Pastels (the return)

ChronicleHE, Company, Newsday, Niche Media, US Catholic, WSJ

When I first started out freelancing, I had just come out of an evening life drawing class where I was introduced to the medium of soft pastels, and I spent a lot of time in the early years of my freelance career marketing this particular style. It became quite difficult for many reasons; shipping the fragile artwork, which was apt to smudge no matter how much fixative you sprayed on it (and the fixative often would change the colors); it would frequently necessitate working much larger than the finished print size due to the nature of the materials, and worst of all for health reasons, the dust generated by the medium would make breathing in my office a complete nightmare. I mostly gave up working in pastels around the mid-90s. But I’ve occasionally dabbled in the digital version from time to time, and I had another opportunity this month for US Catholic magazine. This was a scene of a funeral, and the original is quite a bit bigger than the sample shown here, reaching across the bottom of a two page spread. It was a nice change of pace to get a chance to dabble in this medium again. Also, for the same client, I had a small spot of a parrot, for which I used my more routine scratchboard style, but a bit more colorful and stylized than usual.

A new client Company magazine contacted me around this time, as they had seen a number of saint portraits I had been doing over the past few months for America magazine. These have been rather tricky, as there usually isn’t much in the way of reference material for these people. This assignment was no different, I had to base this portrait on a grainy little image taken from an old book engraving.

Another assignment for the Chronicle of Higher Education came in during the latter half of the month, bringing me a sigh of relief after the mess of the last assignment. This one was about students and financial difficulties faced outside of the regular tuition costs, books, room and board, etc. I liked how the coin turned out on this one. A technique to keep in mind next time the ‘coin’ assignment comes along.

Another in the long running series of spots for my ‘health care’ column for the Wall Street Journal. This one concerned the purported health benefits to be found in fresh baked cookies. A claim I’m sure a lot of people, myself included wish were true (I don’t remember if it ended up being bonafide or not – I frequently don’t receive the entire article when I get these assignments, sometimes just a one or two sentence topic).

Another project that came through during this period was a full page illustration for the American Bar Association, this one being about international agreements and contracts. Needed to do some photo reference for this odd angle, myself and my wife posing for all the characters. I liked how the background color turned out on this one.

A black and white same day illustration for Newsday concerned armed forces recruiters and their difficulties in talking to teens in high schools who are a bit more savvy about the news than their counterparts of years ago. One thing I rarely like to do in an illustration, is include text, either on headlines in newspapers, or on buildings or as labels on items in the drawing, as a way of ‘explaining the concept’. It always seems like a cop-out, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. This one, unfortunately, had it going in spades (note the ‘history’ textbook, the building labeled ‘school’, the ‘army’ brochure, the headlines on the laptop and newspaper.

During the latter part of the month, I also received a few illustrations from a relatively new client who I had done a few tentative jobs for earlier the previous year. Niche Media, who publishes a number of regional periodicals across the country (Boston Common, Gotham, a Los Angeles magazine, the name of which escapes me), asked me to do a pair of spots for a couple columns in a couple different magazines. The first one was a humorous spot for a syndicated conservative columnist regarding the danger of nuclear fuel on the space shuttle, doing a takeoff on the famous final scene from ‘Doctor Strangelove’.

The other piece was about former President Carter and his new book, although I have to admit I don’t quite remember the slant of the article. I just remember finding Carter a little difficult to capture as a caricature subject (I remember it being a problem back when he was in office).

Stumble out of the Starting Gate

Barrons, ChronicleHE, Far East Economic Review, WSJ

Right at the first of the year in 2007 had a strange and disappointing job experience. The Chronicle of Higher Education, a long time client, approached me with a cover illustration, plus a series of spots (that would be able to be taken from the items on the cover). I don’t even remember what the topic of the illustration was, but I came up with a series of sketches, of which one was chosen, an illustration of a number of boxes, with faces poking out of them at different angles (the usual sex and racial mix), which was then approved to go to final. But then something happened somewhere along the line, and when the finish was presented, the idea suddenly got around the publication office that they resembled severed heads, and that it looked as if a massacre had taken place, and various solutions were suggested (making the features softer, more ‘alive’ looking somehow). And eventually, the idea of an illustration was abandoned, and a photo was chosen instead).
I got paid a kill fee for the illustration, and the AD was nice as always, assuring me it wasn’t my fault, and they’d use me again. But I couldn’t help feeling that the art was somehow the culprit, and in light of a controversial illustration of mine that appeared in the same publication the previous year that generated a lot of angry ‘letters to the editor’, I was understandably worried about my status with this client. Gave the beginning of the year a note of foreboding that I’ve had a hard time shaking all the year long. However, all that being said, I still like this illustration, and enjoyed working on it. Maybe it can find a new life in syndication somehow, if someone is in need of ‘severed heads’.
Also, around this time, received a pair of jobs from the Far Eastern Economic Review out of Hong Kong, another portrait, and a piece on vocational education in which the idea of graduates eventually turning around and teaching could be somehow portrayed (pictured below).

Another in the series of ‘health care’ spots for a bi-monthly column in the Wall Street Journal, this one about accupuncture for back pain. Accupuncture seems to come up quite often in this series of columns.

The above illustration was for Barrons, although I don’t quite remember what the topic of the article was about (probably hidden dangers in investing, diving into the investing pool, something like that…). And the illustration below was for one of Niche Media’s regional publications, to accompany an article about George Bush’s Presidential Library, and what sort of books may end up in it (I couldn’t help but include the ‘hungry caterpillar book’ that he once claimed was his favorite book from childhood, although it was published as late as the early seventies – perhaps he read it in college). Another visit from our old friend the cliche ‘big bag of money’.

Also ran across these two black and white spots that I must’ve done for the Wall Street Journal around this time (probably rush jobs that didn’t get a chance to get entered into the calendar). The one on the left was probably about investors being mad about overseas stock opportunities.
I don’t quite remember the topic of the one to the left (probably stock auctions or something). Because it is about the same size, and in black and white, I’m assuming it was for the same weekly column and designer, one of those weekend rush jobs that appear on the sunday edition. It is always fun to try and fit a complex topic into a tiny black and white spot, and frequently a small proscribed space, usually taking a hint on the concept from a word or phrase used in either the headline or the main text of the article.

2006 – Working Less Earning More

Year In Review
Wall Street Journal, but likely was seen by the Far East Economic Review

The trend for the next few years was higher paying jobs with less frequency. It was okay with me. I could spend more time on each assignment and get better results when I wasn’t rushed quite so much. I also found myself with a bit more free time as a result. Took up disc golfing (actually going so far as to take a ‘disc golf cruise’ to the Bahamas, playing with the “pros”). My son was entering his junior year of high school in the fall, and we are starting to see the looming specter of college in the distance. A new client this year, who would keep me quite busy for several years, was a subsidiary of the Wall Street Journal, called the “Far East Economic Review” out of Hong Kong. The working relationship was a little odd, as they would frequently assign jobs over the weekend (being on the other side of the world as they were, and a day ahead of us, or behind us, or something like that). I was still doing the ‘Aches & Claims’ column for the Wall Street Journal, only by this time they were all in color.

Wall Street Journal ‘Aches & Claims’
Wall Street Journal ‘Aches & Claims’

The Chronicle of Higher Education was using me more often and for larger projects by this time, but with the extra exposure, came some strange situations. The illustration below with the ‘gags’ elicited quite a few angry letters, not for the article, but for the art, which touched a raw nerve (why, I’ve long since forgotten, but it shook me up quite a bit at the time).

Controversial Chronicle Cover
Non Controversial Chronicle Cover
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Christmas Card
Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
Cicada (a hint of styles to come)

Had a few assignments this year for Cidada (the literary teen magazine, affiliated with Cricket), and on one of the pieces, I went back to a style that I hadn’t used since my early days, a sort of pen and ink crosshatch technique. Little did I know that in ten years, this would be nearly all I would be working in.

US Catholic

The above illustration for US Catholic would later become a greeting card design (one of many) that I would use on a fledgling site called Zazzle, generating a trickle of ‘reprint income’ in my golden years. This would be one of the more popular images (along with a certain ‘fall books’ illustration I did for the Jesuits five years previous).