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The Collaboration of fractal heart

Blaire Grady
edited by Kayla Sosa
fractal heart, a creative collaboration

The story of this collaboration began with an online submission, peppered with eloquent verses of profound imagery. For this reason, fractal heart, written by Christopher Gagnon, called for visual interpretation.

original submission

fractal heart

Christopher Gagnon

The edge is on fire,
out at the end of the universe.

It burns, it melts,
it sizzles and pops
like a fat-greased skillet.

Words do not work here.

The sky is littered with stars,
a thousand billion million
thousand hundred trillion stars,
but my thoughts like water
always sink back down
into the earth.

I live in that place,
out at the end of things,
where it’s not fit for living.
An old man.

I tend to the new space.
I give it order. Give it weight.
I give it purpose, but I am not god.
I am no maker.

Soon it will end;
the edge will meet the edge
and the fire will turn in
on us all.

My love was like the edge.
It was a god for you,
cleaving order from chaos.
Being from not-being.

[I still know the song heard
in the seam of your skin
I hum your melody listen]

Memories have kept
something human inside.

They are my eyes.
They are my heart.

And sometimes,
when I see a new star ignite
ablaze with the fury of youth,
I glimpse your face in its fire,
and I feel your heat
against my cheek.

And for just that one second
you are with me.
You are here. I was real.

It is enough.

initial acceptance

Within a few hours of accepting his submission, Christopher Gagnon and I were discussing the possibility of incorporating visual work, to tell a story that visually paralleled the poem as it was read in verse.

From there, I scouted various talents for creative production such as photographers annd illustrators. I spoke to several professionals who needed the work but didn’t show much enthusiasm for the project. I needed someone who was willing to approach this project with passion and deep regard to the poem’s messaging. I remembered a phone call I had with Sterling Hundley back in 2007, a conversation that had stuck with me all these years and throughout my career. For those who aren’t aware of Sterling’s work in the arts, he is one of the most highly acclaimed and prolific American illustrators actively working. His craft is of unparalleled quality, and both his work ethic and kindness are unmatched.

Just as I had done nearly two decades ago, I reached out to Sterling again, this time to pitch Gagnon’s fractal heart for creative collaboration.

This project has worn so many skins. The more we plugged along various stages, the better, yet more challenging, the execution became. But I was familiar with Sterling’s determination by following his work and reading his interviews over the years, and I knew the project was in exceptional hands.

the collaboration

As we three (Gagnon and Sterling with myself to liaise between the two) explored and experimented several concepts, such as complex parallax animation, interactive stills, and backend css, our key goal was to work through a collaborative challenge to fuse together the 1) storytelling talents of a literary artist, 2) craft of a visual artist, and 3) skills of backend developers, each of us varying in exposure. From beginner (Gagnon) to intermediate (myself) to expert (Hundley).

Through fractal heart, our overall vision was to create something timeless and well-executed. By commissioning the work of Hundley’s to enrich the poem’s unspoken narrative through illustrations and the presentation’s Final Cut, all that was needed were the skills of a backend developer to showcase the content seamlessly. After the misleading credentials of not two but three contractors, Sterling decided to take on this additional work and learn the program and processes needed to put together his illustrations into a pseudo animation in the form of visual panning, a process that allows a viewer to feel as though they’re walking through the content, almost experiencing it firsthand, as opposed to simply spectating a storyline.

the poet

Christopher Gagnon has never before been published. He lives in North Carolina. He has a dog that he enjoys treating peanut butter pretzel nuggets. Christopher insists he is not a poet, but he submitted fractal heart after receiving strong encouragement from a friend and actual poet, Rye Brayley.

When I first read fractal heart, I thought it was a romantic piece with layers of textures and visual cues depicting love loss. But when asked to provide insight to Sterling about the poem, specifically for context, Gagnon responded:

I wish I could provide some amazing context, or great story,
for this poem. Alas, the truth is more pedestrian. This poem
is simply a middle-aged man’s song to his youth, and
specifically to a great love of that youth. Like most, it
burned out at the time. But I find, in this twilight, it rekindles
in my heart and helps me still live.

This piqued Sterling’s and my interest. The poem, after all, wasn’t intimately romantic; it was intimately nostalgic, a deeply reflective piece. Looking back on our youth is something we all do, more as we get older. Even for lives less lived, our youth grants us such unique courage, something many can’t help but look back upon fondly because as we age, that courage doubtlessly fades like a flame, until suddenly we turn to see it smoldering behind us. Nostalgia also happens to be a theme right up Sterling’s alley, as his style is notoriously sentimental.

With this information, the collaboration had commenced, and Sterling took to the drawing board.

the illustrator
(and animator… as it turns out 🙂

Hundley’s work has been published by many elite art publications including Communication Arts, New York Society of Illustrators, and Graphis. His range in recognition has reached celebrity within the progressive mainstream—including but not limited to Broadway, the Smithsonian, Rolling Stone and the New York Times. He is a tenured professor at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), among several other prestigious positions held nationally throughout arts and academia.

For fractal heart, Sterling storyboarded and prototyped many illustrations infused with the stanzas from Gagnon’s poem and worked over fifty hours in postedits. I could not be happier with his execution of this work.

fractal heart, the final cut

fractal heart (written by Christoper Gagnon, illustrated by Sterling Hundley) is, at its core, about an aging man who contemplates his youth and finds appreciation for who he has lived to be.

The visual storyline (conceived, developed by Sterling Hundley) within the art and animation is a creative alignment to Gagnon’s sentiment, a deep exploration, an examination of origin.

A fire chief travels to and remains in his tower, as a forest fire ignites and grows until one edge meets the other, surrounding the tower. The fire represents both the beginning and end of life and the expiration of this man’s title. Once a valiant leader, no longer an active hero, now an old man. Within the edges of the fire, two figures appear, presumably the older self and the younger self, reminiscing the time they’ve both shared. Their union entangles, bridging present to past.

©2023-2024 Sterling Hundley

fractal heart (animation) by Sterling Hundley
fractal heart (text only) by Christopher Gagnon

Kayla Sosa, managing editor of Strangers & Karma, is also a professional writer & editor. View her biography here. For inquiries or collaboration, please email.

Blaire Grady is just happy to be here. For inquiries, please email.