Last year I was involved with a couple extended projects that I couldn’t post about until they were finally in use and then found that by the time that happened I was being distracted by other work and unable to give a fair accounting of the efforts for Drawger. This is an attempt to rectify some of that.
Over the Christmas holidays of 2013-14, I was contacted by Alexander Isley to provide portraits for a TED conference- TEDMED to be exact. Leaders in science,medicine and entertainment speaking or performing their expertise. He had wanted to use me the year before but as that event was presented in affiliation with The Rhode Island School of Design's STEM program, the focus was to have its very talented students create the portraits. Alexander remained true to his promise and pushed for me the next time around. Originally, the estimate was for about 40 portraits over the course of a month to a month and a half. Not exactly portraits but not exactly caricatures either. Color. Two things went through my mind during the initial conversations- would I have enough time to do justice to the portraits- especially when depending upon reference provided by TED, and, more importantly, what did I need to learn to create 40 color images in such a limited amount of time. The prospect of playing with color decisions on original art, failing, and having to start from scratch was quite unsettling even as I was doing the math in my head how long one image would take.
Because I had already agreed to take on the challenge in one of those jump in the water without exactly figuring out how to swim first decisions, the attention turned to the how.
I’m a Luddite by conditioning. Bricks and mortars- pen, pencil, brushes to paper. Other than using Photoshop to scan and ‘photomerge’, if necessary, and to click ‘auto’ for color correction, tech has been like Kryptonite to me. I am a slow and inconsistent reader of printed instructions and my previous attempts at following web tutorials were invariably exercises in frustration leaving me with serious concerns over my IQ. Life experiences have confirmed I do much better with hands on training and repetition to grind whatever I’m learning into my porous memory. The first attempts at color application solutions were more old school but provided some groundwork for Alex and his excellent assistant, Christina Holland, to expand and provide suggestions. The color was to be added not to render but provide an atmosphere. Loose, more abstract. Okay. Great. But how to play without starting from scratch over and over?
Christopher Hitchens remarked that being given a terminal diagnosis tightens one’s focus. It’s remarkable how panic, a first cousin to necessity, tightens one’s concentration and spurs learning skills. Three things happened within short time of each other. One, the task of creating watercolor effects in layers over scanned original work was resolved when my good friend, Dale Stephanos, responding to my questions regarding hardware, offered his older Cintiq to work on. A Godsend. The second Godsend was employing the services of Lisa Reist, assistant to another great friend, Steve Brodner. She spent a nice daylong intensive tutoring me on Photoshop layering, color palette selection (Isley and TED had chosen a core group of colors), trashing layers that don’t work, adding layers that do, all the material that a student in 101 would learn. I am crediting Lisa’s patience and good humor with the development of my skills, as she repeated functions with me till I’d be doing them without any coaching from her even as she sat to the side watching. I’ve always had a positive dread of making an error that I am unable to get out of without destroying everything else in the process. Photoshop as defusing a live atom bomb. Clip the wrong wire and kablooey! One of the most important lessons was learning not to panic if something didn’t work out right or the wrong key got clicked. Simple stuff for the seasoned, not for the beginner. Lisa remained on call throughout the project for questions, most of which dealt with forgetting something I had learned the day before and just needing to remember that one step. I kept notes as well. The third Godsend was downloading Kyle Webster’s Ultimate watercolor applications into my Photoshop which gave me a wide variety of effects to work from. Over the course of the project the preferred tools out of the selections became the Ultimate Watercolor Wet, Wet and Wild Watercolor and Watercolor Soft Wash Smooth. The sense of play was in full force.
The list of speakers was provided. Reference material started arriving in DropBox in chunks. All the while I Googled on my own seeking potential shots that were less studio portraits. As many of the TEDMed presenters were known in their professions I also searched YouTube for videos which often caught the expression I had hoped for. ‘Shift command and #4 for the screen shot. My greatest worry was that the photo reference would be tiny- very low resolution and poor detail. In some cases that did happen and I decided to contact the subjects directly to either ask for other photos or to meet and shoot them in person.
Drawings were done traditionally with Prismacolor pencils, b/w on paper and then scanned. Some of the subjects, often those that came with the best reference, were first try successes, others could drag out for a seemingly endless day of drawings, crumbled papers filling up the studio. Sometimes the faces that interested me the most turned out to be the most challenging and required many re-dos as I attempted to visually explain what captured my attention. So much fun was I having with both Photoshop and Kyle’s apps that many of the subjects wound up with several color versions for TED and Isley to select from.
The folks at TED were very excited with what Alexander and Christina kept feeding them, requesting re-dos on only a few occasions. But something else was happening. The event was pushed back a few months from June to September with the presentations happening on stages both east and west coast simultaneously; the 40 portraits expanded to 60 then 70, finally ending at 90. Already in a groove I welcomed the extra work as the deadlines kept getting pushed back. The pressure was not so daunting as I had more time to play.
In the end, everyone seemed very satisfied with the results. The images were part of a beautiful brochure created for the event along with banners that hung in the auditoriums. Almost as important as the gig itself was the education I received in working with new tools- tools that I continue to employ to this day. Sending color sketches to clients has never felt easier. Photoshop doesn’t feel like a minefield. Old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. On this matter 60 feels like a new 25. Many thanks to Alexander Isley for calling me in on this fascinating project and his associate, Christina Holland who was my point person throughout the project. Great people to work for and with.
Feeling out what approach to take to the project. Earliest scribblings with color brush pens.
Alexander Isley was very aware of my drawings of soldiers and Marines but he had also been the designer for years for a financial publication to which I contributed stylized portrait caricatures of business leaders. His hope was to combine those drawing approaches. Color was less the concern than good but not terribly serious likenesses.
A very convoluted process of printing first the scanned drawing and then reprinting the scanned color.
We finally seemed to have something to work with and present. Alex and Christina put together dummies of the brochure along with all the other designing for the event they were in charge of.
Playing with layering. Way too intense for what was intended for the brochure and banners but great fun to experiment. The more I did of these, editing layers and adding the more confident I got messing with Photoshop and Kyle's apps.
The finished brochure incorporating some of the organic shape themes from the watercolor studies.
80 heads eventually making it to the speaker list. Some had dropped out along the way.
Even the illustrator got a nice bio page. I worked off a template of Hanoch Piven's who had done the portraits for a previous event, keeping the bio nice and precise.
This is a selection of portraits that I felt worked particularly well. To post them all would be punishing and a bit of a redundancy. One of the challenges as we moved past 40 portraits was trying to keep the imagery fresh looking and still retain a sense of consistency.
Diana Nyad was one speaker who inspired a desire to create more aquatic marks and colors that tied in with her accomplishments.
Poet Joshua Bennett
Artist Erica Chen
One of the many subjects who received multiple color options. Rosie King.
One of those subjects that obsessed me. Sohie de Oliviera Barata, an artist who creates prosthetics. She looked different in every photo I could find and had such striking features in every shot. This was my preferred drawing but TED went with another one.
The group Inspector Gadje
Pianist Zolt Bognar
One who didn't get into the brochure but caught my attention. Rebecca Gomperts. She had a look in her photos that engaged.
Playing with one of the many choices from Kyle Webster's painting app.
I was hoping to maybe just create an image based on movement. This is the dance company AOM. TED felt some recognizable features were necessary.
Incorporating the drawing with the watercolor option. Suddenly it seemed I got too specific.
An alternative drawing. Less specificity.
Isley took the layers from one image and overlaid them on the less specific drawing.
Until news of the slaughter in Paris flooded the internet, television, newspapers and magazines, I had been unaware of the publication, CHARLIE HEBDO, a weekly magazine of gloves off satire and cartoon commentary. And while the initial reports made it sound like HEBDO focused on Islam and Muslims alone, it became evident that the magazine excoriated all faiths and spared no politician.It was a horrible act of criminality, perpetrated, depending on your point of view, by thugs and losers misrepresenting their religion or a crime committed by homicidal religious fanatics acting as sanctioned enforcers for their version of God, seeking to strike terror into the heart of free expression. They planned on dying no matter what. Their allegiance was not to life, laughter and love, but to an ideology saturated in nihilism and death.
Reactions were immediate and across the board condemnation- at least on the surface level.However, as Salman Rushdie, no stranger to the murderous threats of reactionary Islamic fundamentalism, pointed out, the “Buts” were infiltrating the commentary.“It was a terrible act, BUT the magazine was sort of asking for it by publishing inflammatory cartoons…BUT the cartoonists shouldn’t be disrespecting religion…BUT for the lack of restraint…BUT…BUT.Even Pope Francis, who has been enjoying a love affair with the general public for his seemingly more balanced viewpoints on religion and Catholicism dropped the ball by echoing the “BUT” by applying notions of censorship or self censorship in matters pertaining to satirizing religions- all religions.By saying all religions the bases are covered and one does not sound like a special interest ideologue.
An examination of the history of satire quickly reveals that religion and politics, and their leaders and partisans, have been the frequent objects of visual assault.Where nations are governed by more democratic, freedom embracing principles the stinging and provocative nature of satire is tolerated and protected, if not necessarily appreciated by the objects of the lampooning. The idea that one’s religion is off limits to attack, even mean spirited attack, is not acceptable.A censoring of one topic leads to the censorship of others.Under those conditions anyone can express outrage and victimization and demand the dogs to be called off, or worse, invent a justification to react violently.Looking through the latest issue of HEBDO and using my Google translate, I found a range of quality in the cartooning.Some of the gags worked and were funny, others didn’t ring any bells. Until the massacre, the magazine’s circulation apparently was in the neighborhood of 30,000.The killings have given HEBDO a notoriety beyond the wildest expectations and raised the awareness of the publication.Still, it seems amazing and perverse that cartoons can stir up mass hysteria, riots and killing among large portions of populations who more than likely have never even seen the images.They are stirred up in this circumstance by religious leaders cynically exploiting the ignorance of the followers to their more malicious ends.
I was contacted by The New York Observer, along with several other illustrators- Steve Brodner being one- to create an image for an editorial response to the killings.I chose to stick to black and white, and pen and ink, in my illustration.It seemed fitting to employ Liberty from the French artist Delacroix’s iconic “Liberty Leading the People” and make some adjustments.The drawing flowed nicely, but my deficiency in la langue Francais, almost derailed my intentions when I misused a verb that I thought to mean fuck only to find out that it also meant kiss, and even if it did mean fuck, it meant it in a more affectionate manner.Talk about the uncomfortable scenario of explaining myself if the image appeared as it might have.I turned away from the Google translate and consulted living speakers and came up with something that even if sounding pretty wordy at least was more accurate.So a twelfth hour rewrite and patching was required.
Almost concurrently I received a request through channels to contribute something to a group tribute for LeMonde.I used that opportunity to draw something up more in the spirit of Charlie Hebdo (this time the French was correct) and sent that out along with the Observer drawing after making sure the folks at the NYO were cool with the potential re-use. Due to some miscommunication, apparently only 10 images were to be selected for the actual hard copy issue with the others part of the online publication.I was not in the select group.No matter.I had great fun drawing the image with my brush pens.
Tomi Ungerer visited the Society of Illustrators today for a lunch.Accompanying him were his wife, Yvonne, daughter Aria and her partner Herman (who has been archiving Tomi’s thousands of pieces of artwork).Also in attendance were illustrators extraordinaire Steve Brodner and Ellen Weinstein and the Society’s director, Anelle Miller.I shared a truly memorable lunch with Tomi a few years back and the opportunity to sit and break bread was not to be missed.I had already postponed a long planned knee surgery to attend Tomi’s opening reception a few days before at the Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street, NYC) which has on exhibit a marvelous and sizeable collection of Tomi’s work that will run till March.Tomi had been obviously worn down from the exhaustive schedule of signings, interviews and get togethers since arriving in town but was in wonderfully good spirits at the table, marveling at the artwork of the current annual exhibition on the walls and expressing such love and fond memories of the Society. His love and appreciation of illustration was all embracing and he expressed an unembarrassed fan boy awe of illustrators from Rockwell and Charles Dana Gibson to Ralph Steadman to the new generation sharing the wall space. Tomi did reveal a certain sadness at not being able to spend more quality time with old friends and acquaintances during his short stay. He was a deep well of stories and observations, good humor and word play.We touched on the murders at Charlie Hebdo and Tomi grimly observed the irreconciable nature of current tensions and that we are witnesses to the beginnings of a Third World War. Steve responded, "Yes, it seems that way." "No, not seems. It is." was Tomi's reply. It was one of the only moments where his mood turned dark and pessimistic.
It was inevitable but the sketching started while we lunched.First Steve and I drew portraits of Tomi on Society menus, which he later signed (before leaving, Tomi did a funny self portrait on one as well).Then I pulled out my sketch pad- always bring your sketch pad- and did a couple that turned out more satisfactory in the good lighting and close proximity and made up for the disappointing results in the standing room only poor lighting Drawing Center interview the previous Saturday with art director and author, Steve Heller.
These are peak moments in a person’s life. My ride back upstate was filled with reflections on the lunch and the conversation and the simple act of listening to one of the singular masters of the art of illustration and idea creation and the great richness of spirit and love. It was a pleasure as well to spend time talking with Yvonne, Aria, and Herman. It is often easy to forget that in the lives of great artists their opportunities to create are often greatly enhanced by core family support, especially when they get on in years.Tomi is blessed in such a way by the obvious love and commitment of his family.They act as bedrock and also as reality check. Whether you are an established professional or just graduating from art school you would do yourself a huge benefit viewing the documentary on Tomi’s life, FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH.The exhibition at the Drawing Center is a must see for anyone interested in brilliant, and subversive, thinking combined with marvelous artistry.
For the NEW YORK OBSERVER. Thanks to Lauren Draper and Ken Kurson.
LeMonde in the spirit of Charlie.
A drawing that didn't completely fail at the Drawing Center. I found myself trying to look through shadows to pick up features.
Front: Anelle Miller, Tomi, Ellen Weinstein In the back: Herman, an unfortunately obscured Yvonne, VJ, Brodner and Aria. A peak event.
On your stands now, in the current Rolling Stone (with John Oliver on the cover,), is an in-depth piece of journalism by Tim Dickinson on the Koch Brothers and their impressive (not in a positive sense) reach and grip on American politics and environmental policy.
I’ve done the Koch brothers before for various magazines. Interesting how just a few years ago, Google reference was quite limited. Not so, anymore. That said, the challenges facing a caricaturist remain the same. One brother, David, always had the more interesting horror movie mortician appearance, while the other, Charles, in actuality the real driving force behind the evil empire, facially bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the older Robert Redford. When RS art director Mark Maltais called me with the assignment it turned into another opportunity to study these mugs and, hopefully, create an image strong enough to complement the copy.
It’s funny, but these stories, like so many on politics and business, contain maze like plot lines and criss-crossing agendas. To try to cover all the elements of a complicated journalistic endeavor like this story sometimes requires less attention on the specifics in the article and more focus on a unifying theme in the image. Simpler sometimes is better, but simpler doesn’t necessarily mean less detail in the actual illustration, merely a solid core around which to work.
My sketches approached the article from several points of view. I thought of maybe creating a P.T. Barnum style circus poster with the brothers as ringmasters and all the various side shows revolving around them, including the contortionist politicians grabbing for money. I’ve always loved Caspar Friedrich’s “The Wanderer” and felt the figure standing on a mountaintop of money bags surveying not a magnificent landscape but an expanse of pollution would look cool except for the fact it is not a lone figure in the article but two. Portraying them as vultures seemed a possibility as well and no one portrayed corrupt individuals as vultures better than Thomas Nast. I had fun with those. Then there was a simple straight ahead option, involving caricatures of the brothers holding a diseased globe but smiling/laughing very contentedly. It certainly allowed for focus on caricaturing self satisfaction. When people are this rich you can criticize them till the cows come home and it won’t matter. They are well protected. Putin in Russia enjoys a similarly brazen, contemptuous attitude, being probably the richest man in that kleptocracy. Still we press on and keep firing them arrows.
The gang at RS went with the straight ahead approach. The faces are predominant as are the expressions. Exaggeration for exaggeration’s sake has become far less interesting to me over the years as much as trying to capture something in the character via that right expression. So these are less wild attacks of bravura distortion and more studied visual statements. As their business empire runs well past the borders of America to Russia (not surprising) and even Iran (Axis of Evil, anyone?) it felt perfectly right to spread the diseased skies and landscape all over the globe. Healthy blue was not a consideration; better the corrosive browns and umbers of shit in the air.
Less a direct lift from the original Nast and more an inspiration with the twist of forcing the Bald Eagle out of the nest.
Four For The Air Force- and then some
Once again, the Society of Illustrators will have its biannual exhibition in conjunction with the USAF Art Program beginning this September. The missions were very few these past two years a result of the sequester and government budget cuts. This year the Society will focus on exhibiting selected pieces from the USAF permanent collection. There will be some seriously stunning work highlighting the more than 60 years of working with the Air Force. There will also be a small showing of work from the one mission last summer at McGuire AFB/Fort Dix in New Jersey where Operation Eagle Flag training exercises were being held. A small group of Society illustrators were there documenting the event, and I'm happy to say I was part of that group. My sketchbooks were filled with plenty of false starts but enough visual information to create four finished pieces. All the drawings were dry-mounted to firmer board and then worked on with acrylics. Please check the Society's website for the dates of the exhibition. www.societyillustrators.org
A case in point. This drawing was nearly 80% of what is seen here when everything abruptly changed over and had I not taken some video and photos, would have remained in a sort of limbo. Carefully extracting the pages from the moleskine large sized pad (11x17") I hot press mounted it to 4 ply Strathmore paper to protect against buckling and proceeded with a careful application of acrylics. Watercolor rarely responds well to moleskine paper on initial application but acrylics so far have not met that resistance.
The hardest thing for me when working with color and paints is knowing when to stop. When enough has been said and anything else just turns the image into feeling like a rendering of a photo (as my mentor Bernie D'Andrea would caution me about). I stopped here. The focus was where I wanted it.
Nothing remained still. Even the soldier actually suffering from dehydration. This procedure surprisingly lasted longer than I had anticipated.
Similar situation. A fair amount of information sketched real fast trying to record an event moving quite fast. Probably the only people remaining relatively stationary during these few minutes were the members of the USAF unit who were training with the role players. Many of the role players are immigrants and bring a level of cultural authenticity to the exercises that hiring local actors could never match. Here, Lebanese actor/entrepreneur "Jimmy Smooth", as he was known to the troops, announces to the villagers that an agreement has been reach with the US forces.
One of the many sketches that went nowhere and was over before the camera could even be called into play to record the specifics. Another view of "Jimmy Smooth" who sounded like the Lebanese version of Rodney Dangerfield. He rarely broke character except when the exercise was specifically called into recess. Otherwise, he, as well as the others, kept their interactions with the troops as real villagers which allowed them to create challenges that required the military personnel to figure out the proper response. All this would be observed by trainers who kept score and graded how our forces carried themselves. The critiques would come later.
SoI member Stephen Gardner draws and takes notes on how to properly smoke a hookah. SoI Government Services chairman, John Witt works the camera. There were overlaps with British forces also in training.
Unfinished but I think I caught her Pip Pip sort of character. Never found out her name but Millicent or Penelope would not have surprised me.
The guy with the cigar was Air Force role playing as town constable. The rest were actors. I found myself wondering at times about what was going through these immigrants' minds, lives disrupted, separated from their homelands. I had the strong impression from some that they thought we had Hollywood level connections and could get them discovered. It was almost like they were auditioning for us at certain points.
A number of the actors were African. This gentleman who played the town religious leader apparently was in actuality a Muslim cleric. Very soft spoken and gentle of spirit.
Henry Bith. A break in the exercises and time to sit in a wooden shack away from the aggressive sun. I was into the drawing for a few minutes as Henry continued speaking to me when I realized he was talking about having been one of the "Lost Boys of the Sudan". His story was one of great suffering and loss- having witnessed the annihilation of his family- and I found myself lost at times trying to understand how he got to America. But he got here, and with his wife, is trying to make a new life in the States. Another reminder of what we take for granted and what so many in this world must struggle through on a day to day basis. http://www.unicef.org/sowc96/closboys.htm
Henry Bith's wife. I never was entirely sure how she was reacting to my drawing her. Sometimes seeming embarrassed, other times annoyed.
The crew. Stephen Gardner, Jim Consor, John Witt, Cpl. Agarn, and Dennis Dittrich.
Never looks good. No matter how practical it may feel steadying a drawing pad (in this case a hard cover Moleskine) on crossed legs while drawing, it always winds up looking effete.
A couple of drawings still needing a few tweaks that were offered as incentives for a recent Foundation Rwanda fundraiser. Prints are to be sent to donors who contributed a certain amount. Apparently the response was very good. I'll be busy this September printing and mailing and grateful for the Epson 4880 in the studio. The drawings are based on photos by FR co-founder and photographer extraordinaire Jonanthan Torgovnik.
A painting of my own based on sketches at the clinic last year in Rwanda.
Ending this with a drawing found while rearranging files int he barn/studio. Current SSGT Ben as he was at 2 1/2 years old.