That was my first thought when I received an email from Mark Maltais, AD for ROLLING STONE and he put me on alert that a Matt Taibbi piece was being written about the GOP candidates running to be their party’s nominee for President. First response was, “Oh, sort of a clown car scenario.” Why did I write that? The clown car image was already suffering from overuse. Any quick Google search would clearly confirm that.
Matt was in the Midwest following the candidates in Iowa. His rough, unedited piece finally arrived on Monday evening and RS needed a finish by Thursday. Matt never disappoints whether he’s writing about politics, financial wrongdoings, or even sports (there were times when he was writing a sports column for Men’s Journal that I would illustrate that I felt his eviscerations of athletes were even funnier than politicians). He’s on point but with an acid, near macabre sense of humor. The GOP piece in which Donald Trump plays a key role, almost a leitmotif, throughout the article, was great fun to read, and even though Matt made use of the clown car reference, I felt there was enough within the piece to avoid becoming but just another repetitious image maker. I had no problem using the clown theme, just not all in the car.
It was just my good fortune that the day I received the copy was also the day that the 10 candidates to appear on the FOX debate were announced. That narrowed and focused whom I had to concern myself with in the image. I emailed Mark and let him know I’d use clowns but wanted very much to avoid the car. He seemed fine with that.
A beautiful book on circuses and another one on clowns were pulled from the shelves and I went to work on ideas. My initial sketches referred to circus posters, circus freak acts, and in a right before bedtime flash, a pooping reference. Yes, poop jokes are old reliables and not to be dismissed, especially when your GOP elephant is forcing out a gigantic, snarling head of one Donald Trump, like a large wad of bubble gum stuck in a rectum.
Any of the ideas would work for me. The decision was up to editorial at RS. The responses to all the ideas were very positive but the elephant rectal image got the nod.
Once again, because of the deadline involved and the number of personalities to draw, I followed my gut and started working out the finish in pencil instead of the unforgiving pen. For any number of reasons my confidence in my crow quill skills has diminished some over the years and in crush circumstances I will trust my gut and go with pencil- not because I can erase- which I really don’t- but because I can feel the paper and the sensitivities of drawing better now with pencil. We’re a tactile bunch, us old schoolers.
Concentration was very good and I was in the zone for almost the entire time, and time I pretty much forgot about. If I’m chuckling while working and looking at the faces I draw, then that’s a good sign. Ultimately, getting The Donald right first was paramount as he is the punchline and the line connecting all the dots. Once I was satisfied with his characterization the rest flowed along nicely. A redesign of the layout by Mark allowed me a little more breathing space with the multiple characters and even gave Chris Christie a little stretch out for a nice body scan.
The gang at RS was very pleased with the finish as was Matt. It was great fun tackling a piece by Mr. Taibbi. His writing always pushes me to, at the very least, match his contribution and hopefully bring the image up a couple notches higher than I would have anticipated. Thanks all for the assignment.
Some of the candidates are simply more fun to visualize as clowns. Mike Huckabee is one. Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul also seemed very adaptable. Ben Carson and John Kasich not so. Carson is remarkably bland.
I love the iconic photo of the carnival performer who drove nails into his head through his nostrils. I saw Uncle Sam in a similar predicament.
Nothing to add here except maybe I thought I could do better with Christie and redraw based on his poor decision baseball uniform photos.
Attempting to keep up with postings of recent work while juggling multiple plates continues to be the challenge. There are a good handful of us on Drawger who not only enjoy posting our illustrations but writing about what we do to make them happen. I’m one of them. Writing something that hopefully is worth reading often takes much longer than uploading images.
The AMERICAN PROSPECT Magazine has undergone a change in format and publication, its issues now seasonal rather than monthly. Luckily for the magazine and happily for me, Mary Parsons remains the art director. She trusts her artists and when she does offer suggestions they are on point. In an era where editors increasingly seem to make the decisions on visual matters and art directors seem to exist merely as executors of those decisions, it’s a pleasure to work with someone who is willing to push back if necessary and advocate for the illustrator and for the visual solutions. Many times it’s the difference between images that have teeth and images that act as wall paper.
The “Plutocracy Forever?” issue is a great example of why you should never throw your sketches and ideas- in particular good ones- away even if they don’t make the cut for a particular story. This is a concept I have only come to appreciate more in my later years. The ability to store files of rejected ideas in hard drives as opposed to boxes of paper makes it a lot easier to access a sketch that was for any variety of reasons rejected for one story but still a perfect match for another. In this situation Mary asked me to create a number of illustrations for the issue and we had a treasure trove of old ideas done for The Prospect and other magazines that found new life and seemed totally appropriate.
The cover was a mix and match situation taking a singular image, the reclining reinvention of the Monopoly man morphed with a swine, and adding a portion from another illustration. Mary originally had reservations about the size of the cover copy, which the editors seemed to want, but the illustrations fit perfectly and complemented the layout giving the cover a nice sense of openness.
The interior pieces were a combination of revisited old sketches as well as new ideas to fit the essays. Once again the rejects hold up well and remain archived for some later potential usage. After a certain point there are only so many ways one can illustrate the ever returning core of themes- greed, corruption, venality, etc., that are part of political and social commentary publications and a visual that has you chuckling is a keeper. Recycling is not just about plastic.
In this earlier version, done for another publication, the member of the 1% skips exuberantly over people smothered in debt. Mary suggested thinking of an alternative representation of the 99%. People in barrels seemed a perfect metaphor.
Used inside as well the lower portion of the finish became the bottom of the cover.
I did a variation of this image many years ago of sports team owners and regulators. I suspect you can guess who held the short leash.
Addressing the disparity of the fortunate few vs the majority of senior citizens in the current environment of growing inequality. Comfortable retirement vs working till the grave.
Depending on your economic status the housing collapse had a different impact. A couple of approaches, one which leaned on a favorite Winslow Homer painting with some adjustments, the other looking at a washed away coastline and a mansion resting on high solid ground.
For THE NATION- Received a call from art director, Robert Best, for an illustration on a piece by Don Guttenplan prior to the recent elections in Britain. The article didn't present a pretty picture of the current Labour Party and its party leader, Ed Milliband, and its very uncomfortable relationship with the Scottish National Party represented by Nicola Sturgeon. I don't really follow British politics. US politics provides enough of a headache. But Milliband and Sturgeon presented a potential for some good comedy. This was my initial idea. The rose symbol of the Labour Party loses its petals and the loop of the SNP I used as a noose around Sturgeon. While he loved my caricature of Milliband, Don felt the noose off the mark. Back to the drawing board.
My second approach struck the right chord and got a good round of laughs. The challenge was repeating the vitality of the sketch for the finish. Several attempts were made.
The finish looked so good in black and white that I didn't want to screw with it and suggested just adding color to the SNP symbol employed as a type of engagement ring. Robert concurred.
Seriously, how can you go wrong? Ed Milliband, Labour Party leader.
The most recent cover of The Nation. Robert Best, AD. "Not Your Grandmother's Librarian". A cover feature on how librarians are on the front lines of pushing back against government surveillance of what people read in libraries. Interestingly, an updated Rosie the Riveter was suggested except that Robert's image of Rosie and mine were different. I referred to Norman Rockwell's iconic figure and Robert was thinking of the We Can Do It woman from the other iconic poster but misidentified on Google as Rosie. Either version would work. I preferred this one because of the dynamic of this new Rosie versus a stymied Uncle Sam.
Finally, a piece for the 150th Anniversary issue of THE NATION, only this time the guest AD was the one and only Steve Brodner who asked me to come up with an image for a Victor Navasky piece on McCarthyism and its consequences to American history. I tried a few approaches, even falling back to a more op-ed-y visual with clouds and little figure on landscape. A return to the 70's for me.
Then there was going for the good old satiric send up of iconic images. J.Edgar Hoover factored into the piece as he in effect laid the groundwork of paranoia that McCarthy was able to cynically capitalize on.
The approved sketch playing off another iconic image of JEH but in the original he was with Shirley Temple.
Haven’t posted much about assignments for Rolling Stone in a while.These three in their own ways turned out quite nicely.
The War on Drugs is Burning Out
Ideas rarely come like bolts of lightning but oftentimes the first thoughts will eventually remain the best thoughts.This was a piece, penned by Tim Dickinson, that inspired two quick images, either one of which could have worked and for a while the decision bounced between the two.There was no necessity to keep thinking of new ideas.
Since a focus of the story dealt with Washington D.C. itself in terms of law and legality within its city limits, it seemed appropriate to replace the Washington Monument with a towering joint a la picture postcard view.The other was to take one of the most iconic spots in the country- the Lincoln Memorial and have old Abe toking.Editorial finally decided to go with the toke.It was far more fun than I anticipated as bringing life to marble busts is not an easy task.I settled on a color themed image to ground the visual and accentuate the punch line.
The GOP’s New War on Obama: Meet the Men Doing the Dirty Work
Another piece from Tim Dickinson focusing on what I read as an updated version of a Jacobin rebellion.A revolution to eliminate anyone not falling into the hard right wing lock step.First to go- Democrats in the Congress.
It was an opportunity to have fun with caricatures and, once again, two ideas came to mind that seemed to satisfy the story.One, non-French Revolution in concept but French by association because it drew upon the famous Dore image of Red Riding Hood with the wolf, had a Lady Liberty a la RRH apprehensively viewing her wolves sharing the bed.I liked it very much but also thought something relating to the Jacobin fever in D.C. should be addressed.Hence- refer to the great British satirist, James Gillray who so wonderfully excoriated not only the British Royal class but the maniacs of the French Revolution.Vive le Revolution.The editorial decision went with the beheading image.
Tim Dickinson once again on the self created problems in Canada where its Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has banked nearly the entire economy on its tar sands oil production and how with the drop in oil prices and the blocking of the Keystone Pipeline, the nation finds itself in serious financial peril.There were several stories going on here and while I did want to bring Harper, a pasty faced looking piece of white bread, into the image I also somehow needed to address the economic part. This was an article that saw many sketches and many that made their way to the circular file.I saw it first as a bad gamble and played off a Vegas like gambling setting, The Tar Sands instead of the Sands.As the first Sands hotel casino was blown up to make way for a new one, there was video of the demolition to play with plus some vintage images on Google.I liked it a lot but editorial wasn’t entirely convinced.I also tried one recalling the Icarus story with Harper flying too high and his wings melting into dripping oil as he falls.Others showed a huge tar sands tractor with an engine dropped out and Harper not exactly flying out of a cannon the way he anticipated.Lastly, and most successfully, the idea of riding over a waterfall of oil in an oil barrel.The dimensions were changed and a different camera angle was established, which quite frankly had the best sense of animation to it.
As always, great fun working with Mark Maltais and Joe Hutchinson in art and Will Dana, editor.
Just in case anyone thinks that political discourse has gone over the top nowadays let us keep in mind satirists like Gillray who pulled no punches.
Okay, going over a waterfall in a barrel is sort of funny but the hook has to be that it's not water.
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. Sophie 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.