22 May 2007

Slow Time


The year continues to be slower than the previous year in many respects. Mostly regular clients, but the volume seems to be lower across the board. The illustration above is another for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which gave me a nice opportunity to do a nice skull closeup study (the story was something about a forensic facial reconstruction). The illustration to the right was a small spot to accompany a chart in the Wall Street Journal (probably something about the 'bottom falling out' of the markets). I also took in a couple of spots for Barrons who has been one of the rare corners of my client base where the workload has been up from the previous year. (the 'real estate fishing' illustration below left, and the 'oil fireworks' illustration below that on the right)

I seem to be getting lots of practice lately on 'globes', and I've settled on a nice quick technique for them that serves me well on these rush jobs. This technique would come in very handy the following month on the 'stock certificate' project. It got me thinking back to when I used to do a lot of maps for a children's magazine publisher back in the 90s, and how much I used to enjoy doing those.

And thank goodness for my regular 'health care' column for WSJ. Even though it has dropped from a weekly gig to every other week (sometime in the past year or so), it is still a nice comfortable safety net for when things get a little slow around here. This week's spot was about 'mold cultures' (pictured to the right).

The spot to the right took a bit more research than usual. I'm constantly amazed at how many everyday objects (in this case, not quite so 'everyday') you see time and time again, and yet you really don't look at closely to see how they are constructed. One of the rewarding parts of my job is in learning to acquaint myself with mundane objects like this 'oil rig' on a more serious level. Gives the brain a little workout, and leaves you a little better prepared next time the object comes into play.


Semi-regular assignments from my relatively new Hong Kong client, The Far Eastern Economic Review, continue to help pad out the year, and the assignments have been consistently interesting and stimulating. This one above took a bit of research and quite a bit of imagination stretching as I had to picture an object of which I had never heard of before, and couldn't find many good pictures of, but is apparently a regular sight to those in the far east who would be the primary audience of the illustration (the client referred to it as a 'painted truck'). Hopefully I nailed it - or at least close enough to be recognizable. The story was something about differing methods of product transport in the region.

In the same weekend, also from the same Hong Kong client was another portrait assignment (don't remember who it was of). I continue to enjoy doing portraits, and since I rarely know these people very well on the other side of the globe, I can only hope I am doing them justice.

15 May 2007

On Spec

Because of the excess of down time I'd been experiencing this year, I accepted an assignment of the sort I usually don't even consider. A series of three sample spec illustrations for a prospective author for a yet unsold book project. Nothing has come of it yet, and I won't go into details about the book because of my agreement with the author, but I accepted this one because I got a kick out of the writing, and the author was known to me through NPR segments that I'd heard, and it was a book project that I felt I could get behind whole-heartedly. Even if nothing comes of it, I'm glad I spent the time on it, it was a fun diversion from the routine.

The author seemed happy with the spec drawings, and I pretty much forgot about the project after a few months had passed. It wasn't until around Christmas that I was contacted again, and discussions began to take place regarding the finalization of the project.

I had done these spec illustrations in more of a loose caricature-ish style, reminiscent of some of my editorial cartoon work from previous years. As the project took shape, the style radically changed to more of a retro children's book feel, for which my standard cartoon style (with minor adjustments) made a nice fit.

09 May 2007

Steady Diet of Spots


One of the rare 'larger' pieces during the early part of May, a same day project for Newsday to commemorate the landing on Plymouth Rock (pictured above). Had to do a little research on 'pilgrim shoes', since I wanted to make this the focal point of the illustration and wanted it to look good and accurate. And my regular 'health care column' gig for the Wall Street Journal continues to keep me busy for one day of every other week, at least. This one was on 'ultrasounds', and while I wasn't crazy about using a 'found image' for the 'ultrasound screen', it looked much better than the drawn version I originally planned on using.

A lot of small spots during this time for the Wall Street Journal. The 'credit monkey on your back' illustration accompanied a chart on mounting credit debt (pictured right). The 'laundry' spot was for the same client, but I'm afraid I can't quite remember what the topic of the story was about (other than laundering shirts) (pictured below left). I really enjoy doing these tiny spots, they give you a creative workout, usually because the size is so restrictive, sometimes you are given odd sizes to work with, and trying to condense a lot of information into a single image can be quite challenging.

I really ought to get better at saving all the 'rejected ideas' that I generate on a daily basis, they would probably come in very handy further down the pike. But the real challenge would be in keeping them organized, as I've tried saving them before, and they quickly pile up into an ungainly mess of disorganization. It might be interesting to post a few in future installments as a way of comparing the 'sketch' to the 'finish'.

This rather tiny spot the right is a good example of how I sometimes have to fit an idea into a restrictive available space. This one was on brokers, and rather than try and fit an entire person into the space, or even head and shoulders, it worked out much better just using the hands to get the point across.

Another small spot for the same client during this time period. I don't quite remember what the topic of this particular one was. Getting more practice on drawing globes, this time in black and white. Using a series of layers, and manipulated parallel lines from photoshop I'm able to simulate the curvature of a sphere, and this technique I've been able to put to good use during this past year, and came in real handy in the following couple of months (both in color and in black and white).

Another of my regular clients, the Chronicle of Higher Education, handed me a spot illustration assignment, something to do with student loan improprieties, where some loan companies receive kickbacks from loan officers at schools. Always a challenge drawing the 'overweight' character. Clothes don't seem to fall the same way on them, and the facial structure is a bit more tricky. Need to do more research in the future to make these work a little better. Around this time, aside from the staid and true 'regular clientele', I also started receiving a little bit of return business from a newer client that I only started working for this year. Niche Media, a parent company of a series of 'regional publications' across the country, and they started sending me some work in more of a 'humorous vein' which allows me to stretch a little bit out of the 'scratchboard rut' that I seem to be mired in lately.

This quarter page illo for Niche gave me a chance to both practice my 'cartoon' style and also get a head start on caricatures of the then Republican front runners. The author of the editorial seemed to think that Romney was the 'best bet' at the time (and you'll notice how the 'front runner' later in the year is pictured way in the back here). The 'used car' idea wasn't particularly original, but it seemed to do the job. Also, for the same publisher (but a different publication on the other side of the country) was a tongue in cheek 'etiquette' article, for which I went back to a modified 'scratchboard' technique, though keeping the overall feel a little lighter and humorous.

The trick on this one, was that I was required to portray the author of the article based on a few photos provided by the publisher. I hope I did him justice. I always wonder what the subjects of these 'mystery portraits' think of them when they see them. I rarely ever get feedback from the authors or subjects of my illustrations - sometimes a good word from the ADs, or a note from a writer is passed on to me occasionally. I usually judge repeat business as a good indicator of how my work is going over. Sometimes I wonder though if my appeal is always how the work looks, or if other factors are coming into play (fast turnaround, reliability, cost). Living and working in a vacuum like I do, it is frequently difficult to judge what's going on outside the bubble.