In October of ’03, I was asked by the Cricket magazine art director to illustrate a couple stories for their older ‘teen fiction’ digest, Cicada. The first one was a fantasy/sci-fi piece about a future/alternative reality world in which various ‘human/animal’ races coexist, and a young ‘bird man’ is put in charge of a special ‘egg’ that somehow has great hope and promise for the future of his kind. I remember being very frustrated by this job, especially in the sketch stage. I kept thinking that it is rather easy for an author to simply say ‘bird man’ or ‘lizard man’ and leave it at that, but that taking that simple idea and fleshing it out was another thing entirely. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to portray costumes or architecture, since there weren’t many clues in the text, and I was uncomfortable with how my ‘bird man’ was turning out visually.
I finally hit upon an idea that seemed to work. Since the descriptions were so ‘sketchy’, I decided to plan out the illustrations in a similar ‘sketchy’ manner, doing a lot more implying than laying it all out in concrete form, using a lot of shadows to leave some of the anatomy problems to the mind of the viewer. I used a rare departure for myself stylistically, by doing the finish similar to how I do my rough sketches, very quick and rough (but with a certain controlled quality that I usually forgo in the sketch stage), and lots of chiarascuro technique with regards to positive and negative tonal areas.
What started out being a job that I wasn’t looking forward to, ended up being a lot of fun once I got going on it, and was a welcome change of pace from my usual editorial work. Looking back at these now, after almost 4 years, I am struck by how fresh and interesting they still look, while my scratchboards are still trying to find their way out of their straightjacket of comformity. I need to find this source of creativity and vigor so I can tap into it again when I need it.
Another fiction piece for the same issue of the same fiction digest was the illustration pictured below. This was a Kafka-esque mood piece about a lonely office drone in a filing labyrinth who gets mysterious faxed messages that he has trouble finding a home for (somewhat reminiscent of that scene in Orwell’s ‘1984’ where Winston Smith is handed a simple three word note from the mysterious female character). The editor wanted a style somewhat different from the style of the other story, so I chose to do this one in scratchboard, however trying to make it a little less ‘rigid’ than I usually do.
I had another package of ‘bible stories’ due in October, this was a group of about 20 pieces for the Christian Reformed Church’s school curriculum. I was finding myself drawing a lot of crowd scenes in October. Something I don’t particularly mind doing, but is very time consuming, and I really should start charging more for these sort of projects. Just the seemingly simple task of picking different colors for every single element on the page, faces, shirts, pants, hands etc etc, turns into a long session at the drawing board.
I don’t know why the illustration above is lacking color in a few of the outfits, perhaps I saved an ‘in progress’ file and didn’t realize it at the time. One thing this one points out to me though, is how rarely I ever left any ‘white areas’ in any of these cartoon illustrations, and how much it helps to ‘pop’ the area out of the background mire. I should remember this in the future.
More samples from this month’s bundle of ‘bible stories’ can be found in another posting this month.
Another ‘crowd scene’ pictured above. This one was for the Chronicle of Higher Education. I don’t remember the topic, but the woman in the middle is somehow ‘out of the loop’ for some reason or other.
Another crowd scene, this one for Newsday. I notice I stuck another self portrait in here, wearing my ‘hiking’ vest and bandanna. I don’t remember the gist of this one either, but it seems to me that the ‘asterix’ symbol on the occasional tee shirt had some significance.
Looking back at October ’03’s output, I am struck by how many nice pieces there are that I did in this 30 day period. This piece above for US Catholic magazine, was one of my favorite pieces of the year. I was asked to do a portrait of Mel Gibson to go with an article about his new film ‘The Passion of the Christ’, and I chose to do a homage to a famous rennaisance painting of one of the saints being inspired to write the gospels. Mel wasn’t an easy likeness to capture, but once I found the right angle it seemed to fall into place. I love doing these ‘aping another artist’s style’ projects, as it is a good exercise in learning how other artist’s think. Taking apart their color schemes, and layouts, yet interjecting a little of yourself into them. I contemplated doing a little faux ‘crackelature’ into the image, to emulate an old painting, but it sort of took away from the image, so I abandoned the idea. I did this one in digital watercolors, since I wasn’t yet familiar with the ‘oil paints’ tools in my software program.
Another fun project I had this month, for Newsday, also involving portraiture, was this piece on George Bush and his ‘leakage’ problems, in which he is compared to Dick Nixon. I had the idea of a reflection in the pool of basement water where George sees his reflection as Nixon. Only the second time I’ve had to draw Nixon, at least in my professional career. He was my artistic inspiration as a boy during the Watergate mess, and I cut my drawing teeth doing caricatures of the man.
A ‘puzzle page’ illustration for Oddysey magazine (Cobblestone) offered me a chance to do another fun piece, this time for other reasons. During the summer of ’03 and the previous year, we had started to become interested in sailing and had taken lessons and chartered a boat in northern Michigan the summer before. We were starting to get ‘boat fever’ and one of the boats we had our eye on made it into this illustration (it had a very ornate nameplate on the back and an exposed rudder). We didn’t end up buying that boat, but a different one the following summer, but I still remember this one quite vividly as the ‘one that got away’.