05 March 2007

Outside of the Comfort Zone

Early in March was a rather busy time for me. I had just come off of a couple of slow months, and was beginning to get a little worried about how the year was shaping up, then a sudden rush of projects all at once calmed me down a bit and put the panic on the back burner (which was probably not a good thing as I should have concentrated more on advertising and looking further down the road).

I took in a quartet of illustrations for my regular quarterly AG Edwards newsletter (which I don't include samples of here, in deference to our agreement with regards to usage). These are usually scratchboard, on a familiar set of topics, usually retirement, savings, investment and estate planning, one of them fairly large and horizontal and the rest of a medium to small spot size.

I also received a trio of illustrations from America magazine, a jesuit publication client of mine. I had been doing a series of 'saint portraits' for a while for them over the previous months, and this assignment was a little less concrete, and a little more challenging. The only direction I was given was to come up with a series of illustrations that would portray the concepts of 'good', of 'evil' and of 'lesser evil'. My idea was to use the snake as the symbol for evil, and thought I'd could use a small snake as the 'lesser' and a larger more menacing one for the 'evil', and then thought of tying them all together with the idea of a 'candle in the darkness' as the symbol for 'good', which could continue throughout the pieces.

One of the perks of working for this particular client, is the amount of freedom he allows me in experimenting with different mediums, and for this one I chose a combination of rough pastels, washes and colored pencils (all digital, of course), and I was quite happy with the end result, so much so, that I reused one of the illustrations for a mailer that I put out at the end of the month. A fun project overall, in which I got to push myself outside of my comfort zone, draw objects which aren't easy (hands and snakes), and work in an unfamiliar medium, which gives one a feeling of walking a tightrope without a net sometimes, but gives you a great boost of adrenaline along the way (sort of like what appeals to me about sailing).


Near the beginning of the month, I also received a black and white same day illustration from Newsday. This one being about the bad press the local fire department was getting with regards to 'response time' and how they don't take into account what time the 'chief' shows up at the scene, frequently performing heroic acts before the rest of the crew even gets set up. And then another 'health care' column piece for the WSJ, something to do with sprains or lasers or something. Both jobs well within the comfort zone, but rewarding in their own ways.

A newer regional publication client, Niche Media, gave me a caricature assignment around this time as well, a spot to accompany an article about the democratic front runners. A chance to take a stab at doing Obama and Clinton, (Mrs. Clinton I'd tried a few times before, but this would be a first time doing Obama for me). Also gave me a chance to work outside the usual scratchboard on a more cartoonish level. I liked how the donkey came out on this one, I usually have trouble with them, but I was a little worried about how this illustration would be perceived by those with a more prurient mindset. But the client didn't seem to see a problem, so we went ahead with it.

Another of my regular clients, Barrons, who has been giving me more and more work lately, approached me with an assignment to come up with an illustration that would depict the concept of 'risk'. I was a little worried, because at first I was really drawing a blank, having trouble coming up with even one idea, and I approached my family members for brainstorming nuggets.

My son came up with a great idea about 'hand buzzers' which I drew up a sketch for, and then I thought of the idea of a 'snake in the grass', but substituting a fancy wrapped package for the 'snake' and hid a bear trap around it in the thick grass. The old 'bucket of water on the top of the door' trick provided another sketch, and then I had the idea of taking a big bite out of a sandwich, but finding a nasty surprise inside. Sent all these ideas away to the art director with a bit of trepidation, thinking that he wouldn't find any of them suitable.

The AD called me back up with the surprising news that he wanted me to go ahead and finish all them up, explaining that the topic comes up time and time again in their publication, and he could use them all over the upcoming weeks and months. A nice windfall, which helped push early March into the red.

Of the four, I think my favorite of the finishes is the 'trap in the grass', with the hand buzzer a close second. Glad they all found a home though, and I am sure to give plenty of concepts to choose from for this client in the future.

Also around this time, got another fiction assignment from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. This one involving African-American ex-soldiers recognizing a Nazi commander from the war in a restaurant that they work in. I was happy with how the characters in the background turned out, but the foreground could have been a bit more dramatic, perhaps with more solid black areas.

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