05 December 1990
My First attempt at a 'calendar mailer' probably sent out late in 1990. I had previously thought these lost, but discovered a stash of samples of my early self promo pieces in a keepsake drawer of my Father's when he passed away in 2014. The styles are still pretty slapdash and all over the board, but you can see early versions of my scratchboard technique, and the cartoon style, and quite a few pastels, which, at the time I still thought of as my 'biggest potential seller'. Looking back at these early mailers, it amazes me that I was able to get this business off the ground at all. Chalk it up to sheer dogged determination, which sometimes beats skill and talent in the right situations.
These are not the greatest scans, just photos taken off my cell phone, but I've included every page of the calendar, which includes some interesting pieces I had completely forgotten about. The cover is a photo reproduction of a rather large pastel that I eventually gave away to some friends in the early 2000's (and a better scan of this is found elsewhere on this blog). January, I have a picture of a 'Ballerina Bear', which I believe was a sample drawing for a children's book that my brother had written and we had hoped to sell (but never got off the ground floor). February was a small scratchboard doodle I did especially for the calendar layout (trying to market towards the newspaper editorial market). March was an early cartoon 'city scene' of which I've done several variations of over the years (for example, see my 'creature double feature' postcard from around 2009). Another bw cartoon follows in April (these were similar to the sorts of things I was selling to Gemini Publications around this time). May was another reproduction of a large pastel piece (pictured elsewhere in the blog if I remember correctly). June and July another scratchboard created especially for the calendar. August and September were examples of my caricature skills, one in colored pencils and the other pen & ink (I think the Gustave Corbet caricature is my favorite from the calendar). October and November are a couple more pastels. December another crowded Xmas cartoon scene (similar to the sort of thing I was selling to the Worldwide Church of God around this time).
01 December 1990
Every year since 1984, me and my wife had hosted an xmas party, and this would have been the 6th. I had thought that these invitations were lost, until I found a stash of them in my father's keepsakes drawer when he passed away in 2014. This would have been the last one held at our Straight Street house. You can see that I'm using my new 'color cartoon style' for this one, a style that was still in its infancy at the time.
15 November 1990
This was the first full length children's book project I ever did. This was a short paperback book of bible stories for Eerdmans Publishing, a local firm. The cover had two color illustrations, one for the front, and one for the back, and the inside work was all black and white line work with grey wash. I believe this was (like the other project I worked on the following year) an updated version of an older title in this publisher's archives. Most of the drawings were pretty forgettable, but a few of them had a certain charm, and I've chosen a few by way of example to post here. This book is still available used on Amazon, although it is rather pricey (link here)
Work was starting to get a little more steady by the end of the year, many of the new clients I had started working with this year were starting to give me a fair amount of repeat business, and with one or two new clients added to the mix every couple of months, it had a nice snowball effect.
12 November 1990
13 October 1990
Another early assignment from Cricket magazine was this story about the heads on Easter Island. This was a fun one, as I've long been fascinated by these statues, and hope to visit this island one day. I seem to remember that this was also in 2 color, like a lot of these early projects, and I remember having to cut some 'red rubylith' overlays to indicate the 2nd color. Only one of the three illustrations has survived my frequent purges, and the other two illustrations (below) were scanned from an anthology book that the story was reprinted in that was published sometime the following year. (still available used at Amazon - link here)
15 August 1990
These were a couple more cartoon illustrations for The Worldwide Church of God out in California, who was starting to give me more and more steady, well paying work as the year progressed (and for several years to come). Besides the growing job security, it also afforded me a chance to work and refine my cartooning style.
Also in July, I received my first assignment from another client who would keep me fairly busy throughout the 90s, Strang Communications, an publisher of various evangelical magazine titles and books. I recently unearthed the original art for the first assignment I did for them on 'building youth ministries' (pictured left), a good example of my crude early scratchboard technique.
15 June 1990
This was the 2nd assignment from Cricket magazine. This was a bit more ambitious than the first one, and I tackled this one with a moody black and white pastel treatment. This was a tone poem about a playground in the moonlight.
I also received my first assignment for what would become another long time steady client, US Catholic Magazine (the art hasn't survived, unfortunately). I also had another assignment from Adweek this month (which I had completely forgotten about), an inside spot on the 'wine industry'.
This was another textbook cover in pastels that I did for MacMillan's textbook division. This edition still seems to be available on Amazon. (link here) This one wasn't nearly as fun as some of the others, as it required a fairly realistic scene with a lot of details (which is hard to pull off in this pastel style), however, according to my invoices, it garnered a bit of reprint action for several months after I did it (mostly internal, probably for advertising purposes, or brochures).
15 May 1990
This was one of the first illustration assignments I got from Oxendine Publishing, a college magazine client from Florida. I would go on to do steady work for this client for over a decade, and is one of the rare clients that I got to actually meet face to face, when, years later he was in the Grand Rapids area and stopped by for a visit.
02 May 1990
After a year in business, I was starting to get a little less scattergun in approach, and was starting to get an inkling of an idea of what kind of artwork was grabbing attention. I began pushing the scratchboard work a bit more prominently, as it seemed to have an appeal towards clients who published in black and white, because it reproduced well. This portrait image I printed up on some off-white card stock and mailed out about 500 in the spring of '90.
15 April 1990
In April of '90 I had the first of several textbook cover assignments from MacMillan's textbook division. All were pastels, and this first one was my favorite of the bunch. This was for a sex textbook, and the client wanted an image with ambiguous figures on it, so that it could apply to both hetero and homosexual partners without being too exclusionary. This was one of my earliest 'big projects' in my freelance career, and went a long way towards building my confidence and keeping me going through the difficult periods. The book is still available used on Amazon (see link here) The problem with pastel as an illustration medium is mostly due to the fragility of the medium, as it is prone to smudging even with generous amounts of fixative (which discolors the image, so I hated to use it), and shipping the artwork was a particular pain. Amazingly this has survived in my flat files for nearly twenty years, but it shows a lot of age, with various smudges and mars on the surface.
15 March 1990
One of the frills of promoting more than one style of illustration. Less than six months after I did a cover illustration for On The Town, a local arts magazine, they wanted another in my 'pastel' style. I remember being quite thrilled at these cover assignments, which were seen all over town, but in hindsight, the pay was negligable, the exposure swift and fleeting, and it wasn't much more than an ego boost when it was desperately needed.
I picked up a few new national clients this month, a piece for Sailing World, and a series of conceptual illustrations for a magazine called Chronicles out of Rockford Illinois. This was the first assignment I had where I was asked to illustrate a more 'esoteric' series of articles (illustrating an 'idea' rather than something a bit more concrete), and I remember being rather stressed out by this one, barely getting my head around the articles I was reading.
14 March 1990
I forget how this appearance in an 'Artist how-to' magazine came about. Perhaps there was a 'call for entries' that I sent some samples to, or perhaps the magazine saw the portrait on the cover of one of my early mailers. Anyhow, while this didn't pay much (if it paid anything - I dont' have a record of any income from it), it did give me a boost of confidence when it was really needed. Here I was being used as an example of 'pastel portrait art' (and on the opening page of the article, no less). A funny thing happened a year or so later, I was at a party at the neighbor's house and started talking to this one woman who it turns out was a 'fellow grand rapids artist', and who not only recognized me and my name from the portrait in this magazine article, but whose art appeared on the next page in the same article (a portrait of her husband). (cue 'small world' theme song)
01 March 1990
This was my first color postcard mailing, and probably went out sometime in early 1990. I don't remember where I got it printed, or how many I sent out. For some reason though, I have a vague memory from around this time, of getting ripped off by a 'fly by night' operation that advertised for postcard printing in the back of an industry trade magazine. (not this postcard, but another, in which I sent out payment in advance, and never got anything back from them, or even returned phone calls, to the point where I reported them to the better business bureau).
15 February 1990
This is another of my 'large matte board' pastels that I was doing a lot of in the period from about '88-91. This was nearing the end of my 'pastel binge', and I gradually did less and less of this kind of work over the coming years.
February was a slow month, aside from the addition of a new client, Governing Magazine, out of Washington DC. A client who would use me off and on through the first half of the 90s, but no work survives aside from a 'gangster cartoon' that I reused as a promo postcard a couple years later.
17 January 1990
Up to this point, I had been doing a job here, a job there, mostly for local clients, but with an occasional nibble from a national publication. Around this time I started getting repeat business from a few clients which helped take the panic down a notch. This illustration was the first for The Worldwide Church of God's 'teen publication' 'Youth 90', a client that would keep me fairly busy over the next 2 or 3 years. Some repeat business from several local clients plus a small spot for a Canadian publication called Western Sportsman made January a good start to the new year.