Gulf Stream (and a stream of Spots)

Business Week, Carus Publishing, WSJ

My efforts to promote more ‘spot illustration’ assignments had some positive effects almost within a month of sending out the postcard. I got a call from a new client, Business Week, who commissioned me to do a series of spot illustrations for an upcoming article. I don’t quite remember the overall thrust of the article, but it seemed to be something about mortgages and mortgage loan companies. One of the first inklings of the soon to burst ‘housing bubble’ that came across my desk.

The subject matter was a little on the dry side, but I tried to spice things up with a liberal interpretation of the topics, and some bright colors. Not sure how successful the ’round background color’ was. Looking back, I sort of wish I’d done something a little more freeflowing in the background, but I also wanted to try and tie all the spots together despite the wide variety of scenes and topics.

Something about these spots didn’t quite gel however, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. The size was perfect to what I usually like to do, this was exactly what I was hoping would come down the pike when I sent out the postcard the previous month, in promoting just this sort of assignment. Perhaps it being a new client, and myself being so eager to please, I kept things a little more conservative than I should have. Perhaps the subject matter just didn’t stir the imagination. But somehow, I was left feeling that these spots came out a little dull and pedestrian.

And in addition to the spots for this new client, I also had the regular gig for the Wall Street Journal, a ‘dubious health care’ column that I have been illustrating every other week for the past couple of years. This particular piece was something to do with vision correction, but to the tell the truth I don’t quite remember what the slant was on this story. In contrast to the spots for the other client, this one felt smooth and effortless. Perhaps it has something to do with being relaxed with the designer and the expectations. Perhaps it was just a case of ‘trying too hard’ and shooting myself in the foot in the process by overthinking and overworking the illustrations.

Also around this time, I was working on an assignment for Cricket magazine (actually, one of the sister publications; Ask). A series of illustrations to go with an article about the ‘gulf stream’, both from a historical and scientific perspective.

I seem to be getting a reputation around this magazine publisher as the ‘go to’ guy for historical and nautical illustrations. This is alright with me, I enjoy doing drawings of old sailing ships, and it seems to fit well with my woodcut style, and is right in keeping with the postcard that I had sent out back in 2004 for just this purpose.

The images of the ‘old ships’ in this series of illustrations seemed to be the more successful pieces. The image of the ‘shipwreck’ (pictured above) was the most fun to work on, a little less constrained by ‘research’ and ‘accuracy’ and a little more freeflowing in design. The ‘columbus’ illustration was to fill a two page spread, with the ship coming out of the upper right corner, and the remainder of the illustration being water and waves to go behind the text of the article (I’ve only included the upper right corner here), and part of the water would be a different color to denote the feeling of the ‘gulf stream’ down the center of the spread.

Most of the rest of the spots would find themselves sprinkled throughout the article, most of them bleeding off the corners of the pages, and fading out towards the text. The more ‘modern’ or ‘historical’ scenes included in the series didn’t seem to work as well (‘ben franklin’ and the ‘scientists’). In retrospect, perhaps a change of medium or style for those spots might have been more successful. The map was fun to draw. I used to do quite a few maps for Cobblestone years ago, and I always enjoyed those assignments and miss doing them.