30 March 2007

Spring Break Mailing

Sometime around our spring break vacation, I put together a mailing postcard to go out when we got back from the trip. Recycling some recent art that I hoped would showcase a style outside of my usual scratchboard techniques, and also to push the 'spot illustration' idea, an area of my business that I felt could use a little pushing. Two of the spots were from the bi-monthly 'health column' gig that I'd been doing for years, and the others were for the same client, but different sections of the newspaper. The larger colored pencil rendering of the hand and snake was from a series of illustrations I did for a jesuit magazine earlier in the month.

16 March 2007

A Brief Lull

Continuing to get a nice steady stream of work from Barrons, a publication that I started getting work from last summer. Interesting jobs, and designers that are easy going and personable, and best of all, keep me busy with work. I was doing so many around this time, that I have a hard time remembering what all the topics were about. The one to the left no doubt had something to do with globalization (finding gold in overseas markets perhaps?), and the one below and to the right, was about the british health care system. I was getting lots of practice with my new 'globe' technique that I have been gradually improving with each successive job.

Almost came to the point of 'overusing' this 'sphere technique' I notice with this trio of jobs, using it for the globe above, the 'ball and chain' to the right, and then again on the 'hot air balloon' for the spot illustration below, this one being about the financier Warren Buffett (the thrust of the story, however, is lost to my memory), and it was fun to have the opportunity to sneak in a caricature/likeness with this client (even though it probably wasn't necessary), to demonstrate that I have that skill in my 'toolbox'.

Besides the above trio of jobs for the same client, I also had a few small spots for the Wall Street Journal. Mostly small black and white chart accompaniments, the first one being about ethanol fuels (pictured below, right), and I ended up using a variation on this concept again later in the year, for a more expansive piece in color on a similar topic for the same client (I didn't realize it until just now as I was going through the archives).

The other spot (below, left), I don't quite remember what the topic was about, but I'm sure it had something to do with rainclouds on the horizon, perhaps a tie in with the housing market (thus the roof).

Come to think about it, I probably could have predicted the downturn in my own business had I only been paying attention to the slant that my financial illustrations were taking. A lot of doom and gloom on the horizon from as early as the year prior. I particularly liked how this small spot turned out. It is very simple, but nicely laid out and a good balance of black white and grey. I need to try and emulate illustrations like this a bit more. I have a tendency to 'overwork' a drawing and diffuse it of its power and impact. A few well placed blocks of black and good use of negative space goes a lot further than an overabundance of tightly rendered linework.
Another similar-in-size spot for the same client (right), this one undoubtably about electric utilities, but other than that, my memory fails me. Another nice simple layout, but the lower left corner of the illustration seems unfinished to me now.

And in addition to the three aforementioned spots, I also had another in the series of 'health care' spots that I regularly do for this same client every other monday. This one was on some sort of new heart vitamin, no doubt, and I remember enjoying doing the research to make the heart as realistic as possible (although it probably ended up being printed in black and white). I've lost track of how many years now I've been doing these spots, but they continue week after week to be challenging and fun, and sometimes the editors pick one of my more conservative ideas, and sometimes they surprise me by going for one of my more wacky concepts. (I usually try to provide a little of each, depending on the topic).

Then I also had an assignment for the Chronicle of Higher Education. This was a fun assignment, because I like when I get the chance to do a 'parody' of a more famous classical work, and the chance comes by much too infrequently. This one was a takeoff on Millet's 'The Sower', a favorite painting of mine from way back in Art History class in college. I did this one in scratchboard, but if I'd have had more time on the project, it might have been fun to try and emulate the style of the original a bit more. (not as comfortable working in 'oils', at least not as expediently as I am able to put a scratchboard piece together).

Coming off of a couple weeks of rather frantic activity in the early part of the month, the workload starts to slow down a bit in the middle of the month, and it was fortunate in one respect, because we had planned a trip to Arizona for the last week of March, to coincide with my son's exchange student trip to Germany around the same time (which ended up being a story in itself, but I won't bore you with the details, suffice to say it involved a misplaced passport just prior to the return trip).

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.