A new little gouache painting for Marti Golon at Readers Digest. I was so thrilled when Marti called me with this wonderful story. her initial idea was to do a portrait of this little penguin as a portrait in an old style, retro bathing suit. staring out at the sea. I did work through some thumbnails in this direction, but was such a magical story that i wanted to add some element that would make it a bit more. I remembered the surreal poster for one of my favorite movies "Being There" 1979.
In the poster, "Chance" (Peter Sellers) the gardener floats in the air above the pool. It was a take off on the surreal floating men Rene' Magritte had painted.
The rough penguin in the thumbnail was a little odd so I spread his wings apart to make the whole thing read better and gave him a nice bit of attitude.
I was a little confused a to call his wings arms but Forest assures me "wings" were proper. Although according to him "flippers" was perfectly alright as well.
Marti was very specific about the type of penguin.... The Story is about a Magellanic penguin living in a Boarding School in Argentina.
The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) is a South American penguin, breeding in coastal Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands, with some migrating to Brazil where they are occasionally seen as far north as Rio de Janeiro. It is the most numerous of the Spheniscus penguins. Its nearest relatives are the African, the Humboldt penguin and the Galápagos penguins. The Magellanic penguin was named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted the birds in 1520.
The original painting, I had followed some reference on old bathing suits. Marti felt the holes on the sides looked a bit odd...
One new little trick I learned on this was painting the clouds with a paper towel to get the softness and it worked great. I will use that again...
I pulled together reference on the Magellanic penguins and vintage bathing suits...I decided to put the penquin in a straw Boater hat... Sort of added a little something more from that era... I did a few tighter thumbnail sketches from the original scribbles. The editors pick was the floating penquin. When I was finished with the paining it seemed like it needed something. So i thought about adding a beach ball or a toy boat to make it a bit more playful.
When I sent over to Marti she didn't really have an opinion about the boat but was more in love with the stripes on the suit in the sketch. I had decided to pull back on the color and make the bathing suit fall back into the illustration and thought the clouds and the beach would carry the color in the painting. I must have struggled for hours trying to make this change in photoshop befor just going back and painting over the grey in the original painting. sometimes the more obvious solutions are better. Decided to nix the boat too.
The one suggestion I wished I had pushed was one that came late into the painting. Lee suggested that it would be better if he was floating above a roof top pool...
This looking back at would have been a great way to add a bit more surreal feeling to the painting but I was finished with it, everthing was approved, and that was a totally new painting.
So the final painting stayed pretty much intact with the small addition of a striped bathing suit.
Much thanks to the Art Director, the incredible Marti Golon, and the rest of the folks at Readers Digest for a fun project. You guys are the best.
I have been playing with these gouache paintings for some time now. They have been a joy to explore. Sometimes they fail miserably but I aways learn something from each of these little failures. It seems like the subject matter may sometimes seem a bit dark and creepy. I am thinking it's a natural perception because of the surreal nature of the subject matter. No matter how hard I try, they never seem to be as good as I want them to be. Maybe time to rethink the subject matter and make it more accessable. I read something recently that Sam Weber said in an interview. “Of the first couple of dry years, Sam said that it was only when he shifted his subject matter to be more accessible that he became popular. He likened it to two slightly overlapping circles. In one is the work you like to do. The other contains what people want.”
I was always thinking about this as a direction for my illustration. A way to expand to a different type of assignment work… This got me thinking about the subjects I have been painting. Expanding toward a more usable subject. We’ll see where that goes.
I also recently ran across a lecture Milton Glaser gave on the "Fear of Failure." Failing is how we grow as artists. The path to success as an illustrator may be to do one thing/style/brand, and promote just that one style. The problem with this is that clients keep coming back to you to have you illustrate in proximity of something you have done before. This Success model may be in contradiction to what makes you successful as an artist. Don’t be afraid to try new things and fail at what you’re doing. You learn from your failures. This has me thinking a lot about the where these little paintings are going...Where I am going as an illustrator. Sometimes people trap us ito our identity as artists and it's hard to escape. I do love the exploration and groth you get in personal work. But I love working with art directors and designers in a creative team.It's so rewarding. I can't imagine giving that up.
I get bored pretty quickly and I am surprised at how long I have spent doing these little gouache paintings. Might be time to break out the art school oils and try to get a little richer color and depth in the work.
A recent interview I did with WOW x WOW October 06 2015 about fear of failing.
"The Future of Farming" The Nuts and Bolts of How We Will Feed the World.
Detail of robot head from the spread.
I got an email from My Rep Tricia about a new job for Newsweek. She said the art director had emailed me but had not heard from me. I had been travelling to Kansas to do a symposium at Kansas University, and out of pocket. I found the email in my junk mail file so responded right away, just picked up the phone and called Grace directly.
Grace Lee at Priest+Grace, Just love the stuff they have been doing in 8x8. So smart... great design work... I really wanted to do this, and cover for Newsweek. I had not done a Newsweek cover since the early nineties. Anyway she said she really loved my gouache drawings but that I could do whatever style I wanted. I thought it would be a little different, painting it rather than airbrush/digital like the "Beasties." The timing was great, they had a couple of weeks to get it done. Grace had a great idea to do a take off on American Gothic by Grant Wood. I have always loved his paintings. Such rich color. His landscapes are full of movement and detail...
I think getting started was not so easy. I got back to the studio to some normal distractions. I left with a tree crew cutting up a huge tree that I watched fall from the window next to my drawing board. Fortunately it didn't destroy anything . and unfortunatly, since it didn't destroy anything, the insurance would not cover removal of all the debris. I had to fly out and leave the guys chopping up the trees and debris and head for the airport. When I got back into the studio there was still alot of storm stuff that needed to be addressed but I decided first things first. COFFEE... coffee brewing. i heard a drip in the hallway. Leaky roof... ugh... went to grab a bucket out of the bath and noticed there was water all over the floor... Leaky roof, leaking sink... Okay shut off the water... bucket under the dripping hall ceiling... Now on to thumbnails....
tighter thumbnail sketches trying to work out the robots...
I don't know why, but when i started I felt like I had forgotten how to draw completely. The best way to get over this is usually to just jump in both feet, and start doing thumbnails. I did a page full of about thirty or so. the next morning another handfull. I didn't really come up with anything better than Grace's idea. so we took off in that direction.
Revised sketch of the cover robots... Now that I am revisiting this I think I like that down turned mouth on the lady-bot... At the time I thought the expression was too negative.
Somehow I did put down a few ideas that seemed to fit... I thought Grace's idea was my favorite also, so i did a tighter sketch... This sketch was a little awkward...I think the revised robots worked much better... Too much time is sometimes a bad thing. I tend to procrastinate... do color studies... FIx the drippy sink... take a long walk..
color studies... trying to work out colors before starting on the finished painting... (Really just procrastinating)
I tied shifting the color from the orange to green to try to make it work well for the type and design. But Grace decided the over saturated version worked best for her.
Back to the original thumbnails for a quick idea for the spread....
I had two week to do the cover... I took a week and a half to get it done. Sometimes work expands to fit the time available. We delivered the cover art on Wednesday....Wednesday afternoon, Grace wrote back and said they were planning to do a farming issue and wondered if I would like to do a spread.... Forest called me while I was driving out to take a hike. This art had to be done by Monday morning... Tighter deadline... I did the sketches, sent them off when I got back to the studio.
Added a few more the next morning. Grace had me fill out the page more. She said they really didn't need so much room for type. She chose the "Heroic" robot C. I filled the frame more. When I painted it I thought it would be appropriate to keep that same "Grant Wood" style in the landscape... I pushed the colors warmer and more fall like... Fall has not gotten down here yet... but cool weather has and the chill in the air means it will be here soon.
The cover illustration took a week and a half; this one took two and a half days including sketches...
I kept the background saturated with warm evening light and the robot in a pure shadow, to make him stand out. I really had intended to keep it darker, but opted for kind of a medium shadow acoss his body and face. This would allow his eyes to glow...
I thought the paintings worked out really well. Big thanks to Grace Lee and Priest+Grace for thinking of me for this project... It was certainly a blast getting to work with them... And the cover and spread looked great put together...
Grace wrote back and said they loved the art, and they had another magazine called 8x8 and would love for me to do something for them on that down the road. Wouldn't that be a BLAST?
I have been experimenting with some new digital directions. Always searching for new directions and techniques to play with. These three pieces turned out pretty well.
I was trying some limited color pieces to add to the somber tone. The text on the bomb hanging in the top piece is persian for "Peace." another piece I did for Earth Day... also a little dark and forboding. All of these pieces had a similar feel and theme.
Also continuing to play with some expansion in the gouache paintings... A few more interesting palettes that seem to work... In between deadlines it has been a good way to keep the hands busy... Some revisited themes that always seem to surface...