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.

2016 Year in Review

music, self portrait, Year In Review

Aside from the dark cloud that started growing halfway through the year, and culminated in that nightmare on November 9, 2016 was not a complete disaster, with more highlights than downsides. As I start the new year, it is with more trepidation, uncertainty and fear than I’ve ever felt after any election year in my entire life. I’ve survived Republican presidents in the past (5 of them in fact), but never before have I had this feeling of riding on an out of control train barreling towards a cliff with a raving madman at the controls. Hopefully I am over-reacting.

Musically, it was probably my best year. My band, the Jukejoint Handmedowns, won their first WYCE ‘Jammie Award’ in February, winning the ‘Traditions’ award for their 2015 CD ‘Jukejoint Handmedowns Sing Songs of Death, Murder & the Afterlife’. The band feels tighter than it ever has, with several memorable performances this year, including our very first summer music festival appearance at the Buttermilk Jamboree. We signed on with a booking agent in September and are hoping that the coming year will see some interesting new opportunities come of this new relationship. We are also starting the recording process for our 4th CD, a collection of Michigan themed songs that we hope to release early summer of 2017. I continue to also play bass with the Kent Philharmonic Orchestra, challenging myself with classical music that is often way over my head, as well as playing bass with a few other groups. I’ve been finding this musical side of my life to be the most fulfilling, and I only wish it paid nearly as well as illustration. My friend Ted Bergin took a nice photo of me playing at our New Year’s Eve show, that I’m sharing here, and am hoping to get a signed and framed copy of this for my office.

My wife continues to work at a local travel agency as a graphic artist, and her job there offers her many opportunities for travel discounts, so we had several interesting vacations this past year. We shared a house on St. Croix with my Son and his girlfriend, my Brother, his wife, sister in law and a family friend for a week in January, and liked it so much that we are returning again (staying in a different part of the island) this coming January. We also went to Mexico in November with my Brother, his wife, sister in law and family friend, plus my Sister and her husband, and my wife took a trip to Ireland with a co-worker in February. My wife and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary this past December.

My son surprised us with some good news in October, with the announcement that he and his girlfriend have gotten engaged to be married, and we look forward to wedding bells sometime in 2018. He currently works as an Apartment Leasing Agent in Chicago, and still plays with his jazz combo ‘Bonzo Terks’ around the Chicago area.

Meanwhile, I continue to plug away at this illustration business. Still undergoing major changes in the industry. Magazine and Newspaper work has dried up to a mere trickle as compared to 5-6 years ago, and I find myself doing a lot more book publishing work. This was in fact a record year for me as far as ‘books published’. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 9-10 books where my work is either featured or appears on the cover were published this year alone, and I’ve got several titles already lined up for the coming year, that I’ve either just finished or are in the works. I’ve also tried something new with regards to my ‘self promotion’, signing up for a page in the Directory of Illustration last year, which will be coming out in January of this year, and I’m hoping will result in some new clients over the coming year. I’ve never tried advertising with the Directory before, so I’ll let you know next year how that worked out. I always dread this next task of picking out my ‘best work’ of the year, as I usually forget most of the work that has come over my desk in the last 12 months, and worry that I didn’t do anything worth revisiting. But here we go, looking back over the past year, here’s what I’m most proud of:


Approximately 410 illustrations done in 2016, bringing the grand total up to 14,787 illustrations since I started in 1989.