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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 I taste a liquor never brewed, From tankards scooped in pearl; Not all the vats upon the Rhine Yield such an alcohol! Inebriate of air am I, And debauchee of dew, Reeling, through endless summer days, From inns of molten blue. When landlords turn the drunken bee Out of the foxglove's door, When butterflies renounce their drams, I shall but drink the more! Till seraphs swing their snowy hats, And saints to windows run, To see the little tippler Leaning against the sun!” - Emily Dickinson. There’s an incautious, ecstatic tone to this poem that’s arresting. I imagined it as a communion with the natural world, a sensual vision of nature relating to nature. I wanted to capture the surreal sensuality that pervades the poem (“Inebriate of air am I”, I mean come on!), and chose for the subject a romance between a bee and a spire of foxgloves. - @evanrobertson || Illustration from “Hope is the Thing” - Book Seven from our Classics Collection which releases in two weeks.  “Above all, don't lie to yourself.” This entire passage from “The Brothers Karamazov" 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…” || A fitting though for a Monday in January.  "Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door." - Emily Dickinson || We love the way this quotation captures Emily Dickinson's quiet strength and fierce hope. The subject holds a series of doors like a hand of cards, suggesting a sunrise. || This was our first Emily Dickinson illustration, and we can’t wait to share Book Seven from our collection (just a few weeks!) and more artwork inspired by her inimitable poetry.  “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walden.” Illustration from Book Five from our Classics Collection, “To Live Deliberately.” To visually capture the spirit of Thoreau's words, we reimagined the dense crossing branches in the deep woods as pointed Gothic arches. Gothic architecture—characterized by soaring spaces and elegant symmetry—was structured to inspire awe, to draw one’s attention up and to create a sense of weightlessness. Spend some time alone in the woods, and it becomes clear from where the architects drew their inspiration.  “Light is the first of painters” - Ralph Waldo Emerson  What do you think has become of the young and old men? And what do you think has become of the women and children? They are alive and well somewhere, The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceas’d the moment life appear’d. All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” - Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” Illustration from “Somewhere Waiting: Song of Myself,” Book 4 from our Classics Collection.  "I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it … Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter. V. From Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf, Thursday, January 21, 1926
 “We are all in paradise but refuse to see it.” - Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Brothers Karamazov. || Typography detail from our letterpress Dostoevsky print. Texture! ❤️  12 months, 12 notebooks! We’re kicking off January by giving. We’ve got two full sets of our pocket notebooks for a set of friends. Our pocket notebooks are printed and constructed in Portland, Oregon using vegetable-based inks and 100% recycled paper (a portion of which is from recycled books). Our partner plants a tree for every order in partnership with The National Forest Foundation. If you’ve been following along in stories, I use my notebook to jot down something positive that resonated with me that day (which I loosely refer to as “one good thing"). For a chance to receive a set, simply tag someone and we’ll randomly select recipients on Friday, Jan10. Good luck! UPDATE!: Congrats to our winners @mojavesunsets & @megan_aileen - Send me a message for details!  "yours is the music for no instrument yours the preposterous colour unbeheld —mine the unbought contemptuous intent till this our felsh merely shall be excelled by speaking flower (if I have made songs it does not greatly matter to the sun, nor will rain care cautiously who prolongs unserious twilight)Shadows have begun the hair’s worm huge,ecstatic,rathe…. yours are the poems i do not write. In this at least we have got a bulge on death, silence,and the keenly musical light of sudden nothing….la bocca mia “he kissed wholly trembling” or so thought the lady.” - ee cummings From one our favorite modernist poets, and one of his most sensual, candid collections, "Tulips and Chimneys." The poem has a spirit of adulation that's reminiscent of She Walks in Beauty by Byron, but without the constraints of meter or rhyme. Cummings has a gift for transforming language, and we wanted to capture that. The illustration hints at a new kind of music, sensual and surprising, that belongs to no instrument or musician, only to itself.  "When we shall hear The rain and wind beat dark December, how, In this our pinching cave, shall we discourse The freezing hours away?” - Shakespeare, “Cymbeline, Act III, Scene 3” Current mood, courtesy of The Bard.  “He halted in the wind, and — what was that Far in the maples, pale, but not a ghost? He stood there bringing March against his thought, And yet too ready to believe the most. "Oh, that's the Paradise-in-bloom," I said; And truly it was fair enough for flowers had we but in us to assume in march Such white luxuriance of May for ours. We stood a moment so in a strange world, Myself as one his own pretense deceives; And then I said the truth (and we moved on). A young beech clinging to its last year's leaves.” - Robert Frost, “A Boundless Moment” Seasons change, but do we cling to the past? Illustration from Book 6 from our Classics Collection, “Miles to Go” Ten Robert Frost Poems, Illustrated.  “When one is alone, imperfection must be endured every minute of the day; a couple, however, does not have to put up with it. Aren’t our eyes made to be torn out, and our hearts for the same purpose? At the same time it’s really not that bad; that’s an exaggeration and a lie, everything is exaggeration, the only truth is longing. But even the truth of longing is not so much its own truth; it’s really an expression for everything else, which is a lie. This sounds crazy and distorted, but it’s true. Moreover, perhaps it isn’t love when I say you are what I love the most - you are the knife I turn inside myself, this is love. This, my dear, is love.” - Franz Kafka, “Letters to Milena” || Kafka’s letters to Milena were, in a word: raw. He honestly and eloquently expressed his fears, anxieties and anguish instigated by his unyielding love in the face of their distance and situation (she was in a failing marriage in Vienna). I picked up a copy of the letters a few years ago, and revisited them recently (I am on a letters and epistolary novel kick). And isn’t this graffiti cool? I shot this in the Marais while shooting photos for The Paris Journal a few years ago, and this passage reminded me of it - @nicholeroberton
 "This is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me, — The simple news that Nature told, With tender majesty. Her message is committed To hands I cannot see; For love of her, sweet countrymen, Judge tenderly of me!” - Emily Dickinson Here’s another sneak peek of “HOPE IS THE THING,” book seven from our Illustrated Classics, which releases in a few weeks!  Camus eloquently addresses the danger of playing too casually with existential angst. “Life is absurd” has an adolescent, anti-establishment, rock-n-roll appeal. But what's next? What do you stand for? Recognizing the absurdity of life does not absolve us of responsibility. Rather, it prompts us to take on the ultimate challenge of making our own meaning. || "The realization that life is absurd cannot be an end, but only a beginning. This is a truth nearly all great minds have taken as their starting point. It is not this discovery that is interesting, but the consequences and rules of action drawn from it.” - Camus’ review of Jean Paul Sartre’s “Nausea.” || We shared this passage and our thoughts a few months ago, but wanted to give it a bump on the 60th anniversary of his tragic death. His work continues to inspire us today.  “… Where homestead lights with friendly glow Glimmer across the drifted snow; Beyond a valley dim and far Lit by an occidental star, Tall pines the marge of day beset Like many a slender minaret…” - Lucy Maud Montgomery, “A Winter Day.” Happy holidays! We hope you’re all enjoying time with loved ones. Warm wishes for a festive season - Evan and Nichole  "I went out to the hazel wood, Because a fire was in my head, And cut and peeled a hazel wand, And hooked a berry to a thread; And when white moths were on the wing, And moth-like stars were flickering out, I dropped the berry in a stream And caught a little silver trout. When I had laid it on the floor I went to blow the fire a-flame, But something rustled on the floor, And someone called me by my name: It had become a glimmering girl With apple blossom in her hair Who called me by my name and ran And faded through the brightening air. Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.” - William Butler Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Aengus” Yeats often drew inspiration from ancient Celtic stories, which reinvigorated interest in Irish mythology. His rich and beautiful poetry is layered with multiple meanings, but demonstrates an undeniable passion and yearning for harmony, beauty and spiritual ascendance. In the original story, Aengus had a vision of a lovely maiden named Caer and spends many years lovesick in search of her. He finally finds her on the edge of a lake, but discovers that she's imprisoned by an enchantment that transforms her into a swan every other year. Without hesitation, Aengus jumps into the lake, choosing to be transformed into a swan as well rather than be parted. But in Yeats’ poem, Aengus has not yet found his love. He is “old with wandering.” And although he has only glimpsed her in a vision, he's committed to wandering forever in search of her. Perhaps Aengus’ yearning represents the yearning of not only lovers, but philosophers and poets as well - all of whom strive toward an elusive vision of the sublime. Illustration from our project 52 series.  For the nature lovers… Keats, Frost, Emerson  "Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” Exciting news! Book 6 from our Classics Collection, “Miles to Go” is now available in our shop. The Robert Frost collection includes ten poems, each of which is illustrated by Obvious State Cofounder @evanrobertson. Frost is a wonderfully subtle writer. His language is intentionally as stripped down and simple as possible, and it's easy to underestimate him. He's complex, ironic, and that makes his work well suited to expanding on visually. We hope you enjoy it!