Bushwacked

ABA, ChronicleHE, Far East Economic Review, Niche Media, WSJ

A busy couple of weeks followed by a period of relative quiet. My son just started his senior year in high school, a couple weeks into it anyways, and the rest of us were settling into our fall groove. Had a fun assignment for Barrons, who needed a portrait of W for an article about his troubled economic legacy. One of my more successful color pieces of the year.

Over one of the weekends during this period, I did a trio of illustrations for the Far Eastern Economic Review out of Hong Kong, a portrait of the Taiwanese leader changing flag designs, a tourism ‘overview’ piece targeting air travel (below), and one of a soldier to accompany an article about crackdowns on dissidents during the upcoming festivities (below, right). These assignments usually arrive sometime Friday, and I need to get them finished by Monday, my time. The AD is easy to work with, gives me a good variety of subject matter to illustrate, and good opportunities to practice my ‘asian faces’ and portraiture skills.

Also did a number of pieces over the past few weeks for the Wall Street Journal. The usual bi-monthly ‘health column’ gig, one on a new brand of toothbrush, and another tricky one on hemorrhoid treatments (both pictured below)

For the same newspaper, did a black and white chart accompaniment spot on consumer staples stocks, and another color same day illustration (don’t quite remember what the topic was, something to do with bad situations having unexpected benefits…but it was a fun one, involving thorns and dramatic lighting) (both pictured below)

And in addition to all these, I also had a small spot project for Niche Media for one of their regional pubs, to accompany an editorial about the ‘war on xmas’ (pictured below). The idea came much quicker than the time the finish ended up taking. I had a lot of false starts on it, trying to get the tree to look realistic, and ended up doing a lot of research on the various parts of the illustration (tree branches, anti aircraft guns etc).

Earlier in the week, had a job from the Chronicle of Higher Education. These usually arrive late in the week, and are due early the next week. This particular one was about ‘saving our institutions’, and the sketches were both received well, and I was fortunate to be able to pick whichever one I wanted to finish up (pictured below). A nice perk, unlike the assignment that follows…

Around this time, I also had a full page illustration for the American Bar Association, something to do with contracts and disputes. I was given a fairly concrete layout on this one, and not much creative license. Rather time consuming, and as usual with full page scratchboard assignments, I’m less than happy with the end result. I need to find a better way to approach the ‘full page’ assignment. The scratchboard just doesn’t seem to be the best solution, at least the way that I’m doing it. Too busy, and the colors tend to diffuse the impact of the medium. This one also required a lot of research into foreign currencies (which I took from online sources, manipulating them with ‘scratchboard filters’ before placing them, so that they better fit in with the rest of the illustration), which needed to make up the ‘mountain’ below the characters and torn contract. (pictured below)

Back from Vacation

Barrons, Carus Publishing, ChronicleHE, Newsday, Niche Media, WSJ


After we returned from our ‘disc golf tour of Wisconsin’ during the second week of August, we had planned on taking a few days at home and then spending the rest of the following week on our boat on Lake Michigan, but weather conspired against us, and we ended up staying home for most of the week, and doing a few short daysails when the weather cleared. Plenty of work was waiting for me when I got back. A set of 4 illustrations for Cricket magazine about whaling in New Zealand and an interesting human/killer whale cooperation that took place there for a time. This is a client that I’ve been working for since my first year in business (back in ’89), although the original AD has moved on during the past year, and the new AD seems to have me pegged as the ‘historical nautical’ specialist. I’ve included only one of the four illustrations (above), as they are unusual shapes that spread across two page spreads, and this one I’ve chosen is probably the best of the lot.

The Wall Street Journal (and affiliated publications) took up the lion’s share of the rest of the workload over the following few weeks. My bi-monthly ‘health column’ (pictured left) regarding some sort of herbal remedy for night sweats. Then a ‘chart accompaniment’ illustration in black and white later in the week. (pictured below right) Something to do with the market gyrations, ups and downs, etc. And then there was also a piece on ‘bullies’, which I don’t quite remember what the story angle was, that was also for the same paper at a different time of the week.

And, for Barrons, who I’ve been doing more and more work for lately, I had an assignment that I had the good fortune to convert from a single illustration to an additional spot thanks to the client enjoying both of my sketch ideas. The story was about some banking scandal where the institution didn’t have the requisite funds in the vault (or something like that). The larger spot is pictured below and the smaller spot is below that to the left. (one of them ended up being used on the contents page as a ‘teaser’)



And, then, in addition to all the ‘financial’ subject matter, I had an assignment the Chronicle of Higher Education, who wanted an illustration to accompany a story about study programs abroad, and the government’s interference with them (or at least that’s how I remember the story – memory is a bit fuzzy on this one). I liked how this one turned out. I usually have trouble with ‘shoes’, but these turned out quite nice. I especially like the background shading that I used, I tend to go a little too light on the backgrounds, perhaps that is why I always feel like ‘color’ tends to diffuse the power of the scratchboard medium. Maybe I’m just being too wimpy with it.

Also had a quick spot for one of Niche Media’s regional publications regarding tongue in cheek etiquette advice for fine dining, more specifically, not fighting over the bread plate. Did this one in a bit more of a ‘cartoonish’ style, something I used to do a lot more of, but has fallen by the wayside of late.


Around this time I also had a same day illustration for Newsday (pictured below). Something to do with sluggishly slow progress on urban development projects in the area.

Little Packages

ChronicleHE, Highlights, Newsday, Niche Media, WSJ

A lot of little spots during this period just prior to our planned family vacation in the middle of August. The regular bi-monthly ‘health column’ spot illustrations for the Wall Street Journal came in a bunch in order to free up the time later in the month, thanks to the generosity of the client. This piece on the left is actually from the end of July, about some sort of dental device to combat sleep apnea. Then shortly thereafter I began work on the upcoming weeks’ column which was something about minerals to prevent wrinkles (if I remember correctly). I don’t quite remember what happened here, but I think I got okayed to finish one of the ideas I presented, but then the editors changed their mind and went with another idea. Anyways I’ve got two illustrations for the same date, and I don’t remember which one they eventually used (though it may have been the black and white one)

A quickie little border cartoon for Highlights magazine to go around a MLK quote on racial harmony, was another of the ‘smaller sized’ assignments I was doing around this time.

A same day illustration for Newsday, to accompany an essay by a doctor on differing ‘bedside manner techniques’ came in the middle of the week (pictured below). Had to do a little research on ‘hospital gurneys’. Amazing the things you see often in your life, but never really take a good look at.

The piece to the left was for another for the Wall Street Journal to accompany a chart on the market fluctuations. Seems as if the bear market and bull market were teetering back and forth at the time. I’ve lost track of how many bears and bulls I’ve done over the past ten years, but I’m sure it is an impressive number. The illustration below and to the right was for the Chronicle of Higher Education, something to do with college accreditation. Don’t normally enjoy drawing buildings but this wasn’t too bad, as I was able to hide quite a lot of it behind the hands and tape measure (and of course a generous dose of ivy helps sell the ‘university’-ness of the building).

Around this time I also got an assignment from Niche Media, for one of their regional publications, that needed a caricature of Michael Moore for an editorial piece on his influence and co-opting of the democratic party. Didn’t quite enjoy this project so much. Aside from finding the editorial disagreeable, and being an admirer of Mr. Moore (fellow Flint-oid that I am), I also didn’t like the cheap shot of playing off his weight for the humor. But I rarely get to do caricatures and really enjoy the challenge, so I just grinned and worked through it. (didn’t think the donkey turned out all that good either).

Anyhow, a lot of small pieces over the past few weeks, which I really don’t mind at all. But, like popcorn and junk food, a steady diet of this could get a little monotonous.

Steady Diet of Spots

ChronicleHE, Newsday, Niche Media, WSJ

One of the rare ‘larger’ pieces during the early part of May, a same day project for Newsday to commemorate the landing on Plymouth Rock (pictured above). Had to do a little research on ‘pilgrim shoes’, since I wanted to make this the focal point of the illustration and wanted it to look good and accurate. And my regular ‘health care column’ gig for the Wall Street Journal continues to keep me busy for one day of every other week, at least. This one was on ‘ultrasounds’, and while I wasn’t crazy about using a ‘found image’ for the ‘ultrasound screen’, it looked much better than the drawn version I originally planned on using.

A lot of small spots during this time for the Wall Street Journal. The ‘credit monkey on your back’ illustration accompanied a chart on mounting credit debt (pictured right). The ‘laundry’ spot was for the same client, but I’m afraid I can’t quite remember what the topic of the story was about (other than laundering shirts) (pictured below left). I really enjoy doing these tiny spots, they give you a creative workout, usually because the size is so restrictive, sometimes you are given odd sizes to work with, and trying to condense a lot of information into a single image can be quite challenging.

I really ought to get better at saving all the ‘rejected ideas’ that I generate on a daily basis, they would probably come in very handy further down the pike. But the real challenge would be in keeping them organized, as I’ve tried saving them before, and they quickly pile up into an ungainly mess of disorganization. It might be interesting to post a few in future installments as a way of comparing the ‘sketch’ to the ‘finish’.

This rather tiny spot the right is a good example of how I sometimes have to fit an idea into a restrictive available space. This one was on brokers, and rather than try and fit an entire person into the space, or even head and shoulders, it worked out much better just using the hands to get the point across.

Another small spot for the same client during this time period. I don’t quite remember what the topic of this particular one was. Getting more practice on drawing globes, this time in black and white. Using a series of layers, and manipulated parallel lines from photoshop I’m able to simulate the curvature of a sphere, and this technique I’ve been able to put to good use during this past year, and came in real handy in the following couple of months (both in color and in black and white).

Another of my regular clients, the Chronicle of Higher Education, handed me a spot illustration assignment, something to do with student loan improprieties, where some loan companies receive kickbacks from loan officers at schools. Always a challenge drawing the ‘overweight’ character. Clothes don’t seem to fall the same way on them, and the facial structure is a bit more tricky. Need to do more research in the future to make these work a little better. Around this time, aside from the staid and true ‘regular clientele’, I also started receiving a little bit of return business from a newer client that I only started working for this year. Niche Media, a parent company of a series of ‘regional publications’ across the country, and they started sending me some work in more of a ‘humorous vein’ which allows me to stretch a little bit out of the ‘scratchboard rut’ that I seem to be mired in lately.

This quarter page illo for Niche gave me a chance to both practice my ‘cartoon’ style and also get a head start on caricatures of the then Republican front runners. The author of the editorial seemed to think that Romney was the ‘best bet’ at the time (and you’ll notice how the ‘front runner’ later in the year is pictured way in the back here). The ‘used car’ idea wasn’t particularly original, but it seemed to do the job. Also, for the same publisher (but a different publication on the other side of the country) was a tongue in cheek ‘etiquette’ article, for which I went back to a modified ‘scratchboard’ technique, though keeping the overall feel a little lighter and humorous.

The trick on this one, was that I was required to portray the author of the article based on a few photos provided by the publisher. I hope I did him justice. I always wonder what the subjects of these ‘mystery portraits’ think of them when they see them. I rarely ever get feedback from the authors or subjects of my illustrations – sometimes a good word from the ADs, or a note from a writer is passed on to me occasionally. I usually judge repeat business as a good indicator of how my work is going over. Sometimes I wonder though if my appeal is always how the work looks, or if other factors are coming into play (fast turnaround, reliability, cost). Living and working in a vacuum like I do, it is frequently difficult to judge what’s going on outside the bubble.

Outside the Comfort Zone

AHMM, America, Barrons, Newsday, Niche Media, WSJ

Early in March was a rather busy time for me. I had just come off of a couple of slow months, and was beginning to get a little worried about how the year was shaping up, then a sudden rush of projects all at once calmed me down a bit and put the panic on the back burner (which was probably not a good thing as I should have concentrated more on advertising and looking further down the road).

I took in a quartet of illustrations for my regular quarterly AG Edwards newsletter (which I don’t include samples of here, in deference to our agreement with regards to usage). These are usually scratchboard, on a familiar set of topics, usually retirement, savings, investment and estate planning, one of them fairly large and horizontal and the rest of a medium to small spot size.

I also received a trio of illustrations from America magazine, a jesuit publication client of mine. I had been doing a series of ‘saint portraits’ for a while for them over the previous months, and this assignment was a little less concrete, and a little more challenging. The only direction I was given was to come up with a series of illustrations that would portray the concepts of ‘good’, of ‘evil’ and of ‘lesser evil’. My idea was to use the snake as the symbol for evil, and thought I’d could use a small snake as the ‘lesser’ and a larger more menacing one for the ‘evil’, and then thought of tying them all together with the idea of a ‘candle in the darkness’ as the symbol for ‘good’, which could continue throughout the pieces.

One of the perks of working for this particular client, is the amount of freedom he allows me in experimenting with different mediums, and for this one I chose a combination of rough pastels, washes and colored pencils (all digital, of course), and I was quite happy with the end result, so much so, that I reused one of the illustrations for a mailer that I put out at the end of the month. A fun project overall, in which I got to push myself outside of my comfort zone, draw objects which aren’t easy (hands and snakes), and work in an unfamiliar medium, which gives one a feeling of walking a tightrope without a net sometimes, but gives you a great boost of adrenaline along the way (sort of like what appeals to me about sailing).


Near the beginning of the month, I also received a black and white same day illustration from Newsday. This one being about the bad press the local fire department was getting with regards to ‘response time’ and how they don’t take into account what time the ‘chief’ shows up at the scene, frequently performing heroic acts before the rest of the crew even gets set up. And then another ‘health care’ column piece for the WSJ, something to do with sprains or lasers or something. Both jobs well within the comfort zone, but rewarding in their own ways.

A newer regional publication client, Niche Media, gave me a caricature assignment around this time as well, a spot to accompany an article about the democratic front runners. A chance to take a stab at doing Obama and Clinton, (Mrs. Clinton I’d tried a few times before, but this would be a first time doing Obama for me). Also gave me a chance to work outside the usual scratchboard on a more cartoonish level. I liked how the donkey came out on this one, I usually have trouble with them, but I was a little worried about how this illustration would be perceived by those with a more prurient mindset. But the client didn’t seem to see a problem, so we went ahead with it.

Another of my regular clients, Barrons, who has been giving me more and more work lately, approached me with an assignment to come up with an illustration that would depict the concept of ‘risk’. I was a little worried, because at first I was really drawing a blank, having trouble coming up with even one idea, and I approached my family members for brainstorming nuggets.

My son came up with a great idea about ‘hand buzzers’ which I drew up a sketch for, and then I thought of the idea of a ‘snake in the grass’, but substituting a fancy wrapped package for the ‘snake’ and hid a bear trap around it in the thick grass. The old ‘bucket of water on the top of the door’ trick provided another sketch, and then I had the idea of taking a big bite out of a sandwich, but finding a nasty surprise inside. Sent all these ideas away to the art director with a bit of trepidation, thinking that he wouldn’t find any of them suitable.

The AD called me back up with the surprising news that he wanted me to go ahead and finish all them up, explaining that the topic comes up time and time again in their publication, and he could use them all over the upcoming weeks and months. A nice windfall, which helped push early March into the red.

Of the four, I think my favorite of the finishes is the ‘trap in the grass’, with the hand buzzer a close second. Glad they all found a home though, and I am sure to give plenty of concepts to choose from for this client in the future.

Also around this time, got another fiction assignment from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. This one involving African-American ex-soldiers recognizing a Nazi commander from the war in a restaurant that they work in. I was happy with how the characters in the background turned out, but the foreground could have been a bit more dramatic, perhaps with more solid black areas.