Keeping Busy- Part 1

APRIL 13, 2013

I like writing.  Writing requires time to put thoughts down coherently (well, at least for me).  Time management has been my enemy because I find with each passing month that there seems to be less and less of it.  No, not seems- is.  The finishes go to press, the magazines come out and they pass out of consciousness before there's time to write a process blog.  It's been an embarrassment of sorts to find myself posting so infrequently of late.

So I'm playing catch up here, posting some of my favorite illustrations from the past few months for some of my favorite mags and art directors. 

So much of my early career was taking illustration assignments to pay for domestic responsibilities. Good fortune was with me in one sense that there was never a break in the work load.  I would sometimes say, half jokingly, that the 25% of satisfying assignments would keep the enthusiasm going to do the other 75%. Now, after almost 40 years, my journey has gradually brought me to a point where most everything I agree to do nowadays holds an interest for me. I've been blessed with good, often long term working relationships with art directors and, probably more importantly, editors who get it and don't gum up the works and when they do weigh in, point out something I hadn't noticed or thought of; my response is not a sinking feeling. Most of the time. 
I have always wanted to do a spoof of one of my favorite Ingre portraits. The opportunity presented itself when I received a call from Peter Kaplan, former managing editor of THE NEW YORK OBSERVER, for whom I had enjoyed 15 years of creating front page illustrations till he left the paper a few years back and moved on to running the fashion mags for Fairchild Publications. It was Peter whom I pressured to write up a promise of publication for me to obtain my press credentials to embed in Afghanistan back in 2011. Peter called describing the extensive interview writer Terry Golway had done with a sometimes testy NYC Mayor, Mike Bloomberg for his new Fairchild magazine, M, and said he wanted an illustration to accompany the interview. I've never seen Bloomberg as being someone with an easy sense of humor and in fact suspect he doesn't suffer fools well. I thought of the expression of one Monsieur Bertin sitting for Ingres and imagined Bloomberg cutting the same attitude. My sketch for Peter was looking so good I decided to continue to finish.

Another piece of visual reference that I enjoy playing off. From Dore's illustrations accompanying the Bible. This one takes inspiration from his depiction of Moses coming down from the mountain. It seemed a perfect image to complement the title of the article for THE AMERICAN PROSPECT- "Obama's Big F'n Deal". The writer focuses on three things the current administration has a chance of making an major impact on; where he has a chance to lay down some new rules.

Since the title of the story included the "BFD" it seemed redundant to repeat it on the tablets. Art director Mary Parsons, never anything less than a pleasure to work with, made a good call there. She did request, for the sake of continuity, that I take Obama out of biblical garb and dress him contemporary. It lessened some of the waviness and flow that looks so cool in Moses' robe in the original piece from Dore; I tried to compensate with stressing a dramatic gesture and add a little flutter to his jacket.

From the same issue, an essay calling on Obama to play more aggressively with the Republican congressional members.

Off and Running. For the very accommodating and easy to work with Ed Johnson, art director of THE NEW YORK OBSERVER. I had dropped away from the publication after Peter Kaplan left, feeling I needed a break as well. But Ed's been calling of late and we've had some good ones to collaborate on. This one was on the current New York City mayoral race- off and running.

Another one of those dream situations where the initial idea and sketch was working so well that all that mattered (no small matter, actually) next was translating the energy and sense of spontaneity into a finish. The only other suggestion was to add the "The Rent's Too High!" guy in the lower right corner.

Sometimes an article is as fascinating as it is frustrating to come up with an image that explains multiple themes and sub-themes. Such was the case with Matt Taibbi's slam on the 3 Strikes Law- "The Stupidest Law Ever" for ROLLING STONE's 'National Affairs' section. He addresses the current American legal system in a number of states- California being one of them-that helps to keep the prison population well stocked and in so many instances for minor, non-violent offenses that add up to 3 arrests and a lifetime behind bars. A kid caught smoking a joint for the third time can wind up in prison with real hardened criminals for the rest of his/her life. Insane. But he also writes of the layers of bureaucratic resistance to realizing the many ways the 3 strikes laws punish not only the non-violent offender but the integrity of the legal system itself.

It looked like we were getting close with this one which attempted to show how more than just the non-violent offender (in this case, a youth) are affected and locked together in a prison of negative consequences. This assignment was one of those assignments that every time it seemed like a piece would work and I could call it quits on sketched ideas, I'd come back yet again to take another crack at a better solution.

The youthful offender getting the book thrown at him for stealing a pair of sneakers (Chucks no less). Going for the exaggeration and dark humor. I liked this one and thought it would be a go. Close but no cigar.

Instead we ( RS art director, Mark Maltais, editors Will Dana and Eric Bates) wanted to try something playing off the idea of the long (and over-reactive) arm of the law doling out serious punishment.

An alternate version. You can probably guess one of the 15 influences I would reference in a Drawger blog if I tackle that challenge.

Yet another great team of people to work with. MOTHER JONES' Carolyn Perot and Tim Luddy. This story was quite a fascinating and complicated piece on a wildlife preserve in Africa where both environmentalists and corporate types entertain and lobby politicians, but with completely different agendas. Sometimes the same person at the same time. It was an article that seemed to remind me on one level that politics is like professional wrestling at times. Enemy lobbyists taking advantage of the same resources to win votes.

Another ROLLING STONE piece. "The GOP's Real Agenda". Published as the much dreaded and debated 'apocalyptic' sequester was happening, the story examined the various ways conservative Republicans have doubled down since the 2012 election and press for policies more extreme than ever. One of those jobs where the ideas were many and always lacking something, or many things, that pulled a bigger picture together.

I didn't see it as a Dems vs GOP thing so much since the Democrats have plenty of mud on their own suits. So I tried making it an Obama vs a multi-headed GOP monster image. Meh.

Carrying out a scorched earth policy as they retreat seemed like a good way to go.

Rather than just one Slim Pickens riding an H-bomb, how about a whole slew of Republicans.

Another situation where every time I thought I was out of ideas, another one would pop us as I was calling it quits. Here the focus was on simple. Just concentrate on a symbolic representation. This struck a chord, and it was approved. Even so, as I was working on the finish I emailed Mark Maltais one last time and questioned the representation of the elephant as a stereotypical redneck wondering instead whether it was smarter for him to be in a suit.

The finish. Gone is the tattoo and redneck look. It's suit and tie as a politician would dress.