masculine arm (just yet). So we recruited Joe's nephew Curtis to act as our hand model.  

Published on newsprint, P+V is not a glossy, fancy publication at all, so be prepared for that, but this is intentional, for as many of us know, we 'dispose' of our newspapers ad glossy periodicals even more so today, than every before. I don't mind the rougher appearance, nor the disposability one bit. I would imagine that as a gardener who gets ones knees dirty, that you wouldn't either.

Here is the story about how I designed the cover on one, snowy Sunday afternoon when we (I) realized that they needed a cover design in 24 hours!. So 'very Matt'.!

One idea I has, was to use a 'magic wand', and a cheap one at that, which I pieced together with candy magic wands and some princess items.  Clearly, Curtis needed so art direction on how to properly implement a magic wand. (this was more like a gorilla who grabbed a magic wand). Models can be so difficult.

After some 'Fairy God Mother' lessons, Cutis seems to 'get the hand of it', and we could progress before we lost the light. We tried a few backgrounds, shooting against the chicken coop, some barn boards but finally ending up in the greenhouse, where it was warmer. I still didn't know what I was going to shoot.

I unwrapped some paper bags from the grocery store, and kept the folds showing, simply laying them onto the potting bench. It felt rough and unfussy. After picking some very random selections of plant material from around the greenhouse, I asked Curt to hold them in one hand. I arranged the material in a chunk of Oasis floral foam, which you can't see. This shot of that tattoo felt too intense and, well, a bit too much.

I thought that I would be able to shoot on the potting bench, but it needed to be rebuilt, (which Curtis thought was why he was coming over to work on in the first place), but before we could start that, we needed this shot, as it was holding up the press. Layouts and backgrounds for shots are often decided on-the-spot for me. I know that I should have planned this all, sketching out the idea first, then comping up what it might look like, curating what plant material could be used, but that's just a luxury which will have to wait until I have more time. This would have to be a quick and dirty shot. We'll find what we can find laying around, and 'wing it'. Paper bag backgrounds, whatever flowers are in bloom on this February day, and it will just have to do.

I had Curt try two hands instead, but it started to feel, well, 'Too Bloggy " or "too Martha circa 2004", if you know what I mean. It could work, but it wasn't a direction that I wanted to go in. Besides, pink, red and yellow - authenticity's great, but really?

One hand felt much better, and I liked the symmetry. The plant material started to feel right as well, even though the hellebore was from outside, all of these flowers were blooming on this late February day. I did feel that it needed more, something creepy or something that represented the idea of curiosity, after all, the theme for this issue was 'Re-invention', and I wanted to communicate both "imperfect perfection' and 'authenticity'. Obviously staged, yet not trying to look like anything other than a 'photo taken on February 25th on my potting bench, using whatever we found around the house on that day".

Some things didn't work. I kept adding and adding, toys, a plastic dog and a cow, some candy, some insects from a frame of framed specimens which I cracked open, but it all became too busy. Editing ensued.

This was starting to come together. A nice, nineteenth century feel of 'curiosities' with botany and a contemporary twist with tattoos, a dudes hand and amazing horticulture.

Later that evening, I played around with the images, adding various graphics which might work. I started to like what was happening here....

...and this was starting to work, but the green transparent overlay was too green.

I wanted to add a more graphic layer in Photoshop, and merge it over the shot that would help communicate the idea and theme of re-invention, structure and form. I landed on this one.

The final design as it appears on the magazine.

Curtis was so thrilled, that we cooked him a roast Lamb dinner, and he 'signed' copies of the magazine cover for us. Chris Marsh, from whom we acquired our first breeding Irish Terrier from, was visiting to evaluate our recent litter, was the recipient of Curtis' first 'autographed' issue! We all laughed a lot admitting that being a world famous handmade probably wouldn't be in his future!

Get the latest issue of Pith + Vigor here, and, there are other articles in this issues ranging from a great story about how the Julia Child rose was named, to an interview with potter Angela Palmer, and this story about how to raise citrus fruit (by moi!). Hint - it comes with a recipe!


  1. I got a single issue the other day to give the magazine a try. I would love it if it ended up as a thicker magazine, with a nice matte front cover. I think the design lends itself to matte.

    I really liked what I saw!

  2. I love it. The graphic element was the perfect finishing touch!

  3. Wendy C4:29 PM

    Love the whole process! Behind the scenes always intrigues me.

  4. Mary Beth9:14 PM

    Always fun to see the creative process. Punks n'Roses would enjoy this too.


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