vine enters the terrible twos: artists start playing together

A couple months back, I profiled “10 Artists to Follow on Vine who are not Adam Goldberg, James Urbaniak, Will Sasso, or Steve Agee.” In the life cycle of social apps, Vine was a baby, spitting up, pooping a lot, and screaming for attention. It had moments of brilliance mixed with a bunch of crap. Since then, something wonderful happened:

Vine entered The Terrible Twos.

That’s to say, it’s a walking, talking, wonderfully messy, sometimes belligerent, and still generally brilliant network of creators having their first conversations and collaborations. Yes – collaborations. Unlike Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the rest, Vine is not just a virtual playground. It has become a real life place for artists to collaborate.

I initially noticed it with one of my favorite Viners, Meagan Cignoli. Cignoli is a Brooklyn-based photographer who frequently Vines models on photo shoots, uses household objects to make magical eye candy, and was a finalist in the Tribeca Film Festival’s (TFF) #6SECFILMS competition. She’s also one of the first creators to feature other Viners in her videos.

It started with Virtuosic Dance, a dance company founded by choreographer Chelsea Robin Lee, also from Brooklyn. Cignoli featured Virtuosic in one of her #6SECFILMS submissions to TFF.

After I saw Cignoli’s collaboration with Virtuosic, I quickly searched the company and discovered they had previously worked together, shooting video and stills, so it was unsurprising they would make Vines together. Cignoli told me she didn’t initially see it as a collaboration, since they knew each other.

“As a photographer, when I see someone who does something interesting that I want to capture I have always just reached out to them and I say, ‘Hey let’s shoot,'” said Cignoli. “So with Vine, it was the same thing. I thought dance would look cool in stop motion, so I asked her to work with me a bit.”

A few weeks later, Comedy Central launched #ComedyFest on Twitter and experimented with Vine. They featured some of the aforementioned amazingly funny performers, Steve Agee, James Urbaniak and Adam Goldberg, who, you might say, was the first collaborator on Vine, creating accounts for his girlfriend Roxanne Daner and her friend, Merritt Lear, and making wildly bizarre Vines with them. Stir in one of the funniest people on Vine, Marlo Meekins, and you had the makings of some fun crossover Vining.

One day, shortly after the Comedy Central Vinefest, I saw this:

Aside from the organized collaboration by Comedy Central, this was the first time I saw one Viner – who did not know the other Viner before the advent of the app – appear in another creator’s work.

Nicholas Megalis is a musician from Cleveland (now, also based in Brooklyn). It’s hard to describe exactly what Megalis does on Vine. The general category is comedy, but unlike YouTube, which begs for a longer more engaging narrative, Vine allows performers to create mini-performance art pieces. Megalis sings, dances, eats gross food, raps, and spontaneously interviews people with bananas on the street. His short bio on Vine reads, “Musician/Artist/Idiot.” I’d add “Vine genius.”

“I thought he was very clever and cool and I wanted to capture his essence,” said Cignoli about Megalis. “So I emailed him and asked him to collaborate. At first he was like, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ So I sent a long list of ideas and he was like, ‘YES.’ So he came over a week or two later and we just started making cool things together. It was a lot of fun.”

Since their first collaboration, Cignoli has featured Megalis in more of her Vines, and recently she celebrated her birthday with these wild and wacky dudes: Michael LoPriore, Nicholas Megalis, Jerome Jarre and Rudy Mancuso, all prominent Viners on the platform.

New collaborations can be unwieldy, too. Vine is, like other social apps, an ego driven platform. Most creators work in their own bubbles. Bringing strong, creative minds together doesn’t always lead to productivity.

“We are all idea people so the hardest part is that we have too many ideas and too many big personalities,” said Cignoli. “The other problem is that we all get along so well, it’s hard to get any Vines done. We just want to hang out and joke around, have fun. Too bad there are not more female viners in NYC. I can’t wait to work with Marlo Meekins and Brittany Furlan.”

Marlo Meekins rocketed to the top of the Vine, and recently she made the move to Los Angeles from her base in Toronto. Since Meekins’ arrived in Tinseltown, she’s featured cameos from celebrity Viners, Andy Milonakis and Gillian Jacobs. She also appeared in Steve Agee’s Memorial Day Vines with Andy Richter.

These collaborations are exciting because they feature famous people, but I was most impressed with this gem:

If you’re not on Vine, you probably don’t get it. But all of these artists (Jordan Burt, KC James, Brittany Furlan, Nick Confalone, DirtyCurt, Jethro Ames and Jerome Jarre [with cameos on both coasts!]) are blowing up on Vine. Some of them have over 170 thousand followers.

This past week, it seems another top tier Viner, Nick Mastodon, known for his Disney cartoon/pop music mashups, LNAJ (Late Night Awkward Jams), and an unhealthy obsession with Ricky Martin, is in Hollywood from his native Minneapolis and hooking up with new friends. Here’s Meekins “celebrating” Mastodon reaching 40 thousand followers:

Artists are traveling to far away cities and connecting with other amazingly talented creators to make six second videos. People aren’t just liking and commenting on Vines, they are meeting up in person to socialize and make new work. It’s a fascinating sociological evolution.

And, when artists can’t be in the same city, they’re creating musical loops over which other artists can layer in their own tracks on the #songcollab hashtag, spawned by Jason Coffee, way over in Hawaii. Nicholas Megalis whipped up this witty ditty:

And Coffee responded with this. Search the hashtag, and you’ll find other collaborations, too. Sometimes, the #songcollabs go as deep as five or six musicians.

Fans following these inventive artists love it. When Meekins appeared in Mastadon’s 40K celebratory Vine, commenters lost their minds. Who knows what the next baby step is for Vine? The toddlers are playing together in this fantastic freaky sandbox. I can’t wait until they hit their tweens, and the awkward stage begins…

Pimples and pubes!

Wait. I’ve already seen both of those on Vine.

10 artists to follow on vine who are not adam goldberg, james urbaniak, will sasso or steve agee

For the past 45 days, I’ve been slightly obsessed with a new app called Vine. You’ve probably heard of it. Either you signed up to try it out, got bored and left, or you have made MANY more six second videos that you ever imagined creating before this mini-movie app appeared in January.

vine-logoFor those who haven’t heard about it, Vine allows creators to make six second shorts by tapping on an iPhone screen to shoot quick snippets of video. People typically use it to make tiny comedy sketches, mini stop motion stories, manic animations, and (of course) cat videos.

One of the biggest criticisms of the app (aside from some complaints with its UI), is that many Vines are so bad they induce nausea or seizures. It’s true. Most people don’t know how to make a good video. It’s much harder than a single shot on Instagram. And Vine doesn’t have funky filters to improve that crappy video of your lunch. It just shoots what it sees (and hears – you can’t mute the sound, so no MOS).

Still, there are some talented people on Vine. And I’m not talking about Adam Goldberg, James Urbaniak, Will Sasso or Steve Agee. These guys are all shooting fun work. I follow and enjoy them. They’re featured everywhere. But there are other spectacular, non-famous Vines artists who should be getting props, too.

For the naysayers who think Vine is a vomit-inducing mess of crappy videos, or for Vineheads seeking new, talented, non-famous creators, check out my list of 10 artists to follow on Vine.

(In alphabetical order. Click the artists names to see all their videos).

Brittany Furlan
It took a few videos, but Brittany Furlan grew on me. And that’s a good thing. A sketch comedy performer out of “Hollyhood,” Furlan has three schicks: booty dancing in inappropriate places (funnier than it sounds), a reoccurring show “Jokes with a Beekeeper,” and conversations with her asshole dogs, which are goddamn brilliant. She does other bits, too, but these are my faves.

Andy Martin, is an animator, illustrator and music maker from the UK who uses these skills to make some of my favorite stop-motions on Vine. Essentially, they are studies of music and colored clay. Andy imbues globs of earth with personality by revealing secret sounds from within. They are are super cute eye and ear candy. Check out his website, too. His long form animation reel is gorgeous.

Jack Shelby
Want to have your head messed with? Check out Jack Shelby’s simple, twisted illustrated loops. His edits are superb, creating a trance-like state for the viewer. “Stabby Mouse” is one of the most disturbing videos I’ve found on Vine. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but watch it twenty times in a row and you’ll have nightmares.

Jack doesn’t seem to have a Twitter account. Twitter is the only way to embed vines on Word Press, but you can watch his work at It’s the closest thing to Vine on the web, since Vine doesn’t have its own web-based aggregator (much like Instagram in its early days.)

Jack Shelby Vine #1

Jack Shelby Vine #2

Jack Shelby Vine #3

I debated adding Khoa Phan. Mainly, because (as of this writing) he has 10,672 followers on Vine. This is a list of Viners who aren’t famous. In a very short time, Khoa’s construction paper stop motion vignettes have swiftly risen to be one of the most popular feeds on Vine. There are a couple reasons for that. They’re damn good and they’re damn cute. And they’re timely. He made Vines for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and even Dr. Seuss’ birthday. And they’re all fun and imaginative. Khoa isn’t famous outside of Vine, but he should be. And that’s why he’s on this list.

Marlo Meekins
A cartoonist by trade and a kook on Vine, Marlo is another early Vine superstar (she just cracked 10K followers and made a perfect video to celebrate). It makes sense a cartoonist might master a six second video medium. After all, they typically tell stories in three to six illustrated panels. Now, the panels can move. Mostly, Marlo’s Vines are set up expectations that she smashes with her warped sense of humor. Her Vines range from the ridiculous to the really ridiculous. Oh, yeah. And she plays the ukelele. Swoon.

MC and Friends
Whether taking the piss out of CSI: Miami or manifesting Dupstep Oprah (hilarious), the funny voice impressions and simple flip-book illustrations make use of Vine’s time limit in a different way. Instead of stop motion, MC and Friends literally flips pages and adds to the silly snippets of weirdness.

Watch Dub Step Oprah here. (C’mon. You know you want to.)

Meagan Cignoli
Meagan Cignoli is a joy. She plays with household items, like bottles and chopsticks. Sometimes, she plays with her food. It’s all stop-motion, but not in the classic sense. She’s not creating characters out of clay or construction paper to tell a story. Meagan uses the items to create seamless loops. Her designs are delightful. She’s a prime example of someone who is experimenting with the form and (I presume) reflects the aesthetic from her other work as a photographer of people.

Peter Heacock
Peter is from Philly. He’s super sweet. And he is in PR. My interactions with him were the first that really felt social on Vine. The comments he leaves on my feed are encouraging, and he genuinely appreciates the love people give him. His coolness earned him a follow from me on Twitter, too. Aside from his winning personality, Peter experiments with light and sound, and he seems to have started his own “news channel,” ViNews. But my favorite videos feature Peter teaching his baby boy about The Wu-Tang Clan. Those Vines, alone, are worth following Peter.

An Indonesian father of three glorious children and a graphic designer who lives in Kuwait, I want Pinot to be my dad. Okay, not really, but when I have children, I want to play with them like Pinot does his kids. Primarily working in stop motion, Pinot creates time-lapse Vines of illustrations that make you want to watch them over and over for each detail he drops into the frame. His “painting in the air” series is mind blowing, and the stop motion Empire Strikes Back he created with his daughters is just about the cutest thing you’ll find on the platform.

Yell Design
Matt Willis takes playing with his food to a new level. From Australia, Matt is another artist I started following on Twitter because he is so darn genuine. The Vines Matt makes are pretty intense. They’re not just your run-of-the-mill-stop-motion. He deconstructs and reconstructs whole pineapples. From the can. He resurrects raisins to grapes. And he gives breakfast in bed a whole new meaning.

Of course, I’ve been having fun with the app, too. Sometimes, I shoot spontaneous Vines inspired by my surroundings, and others are more planned out, like a mini-series I’m calling #jdjames. It’s a glimpse at my id. Or, something.

I hope, if you were a naysayer, you’re showing a bit more interest. If you’re a Vine lover, you discovered some new artists. Who knows if Vine will be around in a year? For now, I’m enjoying new bits of art from around the world. And that makes my present moment a little bit better.

becoming our own heroes

Jim Morrison was one of my first literary heroes. I listened to The Doors for hours on end, and when Oliver Stone’s biopic opened, I allowed Val Kilmer’s method-soaked performance to wash over me. I longed to be like Jim. He died three years before I was born, and in my senior year of high school, I convinced myself I actually might be the reincarnation of The Lizard King.

Canton High School, Canton, IL September 1967 – source:

My first creative writing teacher, Mrs. Roudebush, encouraged my writing style because she was more obsessed with Jim than I. The Doors have a special place in the mythology of our small town of Canton, IL, for they played the high school auditorium in September of 1967. Mrs. R. attended that concert, and it made a marked impression on her teenage, hormone gorged mind. She made me promise if I ever found a poster of Jim with a black dog, I would let her know.

I vowed I would.

Twenty years later, tooling around the Internet, I discovered an interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Big Think posts interviews with some of the greatest minds the world has to offer. They share snippets of wisdom. Sometimes, it is mind-blowing, and other times, they are familiar nuggets that require repeating.

In the interview, Dr. Tyson offers this reminder: “I think the greatest of people that have ever been in society, they were never versions of someone else. They were themselves.”

It was true in Shakespeare’s day, and it’s still is today.

Mimicking great artists’ work is typical. It’s how we learn. Hunter S. Thompson retyped “The Great Gatsby” word for word to get the feel for Fitzgerald’s writing. Eventually, though, Thompson found his own, authentic voice, spawning an entire journalistic movement. Great artists follow their hearts, which is typically why they are great artists.

It randomly reminded me of another influence from my childhood. The Brady Bunch.

When it’s time to change you’ve got to rearrange
Move your heart to what your gonna be

I’m thankful for my artistic heroes, but I’m my best self when I’m true to my own voice. My personal relationships and my art get better when I’m authentic and open. It’s easier said than done, but it’s sure as hell is liberating to wake up and realize you can be your own hero.

P.S. – Mrs. R., back in high school, we had no idea this thing called the Internet would exist, creating a place where we can find practically anything we want.
You can purchase your poster here.

the music of our city

Last night, I took the F train into Manhattan after being restricted to the borough of Brooklyn for almost a week in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It was a surreal experience. The city was as quiet as I’d seen it since 9/11. Practically, the only cars on the street were taxi cabs, outnumbering other cars 10 to 1. There was a tension on the trains punctuated by supportive smiles and silent nods from other passengers.

I went to Manhattan to attend a talk, The Public Forum at Joe’s Pub, featuring two of my artistic heroes, solo performer Anna Deavere Smith and David Simon, creator of “The Wire.” They talked about their work processes, the music of speech, and, of course, Sandy. It was great being in a theater for the second time in as many nights, and hearing them speak in a place I consider a home was healing.
David Simon and Anna Deavere Smith

One of the most poignant moments came when Ms. Smith spoke about how tragedies can invigorate creativity. They spur artists to vehemently return to the work because artists make art. She expressed her anticipation of rejuvenated creativity and related it to shopkeepers returning to work after Hurricane Katrina. This is who they were, and if they didn’t open their shops, their lives lost meaning.

The Forum inspired, indeed. Mr. Simon shared how he records actual background conversations for all his productions instead of the traditional “peas and carrots” walla typically taped because it works as a soundtrack – the music of conversation. Ms. Smith insists on word perfect recitation of the interviews she performs because every “like” and “um” represents the soul of that person.

I left Joe’s Pub on cloud nine. After the talk, I was supposed to connect with my wife Christy, who was teaching yoga in the neighborhood, but my phone died and I couldn’t call her. We planned to meet up and ride the subway back to Brooklyn together. Instead, I hopped on the F train at Broadway-Lafayette, resigned to ride home solo. When the train pulled into the Delancey street station, I peered out the train’s window, hoping Christy might be on the platform, since that is where she typically catches it.

Low and behold there she was.

My train car passed Christy, and she didn’t see me in the window. She boarded the train two cars behind me, so I had to walk back to surprise her. At the next stop, I was able to skip to her car and sneak up on her, smiling big, hoping for a hug.

She saw me, and with wide eyes she said, “Were you down there next to the fight?”

Fight? What’s she talking about? Where?

She pointed to the end of the car, and I saw it: Two men – one big, young guy and another, older, homeless man. They yelled at each other. The young guy was pissed because the homeless man was staring at him. The homeless man shouted that he wasn’t looking at the young guy.

They got louder and louder until I said, “Let’s get out of here. Go to the next car.”

Christy hesitated, but the fight escalated, and it seemed punches might fly at any moment. She stood, and we went to the next car, fleeing the fight.

Through the end windows of our new car, we safely watched the young guy, inches from the homeless man’s face, screaming. Finally, as the train pulled into the Jay Street-Metro Tech station, the young guy lifted his arm and slammed it against the homeless man’s face. The homeless man dropped to the ground, and the young guy grabbed his own travel bags, exiting the train onto the platform.

Dazed, the homeless man stood up, scrambling for the young man, but then he realized he was leaving his own bags. He went back for his bags, grabbed them and stumbled onto the platform where I assume they continued fighting. The F train pulled out, and we headed home, both shaken by the experience.

A woman sat across from us. She was eager to recount the altercation blow by blow. How she evacuated the fight car, too. How the young guy had also yelled at her when she sat across from him. She speculated he might be displaced by the storm. He had travel bags. Maybe he was going home. Maybe he was an evacuee, headed to a friends’ place in Brooklyn. Whatever the case, he was disproportionately angry, and the homeless man got the brunt of that rage.

Soon, she spoke about the storm. She’d been volunteering in Red Hook and Coney Island, and the stories she shared were harrowing. She and her friend purchased saris in Jackson Heights and took them to Coney Island because women who wouldn’t leave their homes uncovered for religious reasons had been wearing wet, moldy saris for days. In the Red Hook Housing Projects, there are many elderly residents who didn’t evacuate and won’t leave. There is plenty of support from Red Cross on the ground, but the residents won’t evacuate. One elderly lady’s apartment had wet, moldy carpeting and was infested with rats and raccoons. The woman begged the older lady to let her carry her down 12 flights of stairs, but the older lady wouldn’t abandon her home. The woman told us she must get a hepatitis shot because she’d been wading in waste for two days.

Christy and I arrived at our stop, leaving the woman on the train with faint smiles and weak waves.

“Good luck,” we said.

“You, too,” she replied.

We felt gut punched. It was hard to talk for a few minutes, grappling with the fight we witnessed and the woman’s tale. After a detached week watching devastation on the news, we heard first-hand accounts of what it looks like inside the madness. We saw the affects of madness on men. We tried to make sense of our fortune of living at the highest elevation in Brooklyn, a place barely touched by Sandy’s wrath.

Then, I remembered the conversation of Ms. Smith and Mr. Simon just an hour earlier. As an artist and a writer, it is my job to share these stories. It is my job to reflect the madness of victims and triumph of heroes. It’s important to get back to work. For many, this may not be possible for a while, but it is important to return as soon as we can.

I can return to work now. I can help others with not only my donations and service, but by writing and sharing stories. It doesn’t matter if you sell coffee, teach yoga, work in a skyscraper, or entertain and educate through artistic creation. As soon as you can, get back to what you do best. It adds your unique voice back to a wondrously diverse symphony – the music of our city.


The City of New York volunteer registration

Park Slope Armory 8th Avenue between 14th and 15th streets in Brooklyn
(Kids cannot volunteer and should stay at home)

Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation
402 Van Brunt St, Brooklyn, NY 718-965-3100

Red Hook Initiative 767 Hicks Street Brooklyn, NY 11231

Red Hook Recovers  (347) 770-152

Resurrection Parish (Gerritsen Beach)
2331 Gerritsen Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11229 (718) 743-7234

The Silver Gull (Breezy Point) 1 Beach 193rd Street, Breezy Point

Far Rockaway St. Francis, 219 Beach 129th Street

Coney Island  Staging area @ 2770 West 5th Street Between Neptune and West Ave.

Staten Island – Tottenville High School 
100 Luten Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10312

Rebuild Staten Island