Catching Up- Part 1

AUGUST 14, 2014
It’s been too long since my last posting.  Very easy to convince oneself that putting together something for Drawger, both images and text, can be put off till the next day.  Before you know it, you have a long stretch of time and a lot of ground to cover.
A huge project, started in January and recently completed, for TED via the terrific team at Alexander Isley’s, occupied much of my thoughts and time.  It marked the first time, finally, at 60, that this Luddite was able to comprehend, via very patient hands-on instruction, the mechanics of layering in Photoshop.  Desperation is indeed a great motivator to learn when faced with a workload that would have been overwhelming.  The event happens in September and I hope to post more detail and visuals then.  It was a valuable learning experience and a quantum jump for me in many ways. 
Running parallel with this project were other assignments.  A good percentage of them fell into the classification of pro bono- the object being to raise money for good, no- great, causes. The payback is to the soul.  The remainder have been classic old fashioned illustration. Get the copy, read it, come up with an idea, get it approved, get it done.  And have some fun in the process.
When Robert Best, the art director for The Nation, called me to do a cover piece on California governor Jerry Brown, the challenge would be how to balance the feature story image; whether Brown or the state of California would be the focus.  A stage show, some sort of hat trick (I think that was one of the proposed headlines), focusing on his-and the state’s- comeback was to factor into the image.  I played with a number of magician ideas.  All were humorous, but the vignettes had to conform to the layout of copy and headlines on the cover.  What was finally selected was a good choice considering the restrictions, struck the right balance between focusing on Brown and the state, and turned out to be great fun taking to finish.  I probably drew Brown many many years ago when he was first governor and running for president.  I’d say most conservative friends still have him wrapped in the “Governor Moonbeam” phase, but it seems, considering the legislature he has to deal with (and I thought New York’s is a horror) he’s demonstrated the ability to be a pragmatist and not some freak.  That he angers both conservatives and liberals makes me think he’s doing what he sees as best and not caring about ideologies.  Brown is great fun to draw.  He has sharp, almost raptor like features at this stage of his life, not a kid anymore, and what look like buck-ish teeth when he smiles- ever so slyly. 
Will Shortz
I’ve done a number of Will Shortz crossword and Sudoku book covers for Robert Grom at St. Martin’s Press. They have always involved a caricature of Shortz and a situation illustrating the book theme.  Since the theme this time was about ‘mind melting’ Sudoku, it seemed only right to emphasize in a humorous way trying to keep the brain cool under the circumstances.  Robert has a very relaxed attitude to art directing and once the idea and sketch was discussed- the only wait centering around waiting for the feedback from the editors- I was home free.  The year before the theme was crossword puzzles for the whole year- hats representing the seasons was a perfect solution and worked real well with the cover type. 
A nice fistful of  illustrations for the ‘National Affairs’ section, my regular haunt. For a story on Obama trying to keep from getting embroiled in the nightmare that is Syria, I was reminded of rueful warning from General Colin Powell before Iraqi Freedom commenced, “You break it, you own it.”  The cast of characters fighting in Syria is so confused and fraught with the danger of assisting your next Osama bin Laden.  An early idea had Obama lighting a match to see himself surrounded by scorpions as various Moslem insurgents with no real good way out.  But it did not address the issue that there were strong voices calling for US military involvement.  Breaking and owning made me think of the bull in the china shop, very dangerous with serious potential to cause much damage.  It seemed perfectly appropriate to portray Obama attempting to restrain the red, white, and blue bull with the horns shaped as gun barrels- a nod to an old Warner Brothers cartoon.  As a matter of fact, the bull owes much to Looney Tunes.  Art Director: Mark Maltais.
Big Carbon Beats Up on Kid Solar
The solar industry still comprises a small portion of America’s power supply.  There are a number of reasons but one of them certainly is a result of the efforts of energy industries that rely on oil and coal to suppress the spread of the solar industry.  There’s serious money here and competition for market dominance is rough.  Not a story where much humor is to be found, and I definitely didn’t want to go all dark and symbolic in imagery.  Ironically, that old Warner Brothers muse directed me to making the gesture the focus.  The big polluting farmer, armed with weed killer, hulking over a couple of solar weeds. The idea was quickly approved by AD Mark Maltais.
Obama’s Last Chance at Any Climate Change Reform
Jeff Goodell writes much on the environment for RS and put together a piece on this year being Obama’s last opportunity to make some impact and bully pulpit legislation before he crosses into lame duck status.  There wasn’t much positive news in the article, but in a series of mental quantum leaps, I saw this as a final take- Take 2014- in a Perils of Pauline style movie.  Obama attempting to rescue Planet Earth tied to the tracks as a train approaches roaring from behind.   Again, idea quickly approved and onto finish.
For years I’ve seen the work in the annual Frogfolio calendar, art directed by Jim Burke, featuring some of my favorite illustrators, and wondered if there was some special selection process.  Then I got the call from Jim a few months ago.  My first question was,
“Has anyone portrayed a frog as “The Frog”?”, referring to tenor sax great Ben Webster, who was also known as “The Brute”.  Jim answered in the affirmative telling me that Joe Ciardiello had done a portrait of Ben.  That was fine by me.  I wasn’t looking to do a portrait of Webster as much as I wanted to anthropomorphize a frog as Webster.  One of the great faces in Jazz; huge, dark, and puffy bug eyes, rotund of physique in his later years, the trademark hat looking a size or two too small, resting on his balding head. The real challenge was transferring the spontaneity in my sketch to the finish.  When I’m excited about a project like this there’s always the danger that I will try to shoot for the moon and lose sight of what is already happening on the paper. Going for that gold medal image instead of enjoying the process of drawing and coloring. I nipped that counter productive attitude pretty early on. That said, there were still many fails until the right line quality, gesture, and attitude all fell into satisfying place. I was happy with the result and so was Jim.
I so wanted to have the California bear assistant in the image but space wouldn't permit it.
This was my second runner up. I liked the attitude and gag.
Too much about Jerry and not enough about California. What to do? What to do?
Take one from column A and add one from column B.

I can never be grateful enough to Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, McKimson and all the other brilliant minds behind Looney Tunes for all the joy and inspiration they've brought to my life from childhood to present.
Even as I worked this idea up the thought of repeating all those factories and oil drills had me wincing.
Interesting to think what this might have looked like as an old time B/W silent movie image.
Hmmm. Since 2008, my portrayals of Obama have gradually shifted from a confident, in control type of president, to someone expressing more hesitancy, lack of control, and even helplessness.