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.

New Overseas Client

Barrons, Far East Economic Review, Newsday, Retail Traffic

During the middle and last half of August, we were taking a few short family vacations, with breaks in-between for work assignments, in the midst of which I was starting to get a few phone calls from newer clients, thanks to a postcard I had sent out the month earlier. I’d had a few overseas clients contact me from time to time, but it was usually a rarity. I’d done a few assignments for a client in New Zealand a few months before, but this newest client that I heard from initially during this time was the furthest geographically that I’d ever worked for. The Far Eastern Economic Review, a magazine out of Hong Kong, and this was probably not as a result of the postcard, as this client was affiliated with the Wall Street Journal, and was probably a referral, or perhaps they saw my work in that newspaper from time to time. The first two assignments were a portrait assignment (pictured left), and a piece on a chinese railroad line somewhere in the himilayas (pictured below). I was pretty pleased with how both of them turned out, and working with this client was a breeze, and it would turn out to be a nice source of repeat business over the coming year. The assignments have been consistently interesting and challenging, and have given me lots of opportunities to work on my portraiture skills.

Another newer client around this time (although I don’t think this was the first time working for them) was Barrons, also affiliated with the Wall Street Journal. This assignment actually arrived while we were on vacation, staying in hotels at night, and this was one of the earliest instances of working on a smaller Wacom tablet and laptop computer while away from my office (something I am hoping to do a lot more of in the future). This piece had something to do with a well known brokerage firm, playing with the idea of a ‘deer caught in the headlights’. I experimented a bit with some different techniques, and I was quite pleased with the end result (not sure if it actually ended up being printed in color though).

I also had a piece around this time for a new client, Retail Traffic magazine, to accompany an article about stagnant strip malls.

Another piece around this time was a same day black and white assignment from Newsday. I don’t remember the subject of the illustration, but I do remember it had something to do with a local political candidate and how their ‘race’ was shaping up.

Christmas in August

AHMM, Honolulu Magazine, WSJ

Started getting a few holiday pieces already in early August from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. An amusing story about the ‘murder of Ebenezer Scrooge’, in which his sudden uncharacteristic holiday cheer turns out to be the result of a hallucinagenic poisoning. I was also approached by the same client to give them some artwork for a holiday greeting card, and I was given a lot of freedom in coming up with the concept and layout. I ended up portraying the magazine’s namesake as a grim reaper-ish santa and reindeer over a snowy New York cityscape. Both of these pieces ended up being a couple of my favorite pieces of the year, and a couple months later, I got a nice note from the author of the story, telling me how tickled he was with the illustration.

Also, around this time received a few small spot illustrations from the Wall Street Journal. The one to the left was to accompany a story about the cable industry (if memory serves). The one to the right was undoubtably about falling stock prices. I’ve done quite a few pieces to illustrate stocks either going up or going down, and they kind of blur together in my memory.
I certainly hope that I don’t recycle ideas, at least too obviously. The parachute scenario kind of rings a bell, and I’m sure I’ve been down this conceptual road before. Another spot illustration that fell around this time was another of my ‘dubious health care’ column illustrations, this one being about female examinations.
Sometimes these illustrations get a little goofy, and other times the subject matter is such, that a certain amount of sensitivity and tact is required. I don’t remember the exact topic, but I’m sure that this was one of those cases for tact and sensitivity.

Also during this period in August, I took an assignment from Honolulu magazine, one of three that I did over the summer of ’06. They were usually a little on the whimsical side, and I don’t quite remember the story behind this one, but it took a little reference research to come up with the accurate native costumes.

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.