17 January 1998

Out of the Mold

The above illustration was for Newsday, a supplement cover assignment regarding phone service and carriers. I tried something a bit different with this piece, working in various mixed medias, some paints, some watercolors, some layered transparent washes. Around this time, I was trying a lot of different techniques, as there was something refreshing and exciting about working in this new medium, almost like starting my career over again from scratch, breaking out of the rut, breaking rules and trying anything and everything that occurs to me. Not too surprising that I eventually found that rut again, but I try and break out every once in a while with something totally unfamiliar. Not often enough, though.

These two pieces were for National Business Employment Weekly. Working in oils for a change of pace. Oddly enough, with most of the assignments from this client, I ended up liking the smaller spot illustration (below) I was assigned better than the larger cover illustration (above), and this one was no exception. I think it is something to do with my fear of working on a 'larger scale', which I'm getting (a little) better at these days.

Cobblestone's assignments were others that I felt comfortable trying out new styles on. Probably because the rates were so low, and the deadlines not quite so short. The above map was for one of the 'geography' publications (Faces), and was for a special issue on the 'Basques' of Spain. The map below was for a 'history' publication on World War I, and I remember this one being a big headache, as the colors all were pre-assigned, and each color border had a special meaning, and there were numerous reference materials being used concurrently. Add to that the fact that the map had to be squeezed horizontally to fit the page size, and you have the formula for one messed up looking map. But hopefully it served its purpose. Below that were a few two page spreads for the same issue.

16 January 1998

January Cartoons

The illustration above, the one to the left, and the three below were all for Gemini Publications (Grand Rapids Magazine & Parent) in January (some for the 'city' magazine, others for the 'parenting' magazine). The transition from traditional media to digital was smoothest with this cartoon style, and especially with this particular client, as the style basically underwent the fewest changes. These three illustrations pictured here are nearly indistinguishable from illustrations done the previous year using brush and ink on bristol board. It was only gradually throughout the coming years when I started simplifying the linework and toning down some of the more 'cartoony' aspects of the style.
The black and white illustration below was for Metro Parent magazine out of Detroit, this one through my agent at the time, and had something to do with Valentine's Day. Below that was a 'puzzle page' illustration for Zillions magazine (Consumer Reports), in which you were to match the pet owners to their most likely animal companion.

04 January 1998

Scratchboards for January

Had an assignment from Sailing World magazine for the first time in almost 8 years this month. This was the first 'digital' assignment for this client. The article was about two approaches to sailing, advice from an 'old salt' and from a 'brash young upstart', and I was asked to do a caricature of each person interviewed in the article. I'm still struggling with color assignments around this time, trying to figure out the difference between what the colors look like on my computer screen, and what they will eventually look like in print. Looking at these ten years later, I think I was a bit dark and pink on the skin tones.

Of the two, I think I like the way the 'old fellow' turned out better. On the 'young skateboard punk', I think I was trying too hard to be 'extreme and in your face to the max' with the layout (probably a request from the art director), and it just feels out of sync with my style.

For Legal Times this month, I had a set of illustrations about Bill Clinton and his legal troubles with Paula Jones. This was on a 'boxing' theme, and the three illustrations were to be spread across the page in different corners, and with the blindfolded referee somewhere in the middle.

I also had another 'Bill' illo for the same client, this time duded up in a King outfit. (below)

I also had a couple of color assignments this month from the Chronicle of Higher Education (above and below). I don't quite remember the story behind either of these.

01 January 1998

1997 Year in Review

This was a year of big changes. In the fall of the year I was introduced to the world of digital illustration thanks to my wife's bringing home a tablet and stylus from work for me to play around with. This year, and the year prior were both kind of slow, workwise, and I was starting to get a little burnt out, so it was a nice jolt to the system to shake things up a bit in the latter half of the year, and probably kept me going for another ten years at least.

Among the new clients this year were Uncle Goose (a local wooden toy manufacturer), and Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine (a short lived 'fiction' enthusiast magazine under the Family Circle banner), and the National Business Employment Weekly (who kept me fairly busy for a short spell before the magazine unfortunately folded).

Aside from the regular work routine, I also experimented with small press publishing this year, putting together a poetry/prose magazine with my sister as editor. My son would have been 7-8 years old this year, and we were doing a lot of backpacking trips to various Michigan Islands in the summer months.

As far as sales in 1997, it was a low point of the late 90s, but the illustration volume remained fairly steady. I continued to be paid less for the same amount of work. The trend would thankfully reverse itself in the coming years. In '97 I did approximately 413 illustrations, bringing my 8 year total up to 3,509. So, for a rough estimate, I would say that I did 3,450 illustrations in 'traditional media' before making the switch to digital, of which I have posted 261 surviving samples to this blog, and which there may be another 500-1000 pieces still unearthed in my flat files.

Not as much 'pre-computer' work has survived for various reasons, either clients not returning artwork, or my own self inflicted purges of the archives, but I'll continue to try and dig up whatever I can to complete this ongoing history of my freelance career. These, then, for what its worth, are what I consider my best work of the year for 1997.


I half considered a career in music when I was still in high school. It was a choice between music and art, and I think I made the right choice (as far as being able to 'make a living'). But I've never quite let go of the music bug. My earliest musical memory, is when I was visiting some friends of my parents (who would later turn out to be my high school band director), and discovering a piano in their living room, where I began picking out melodies. Then in fourth grade, when the students made the graduation from 'recorders' to picking out a 'band instrument' for the following year, I was offered the trombone for some reason (being a 'boy's instrument' I suppose), but made it clear that I was interested in the saxophone (I don't remember why, I just remember thinking they looked awful cool, with all those shiny keys). I played the tenor sax throughout high school, but around 1976 or so, my sister was given a piano and piano lessons, and I started playing around with learning chord voices and picking out popular tunes that I could play and sing to ("Hotel California" was one of the earliest pieces of sheet music I actually went out and bought). I eventually got good enough to fake my way through most songs, and played for a few choir solos at school, and once the band director figured out I could play the keyboard, he put me on the xylophone for marching band. I also played a little piano in short lived "garage bands" that me and my friends would put together.

My Uncle Ken gave me a wonderful gift when I was about 13 or 14 years old, his old Harmony Sovereign six string guitar. I fiddled around with it a little bit, but I didn't get serious about playing guitar until I moved away to college, and had to sell my saxophone for rent, and didn't have a piano to play anymore. I think the first song I learned to play from beginning to end on the guitar was "Chuck E.'s In Love" by Rickie Lee Jones. I eventually bought myself a 12 string once I'd been working for a few years and had a little extra income (I saw a school chum playing a 12 string in high school and have thought they were the coolest thing I'd ever seen -- little did I know how hard they were to play bar chords on).

From 1982 to about 1998 I contented myself with occasionally getting the guitar out of the closet and strumming through the songbooks I had on hand, sometimes playing backup so others could sing in living rooms and around the fire pit. But somewhere around 1999 or so, I got the itch to learn to play either cello or string bass (thanks to some movies that I saw that struck a chord with me: Sting playing Upright Bass in the otherwise forgettable movie "Stormy Monday", and Alan Rickman portraying a dead cello player in the movie "Truly Madly Deeply"), so I picked up a couple cheap instruments on ebay and started taking lessons in cello (never took bass lessons, but managed to teach myself the fundamentals).

My cello teacher invited me to a 'jam session' at her house after a few years of taking lessons, and that was the first time I ever played either the upright bass or guitar with other musicians since high school, and boy was it an eye opener. I had no idea what I had been missing. Consequently, I started seeking out other 'amateur musicians' like myself who were interested in semi-regular 'music parties' that we would rotate the hosting of.

One of these new friends would occasionally trot out an original song or two of his. It had never occurred to me to try and write songs of my own, so I wrote my first song sometime around 2001 or 2002.

I purchased an 8 track digital recorder around that time and started experimenting with recording and overdubbing, and since I was starting to write my own primitive material, I used those as grist for the mill. I wasn't all that confident in my lyric skills, so I enlisted the help of a friend to write and record some songs, but the more I wrote, the more confident I started to become and eventually discovered that I liked writing on my own better than collaborating.

Since then, I've been dabbling in songwriting and music recording in my spare time, and some of these recordings are available through iTunes, Last.fm and CDbaby. Click on each cover image to get more information.

I'm currently playing upright bass and singing with a country duo in the West Michigan area called the Jukejoint Handmedowns. You can check out samples of our covers and original tunes on our website and find out where we'll be playing, and you can also follow us on Facebook or find promotional merchandise at my Zazzle store.
The 5 song EP (cover pictured to the left) was recorded in 2010, and we are working on a full length CD for release sometime early in 2011.
UPDATE: The cd "Everything But the Squeal" was released in April of 2012, and is available on iTunes, Amazon as well as any number of other internet sites (or for sale at our shows).

I'm also playing electric bass with a group called 'Neon Graffiti', a group that has been around in various incarnations in the Grand Rapids area for the past 4 or 5 years. I joined in 2010, and we are currently putting together a cd of original material to be released sometime in 2011 (links to come). Part of this group has splintered off into a sub-group tentatively called "Blank Slate" which plays cover tunes mostly for the bar and private party market.

Aside from the groups mentioned above, I also occasionally play jazz with my son and another friend as an impromptu trio (guitar, bass, saxophone), and to satisfy my 'classical' urges by playing cello in an adult student string ensemble. I've also been known to join informal pick-up groups of musicians to perform at a local liberal non-denominational church for special occasions.

In 2007, I challenged myself to write a 'song a day' for a period of about 6 months, resulting in a collection of about 130 songs. This CD contains 10 of those songs, and I'll be releasing more of these compilations later in 2011. Click on the cover image for a link to the cdbaby purchase page. You can also preview much of the material from this period at my Last.fm site, along with demo recordings of new material.

In 2005, I released this collection of 21 songs, with a collaborator, under the name 'Monkeyshine'. These can also be found (along with an unpublished partially completed 2nd album) at a Last.fm site devoted to this band.
Prior to this, I had recorded a collection of christmas tunes as a private gift for family and friends (along with the same collaborator for many of the songs), and some of these can be found on my personal Last.fm site. Many of the songs were cover tunes, and are not included for legal reasons, but a few originals and public domain songs are posted for curiosity's sake.