I’ve been doing a weekly piece for The New York Times Science Section to accompany Jane E. Brody’s Personal Health column. It’s been a pleasure working with Art Director Catherine Gilmore-Barnes on these and it’s been nice to work on series of images that are building a consistent visual style for the column. Also, it’s nice to hear from my mom each week that she saw my drawing in the paper.
A lot of tension in the room on live assignment day
One of the pleasures of teaching at Art Center is a class I co-teach with the great Brian Rea called Op-Ed Illustration. A few years ago when Brian told me he was leaving the grind of NYC and his spot as AD of The New York Times Op-Ed page for the equally treacherous streets of Los Feliz, I suggested we plan a class that would be a bridge from school to the real world for illustration students about to graduate.
The concept of creating thoughtful illustrations that communicate an idea is not easy for students to grasp and the only way to get good at it is to make a lot of images. We try to duplicate for our students the procedure that illustrators who work for the Op-Ed page go through. That means we e-mail the article just before the class and expect to see 4-5 smart ideas the next day, we pick one and the final is due the next week. Not exactly the one-day turnaround that Op-Ed demands, but a lot quicker than students are used to working.
Hannah Chi's first NYT illustration
We’ve had the generous support of the ADs at the Times who agreed to assign a live assignment each term. Students get the topic in class and sketch their ideas, we approve one and the final has to be e-mailed to Brian and me the next morning by 9am. We send them all to the paper, they pick one, and someone has their first piece in The New York Times the next day.
This semester we had the pleasure of working with the great AD Nathan Huang who was a student in the first illustration class I ever taught about ten years ago. It was a Letters piece about the controversy surrounding the number of food carts in front of the Met. Brian and I always tell the AD, that if none of the students’ pieces are right, one of us will jump in and do the illustration, so far there has been no risk of that happening.
The Sunday New York Times Book Review is the section of the paper that hangs around our house the longest, it’s usually still on the dining table when the next week’s edition arrives on the front porch. Nicholas Blechman calls the best illustrators and if they are like me, they always say yes to his assignments. So when he called last week to ask if I had time for a cover illustration I was in.
This was for a review of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism” by Bill Keller. Nicholas’ only request was to avoid a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt and focus on the turn-of-the-century journalism aspect of the story, and that maybe the image should include some headlines. I made a list of things that appeared in Keller's review and designed a collage that carried some of the pounding-typewriter-vitality of the era. Blechman recently sent out a Twitter communication that said “Illustrators: you don't need to add texture to your images, there is already enough dirt in the newsprint itself,” so I kept to flat colors on this one. I was surprised the reporter’s cigarette and office bottle survived.
Cathy Gilmore-Barnes at The New York Times called for a portrait of Stephen Sondheim to accompany a review of Sondheim’s new book of annotated lyrics. The review was written by another great songwriter, Paul Simon. My job was to not screw it up.
I sent three sketches, a Times Square background, a backstage background, and the ol' 'letters in the head' trick.
The article mixes historical events with images from literature and popular culture. That's Brando in the center, (I've already taken some heat from friends for the sweating beefcake)
Last Wednesday Aviva Michaelov at The New York Times called with an assignment for the cover of Sunday's Week in Review. She wanted an image to accompany an article that looks at how long, hot summers have been a crucible for the evolution of America's idenitity from the very beginning of our history. The illustration covers a lot of front page real estate, 15.5 " x 8.6" She sent me a rough draft of the article with a note that the illustration should have a Hot Summer feeling not one of dread. A collage of images from the article made the most sense, and I added a Weber Grill and stole some Ben Shahn-style flames to wrap around the images. Aviva sent a layout that showed where the art would fit with the typography so I could design the shape to work well on the page. The sketch was approved on Thursday morning and I worked late and sent the final art Friday morning. A call for a quick turn-around for the Times always gets my blood going, and it seems like magic to see the piece in Sunday's paper.