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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 "In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile -- and the rest of us are f*****d until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely. We owe that to ourselves and our crippled self-image as something better than a nation of panicked sheep. . . but we owe it especially to, our children, who will have to live with our loss and all its long-term consequences." - Hunter S. Thompson, “The Great Shark Hunt, Gonzo Papers Vol 1” || A recent discussion of Thompson’s campaign journalism reminded us of this illustration (some old client work from 2013). Here, upwardly mobile pigs learn a few new tricks, fed on a healthy diet of money and dirt. Still relevant, huh?  "If I can stop one Heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain If I can ease one Life the Aching, Or cool one Pain, Or help one fainting Robin Unto his Nest again, I shall not live in vain.” - Emily Dickinson Illustration from, Book Seven from our Classics Collection, “Hope is the Thing: Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson” illustrated by Obvious State Cofounder, @evanrobertson . This illustration utilizes a font based on Emily Dickinson’s handwriting and is comprised of many poems.  “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” - Ida B. Wells. Trailblazing journalist Ida B. Wells knew what she stood for and unwaveringly stood for it: Truth. Despite the impediments as both a former slave and a black woman living in the post Civil War south, she relentlessly pursued stories that exposed horrific injustices, often jeopardizing her own safety. She viewed truth—no matter how hard it was to tell—as the ultimate means of confronting corruption, injustice, and hatred. She didn’t embellish, or write to fit her agenda or feelings. She didn’t allow herself to be defined by ideologies or interest groups. She told the truth. Our illustration is a nod to her remarkable strength, and the idea that the act of writing as a form of truth telling shines a light on the world.  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.
 There's a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons – That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes – Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – We can find no scar, But internal difference – Where the Meanings, are – None may teach it – Any – 'Tis the seal Despair – An imperial affliction Sent us of the Air – When it comes, the Landscape listens – Shadows – hold their breath – When it goes, 'tis like the Distance On the look of Death –“ - Emily Dickinson Dickinson often mirrored her culture’s reverence for the church by transposing that reverence to something in the natural world. Often nature is reduced to that which is quaint or serene, but Dickinson assigned it weight, and intention, and mystery. Sometimes her expression of that is ecstatic like in “I taste a liquor never brewed...” but in this poem, it’s a bit more ominous as she contends with something about nature that is at once beautiful and terrifying. For this illustration I played with something austere and recognizable, yet a little off putting, a little impossible, and a little disconcerting in the form of the trees tapering and balancing on a point in the shape of a cathedral pipe. - @evanrobertson || Illustration from, Book Seven from our Classics Collection, “Hope is the Thing: Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson”  "Exit, pursued by a bear" is a stage direction from Shakespeare’s "The Winter’s Tale" that is infamous for its hilarity and difficulty to stage. It's one of the best literary inside jokes (welcome to the club!) and it's a fun line we wanted to illustrate for quite some time. Generally, Shakespeare limited his stage directions to the most basic instructions - [Exit Hamlet], [Enter Ophelia], [Dies] - simple enough. But in this particular direction, a lot of things happen at once without any warning or supporting dialogue. Antigonus has been tasked with abandoning the baby Perdita in a desolate place, but he's having second thoughts. Suddenly a storm wrecks his ship, and then… he "exits, pursued by a bear." Wait WHAT? So, apparently there’s a bear in the woods, and it has entered. Hungry. Without so much as an “O help!” He is chased off stage and dispatched. How can this sudden deluge of violence and fur not be funny? How do you stage it without destroying the tone of the scene? Do you embrace the surprise and have a little fun? We went with “a little fun” and for this illustration, a bear materializes out of the woods without warning and "just because." - @evanrobertson  I can’t read Emily Dickinson’s poetry without becoming preoccupied with the circumstances under which she wrote, and the place her work held in her solitary life. She worked on her poems meticulously yet never shared them, with few exceptions. Over the course of her life - a life woefully undersized for the scope of her genius - she eventually rejected all forms of meaning-making: religion, community, love, marriage and family. There was one exception: Poetry. Her language, addressed to some future anonymous person who might take the time to truly understand her intent, was her way to reach out to others with hope of communication and connection. For this illustration from our latest book, I wanted to use her own words as the elements of “the thing with feathers,” and utilized a font that replicates her arresting handwriting. Her handwriting is a remarkable combination of beautiful flourishes and swooshes combined with an almost frantic energy - a pen racing to keep up with a quicksilver mind. I incorporate it into many of the illustrations near the end of the book, and it was tremendous fun to play with. - @evanrobertson || Book 7 from our Illustrated Classics, “Hope is the Thing” releases on Tuesday.  “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.
 ❤️  “He tried not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” - Leo Tolstoy. || We, like many, are captivated by Tolstoy's elegant description, and are intrigued by the idea of love (infatuation?) having a luminous quality that overwhelms our senses and penetrates us against our will. This passage is from moment in Anna Karenina when Levin sees Kitty ice skating, and my illustration draws inspiration from that. In it, a skater and a winter tree are all that remain of a man's silhouette, as it becomes impossible for him to keep his desires under his hat. - @evanrobertson  "The Future is only dark from outside - Leap into it, and it explodes with Light."- Mina Loy. || From her manifesto "Aphorisms on Futurism." Loy was a fierce progressivist both politically and creatively. She was associated with many of the major art movements of the early twentieth century, and had a brief affair with both Futurism. For this illustration, we wanted to create something aggressively vibrant, giving the lines a sense of movement and light as you read the words.  "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