Obvious State


In 2014, my husband Evan and I cofounded Obvious State–a creative studio and literary brand. I am the Creative Director and I also run our Instagram account.

We’re inspired by provocative language that has stood the test of time, poetry that captures the beauty of the human experience, and philosophy that drives us to examine and re-examine.

We aim to create art and thoughtfully designed gifts that prompt conversations and bring aesthetic joy to everyday objects.

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 "This is a tale about a tail." - Beatrix Potter. This one’s for the cat lovers and the book lovers (so in other words, all the very best people!). For this new illustration, we embraced the pun, which Potter wrote to kick off her story, “Squirrel Nutkin.” Well, Beatrix, we see your verbal pun and raise you one visual pun. In this illustration, the flipping pages reveal a fleeting glimpse of a cat clawing his way through a good read.  Coffee & Ginsberg: A little Friday read: "What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the side streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon. In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations! What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons? I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys. I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel? I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective. We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier. Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight? (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd. Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely. Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage? Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?” - “A Supermarket in California” - Allen Ginsberg || While working on our Ferlinghetti illustration, we cracked open our copy of “Howl,” the publication and selling of which instigated an arrest, obscenity charges and a legal battle for Ferlinghetti—the owner of City Lights Books in San Fransisco. More on Ferlinghetti on the blog today.  "A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea. The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.” - The Great Gatsby || For some reason, these gossamer curtains @chaptersindigo remind me of this lovely scene from The Great Gatsby (it’s one of my favorite passages).  “Come, let us maul this greasy knight. Come hither...” - Shakespeare, “The Merry Werewolves of Windsor” || Inebriated, impoverished knight Sir John Falstaff, attempts to woo two married women for their money. Things were going well for him until he is lured to a rendezvous at the stroke of midnight. Do you have any favorites from Shakespeare’s “The Forgotten Folio?”  "The world is filled with the most outrageous nonsense.”|| Project 52 Week 13: Nikolai Gogol. From his preposterous farce The Nose, in which a nose goes awol and impersonates a general. We'd tell you more, but this timeless gem of a quote stands pretty well on its own, and may be the one cultural sentiment remaining with which we can all agree. All project 52 prints are $20 on release day. Link in our bio.  Happiness is finding your favorite edition of one of your favorite books that you thought had been lost. Thank you universe! || Last weekend, we shared some Russian literature shelfies in stories, and it instigated interest in a Russian read along. Many of you either share our love of Dostoevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy and others, or expressed interest in reading them for the first time (and wondered where to start). The timing is great, because we’ve recently welcomed @ani_elizaveta to our team, who will be sharing her insights on Russian lit in a new weekly feature. Question: Would you be interested in a Russian Literature read-a-long? If so, let us know if the comments and tag anyone else you think would like to join.  Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” || Project 52 Week 11: Emma Lazarus. Best known for her poem "The New Colossus," which is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus was an American poet, human rights pioneer and advocate for the poor. Her poetry is a call for compassion as a path to freedom and equal rights, and this inspiring line distills her message into an impossible to ignore statement. Unshackling human potential is not only the right thing to do, but also builds the necessary bridge between cultures that we need to flourish. A special nod to the Brooklyn Bridge and to Brooklyn, where she was laid to rest.
 “Do I dare disturb the universe?” - T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. Prufrock lives his life in fear, undermining himself again and again. In the midst of an existential crisis, not only does he not disturb the universe and progress, he is painfully self aware of it, cataloging quotidian, banal moments and shortcomings. In honor of National Poetry month, we’re revisiting our favorite poem. Check stories for a link to our podcast in which we read and discuss The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock.  "These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” - Najwa Zebian. || We recently collaborated with @najwazebian and @readpoetry__ to create an illustration for the live poetry event "These Are Our Words,” co-hosted last Sunday in New York by @readpoetry__ @belletrist @bowerypoetry and us. We love the idea embedded in Najwa’s quote, and the clever use of antithesis. In our illustration, a mountain is inverted and mirrored, transforming itself from a burden into a benefit. And as with many situations in life, it's often all about perspective. Though the event posters were only available to attendees, we are collaborating with Najwa on a limited edition print available now through Friday, April 19. To purchase, click the client work or art print links on our site.  From straw man to iron man. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel, “Crime and Punishment,” the protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov remarks, “it takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.” Dostoevsky entrusts this law school dropout and murderer, Raskolnikov – whose name translates from Russian to mean ‘schismatic’ – as the ironic mouthpiece for this profoundly unifying and humbling idea of empathy. Why trust this seemingly misplaced messenger? Perhaps it’s a not-so-subtle way of reminding us, generations later, that our tendency to play the “I’m right, you’re wrong” game with cold-blooded intelligence and straw man tactics will only further cast us into divisive political camps, pit us against antagonistic social labels, and starve us in information cocoons. That to truly survive, we might instead consider helping build up the views of people with whom we disagree. That to truly thrive – individually and collectively – we might consider understanding others rather than fixating on an attack of the ‘other.’ That even in schisms and disagreements, there can still exist a raft that helps us all stay afloat. Something more than intelligence. More than a scorecard. Empathy. The unifying human spirit. #wednesdaywisdom @ani_elizaveta  Have you seen us lately? In your home? In a bookstore? On a remote island in the South Pacific? If you see Obvious State in the wild, snap a photo and tag it #osinthewild. Each week, we’ll regram our favorites, and if yours is selected, you’ll receive a $25 gift card to our shop. To kick it (and the weekend!) off, we’ve got 5 $25 gift cards up for grabs. To enter, simply tell us what you’re reading this weekend. Happy Friday! || Photo of our John Keats print by @paperbackbones - thank you Tes! || Update: Congrats to our five winners! @wewhotellstories @ali_barryyy @bagfullofbooks @abeautifulordinary @lydia.grace.huth  "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon…” - Romeo, “Romeo and Juliet.” Am I the only one who thinks of this scene when confronted with a light-filled window?  Dostoevsky: Survives Russian winters and four years in a Siberian prison camp, maintains optimism. Everyone in 2019: Wifi goes down, wails and descends into an existential crisis. || If you’ve been following along in stories, we’ve been sharing our Russian literature stacks, and by extension our love of Russian literature. This was one of our first prints (7 years ago!) and a nod to one of our favorites. Sometimes life hurls arrows. Use them wisely.  In general terms, do you read for entertainment or education? I largely read non-fiction these days. When I do read fiction, it’s typically the classics, and I gravitate toward those works that explore human psychology and philosophical themes (I’m looking at you Dostoevsky). I guess you could say that’s an educational approach as well. I am currently flipping through “The Art of Clear Thinking.” Since a I took a logic class in college I’ve been obsessed with fallacies and still feel like I have so much to learn. - @nicholerobertson
 “Even the iris bends when a butterfly lights upon it.” || Project 52 Week 16: Amy Lowell. Lowell worked tirelessly to make poetry relevant again in America. She was profoundly inspired by Keats, who she credited as the unofficial, early forbearer of Imagism—an early twentieth century movement instigated by Ezra Pound and T.E. Hulme that "emphasized simplicity, clarity of expression, and precision through the use of exacting visual images.” Amy Lowell criticized Pound’s myopic view of poetry and assumed leadership of the movement for a two year period before distancing herself as it was absorbed by modernists. We were drawn to the short, fifteen syllable poem “Nuance” due to the rebellious nod to Haiku, use of clear language, and beautiful images to describe an abstract concept. In our illustration the position of entangled irises conspires to reveal a butterfly. All Project 52 prints are $20 on release day, use code: LOWELL20 in the shop.  "Endless lively conversations over endless cups of coffee in literary cafés” || Project 52 Week 15: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. We are particularly excited about this week’s illustration, which we created in collaboration with Mr. Ferlinghetti and @doubledaybooks for the release of his latest work, "Little Boy." Part fiction, part autobiography, this expansive stream-of-consciousness narrative enthralled us, and the romance of this passage swept us up. It summons images of coffee-fueled benders in Greenwich Village, beat generation poets, romantic dissidents, and sense makers lifting up the wall-to-wall carpet of American culture to see where all the dirt had been swept. There are so many extraordinary insights and breathtaking sentences in Mr. Ferlinghetti's spiraling work, but we gravitated to this one, perhaps a bit for the sake of nostalgia, but also because it sums up a fundamental lesson he taught us: that meaning-making is first and foremost a communal act. In a time when unprecedented access to communication tools have ironically led us to unprecedented divisiveness rather than lively conversations, sharing a cup of coffee would be a good place to start. For the drawing, we explored the idea of "endless cups of coffee" as a visual pattern on cafe tables that interlock and overlap each other, much like a great conversation. Coffee pouring from a pot into a cup forms the tip of a fountain pen. || The team @doubleday was kind enough to provide us with two copies of “Little Boy,” and we’re combining each with a print for a fun giveaway! Just tag a friend for a chance to receive a complimentary set. Recipients will be announced on Friday, April 19.  “Fate is a cunning hussy” || Project 52 Week 14: Elizabeth Gaskell. An amusing zinger from an unfairly overlooked Victorian novelist. The fun passage (which defies that whole stodgy Victorian writer thing) inspired an image of fate's invisible hand coquettishly waving a handkerchief to lure us down a new road. Can we resist temptation? Should we?  A hypothetical for you: Imagine waking up one morning and going about your usual routine – snoozing the alarm four times, giving up on said alarm, getting out of bed, stumbling your way to the bathroom. Now, somewhere between the toothbrush strokes and the gargling and the rinsing and rehashing of your morning anxieties and deadlines and life goals and existential crises, you momentarily glance in the mirror. Moment of truth: What would be your first and honest reaction upon realizing that, in true Lord Voldemort fashion, your nose had absconded from your face? || In Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose, Major Kovalyov is served precisely this identity crisis for breakfast: He wakes up one morning without a nose. Kovalyov’s chief concern? His appearance to others. Without a nose, he frantically realizes, it would be rather difficult to fulfill his goals of marrying and gaining rank on his shiny bureaucratic career ladder. He reasons that the most horrific body part to have lost is a nose. Forget that it likely serves as the least functional human organ. Its value derives from being the most noticeable body part. To lose a nose is to lose face. And Kovalyov is prepared to exchange an arm or a leg or even his ears for his characteristic, pimple-prone nose. His impulse is to frantically scurry to search all of St. Petersburg for his missing nose – really, to him, his missing sense of identity. And Gogol’s impulse is to set this absurdist nose hunt against the backdrop of a stark reality that reveals exactly what is under our own noses: our societal obsession with appearances. An obsession that may mistakenly conflate our outer appearances with our inner core, our physical looks with our underlying identity. Once again, moment of truth: Is it absurd, outrageous nonsense to think that in losing a nose, we lose our identity? - @ani_elizaveta || “The Nose” was the inspiration for our latest Project 52 illustration and a fun read! We’ve linked to the full text on our site in stories.  "Above all, don't lie to yourself.” || Project 52 Week 12: Fyodor Dostoevsky. This passage is so awesome, we included the entire excerpt in our design to provide context for Dostoevsky's stunning insight into personal responsibility. A face comprised of text has been partially redacted, creating a self-inflicted blindfold. Here’s the full passage: "Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than any one. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill—he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness. But get up, sit down, I beg you. All this, too, is deceitful posturing…”  “Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.” - Sartre. This has always been true for me. 3pm is my least favorite time of day, and even with a cup of coffee it’s just… meh. 🤷‍♂️Anyone want to try to sell me on it? - @evanrobertson