2021 Year in Review

Year In Review

From a bottom line standpoint, this past year was a definite improvement over the previous one. But with the pandemic still raging, little to no accountability for the crimes of January 6th yet to be had (other than minor prison sentences for those duped fools who actually carried out the attack on the Capitol), and a general feeling of malaise and hopelessness about the future, it doesn’t feel like 2021 was much better than 2020. In the past week alone, 7 of my immediate family have tested positive for Covid, and it has spread throughout a significant portion of my close friends and acquaintances.

My band has made several weak attempts at getting back together, and we even signed up a new member, but one thing or another has kept us from making any significant headway into either rehearsing or recording.

As for the illustration business, it was a year of book publishing projects. The graphic novel version of “What Unites Us” was released in March, and that was exciting for a couple weeks, and seemed to garner generally positive reviews, but I’m not sure how well it has been selling. I finished three ‘Who Was’ books this year, and have another waiting in the wings. I illustrated a reprint of Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”, which should be out soon, and I also completed the interior illustrations for the book “Saving Earth”, which was a project that has been hanging around for a couple years thanks to the pandemic. I have a few projects already lined up for the coming year, so I am in a hopeful mood, but a 60th birthday in a few weeks has tempered the elation a bit. My wife and I are still healthy, and so far my son and his wife have managed to elude the virus as well. Keep on the sunny side.

Without further ado, here’s what I feel is my best work of the year:

2020 Year in Review

Year In Review

For nearly everyone on the planet, I can assume this was probably one of those years we’d rather forget. Personally, it was a struggle, with sales dropping down to the level of my third year in business (1992), the isolation of lockdown, and my wife (working in the travel industry) reduced to part time hours at her job. Savings and underemployment benefits and the small business loan helped cushion the blow financially, but I struggled all year to keep my spirits up and to keep working at my craft despite the lack of paying work. I take some small comfort in the fact that the 2nd half of the year was much better than the first half, and that publishers seem to be tentatively putting their toes back into the water in the latter half of the year, resulting in a few book publishing jobs on the horizon for the new year. I also picked up a couple new clients this year, which I am also very hopeful about.

Keeping on the positive side, my graphic novel adaptation of “What Unites Us” is scheduled for release sometime this spring, after some delays in the publication date, and I look forward to promoting that. I had two of the “Who Was” books cross my desk this past year. I was also very excited this year to get my first Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine cover after having worked for them for over 30 years. I’m also currently working with another publisher on a recipe book (inspired by Fantasy Fiction) that I hope will be published in the coming year.

As for the band, we made a nice start on recording our fifth CD, when the pandemic shelved our plans. We tried recording remotely, but found that not all the band members were able to handle the chores of home recording their own parts. We had a couple small gigs in the early months of the year, but other than that, only had one outdoor private party in August (with one member absent and a substitute player sitting in). We look forward to reuniting again once the restrictions ease and vaccinations are more widespread.

Anyhow, here’s what I consider my best illustrations of the year, many of which were self promotional pieces done just to keep my skills fresh.

2019 Year in Review

Year In Review

It was a year of extraordinary highs and dispiriting lows. For a month in July and August this past year, I took the longest vacation I’ve ever been on. Myself, my wife Terri, my sister Margo and her husband John took a trip to California to hike the John Muir Trail. While we didn’t complete as much of it as we initially planned, it was still an amazing adventure. 100 hiking miles up and down 6 mountains is something I’m not soon going to forget (and stay tuned, I’m thinking of doing a longer hike for my 60th birthday, coming up in a few years). The vacation took its toll on my earnings, however, as I logged my very first ‘zero’ for the month of August in 30 years of freelancing.

I also worked on what ended up being my single biggest illustration assignment of the past 30 years. Taking up nearly 3 solid months of the year (and another month in the preliminary layouts), the graphic novel adaptation of Dan Rather’s book “What Unites Us” was a huge challenge, and one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on. I’m pretty proud with how it turned out, and looking forward to promoting it heavily when it is released (hopefully this coming spring).

But in contrast, there were many dry patches in the year, with long stretches of no work coming in. Many of my former regular magazine and newspaper clients have fallen by the wayside, and I find myself working more and more with book publishers, with deadlines that stretch on for months. It is taking some getting used to.

However, during one slow period in the spring of the year, I found myself getting my oil paints out and doing some paintings (three of which got into a local art festival in the summer, the first time I’ve ever done this, despite having played music in the same festival for the past decade).

In personal news, we lost a dog to old age in the spring, and we adopted a dog near the end of the year as a replacement. My wife Terri continues to work at Witte Travel and volunteers as a programmer for a local community radio station. My son turned 30 years old this November and also celebrated his first year wedding anniversary. My band the “Jukejoint Handmedowns” played a few summer festivals this year, but otherwise it was a pretty slow year for them as well. We’ll be celebrating 10 years together in the coming year and plan on releasing a few new CDs.

Many of my favorite pieces this year have been unpublished works that I have done in the ‘valleys’, while a few pieces stem from a few major projects on the ‘mountain tops’ which kept my head above water at the tail end of this decade. That’s 30 years of freelancing in the books, folks. Here’s hoping I can keep it up until retirement.

Anyhow, here’s my favorite pieces of the past year:

2018 Year In Review

Year In Review

Well, I made it. Officially thirty years now since I began freelancing in 1989. (technically, I didn’t leave my job and start working for home until March or April of 1989, but I had begun sending out cartoon submissions earlier in the year, so close enough). I have no plans to retire anytime soon, so onward to 40 years, or as long as I can keep this up.

2018 was a little better than 2017. The book publishing industry still seems to be where I am finding most of my work these days, and I’m finding myself more comfortable at the pace and working requirements that this sort of work entails. 3 Penguin books (on ‘Area 51’, ‘Hollywood’ and the ‘Vietnam War’), as well as 3¬†MacMillan projects (the ‘Epic Fails’ series), a children’s adaptation of ‘Peter Cottontail’ for Skyhorse, and one that I was particularly excited about working on – a book on the Watergate Scandal (also for MacMillan). The ‘Western Screen Legends’ book that I was excited about last January, still hasn’t been published, but I expect that to hit the shelves next month. Things move much slower in the Book Publishing World, and I am trying to adjust.

One more big development that I was first approached about in May of 2018, was the possibility of working on my first ‘Graphic Novel’. Doing comics has been an ambition of mine since leaving college back in 1982, and I am super excited by this possibility. I did several pages of ‘samples’ over the summer, and there has been a lot of back and forth with the publisher (and the author, this being an adaptation of an existing work), and I was offered a contract near the end of the year, and will likely be starting work on this project in the very near future. This will be the biggest project I have ever tackled and am looking forward to the challenge. More on this later.

Other big developments in 2018, on the personal front; My son Keenan got married in August to a wonderful girl named Lydia (another artist in the family, which is nice). We sold our boat (which has been a bit of an albatross around our necks for the last few years), but we still have plans to charter sail when our schedules permit. We had a few unexpected hospitalizations earlier in the year, but are feeling better now, thank you. Me and the wife celebrated our 35th anniversary in December, and took a trip to Ireland with a couple friends in October. And thanks to my sister, we have gotten back into hiking, and have made plans to tackle a rather large hiking trip in the summer of 2019 (wish us luck).

Oh, and almost forgot to mention the band. Our 8th year playing together, we had a nice ‘residency’ this past year and a half at a local restaurant, and while having a nice steady monthly gig that paid well, and grew a nice audience of new fans over a period of time, the downside was that we got kind of lazy in seeking out other gigs (since we only play out twice a month). Our hope is to play a few more summer festivals this coming year, and get to work on our 5th album (and perhaps a few EPs as well – thinking of a ‘cover album’ and a ‘christmas album’, as long as we are in the ‘recording mode’).

Anyhow, here’s what I consider my best work of 2018 (not counting images I have not yet shared on this blog, due to books not yet seeing publication):

Approximately 510 illustrations done in 2018, bringing the grand total to 15,830 since I started in 1989.

2017 Year In Review

Year In Review

That time of year again, to browse through my previous year’s work and pick out some favorite pieces in the past twelve months. The ‘directory’ experiment seems to have been a bust, so I’ll likely be going back to my previous advertising methods (theispot and postcards a few times a year). Financially, this year was a bit down from previous years, but with the shift from editorial to more book projects, it wasn’t noticeable because I felt just as busy, if not busier than before. We cut down on vacations this year, as we are saving up for our son’s wedding in 2018. During the slow summer season this year, I tried something new, starting a possible book project that I then presented to a publisher (as opposed to waiting for the phone to ring and hoping projects will come to me). I’m happy to say that it worked out and the book is being completed this month and should be published sometime next year. I’m thinking that this may be my next step in evolution, and the next step will likely be shopping projects around to new publishers rather than relying on current working relationships. Coming up on my twenty ninth year in freelancing, and trying to remain relevant.

This past year I returned to the college from whence I dropped out in 1982, and gave an inspirational talk to a class of third year illustration students. It was an interesting experience. I’m not sure when the transition from ‘young illustrator’ to ‘old timer’ took place, but I seem to be doling out more and more advice these days.

The band is continuing to do well in our ‘little pond’ of West Michigan. We released our fourth CD this year, and we picked up a monthly residency at a south side eatery, where we’ve been playing regularly once a month since April. We’ve been talking of released a couple EPs in the coming year, perhaps a collection of ‘covers’ and a ‘christmas’ CD.

Anyhow, here’s what I feel are the best pieces of work I did in 2017 (click on thumbnail to see larger version):


Approximately 535 illustrations done in 2017, bringing the grand total up to 15,320 illustrations since I started in 1989.