Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Of Hoops and Healing: Remembering, Retelling, Reliving for Bostonia Magazine


Bostonia Magazine (Boston University's alumni magazine)


Seven illustrations for an interactive on-line experience, depicting an eight-step meditation ritual, designed by teacher and author, Onaje Woodbine. The ritual takes the participant through a journey of major points in black history, using basketball as a metaphor. By the end, he or she makes a personal commitment to better the future in spite of their struggles.


My client forwarded me a storyboard, to follow. So, the direction was pretty well-defined.

The participant, symbolically, starts in Africa, traveling through slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, the underground railroad, the great migration, civil rights movement, and finishes at liberation. The intensity of the basketball game shifts as we travel this journey. The crowd echoes the mood by being joyful, riotous, mournful, or other appropriate emotion. Text and sound helps share the story and completes this unique interactive experience.

The seven illustrations take place at Malcolm X Park basketball courts. The point-of-view is from the participant, as if she or he were on-court, playing. Lastly, the story should transition from day to night and back to day, mirroring the high and low emotions of these events. The first illustration would be repeated as the eighth liberation step, coming full circle.

My first step was to start gathering reference.

The main setting is the court, so, I hunt for the courts at Malcolm X Park, in Roxbury, Massachusetts. There is a unique blue and white paint pattern that distinguishes the court. It should, also, reflect the mix of its urban and natural setting. I decide to utilize the short concrete wall as a backstop design element, and as a separator of the court from the trees. It allows me to combine the urban and natural elements without having to get too complex or distract from the main story.

Fortunately, I live near a park, with a basketball court. So, I dribbled on down the road and took plenty of photos to nail down my perspective and create a solid foundation for my illustrations. I included shots of me, in various positions, on the court, to further solidify my perspective, with the players and crowd.

The diffuse lighting, that day, was perfect, as it allowed me the greatest versatility, without having to deal with hard, directional shadows.

The next major element are the players. So, I got into my faux-basketball garb and snapped myself in a variety of defensive stances.

Lastly, the crowd. Again, I threw myself in front of the camera, taking various postures and actions, relevant to the stories the crowds would tell. I'm always considering consistent lighting, as I take these reference photos.


Since the direction was pretty clearly defined, in my client’s storyboard, I just needed to flesh it out, including the tonal transition from day to night and back to day. I sent some initial sketches to ensure I was on the right track.


My client was on-board, with it, all. Just a few minor adjustments to a couple of players were requested. The next step would be to refine the crowds, who would be helping to tell the story, by what they were doing, in each panel. I, also, wanted to refine the players’ faces, replacing my “for-position-only” heads, from my initial sketches.

I re-submitted the following, along with a color comp, to make sure our visions, aligned:


All was approved. It was time to move, forward.

The final interactive experience may be seen, HERE.

Click “Enter The Court,” and follow the instructions to move through all eight steps. Take a moment to, also, click “Read The Story.” It’s quite fascinating to learn the story behind this journey.

My thanks to the folks at Bostonia for the opportunity to collaborate on this fantastic project.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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