Black and White Scratchboard Blowout

AHMM, Newsday

In March, I was handed a rather complex trio of illustrations from a Mid-Michigan advertising agency. These would be a series of full page newspaper ads, in black and white scratchboard, having something to do with the Michigan economy/ecology. Each were challenging in their own way, but overall, the biggest challenge for me, was pulling off a scratchboard assignment of this size, since I’ve been most comfortable working on smaller spots, and even full page magazine page assignments intimidate me a bit. Buildings and Landscapes are also not my strong suit, so I had to get better at each of them, and real quick.

Probably my favorite of the three, even though it was a rather strange design, was the ‘ying/yang’ illustration above. I liked how I was able to play with the tones and layout, in order to keep one side primarily dark with a white spot in the middle, and the other side primarily light, with the dark spot in the middle. The buildings came out the best in this one, too, probably because I was more heavily leaning on my research materials.

The one thing I didn’t like about this last one, was the way I treated the ‘road’. It was supposed to be a central part of the image, leading toward the ‘utopian city’ on the horizon, but I wasn’t happy with the way I chose to treat it, spending much more time concentrating on the surrounding countryside, and in consequence, ignoring the problem right smack dab in the middle. In retrospect, I probably should have left it solid black (or even made it a divided highway, with a few bridges along the way), in order to build up a bit more contrast.

Also, this month, I had another fiction piece for Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. This one concerned a murder at an Incan archaeology dig. I liked how I used the strong vertical layout to build from solid black at the bottom to white at the top.

Another black and white piece I had this month, was the same day assignment for Newsday, pictured at left. This was an image of George Bush, and I don’t remember what the circumstances of the story were, something to do with his public speaking probably. Not one of my best likenesses of the guy, and something about it seems a little ‘off’ to me, looking back at it now (probably the feet and crossed legs, which I should have researched better).

Big Project of Small Spots

Adventure House

In March, I had a rather large project, consisting of about 40 or so tiny spot illustrations ranging in size from 2×3 down to 1×2 on a variety of subjects for Adventure House Publishing. This would be part of a textbook or workbook or something, and I would be one of a number of illustrators working on this particular project. I never did find out the name of the book these would appear in. This would be an ongoing project throughout the year, with assignments trickling in every couple of months.

I’ve taken a sampling of the illustrations to post here as examples of the project. The subjects ranged from larger ‘story illustrations’ like those at the top, to small icons representing the holidays or modes of transportation (above and below), or small spots representing different activities (like those medium sized ones pictured at bottom).

Historical Accuracy

Carus Publishing, Cricket

I had a multi-illustration assignment from Cricket magazine in January, and then it needed some revisions made to it in March. This was a story about a revolutionary war hero who had to sneak past the enemy lines on horseback to deliver some message of import to Thomas Jefferson. The story called for him to be wearing a British uniform, which I took to mean the standard Redcoat, and I was quite pleased with the color scheme, and the way the Red made the character pop out of the dark background.

Well, a couple months later, the editors got back with me and told me that they had done more research, and in fact the uniform he would have been wearing was a different design. So in the service of historical accuracy I went back and changed the color of the uniform throughout the story. The new color was less than thrilling, the dark blue blending into the background on most of the illustrations.

If I had the time, I probably should have redone the entire layout, changing the hue of the backgrounds to be a bit more ‘brownish’ in color, to help with the contrast of the new uniform design, but I really didn’t have the time to mess around with it that much. So in addition to the versions that appeared in the final printing, I’ve also included the original version with the red coat (top). This was a little different style than I employed in my usual work, working with colored pencils in a modified sketchy ‘cartoon’ style, and then overlaying with watercolor washes. I particularly liked how the horse came out, using some nice reference materials from the master of ‘horse action’, Frederick Remington. The real trick was in trying to capture a ‘dark night’ in the color scheme without it being totally black and muddy. Not sure I was completely successful, a bit too much purple perhaps (probably should have done even more research into Remington’s beautiful ‘nighttime’ illustrations).

The two vertical illustrations and the long horizontal at the bottom were originally one long illustration that snaked around the sides and bottom of a two page spread. Then the other two larger illustrations came at the beginning and end of the story.

Unusual Style Experiments

Newsday, WSJ

I had a few color assignments from Newsday in March. The one above was about hunting to find a specific piece of cabinetry hardware at one of those big hardware chain stores, and they asked if I could do something a little ‘pulp’-ish, like an old detective fiction book cover. I had been studying the pulp illustrators quite recently in fact, and jumped at this chance to try and emulate some of the fun work I’d been looking at. One of my favorites of the genre was an illustrator named H.J. Ward who did a lot of covers for the ‘Spicy’ line of pulp magazines, so I mostly studied samples of his work as I was preparing for this illustration. I think I did pretty good on the detective’s face and hat, but the rest was a little rushed. Used oil pastels for this one, not quite ready to try and tackle the ‘oil paints’ tools in my software program.

Less successful was this later attempt to use the same techniques on a story about ‘staying trim while on a cruise’ for the same client later in the month. The colors I chose for the skin tones just looked way too garish and harsh, and the lighter tonal palette didn’t serve the style well.

Then I had another unusual request from the Wall Street Journal. This was a story about a new gizmo popular in Japan that was making a debut in the States, and they wanted something ‘Japanese’ in flavor, so I chose to emulate an ‘Anime’ style that my son was into at the time, also paying homage to the Japanese pop culture influence of my youth, with Godzilla in the background. Looking back,, I don’t think I chose particularly good colors for this one, I think the green hair on the girl was a mistake, perhaps something brighter would have helped it pop a little more.

The Usual Suspects

ChronicleHE, WSJ

Above is pictured one of the assignments for the Chronicle of Higher Education. This illustration dealing with government financial aid disbursements. And to the right was another piece for the same client, this one dealing with literary agents. They wanted a picture of a typical ‘college professor’ given the ‘star treatment’ due to a book that got published (thusly the swank leather jacket, with leather patches on the elbows). I’m noticing that my color schemes during this period in time are increasingly more saturated and bright than I’ve used in the last few years. Perhaps it is a personality thing (the exuberance and brashness of youth no doubt).

Then, for the Wall Street Journal, I had my monthly quota of ‘health care’ spots for a weekly column that I contribute to. These dealt with ‘vitamins to improve vision’, ‘determining your child’s sex pharmacologically’, ‘boosting your brain power’, ‘toothpastes’ and ‘drinking water’.

And for the same client, I also had a chart accompaniment piece about oil stocks (check out that price on the pump!), and below that, a piece about a specific stock offering (something called ‘red hat’?) where I had to incorporate the actual logo of the company in question.