Wrapping Up July

ChronicleHE, Cricket, WSJ


The month of July is nearing an end, and I’ve a few projects to post from the past few weeks. The historical illustrations above and below (and the accompanying map) were all for a story in an upcoming issue of Cricket magazine. The scratchboard style seems to net me a lot of these ‘historical accuracy’ type assignments, which I can understand, as it has a certain ‘antique’ feel to it. This project was a bit tricky, because, while the client provided lots of reference material, there was also a lot of stumbling around in the dark with regards to accurate depictions of this or that costume or prop.


This latest ‘aches & claims’ illustration (on varicose veins) for the Wall Street Journal was completed in downtown Chicago, while we were attending our son’s college orientation. It was interesting to do my work while sitting in front a large plate glass window with a view of Lake Michigan on the 8th floor of the city’s oldest skyscraper. (Keenan is attending Columbia College in the fall, and planning on a double major with saxophone jazz studies and acting) Very excited and nervous for him, it looks like a great place to go to school.

Earlier this week, I had another group of ‘ideas’ illustrations for the Chronicle of Higher Education. This has been an ongoing series of black and white illustrations I’ve been doing this year for special election supplements for this magazine. This particular batch had to do with global warming policies of the republicans and democrats.




Also this month, I completed a cd cover design for an independent recording artist, but I’ve decided I’ll hold off on posting those illustrations until the cd is released (should be sometime in the next month). And, since we are coming up quickly on August, it is time to start thinking about our annual family vacation plans. For the past few years, we have been going on a ‘disc golf’ vacation (picking a destination and then sampling local courses), and then for the other half of the break, taking a sailboat ride somewhere on Lake Michigan. Next week, we plan on driving to Ontario for our ‘disc golf tour’ (and probably bringing work along with me, since I have another large project lined up), and we haven’t quite yet decided on a destination for the boat trip (probably in two weeks’ time).

Train Wreck

ABA, Cricket, Log Home Living


A number of labor intensive scratchboard projects crossed the desk in early August. The above full page piece was for the American Bar Association, dealing with law education. The piece below was for Log Home Living, and concerned ‘smart houses’.

Continuing with my new reputation for being the ‘go to’ guy for historical and/or water related illustration, this series of drawings for Cricket magazine came my way in late July early August.

The story this time concerned a cub scout troop and their experiences during an infamous train wreck in New Zealand’s history. A volcano had erupted nearby, sending massive amounts of melted snow crashing down the valley, taking out a bridge and resulting in much destruction and loss of life. Told from the viewpoint of one of the scouts, this gave me the opportunity to do one of those ‘Boy’s Life’-type adventure stories that I read as a child while waiting in the doctor’s office.

Crowd scenes and chaos and destruction are never easy to draw, not necessarily from an emotional standpoint, but more from a logistical one. There wasn’t much in the way of research materials for this event, a few grainy old newspaper photos of the wrecked train, and I had to do my best to portray the scout’s uniforms, the train interior and period costumes flying on the seat of my pants, and hiding my complete lack of knowledge in some clever positioning of rocks, debris and portions of surrounding characters.

Most of the drawings were to bleed off the edge of the pages, and fade off into the text, so I frequently end up with odd shaped illustrations from this client. (especially the opening scene, pictured at the bottom of the entry, shaped like a big inverted letter L).

Some of the most enjoyable portions of this assignment were the action scenes, especially the one set in the interior of the coach as one of the boys rescues one of his mates as the cabin fills with muddy and frigid water. I don’t remember if I enlisted the help of my son for posing for these boys or not, but it is entirely likely that I did.


Adventure on the High Seas

Cricket, Voyaging


Ask magazine (a sister publication to Cricket) contacted me with an assignment to illustrate a story about the whaleship Essex sinking. This was a true life incident in which a whaleboat was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale out in the pacific, and was the story that inspired the novel ‘Moby Dick’. Coincidentally, I had just recently read the account of this sea story only a month or so earlier, was very interested in the topic, so it was with great interest that I approached this assignment. This story in the magazine only concerned itself with the ‘whale attack’ part of the tale, and not the grisly aftermath (two or three drifting lifeboats, starvation and cannibalism).

The illustrations are all odd sizes and shapes, having to snake around through the text and sometimes across two page spreads, so I’ve taken some liberties with presenting them here, combining a few spots, flipping a few to face the other way in order to fit the space, and in the case below, reducing the illustration quite a bit in size to fit this blog.

The one just above was the opening illustration, stretching across a two page spread with text to the right and left of it, and showed the initial contact with the whale. The illustration at the top is a combination of two separate illustrations. The larger one spread across the gutter of a two page spread, and shows the whale swimming towards the ship about to ram it, and the spot to the upper right was actually facing the other direction in a corner of the page, and shows one of the harpoonists. The illustration along the left side was of one of the sailors trying to cut a line that was still attached to the whale as he was diving. The illustration below depicts one of the impacts with the whale’s fluke, and shows a couple of the tortoises that were brought aboard from the Galapogos Islands for a supply of fresh food for the men.

I so enjoyed this assignment, that it inspired a promotional postcard that I drew up a month or so later, hoping to land more assignments of this sort (and it would later prove to work like a charm).

Also around this time, I had an assignment from a book publisher, Voyaging, out of NY, that needed an ornate nautical compass rose for the frontspiece of a book. I had a lot of fun with this one too, using ‘sea beasts’ and ornamentations from old maps as inspiration to put this together.

This Just In: Boy Saves Cow from Wolves

Carus Publishing, Cricket


I had a multi-image assignment for Cricket magazine in August. The story concerned a young boy who saves a cow from some wolves (exactly how and why I don’t quite remember) while his father is away for an extended hunting trip. Most of the illustrations were rather static and dull (though I tried to liven them up with some dramatic lighting), but I did have some fun with the more ‘action oriented’ scenes.



Historical Accuracy

Carus Publishing, Cricket


I had a multi-illustration assignment from Cricket magazine in January, and then it needed some revisions made to it in March. This was a story about a revolutionary war hero who had to sneak past the enemy lines on horseback to deliver some message of import to Thomas Jefferson. The story called for him to be wearing a British uniform, which I took to mean the standard Redcoat, and I was quite pleased with the color scheme, and the way the Red made the character pop out of the dark background.

Well, a couple months later, the editors got back with me and told me that they had done more research, and in fact the uniform he would have been wearing was a different design. So in the service of historical accuracy I went back and changed the color of the uniform throughout the story. The new color was less than thrilling, the dark blue blending into the background on most of the illustrations.

If I had the time, I probably should have redone the entire layout, changing the hue of the backgrounds to be a bit more ‘brownish’ in color, to help with the contrast of the new uniform design, but I really didn’t have the time to mess around with it that much. So in addition to the versions that appeared in the final printing, I’ve also included the original version with the red coat (top). This was a little different style than I employed in my usual work, working with colored pencils in a modified sketchy ‘cartoon’ style, and then overlaying with watercolor washes. I particularly liked how the horse came out, using some nice reference materials from the master of ‘horse action’, Frederick Remington. The real trick was in trying to capture a ‘dark night’ in the color scheme without it being totally black and muddy. Not sure I was completely successful, a bit too much purple perhaps (probably should have done even more research into Remington’s beautiful ‘nighttime’ illustrations).

The two vertical illustrations and the long horizontal at the bottom were originally one long illustration that snaked around the sides and bottom of a two page spread. Then the other two larger illustrations came at the beginning and end of the story.