Daniel Pelavin
February 2010
Just in case
Talk around town is, the "adjustments" to our business fed by changes in technology and multiplied by the contraction in the economy, might not be just a temporary "blip" in our otherwise satisfying and rewarding careers. Students and professionals are asking where illustration is headed. Educators who teach illustration are questioning the validity of rubrics based upon outmoded business models and, lately, I hear from some savvy art directors and designers that they too are beginning to see the "writing on the screen."
In times like these, I think it is very useful to look at the big picture, realize that change is incumbent upon all of us and vigorously pursue a bountiful future, using the creative thinking which we have always applied to our assignements.
While the venues for applied art are changing, I believe the need will never diminish as long as vision and imagery is used as a means of communication. Nearly everything that exists can be imbued with meaning and value by the eloquent application of imagery. In fact, no small number of things are valued based upon the cogency of their formal appearance alone.
So, look around you and see the ubiquity of things in ever-increasing quantities which can beneift from your skills, once reserved for the rapidly declining printed page. But, don't just sit around, hoping for an invitation. "All things come to him who waits" is propaganda to mollify the competition from folks who are out there hustling right now.
Herewith, some recent examples of my efforts to remain viable:
Just make it look pretty
I, as much as anyone, love to put on my thinking cap and solve an arcane, ethereal problem that can barely be described in words, however, often as not, my assigment is to take a piece of everyday business and do something to make it interesting.
I am ever-grateful that we manage to obsess over milestones, anniversaries and accumulations of things that must be represented with numbers and are not that well served by photographs of tender starlets, juicy hunks or tricked out automobiles. Then comes my opportunity to make the image itself a thing of interest and beauty rather than merely a depiction of some beautiful thing.
It has been my good forthune to do several annual covers for Pensions & Investments "the International Newspaper of Money Management" and I treat each one as something cherished and precious, use as many cues as possible to stimulate interest including visual, tactile and, perhaps most important of all, stored memory to create an inviting, sensual experience, not just another piece of business.
Leatherette from the cover of a 1930s plumbing supply catalog, "gold leaf" from a mystical combination of Illustrator filters and a badge that might have graced the hood of a 1949 Bulgemobile.
Let's see, how many different ways can we show the number "1000?"
Just to make this one a little more interesting, they asked for a couple of tighter sketches. This poses the problem for me of selling something in schematic form that's not going to even begin to be what it's headed for until after 12 or 20 hours of obsessive noodling.
A little bit country...
Once upon a time, I received the honor of being asked to do a poster for New York is Book Country. An "honor" is what they call it went they want it for free and, having been preceded on this project by the likes of Maurice Sendak and Keith Haring, it really was an honor. In addition to publicizing the festival, it was to hang in every branch of the New York and Brooklyn public libraries.
I envisioned New York as a pop-up book, worked the title into the marquees of the buildings and showed a variety of the many ethnic groups which make it such an incredible place (including my two Chinese/Jewish daughters riding the subway on the bottom right}.
The poster was approved and printed in the thousands before some valiant protector of the public trust, freshly returned from that years' American Library Association convention, managed to uncover its racist overtones and protected the children of New York from its evil messaged by banning it from display. This effectively killed my chances for literary recognition, however, resulted in the genesis of the letterforms for Book Country and provided me with a font that complements my editorial illustration nicely for those times when it requires typography.
The capital letters are based, with respect and great admiration, on the lettering of Ben Shahn for a poster protesting the 1927 execution of Italian radicals Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. The lowercase letters were a product of my imagination and a wish to extend its utility.
Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: following the debacle, Print Magazine ran an article about the Libraries' censorship and the next thing you know, one of our more predatory colleagues, upon reading it, petitioned NYBC to do the next poster and had the stones to ask if I would provide the lettering for her image!
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