Keeping Busy- Part 2

MAY 26, 2013
Lately, I find myself putting off making the next Drawger post because there often seems to be that next illustration I’m waiting for publication so that I can include it.  Well, I’m at the point where I have enough activity to talk about and share.  The story remains the same; great art direction, give and take and support, the usual insecurity going into the finish hoping to retain the spontaneity, the looseness and excitement of the sketches or, at the very least, as much of that feeling as possible.  Often, I wish I had just taken my sketches just a little more to completeness so I could just color over them and turn them into finishes.  But the truth is, what makes sketches so much fun and what gives them so much life is that lack of concern for the end result-that good looking finish.  The unresolved parts have a certain raw, naïve charm that only later become issues once the sheet is mounted on the board and the sharpened pencils, the pens and inks are laid out, the brushes and water are clean and the paints are freshly squeezed in the trays.  The reconsiderations start creeping into the work process, the second guessing, the addendums that could probably enhance the image but haven’t gotten the okay from art direction or editors.  Under those circumstances, I will frequently vote to make the addition, see if anyone notices and, more importantly, approves.  My batting average to date has been very good on those decisions, knock on wood.   It’s been the rare occasion where the response has been “Why did you do that?”
READER'S DIGEST. As the title in the sketch says. A humorous piece from Dave Barry about the annual python hunt in Florida which attempts in its own befuddled manner, to reduce the population of these reptiles that have proliferated since the owners of these exotic pets decided to just dump them in the swamps once they lost their initial charm and cool factor. The cast of characters as described by Barry that make up these hunters and the rules of the competition are appropriately ludicrous. Art director Marti Golon, with whom I go back to her TIME Magazine days, relayed the response of the editor to this first sketch that the focus be reversed; that the hunters and not the python be the main visual. That didn't seem to be a problem. I was already working around where the copy was to go on the 2-page opener and adjusted the composition accordingly.

This revise had lots of looseness and fun. The snakes popping in from above and below struck the right note and the go ahead was given. Under these circumstances when redrawing a successful sketch (semi transparent bond paper over bond paper)the temptation is to replicate the original line for line. This old dog still doesn't seem to learn and usually by the 6th or 7th failed attempt- or maybe 20th- I just throw everything away and with the most minimum of border and copy outline simply re-draw from memory. By that time I've done it so often that I instinctively know where things should go.

There was lots of online reference of this annual event so there was little problem getting the clothing, equipment and personalities for the illustration. All that was needed was to jack it up a bit more goofy and improbable. In the current issue on stands now.

For ROLLING STONE. Another business/banking scandal piece. "Everything Is Rigged" by Matt Taibbi. About international bank interest rate bid rigging. Too complicated to explain here. Let's just leave it that the banks run the world and we're screwed regardless of what we do. What mad this assignment a real pleasure was because the work process was truly old school. I was running a race against time with other work and RS was really hoping I'd find some time to work on this story. My wife, Terri, and I are no longer strictly upstaters but have an apartment in NYC as well- which means I also have a studio space in the Big Apple. When I received the calls from art directors Mark Maltais and Joe Hutchinson I was under pressure with other assignments but in a limbo period waiting for approval on sketches. I intuited and suggested that things might work quicker if I stopped up at RS with sketch pad and pens and kick things around there. It is such a rare experience to sit in an art director's office tossing ideas around, rapid fire killing those that don't work and scribbling up others that show promise. Editor Will Dana was just an office down and quickly provided feedback on the directions we were taking. It was a nice adrenaline rush- a throw back to an earlier time in my career when this was common procedure. For some reason I feel that being there allowed me to petition moving away from the usual format for this article and, as this was a feature, vignetting it over the 2 pages with generous allowance for headline and copy. The numbers were worked out and I had my parameters within which I could work. There were no caricatures involved, so the concentration was on the composition and gestures and drawing with the Uni-ball micro went smoothly after a few misses.

Another one for ROLLING STONE, another one from the brilliant Matt Taibbi- currently on the stands with Daft Punk(?) on the cover. "The Mad Science of the National Debt". The first draft spent considerable time addressing this debt crisis as a global problem. I was wary of doing yet another set of pigs in suits or Uncle Sam and instead focused on the printing of money as a volatile experimental solution in many economies around the world. My first thought (always pay attention to those first thoughts) was recalling the exploding glutton in Monty Python's "Meaning of Life". Waiters from many countries presenting many currencies for this globe to keep gorging on. The nurse was a late thought in the sketch, watching the customer's blood pressure sky rocket. The gang at RS were happy with this one but I needed to make things harder for myself and wanted to try another idea.

A hospital setting. The nurse and blood pressure monitor make more sense here. Feeding an already an critically ill patient (the globe) with more currency with Ben Bernanke as doctor in chief administering the remedy.

But it's a global crisis. More doctors, more currencies.

A size was determined for the illustration and there seemed too much dead space in the center with the expanding belly. The nurse is moved to the other side, the globe head is more clear. The drawing was working so well, I scanned and saved it before adding color just in case the finish failed on first attempt. Happily it didn't.

For the NEW YORK OBSERVER, Ed Johnson, art directing. "The Great Fight Way". About increasingly rude and disruptive behavior in theaters. Not many sketches involved here. Read an outline for the story. Ed was on board about seeing this from the vantage point of the stage into the audience. The challenge was what to choose for the production. First sketch was almost too predictable- Hamlet with skull. But I wanted a male and female on stage- "Steetcar" seemed like a good choice. Once again this became an homage to the influence of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder/Wally Wood. It wasn't going to run big on the page but I still wanted to put in as many crazy scenes in the audience as could be clear.

So what's to do when you're under pressure- stressed out with deadlines, sitting too much at the drawing table with all sorts of new pins and needles sensations running down your legs? Well, one of the things I most love about our apartment on the lower east side is its location. Just a few blocks from Union Square and the never ending parade of people and musicians and markets. One such Saturday a few weekends ago I had to get away from the drawing board and took a walk to do some shopping at the farmer's market and instead got sidetracked watching a fantastic youth big band playing near the subway entrance. The music and energy were infectious and I ran- rather limped quickly- back to the apartment to get pads and pencils only to find them packing up by the time I returned. Well I had the drawing materials and quickly settled on a duo of musicians playing traditional Americana folk and blues. Turns out they were upstaters from near where we live down in NYC for the weekend to play.

Friend and combat artist, Steve Mumford had been prepping to go to Guantanamo on assignment for HARPER'S and asked me to join him for a sketch session downtown at Spring Street prior to his heading out. After the dynamic range of poses during the fast sketch sections the model becomes less interesting and I enjoy focusing on the attendees.

Mr. Mumford sits very composed and collected in the upper center.

One of the benefits of spending so much time in the city is attending the drawing sessions at my favorite haunt, the Society of Illustrators, which happen on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. As often is the case, my interest after a certain point is drawing the drawers.

This young woman is sitting next to the girl with the bear ears cap in the above picture. Except you can't see her because she was hidden under a mountain of wild hair. Then, every once in a while she'd look up and seem like she stepped out of a Rossetti painting.

Newly added. From last night at the Society. I found myself planted pretty deep in the crowd and found that the moleskine facing the sketchers provoked attention.

Witness to the ultimate sacrifice. This drawing is almost 2 years old, but I can still taste and smell the smoke and ashes pouring in through the open doors and windows as our medic copter flew into the smoke billowing from the M-RAP blown apart below us. I can still remember the concentration and determination of the medic team trying to save the life of the one remaining GI, his limp body caked in red and grey dust, who was thought to have a chance. This drawing has appeared before on my Drawger postings and other venues of publication. As we are honoring the dead on this Memorial Day it seemed this was the most appropriate. Unfortunately, we at the Joe Bonham Project have not had much luck getting opportunities to draw at Walter Reed for a while now. I have one huge commitment on the drawing table that still needs to be dealt with but once that is out of the way I hope to be part of a full court press to continue our documenting work.