2011 Year in Review

Year In Review

Despite the fact that 2011 was one of the slowest years since the mid nineties, it had its share of highlights and bright spots. I had a few high profile assignments this year that I hope to share later in the year once they ‘go public’, and I got some encouragement by hearing from a few old clients who I hadn’t heard from in a while. Rather than wallow in self pity this summer during a slow period, I gave myself a challenge and assigned myself a ‘drawing a day’ for a 90 day span, which both served to keep me busy, and let me experiment with some new styles and techniques (some of which came in handy when the work started picking up later in the year).

On the personal side, my wife had to go back to work this year to help make ends meet (and the health insurance, which ended up being a bigger blessing in the long run). We didn’t get much sailing in due to hectic schedules, but I did a great deal of bike riding during the summer months, and my wife and I joined an adult softball league in the fall through the community radio station that wife has begun deejaying for this year. My son finished up his Junior year at Columbia, and is now halfway through his Senior year, with plans on graduating in the spring. He has started playing with a number of bands and pick-up groups on the side, as well as working for both the school in the writing department, and for my brother at his restaurant on the north side of Chicago.

On the music front, the Jukejoint Handmedowns had a fairly good year, keeping pretty busy as well as adding a third member in the spring. I kept track of income for the ‘music’ this year, and actually made a small profit (not enough to make up for the shortfall in the illustration business, but encouraging nonetheless).

Anyhow, here’s hoping for a brighter year ahead for all of us, on to my 23rd year in the business, with my 50th birthday coming in a few short weeks. Here’s what I consider my ‘best work’ of the year (keeping in mind that there are a few pieces that I did last year which should be in here as well, but will share later for contractual reasons):

Approximately 225 (plus 90 extracurricular) illustrations completed this year (down slightly from the previous year) bringing the grand total up to approximately 12,476 illustrations since 1989.

2010 Year in Review

Year In Review

This year started out like gangbusters, but somewhere around the middle of the third quarter, business started to fizzle and sputter, culminating in what would turn out to be my lowest grossing December since I started doing this back in 1989. I’m not sure where to lay the blame, whether it be the ‘great recession’, or my own shortcomings and inability to see the ‘writing on the wall’ regarding the changing industry (and adjust accordingly), but I’m certainly hoping that next year takes a turn for the better.

The trend this year seemed to be towards more ‘big projects’ at volume discounts, and much less ‘quick turnaround’ work. Regardless, I continue to enjoy this work, and I still find every new assignment exciting and challenging and a chance to push myself further. I also started selling reprints of my old work online as merchandise through Zazzle, as an experimental way of generating additional income. Only time will tell if this ends up being worthwhile.

Additionally, thanks to the slow December, I started doing some oil painting, something which I haven’t done with any frequency for the past twenty-some years, and I’m planning spending a lot more time at the easel in the coming year, and will be exploring the ‘gallery/fine art’ market as another possible outlet for my work. Interestingly, that would bring me full circle to what I thought I might be doing when I started freelancing back in ’89.

This year, I also found myself becoming a lot more active in my ‘side career’ of making music. Working with a couple regular band projects, various ensembles, pick-up gigs, and solo songwriting, I managed to tease myself with enough income from music this year to actually sit down and itemize it (it ended up being a wash, between income and expenses). It is still not nearly enough to make a living from, and I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon.

My son is halfway through his junior year at college, and is starting to talk about graduate school opportunities, and my wife and I continue to live and work out of our home in Grand Rapids after 27 years of marriage. Looking forward to what the next decade has in store for us.

Here then, are a collection of what I feel is my ‘best work’ from 2010 (click on the thumbnails to see a larger version):

255 (down by over a hundred from last year) illustrations completed this year, bringing the grand total up to approximately 12,161 illustrations since 1989.

2009 Year in Review

Year In Review

Been an interesting year. Had two projects where I got to draw each and every president (once in a straightforward simplified scratchboard style, and again as a set of color caricatures), and I had two board game projects where I drew overhead views of two European cities. (and in looking back through 2009’s output, I also got a lot of practice in on ‘bugs’ on several projects, and several chances to hone my skills at ‘pirates’). New clients included Dover Books, National Geographic and additional ‘game projects’ for the designer in Finland.

Despite the dismal economic situation in the country, I managed to keep my head above water for most of the year, but I have a feeling that I’m whistling in the dark, and the worst may be yet to come.

On the personal side, I had the good fortune to get a chance to act & sing on stage this summer, in a local stage production of ‘Woody Guthrie’s American Song’, along with my son, home from his first year in college (and in the bargain, sing the national anthem at our local AAA ballpark on the fourth of july with the same small group of performers). This had the added benefit of jump starting my interest in music once again, and I made several contacts and friends with whom I’ve enjoyed performing with in the time since. I started attending a monthly songwriter group, which got me writing songs once again on a regular basis. In addition, I joined a small local adult string orchestra, in order to get the cello back out of mothballs.

Still living in the same green house on the Grand River, and our son is halfway through his sophomore year at college in Chicago, and looking forward to the next decade after 20 years at this illustration career.

These are what I consider my best pieces from 2009 (click on the thumbnails to see a larger version):

382 illustrations approximately this year, bringing the grand total up to 11,914 since 1989.

2008 Year in Review

Year In Review

2008 was a strange year. While it was a better year than the previous two, there were still several dry patches in between rush periods, and the economic meltdown coming to a head near the end of the year portends worse things to come. I lost one of my longtime clients near the start of the year, and another warned that they would be using less illustration in the future (although, oddly enough, it ended up being my biggest volume year for them). Newspapers continue to struggle, and I worry quite a bit about it, considering how many of my eggs are in that particular basket.

New clients included a ‘game designer’ in Finland, and several regional magazines, but for the most part, the year was devoted to hanging on to my steady regular clients.

Personally, it was a year of big changes. My son graduated from high school and is now attending college at Columbia in Chicago (for the moment, a music major), and my wife and I recently celebrated our 25th anniversary by chartering a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. Getting used to the empty nest, and after twenty years in this business, still striving to keep my illustration career alive and kicking into the next decade.

So below, I’ve selected what I consider my best work over the past year. (click on the thumbnails to see a larger version)

334 illustrations this year, bringing the grand career total to 11,532 since 1989.

2007 Year in Review

Year In Review

2007 was a strange year for me. One of those ‘feast or famine’ schedules with more famine than feast on the menu, especially in the second half of the year. But looking at the big picture, I continue to improve my craft, and the work this year overall, has looked better than it ever has. I’ll be stepping up my postcard mailings this year to try and drum up some more clients, and I’ve launched this reprint blog in November in the hopes of pressing my back catalog into service.

New clients this year have included the Miami Herald, Dolan Media (for which I had a fun project of creating a ‘stock certificate header’ – a first for me), LA Weekly, Barnes & Noble Publishing, and the return of Llewellyn Publishing after an almost 10 year hiaitus.

After a year off of music, I started songwriting and recording again, and set myself a challenge during the summer to write a ‘song a day’, which managed to jump start my interest in this area in the upcoming few years. In late 2010 I’ve started posting the songs from this period on my Last.fm site, and I’ve begun collecting some of the better output and selling them digitally through cdbaby.

2008 looks like it may be an interesting year, what with my son graduating high school in the spring and starting college in the fall, and this year also marks my 19th year in the illustration business, and I and my wife’s 25th wedding anniversary.

So, here are what I consider to be the best pieces I’ve done this year (click on the thumbnail to see the larger version).

224 illustrations this year (down by about a hundred, although the income didn’t go down all that much, thankfully), bringing the grand total, since 1989 up to 11,198.