This was the beginning of when I started being known as the ‘dead guy portrait artist’ at Newsday, for a period in 04-05. The current pope had just shuffled off the mortal coil, and there would be a few other popes to draw before the year was out. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to do a portrait of the new pope (in the old pope’s shadow). A veritable Pope-pourri.
Above is the monthly ration of ‘health care’ spots for a regular column that I have illustrated since 2002 for the Wall Street Journal. The topics were (if I remember correctly); icy hot patches for back pain, a new device for sanitizing toothbrushes, contact lenses, health benefits of pomogranates and massage therapy.
For the same client, I also had the above assignment having something to do with the real estate market. I wasn’t too crazy about how this one turned out. Houses aren’t exactly my favorite thing to draw, but in this case, the ‘person’ is the weak link. I need more practice on drawing obese people (because that ‘fat cat’ character pops up from time to time like a bad penny).
I did a bit better with the ‘fat man’ in the following illustration, for the Chronicle of Higher Education. I was a lot happier with this illustration all around, nice hand, nice overall layout.
Another piece for the same client that turned out pretty nice, was the illustration below. The concept was a little weak, and I didn’t have high hopes for it (mostly just replicating the harvard logo), but it turn out half bad.
Also had a full page illustration for Diversity magazine, that wanted a ‘bucket brigade’ image with a breakdown in the line. My wife and I posed for all the figures, and I had to change each to be various ethic varieties and body sizes and types and ages. This one turned out quite nice, better than most ‘full page’ assignments, although I question the liberal use of purple in the background, looking back at it now.
The examples in this posting run the gamut from the type of illustrations where I jump in with enthusiasm and get totally ‘in the zone’ from start to finish, to the type of illustrations where I’m just going through the motions, barely able to work up the enthusiasm to begin. It really shows in the end product, and really, there’s no telling what it is about one project that may inspire, and another which just feels like drudgery from the get-go. Perhaps it is just a frame of mind, and if so, I’d certainly like to figure out where that frame of mind comes from, so I could tap into it on a daily basis.
The drawing above, was for an assignment for Newsday. The story was for the lifestyle section and discussed the ‘Svengali-type’ personality. I don’t remember if the client asked for this particular style, or if I just came up with it on my own, but my inspiration was to try and emulate the painting style of those old lurid ‘pulp covers’, like those done by HJ Ward. I wanted to work in oils (digital oils of course), but the vast array of brush tools and techniques kind of intimidated me, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable with them until a couple years later. I had only worked in ‘real oils’ a few times in my life, and I frequently end up flustered and frustrated with the medium (although I love the end product). I ended up working in ‘oil pastels’, which I was able to manipulate to approximate an ‘oil painting feel’. I don’t know how long this took to complete, because I was totally zoned out while working on it. Probably one of the projects I’ve had the most fun doing in a long time. And still looks as good to me now as it did when I completed it, almost three years later. A great example of being in that ‘magic frame of mind’.
For the same client, a same day black and white illustration is above. This should have given me trouble, a piece that featured an ornate piece of architecture (not my strong suit), but I found myself really enjoying working on this one, and you can see the enthusiasm come out in the work.
The piece above was for US Catholic, and dealt with the homeless and how their situation is usually so precarious, like a deck of cards that could come crashing down any time. Rather than work in my usual rather tight rendering style in scratchboard, I thought I’d work a little rougher this time, to bring out the grunginess. As a result of the change in style, I approached this illustration in a much better frame of mind than I might have, and ended up with a rather nice piece at the end of it.
Then on the other side of the coin, this illustration above was another same day illustration for Newsday, and I just wasn’t enthusiastic about the subject matter, wasn’t sure how I wanted to treat the ‘road’ in the middle of the drawing. I felt myself just going through the motions, pulling old tried and true techniques out of the ‘bag of tricks’ without really thinking about them, and as a result, the final illustration comes out rather lifeless and stale. Not really bad, just not special.
The one above is another example of ‘going through the motions’. Another one for US Catholic, this one about voting (set in a confessional for some reason). Not really enthused about the layout or subject, so I just put it through the ‘cartoonmaster3000’ and churned out a servicable illustration.
And finally this piece for National Auctioneer. A full page color piece (or it may have been a cover, I don’t remember) about online auctions. A lot of specific information needed to be put into a crowded scene. Lots of people from the back, and the need to include some art supplied by the client for the overhead projector image. What should have been a challenge, just ended up being a chore from start to finish, as a result, the end product, despite having a lot of work put into it, just ended up flat and lifeless. It didn’t help, that this was about the third ‘auction’ illustration of this sort that I had done for this client, and I was getting a bit tired of the same old layout.
So, what’s the answer? Perhaps it has something to do with keeping myself on the edge of the cliff. The thrill of trying something new and dangerous where I might fall flat on my face, rather than the safe and comfortable where you barely even have to pay attention. I’ll try and remember this in the future.
Another unit of ‘Friendship’ illustrations for the Christian Reformed Church, an ongoing curriculum project (this current batch since 2002). I’ve chosen a sampling of illustrations from this group to post here by way of example.
I remember the ‘apostles’ being a particular logistical headache throughout the project. They needed to be readily recognizable throughout the entire series, so were given a certain ‘outfit’ and ‘hairstyle’. Each time an apostle needed to make an appearance, I had to check back to my ‘master list’ to make sure he was drawn correctly. The worst ones were the ‘apostle crowds’ like the last supper illustration above.
Frequently there would be a lot of duplication, both for teacher’s guides, and for activity sheets related to the materials. Blank scenes like above would be populated by character cutout sheets (like below).