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Alan Witschonke
Painting for the ACLU
posted:
Final painting

This is the story of a fun, but tricky, assignment for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. I was contacted by Creative Director Vernon Ellis of Grossman Marketing in Somerville, MA to do an illustration which would be used for the invitations, program cover and a poster for their annual “Bill of Rights” fundraising dinner on May 20th. The original art will be either auctioned off, given to the largest donor, given to the invited host or kept by the ACLU. The last time they commissioned an illustration for this project, in 2010, it was done by Shepard Fairey. 
Publicity photo of Kathleen Turner

Each year, the ACLU invites a guest celebrity to create buzz and generate donations. Last year they were graced by Harry Belafonte. Other honorees have included Rosa Parks, Kurt Vonnegut, Carl Sagan, Julian Bond and Senator Edward Kennedy. This year, the special guest is actress Kathleen Turner. The theme of the dinner is the progress that has been made for women’s rights. Ms. Turner will be performing a skit that celebrates the life of Molly Ivins, the late columnist, populist, political commentator, humorist and author. Also being honored is Lilly Ledbetter, the leader of the fight against gender pay discrimination and for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is named.
Kicking off the motif of strong, bold, fearless women, the ACLU chose the iconic image of “Rosie the Riveter” for their “Save the Date” postcards.


The ACLU suggested a hybrid image combining Rosie the Riveter, the Statue of Liberty, (which is part of their logo), and Kathleen Turner. I had reservations that this would make for a muddled and confusing illustration. So I proceeded with some sketches that contained Kathleen’s face and just one of the other elements that they wanted.

I also played around a bit with the idea of physical strength, and breaking free. There were other, less successful concepts that I tried.

But it quickly became clear that they had a specific vision they wanted to convey. Vernon gallantly went to bat for me and tried to make a case for a simpler approach, but we were out-voted. At this point, I asked to see what they had produced in 2010 to check it for complexity. Sure enough, they had apparently asked Shepard Fairey to do an illustration of the Statue of Liberty in a protester’s pose with Patty Larkin’s face. So I worked with what they wanted and came up with a sketch that incorporated the Statue of Liberty in the Rosie the Riveter pose, with Kathleen Turner’s face. I reasoned that this was an approach that they wanted to continue forward with future fundraisers.
I got approval on the sketch and completed the final painting (the image at the top of the post). The ACLU  asked me to paint in a variation of the “We Can Do It!” slogan from the Rosie the Riveter poster. The last hurdle was the amount of texture in the background. I had been hired, in part, because the client liked the rough backgrounds I had been doing. When I emailed a scan of the finished art to Vernon, I predicted that the ACLU might have a problem with the painterly background. Vernon presented the art to the client and, indeed, they asked me to tone down the background.
In Photoshop, I was able to soften things a bit. It went through three reductions until they decided to just make it smooth, like the Rosie poster.
It was an honor working for an organization such as the ACLU. I hope that they and the design firm were happy with the results.
2010 Program by Shepard Fairey

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Witschonke is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!