23 September 1997

Java Snob Review Final Issue

We finally called it quits with this poetry magazine experiment me and my sister were publishing for a spell in '96 and '97. For our final issue, I decided to draw the artwork for the cover, a simple scratchboard illustration of a coffee cup (a further bit of nepotism, we included a short story by our brother in the previous issue). A shame we never quite got around to publishing any of my sister's poetry or prose (she never felt right about it for some reason), and it's too bad this never quite got off the ground, but it was fun while it lasted, and probably wouldn't have stayed fun for much longer.

18 September 1997


Early in September of '97, my wife brought home from work a wacom tablet and a copy of a software called 'Painter' that a coworker had ordered and tried, but didn't care for and wasn't using. I'm not normally eager to embrace change, and I'd be surprised if my first initial reaction hadn't been of scepticism. However, once I gave that stylus a whirl, I was sold within a half an hour and I was already making plans for how I could start working this way 100 percent.

There was a funeral I was driving to out east the next day with my parents, so I brought the manual along with me and read it cover to cover on the trip. When I got back, I began doing all my assignments on the computer, and never looked back. We returned the 'loaners' to my wife's employer and purchased my own software and tablet, and I was off and running. My only regret, is that I bought a really nice, big old wooden drafting table earlier in the year, and had just refinished it, and now it was quickly relegated to the basement, along with the flat files, the art materials, and the easel. (the easel and table have since returned, but get used very rarely)

The 'eyeball' illustration above is one of the earliest assignments that did on the computer. This was for Interpretor magazine, and was one of two spot illustrations (the other one wasn't all that interesting, so I didn't bother to include it here).

I also did a few cartoon spot illustations this month for Grand Rapids Magazine (pictured below). My main objective during these early months of the changeover, was that I wanted to keep the artwork looking as if no change had taken place, and I was still working with traditional media. I didn't want to scare off the old clients, and I didn't particularly want my art to look too 'computery'. I eventually did start experimenting with the different bells and whistles contained in the software, but for now, I was keeping one foot on shore as I tested the water. (Ten years later, and I've still not tried every tool in the box)

The illustration to the left was for my agent, for Metro Parent magazine out of Detroit.

This radical change in how I worked couldn't have come at a better time. I was starting to get rather burnt out by the summer of '97, and in a rut with my illustration career, and from the moment my wife brought this software home, it was if I was starting over from scratch. Drawing actually became fun again, and it pumped a big breath of fresh air into my musty old office. People ask if I don't miss the tactile feel of art materials, and I'm sorry but I don't. I don't miss buying paper, and ink, and cleaning clogged out rapideograph pens, and breathing scratchboard dust and pastel dust and fixative spray. I don't miss original art not getting returned from clients, pastels getting smudged in transit, drawers of old artwork cluttering up the office. The benefits weren't immediately apparent, but after a while they began to become more and more clear. The clients were happier with the delivery via email attachment, where before I had to send art via fed x, and on larger pieces, the packaging and shipping could be almost as much work as the art itself. Art no longer had to be scanned for publication, as it now arrived as a digital file, ready to place in their publications. The lines were now instantly crisper and cleaner in my scratchboards than they had ever been, and the adding of color was opened up to lots of possibilities (where before doing a color scratchboard usually ended up a muddy mess, due to the everpresent dust). I can't emphasize the importance of the 'undo' command. This simple item has improved my work in so many ways I can't begin to elaborate.

Of course, working digitally is not all flowers and rainbows. I've had the computer crash during I don't know how many jobs in the past ten years (save save SAVE). Deadlines have definitely gotten shorter, but I've also gotten much faster at what I do. For good or bad, I'm glad the change happened when it did, and my wife is owed a huge debt of gratitude for bringing this 'gizmo' home for me to noodle around with, nearly ten years ago.

The above illustrations were for the Chronicle of Higher Education in September. Oddly enough, very similar to the illustration I started the month with (above).

Another benefit of working digitally, I was now able to methodically save each and every illustration, and the most space it would take up would be in either storage RAM on the computer, or on compact disc (which I could now store off-site in a safety deposit box).

12 September 1997

Early Digital Scratchboards

The 'sadist policeman' illustration above was one of the first digital illustrations that I did for Newsday. These assignments were usually same day affairs, with a call sometime before noon, and the finish due sometime by the end of the day. The way we worked it previously, I would send a sketch via fax, and then send the finish via fax as well. I would drive down to the copy shop to enlarge the artwork as much as possible, since I knew that the resolution on the fax machine would no doubt muddy up my artwork. What a relief to now send finals, in clear crisp resolution, as digital files via email now. It made working for this client so much easier in a single bold stroke. The 'cubicle' illustration below is another for the same client this month.

I had my first assignment for National Business Employment Weekly this month The story was about retirees who don't want to go easily into retirement (my mother is one of those people). I enjoyed one of my alternate sketches for this one so much, that I finished it up a couple months later for the reprint market (see the posting in February of '98)

This 'militia man' illustration was for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and was one of the earliest digital pieces that I did for this long time client. This illustration probably went with the 'modern militia man' that I erroneously posted in October's scratchboard illustrations, as a bookend type illustration for a two page spread.

I also had a 'footnotes' illustration for the same client this month, where I first tried using scanned type as part of an illustration. The illustration below that was an early digital illustration for Legal Times. I also had a couple color assignments from them this month, that I'll be posting in another entry.

11 September 1997

Digital Color

The switchover to digital color wasn't nearly so smooth and instantaneous as the black and white line work. I had a lot to learn about tones and values and how to turn what I see on my screen into something that will show up the same way once it sees print. The first few forays into the world of digital color work were a bit of a mess in some respects, but with each job, new learning opportunities arose. The above illustration was one of the first tries at a color assignment on the computer and was for Legal Times. I tried to emulate a Japanese watercolor for this story about legal warfare with the orient. Some of the Japanese details turned out quite nice, but it was a bad mix with my standard scratchboard characters. I would have been better off to try and keep the same style throughout. I had another color assignment for the same client this month, and I chose to try and do this one in a painterly style. This one was even more of a mess. Poor color choices, poor grasp of the techniques involved, and hampered by another bad concept and layout dictated by the client's need to save money by incorporating all the stories in one particular issue into one cover illustration (and then pull out individual portions for reuse on the inside).

I also had a first map assignment this month, this one for my agent (I forget the local client), and for this one I chose to experiment with the 'watercolor' tools, and also trying out a few 'masking' techniques to mixed results.