So there I was, tending my small pumpkin patch on the roof (not a roof-top garden, the vines had escaped my backyard and had crawled all over my bungalow) when this strange fellow, previously curled up in a leaf, emerged, yawned, and asked for some refreshments.
Over a cup of pumpkin juice, he explained his story to me and a strange tale about a pumpkin dream. It was a cautionary tale, and he spoke all in rhyme. Though it was a blazing hot August morning, his words turned the sky dark, the trees leafless, and a cool, autumn wind began moaning from the north.
I asked him questions, and he answered with the same soothing sing-song. He explained that, in the normal world, he is sometimes known as “Aaron Wiley.” As he continued his tale, I could swear the pumpkins behind him were grinning at me – the grin of goblins up to no good …
HA: Who is this Aaron Wiley you speak of? What was his (your) childhood like?
BB: My childhood imagination leaned toward sci-fi, ghost stories, theme parks and dark rides, and holidays. I loved art and usually had some project going like papier-mâché puppets, self-engineered poster-size holiday cards, and at Halloween transforming the back end of the home into a haunted house. Music was part of that childhood, and my imaginative ear developed interests in old radio, world recordings, novelty, electronica, psychedelia, sound effects, and I still have my seventies Pickwick record “Sounds to make you Shiver” from the local K-Mart – (and it’s a record that sort of symbolizes the poor relation my imagination fared with the everyday world, such as one post-Halloween when my father confiscated the record, understandably sick of hearing it repeating over and over well after Halloween had long passed). Anyhow, while the conflict was not always so bad, I do remember there was always “a designated time and place” for celebrating holidays that drove me nuts as a kid.
After many years as an adult of “practical monotony” to pay the bills, (keeping art to the sidelines), my spirit was overdue for a better balance. When the start of the bad economy kicked in around 2000, I started looking for my own solutions, and I rediscovered the fun of holiday projects in 2004, and while not exactly well publicized, it began a personal momentum. I started exploring vintage holiday ephemera, writing Halloween stories and poems, and even found a way to do some holiday templates as a temporary contractor for Microsoft Office Online. And this past year I really pushed myself to complete “The Pumpkin Dream” combining my love for poetry and illustration. Returning to the comforting folds of ghosts and goblins has been cathartic, and has kept me upbeat through our tough times.
HA: And who is Mr. Bindlegrim?
BB: As I was writing “The Pumpkin Dream” I heard the poem as being narrated by a classic voice talent such as Boris Karloff or Vincent Price, and it seemed natural to create a sort of pseudo-authorship. To make a long story short – the words bumblebin (a pre-existing pseudonym), bindlestiff, and grim experienced a word-play collision, and the word bindlegrim became deliciously cryptic of mysterious objects contained in such an item. The left over word bumble turned into a first name – but I think now this is a nickname from the locals who couldn’t pronounce the real name that probably came from Eastern Europe.
The name now lends itself beyond the devices of the book, and has turned into more of a concept and alter ego (for my holiday art, the website, blog, etc.), and also as a character I have a feeling he could be showing up soon in my fictional writings, (I had great fun creating a fake bio for him in the back pages of “The Pumpkin Dream”).
BB: There are so many artists, I’m not sure I know where to begin. Speaking from generality, (regarding holiday inspirations), I tend to love those artists that perhaps are able to first get in touch with innocence, and from there develop a genuine sense of spookiness without swinging over into revulsion or gore; I also enjoy those with a sense of humor. A small hodgepodge of artists in different media that I suppose I could mention would be Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, Max Fleisher, Kelly Link, and a whole host of vintage Halloween product-artists whose names are unknown to us today, not to mention some really great Halloween artists of our own era (see blog entry: http://bindlegrim.blogspot.com/2011/07/four-inspriring-halloween-artistsl).
Regarding “Pork Pie Hat” (the name I gave to the audio mix heard in the video promo for “The Pumpkin Dream”) is that this short story stood out in a book compilation, filled mostly with various other authors who, for me, seemed bitter having lost their “Halloween magic.” Peter Straub’s story somehow gives me the same great feelings of early Halloween jazz or old Halloween radio skits. Again, I think it’s because he did a fantastic job in that story of bridging a certain amount of innocence with horror.
HA: Your art is quite retro, but modern as well – childlike, but also gothic and menacing. Tell us more on how you work.
BB: Actually, it was a challenge – because most of my background is with surreal art from autonomic drawing.., and I almost went that route, but decided I wanted to be more representational of the scenes in the poem. I definitely wanted a nostalgic feel, so I ingested cartoons from the 1930’s (I maintain a Youtube Halloween playlist of these) together with vintage holiday graphics from candy packages and images from antique silhouette lanterns of orange and black. I tried to strike that same good balance between fun and menace, (that I hoped would best reflect the tongue-in-cheek nature of the poem).
I tasked myself with 37 illustrations on zero budget, and found some great tools like the freeware program Inkscape. I would scan vintage art and/or my own sketches, and then with a digital pen tablet (also new to me) would see how well I could recreate the look with the most simple line work possible. I had sketched all the scenes on paper ahead of time but as I became more familiar with the digital pen and vector software, I began to draw the characters/scenes from scratch in the software, and many times in a sense let the characters direct how a scene would form. I was having so much fun, that it was actually quite sad for me as I started to finish the final drawings…
BB: Yes, “The Pumpkin Dream: A Cautionary Tale from the Library of Mr. Bumble Bindlegrim” is the first completed book I have produced. In a way it’s been part of my annual Halloween tradition these last few years to dabble with the poem…. and I think maybe that’s a great idea in general for people to find a personal holiday activity, though this year I guess I’ll have to develop a new one! (I have plans for a Christmas book, as well as a collection of other spooky poems and stories – I guess those are next!).
It all started one summer when I started the first scribbles of some random Halloween poetry, and latched immediately onto 8 lines of snarky poetry that warned of the terrible goblins that lurk on Halloween, thinking to myself, what trick-or-treater is going to listen to this old geezer(???) – (we were still trick-or-treating in the height of the seventies candy scares). That started the general story line. There’s the innocent trick-or-treating kid in a mouse suit, the warnings of elders, a rambunctious Jack-O’Lantern to lure the kid into trouble, and a bunch of scary monsters that might or might not be up to no good. What results is a tongue-in-cheek adventure and a dark-humored public service announcement.
HA: I see you also design holiday cards and bobbleheads.
BB: The Halloween cards mentioned from 2004 were my re-introduction into putting creativity into art for the holidays. I remember staying up late at night, working on those…. and they were great fun. The content is some of my old 35mm photos from past US travels, collaged with some studio shots of ghosts and pumpkins. Then when I decided to do a Christmas set, I opted to photograph my explorations into the amazing products of past vintage lighting. Both of those sets explore transparency; latter cards (not currently on the site) explored mechanical motion, and I hope someday to get back to those (and similar products), and develop those further.
As for the bobbleheads – well, they were a bit of stressful nightmare. The look was inspired by vintage bobbles, and I was very happy with how they turned out but I have yet to fully understand the best methods for reproduction, and ironically the frustration in the reproduction process is what actually turned me back toward my poetry and 2D art. I do hope to return to them too sometime in the next year after a few other projects have been completed and my patience has returned.
HA: Though I see you curled on a pumpkin leaf, you mention Christmas quite a bit … what is your favorite holiday?
BB: That’s a tough one. Halloween has the benefit of being at a great time of year, with the changes of Autumn, and the harvest, the anticipation in the air regardless of the actual holiday… and to have Halloween on top of all that is like an extreme bonus. At Halloween everyone can be an artist with their pumpkins or costumes! Also Halloween seems to closer encapsulate my other interests like dark rides, or monsters, and that sense of spookiness can hit you any time of year.
I do love Christmas too, (I love vintage light designs and retro Christmas styles) yet the holiday is in the middle of winter (at the close of the holiday rush), and while it’s supposed to be joyous, there’s an element of seriousness and when it’s all packed away can sometimes be depressing. I’m not sure I enjoy the way Christmas is celebrated here in the U.S., but I have learned to be more relaxed about it, and these days have much more fun shopping small local businesses, and finding ways to make Christmas more personal, without the hubbub of the masses. I do like the rest of the holidays, but at this stage don’t have much to say about them in regards to art…
HA: Where are you off to after this (hint hint – get out of my pumpkin patch!)
BB: It’s amazing to see how holidays developed (and I love retro styles) but I’m just as excited for the holidays of the future, seeing where they go next. Holidays have amazing histories and iconographies, and there are so many clever people building on that, creating something new, I’m filled with awe at each new twist. I really do appreciate Halloweenalliance giving “The Pumpkin Dream” a nod amid all of the wonderful work out there!
HA: You’re welcome, it’s a very well done book! … Do you like my pumpkin juice?
BB: Delicious! Could use a bit more vermin brains.
- You can find Aaron Wiley’s … ur, Bumble Bindlegrim’s book, “The Pumpkin Dream” over at Amazon. (Go there now)