21 January 2004

Workbook Project

The illustrations in this posting are further samples from the 'Teamwork Test Prep Grade 3 - teacher's guide' book that I illustrated in January of '04 for Carson Dellosa. I did a total of nine of these books in '04, all in the same series, and this one was by far the most labor intensive, with a total of 69 black and white illustrations, many of them larger in size than the rest of the books called for (with a lot of 'border' illustrations). You can see a big improvement in style and line quality from this first book to the second book in the series the following month. As a consequence, I only selected 20 or so samples to post here, as I found many of the illustrations in this batch a bit sub-par.

17 January 2004

Newspaper Clippings and a Growing Sense of Unease

Above is an illustration for the Wall Street Journal. I dont' remember the topic exactly, but it was probably something to do with overseas investing. I've definitely improved my approach to the 'curved earth' illustration in the past three years. But while the 'map' part of the illustration is certainly rather muddled and random, there is an overall 'roughness' to the whole illustration which helps it hold together.

This piece to the left was for Newsday, this one dealing with immigrant labor. Interesting layout, but could have used more attention to contrast between solid black areas and white negative space.

As I dig deeper and deeper into the archives, I'm finding myself subject to the 'queasiness' I am usually afflicted with whenever I look at any of my old work. I see a lot of naive qualities, a lot of stylistic hit and miss, and a general lack of research as far as clothing and hands that I've since started to take for granted as part of my general work routine. But at the same time, there are occasional gems that I'm stumbling across which makes me wonder about whether some of these 'duds' are perhaps due to a heavy workload, and a sense of rushing through something simply because of a tight deadline. I was definitely working a lot harder in this time period, and I'm sure that more than a few pieces slipped through the cracks. It will be interesting to see what pops up as I dig even deeper into the past.

The above four spots were for my 'health care' column that I do every monday for the Journal. All four in color this month, which was unusual. The topics were 'kosher laws', 'a device for exercising on long plane rides', 'workout monitoring equipment', and 'discount lasik surgery'.

Above is a rather fun same day assignment that I had for Newsday. This was about the general sense of unreasoning fear that has gripped the country in the years since 9/11.

Below are a few 'less successful' pieces for the same client, again, both on the 'same day' deadline. A piece on Bush's protecting the 'institution of marriage' which had a fun concept, but I just didn't do it justice, and a piece below that about 'missing persons' (I don't quite remember the slant on this one, but I remember lifting a bunch of 'ordinary faces' off the internet to use as the 'missing people' - something I probably wouldn't do these days, at least without changing them so that they weren't recognizable)

Another couple of spots for the Wall Street Journal are to the left and below. One of them was rather unusual, as it was about a photo developing company, and I needed to make the cloned image on the 'photos' look a little more photo-realistic than I normally do, while still keeping it an illustration to a certain extent. Also, the inclusion of the 'company logo' which I normally don't like to do, but was unavoidable in this instance.
Below that, was a piece for the same client, this one having something to do with Canadian gold mining (I think)

It should be interesting digging deeper into 2003, as I seem to remember that this was one of my biggest years, in terms of sheer volume of work. I'm sure there will be more pieces that make me cringe, but I seem to remember still more nice pieces that I haven't come across yet.

I've dated this entry on my birthday. I turned 42 in 2004, and I'd been doing this freelance illustrating thing now for 15 years.

15 January 2004

Taking chances

In this job, it is easy, when you are working day after day under tight deadlines to put yourself into a self imposed rut. You get comfortable treating each assignment in the same way, but by the same token, the magic slowly seeps out of your style. Above is a good example of my comfort zone around this time. A rather quick assignment for Newsday, regarding the 'search of WMDs' going on in Iraq. A nice enough job, with a certain amount of challenge to it (making those objects recognizable from the back through just their outline shape was a bit tricky), and I had a little fun with the background clouds, working in a different medium. But overall a little lacking in magic. I generally didn't like to experiment with different styles on quick turnaround pieces like this, because you never know if it is going to work out, or how many dead ends you are going to steer down on the way to the finished product. I usually tend to play it safe with a tight deadline.

Other clients, however, gave me a bit more liberal time frame, and usually were more than happy to see me 'try something new'. Sometimes it was a success, and other times I fell flat on my face, but it was a learning experience nonetheless. Below is an example, again for Newsday, but with a bit more time involved. This was a piece on diversity in the voting booth, and I decided to try a piece in 'digital pastels' with a bit of a softer edge to it. I'd worked for years in pastels back when I first started out, but the mess and difficulty in transporting pieces through the mail made it more trouble than it was worth. I really should get back into it a bit more in the future, as I don't think there has been a dud any of the times I've tried going back to it.

Less successful was the piece below, for US Catholic magazine, where I was asked to draw a shelf of musty old books that they could then insert book titles onto. I tried something of a mixed media approach to this one, trying to play around with different paper textures. It came out ok, but not great. A little dull and lifeless.

Another one that came out less than magical, was this piece for the American Bar Association that I did in January. I tried using a mixture of scratchboard, and various pattern techniques along with a piece of provided artwork (the lease) that the client gave me. Not a total success, but not overly objectionable either.

The piece below, I approached with total nonchalance, and I didn't expect much from it, but thought I'd try a different technique to make it interesting. This ended up being one of my favorite pieces of the month. Using watercolor washes and overlapping colored pencil sketching techniques (and some careful homemade photo reference), I ended up with a nice little rendering. This was for America magazine, something about 'pulling the plug', perhaps having something to do with the terminally ill.

12 January 2004

Greasy Kid Stuff

Had a fun project to start the year out right. Got contacted by an independent recording artist, Paul Lippert, for a cd cover illustration for an upcoming 'children's music' release (Raspberry Records). I tried to incorporate bits from almost every song on the album in the picture. Lots of fun to work on, wish I got more 'cd cover' assignments. Still available on Amazon, check the 'bibliography' for a link.

Other children's work I had in January included the above piece for Oddysey (Cobblestone).

The above illustration was for Cricket magazine to accompany a funny poem about a disasterous violin concert. It's funny sometimes how you land assignments. This client knew that I was in a cello quartet of adult students, and for a period I would get quite a few 'music related' assignments, since I had that particular quirk about me that brought my name to mind. I've gotten lots of 'sailing' work in the past few years thanks to a 'sailing postcard' I sent out later this year, and the fact that many of my clients know that I sail in the summer on Lake Michigan. Not that I mind any of it, I just find it interesting how I seem to get pigeonholed from time to time, when above all, what I like the most, is variety. I suppose the best way to separate yourself from the vast mountain of illustrator competition is to have some sort of 'identifiable niche' that helps you stick in the client's memory.

I also had another 'workbook' project for Carson Dellosa. This one was larger than usual, approximately 70 illustrations (of which I've chosen a small sampling to post here). Most of them were rather small in size, and many seemed to have something to do with bugs and/or fairytales. I've chosen a further sampling to post in another blog entry (link here)
These were for the most part a lot of fun to do, although at such a quantity and at such a tight time frame, they could tend to get a little tiresome. I eventually ended up doing 9 of the books in this series over the course of the coming year, and they had the unexpected benefit of vastly improving my black and white line work due to the sheer repetition.

05 January 2004

From the Sketchbook

This was another pen & ink sketch from my sketchbook in the spring of '04 on a trip to Florida. I'm going to try and force myself to make more use of this sketchbook in the future. I forget how theraputic drawing 'for myself' can be as a way of casting off the lines and straightjackets of my daily grind. I tend to flop down on the couch after a hard day of illustrating, and the last thing I want to do is pick up a pen and draw something.

01 January 2004

2003 Year In Review

2003 was my biggest year so far in the illustration business. I was constantly busy all year long. My wife was able to leave work and come to work for me, acting as my office manager. The Wall Street Journal was growing into my number one client, and also began using me for a weekly column which lasted as a steady gig for about 8 years. I also did a fair amount of work for the CRC here in Grand Rapids, as well as a lot of steady work from AG Edwards, who I had picked up the previous year.

Despite the hectic schedule, I found time to coach Little League in the spring, and administer the League's website. In the summer we took a sailing class in Muskegon, and later in the year chartered a sailboat in Traverse Bay for our first 'solo family sail'.

I also started dabbling a little bit in music recording during the year, recording a christmas cd for family and friends (portions of which can be heard at my Last.fm site).

These are what I consider my best illustrations of 2003:

I completed approximately 560 illustrations this year, bringing the grand total since starting in 1989 up to 9,705.