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.

2015 Year In Review

Year In Review

Ring out the old year, ring in the new, ring a ding ding (in the words of one of my favorite New Year’s themed movie). A brief condensed work week between tropical vacations (Bahamas around Christmas, heading out to St. Croix tomorrow morning), and filing my usual ‘best of 2015’ blog entry before I take off. The year was slightly down from the previous year in terms of gross sales, but not nearly as bad as 2010-12. Seem to be doing less and less magazine/newspaper work and more and more book publishing work, which I am still trying to get used to. Going to be trying a new advertising technique this year (and next) by placing an ad in one of the illustration market books. I’ve got an online presence with them (and their european cousin) this year, while the actual print ad won’t be in art director’s hands until 2017. We’ll see how this works, as opposed to the postcards I’ve been relying on for years.

A mixed year for the band. We had our third album release in the summer, and shortly thereafter one of the band members suffered a hand accident which put us on forced hiatus for several months of the year. We are just now getting back to regular gigging, and talking about our next album project.

My son is still living in Chicago with his girlfriend, working a day job that he dislikes, and playing with several bands on the nights and weekends. Terri still works for a local travel agency, and has a bi-weekly gig as a programmer on a local radio station. Looking forward to new adventures in 2016.

Anyhow, here’s what I consider my best work of the year (more to come later, as several projects are still under wraps contractually until books have been published):

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Approximately 538 illustrations completed in 2015 bringing the grand total up to 14,377 illustrations since I started in 1989.


2014 Year in Review

Year In Review

A pretty good year, the best since 2008, at any rate. Book publishing projects ended up being over 50% of my work load for the first time ever, which I am still getting adjusted to, even though it has been trending that way for a couple years now. This coming year will be my 26th year as a full time freelance illustrator, and I hope to continue striving to meet the coming challenges of a changing economy, and push myself to improve my craft. One resolution I have for the coming year, is to try and find time to work on some more personal projects, which is always difficult to manage around a constantly shifting workload.

My son is still living in Chicago, playing saxophone in a jazz/funk quartet, and went on several tours this past year (Colorado, the US East Coast, and a Southern US tour), while working days for an organic school lunch company as a Logistics Manager. My wife still works at a local travel agency as a Graphic Designer. We took a few trips this past year, Terri doing a few work related trips to the Netherlands and to Niagara Falls, and the two of us took a trip to Ireland in September, and then chartered a sailboat in the BVI for a week in December along with my son and his girlfriend.

The Jukejoint Handmedowns (the band I’ve played upright bass with for the past five years) had an exciting year, playing for the Lowell Showboat summer concert series, and two local ‘tribute’ shows (one for Bob Dylan, the other a Bruce Springsteen birthday show), and we have been hard at work on our third album (“The Jukejoint Handmedowns Sing Songs of Death, Murder & The Afterlife”), which we shall begin recording in January.

Below are what I consider my ‘best’ illustrations from the past year (click on the thumbnail to see a larger version):

I did approximately 454 illustrations in 2014, bringing the grand total up to 13,843 illustrations since 1989.

2013 Year in Review

Year In Review

This spring I will be celebrating my 25th year as a freelance illustrator. Perhaps I should say that I’ve ‘survived’ 25 years. Looking back, the first two years were a struggle, and the next 8 were, for the most part, smooth sailing, the 2nd decade was the best, and the past five have gone back to being a struggle. I plan on keeping at this career for the foreseeable future, so here’s hoping that 2014 keeps offering me challenges and hurdles to overcome, and I can continue to keep improving my craft and not spend too much time looking back at ‘the good old days’.

Personally, this has been a bittersweet year. My son spent his first full year ‘on his own’, trying to make his way in the world, with less and less help from ‘mom and dad’. He continues to work and live in Chicago, playing in a jazz band (a highlight of the year was driving out to see his band ‘on tour’ in Colorado this past summer). My father’s health (and mental state) continued deteriorating throughout the year, and he moved from my sister’s home in Lansing, to a ‘senior living’ apartment a mile from her house, then more setbacks in August, where he had an extended stay in a Rehab facility here in Grand Rapids, then moved for a short spell to my other sister’s home in Cleveland, and is currently in a Nursing Home near her home in Cleveland, and as of Dec 31 is barely holding on, and it may be doubtful if he sees much, if any of 2014. Despite the sadness and heartache of this past year, I have stored away a lot of good memories of the times I got to spend with my Dad in the spring and summer, taking him on his last ‘golf outings’ and ‘bike rides’.

My band has had another good year, recording and releasing our 2nd CD, which just got nominated for 3 ‘Jammie’ awards from our local independent radio station, one of which, surprisingly, was for ‘Production/Engineering’ (normally a nomination that goes to the ‘big recording studios’ in town, and not to people like me, ‘a guy on his computer using garageband’ – so I was pretty tickled with that). My wife continues to work at a local travel agency as a Graphic Artist, and in her spare time, volunteers for our local volunteer radio station as a programmer (every other Monday night “Riley on the Radio” on WYCE).

And that leaves the ‘illustration biz’ for the year. Some new clients, some returning old clients, and still managing to hang on to several of my ‘bread and butter’ clients, but the year felt very tenuous nevertheless. I seem to be doing a lot more ‘publishing’ work, which involves longer deadlines, less pay (per illustration), and a lot more stress. So in other words, it feels like I’m working harder than ever, but making a lot less money. And thanks to contractual obligations with several of these clients I was unable to share approximately 300-350 illustrations this year on my blog (I may catch up with some of them later this year, once I review the fine print on my contracts, and some of these projects ‘go to print’). I was not looking forward to posting my ‘best of the year’ samples this year because I couldn’t remember doing anything particularly memorable in 2013, but I was happily surprised when I took a look back, to see several samples that I had forgotten about. So here it is, what I feel are my best pieces of the past calendar year:

ADDENDUM: Dad passed away on New Year’s Day. 1938-2014.

The illustration tally continues, I did approximately 428 illustrations (and an animated music video) in 2013 bringing the grand total up to 13,389 illustrations since 1989.

2012 Year in Review

Year In Review

Well, I managed to hang on for another year. This was my twenty third year in business, and the recession was still taking its toll, although it was a definite improvement over 2011. The trend in clientele seems to be drifting away from magazines and newspapers with quick turnaround assignments and a semi-regular schedule, and more towards larger ‘projects’ with deadlines that can stretch from a month to six months, with long dry spells inbetween, which is taking some getting used to on my part.

An exciting year in music, although hardly profitable yet. Our band ‘The Jukejoint Handmedowns’ released their first CD, added a fourth band-mate, and we had several exciting gigs and opportunities thoughout the year, a casino show, opened for several national touring acts (including two shirt-tail relations to Nashville royalty), had a live radio interview, and ended the year with their CD receiving 4 ‘Jammie’ nominations (a local music annual award). The profit margin on the band income would have been substantially better this year had I not purchased a new bass on a spring trip to Arizona, and several stage monitors a few months later. The band is getting ready to start work on a follow up CD to release in the spring of 2013.

On the personal front, my son Keenan graduated from college and is still living and working in Chicago. My wife continues to work at a local travel agency as a graphic artist, and also works off an on in the local theater community as a stage manager, and volunteers at our local community radio station. We managed to get a little more sailing in this summer than in the previous year, and moved to a new marina on Muskegon Lake. My father had a difficult health year, which threw a monkey wrench into much of the fall and winter, and which may continue to complicate matters into the new year.

In the spring and summer of this year, I found myself again dealing with a ‘slow period’, so set myself a challenge to draw a portrait of each and every ‘facebook friend’ (one a day, and using the opportunity to stretch myself with regards to style and technique). An interesting experiment, and kept me busy and occupied, and most importantly, sane. In addition to the extracurricular ‘portraits’ work in the summer, I also contributed several entries to the ‘Blown Covers’ blog (the first three samples are some of my favorites from this contest).

Here’s what I consider my best work of the 2012 calendar year (some pieces have not yet been posted due to confidentiality requests from clients):

And my personal favorites of the ‘facebook portrait’ series:

Approximately 275 (plus 210 extracurricular pieces) illustrations completed this year (up from the past two years) bringing the grand total up to approximately 12,961 illustrations since 1989.