Edel Rodriguez
June 2011
TASCHEN Portraits

My work has been published in a new book by the art publisher TASCHEN.   The book is a collection of contemporary portraiture, edited by Julius Wiedemann, with an introduction by Steve Heller.  It's available online here.  Below are the portraits that were selected for the book.
Ray Barretto, The New Yorker Magazine, acrylic and ink on paper
Arthur Russell, The New Yorker Magazine, mixed media
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, The Los Angeles Times, acrylic on paper
Melvin Van Peebles, The New Yorker, mixed media
Joseph Stalin, TIME Magazine, pastel and ink on paper

Nixon in China, portrait of Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-Tung, Vancouver Opera, acrylic on paper

Pope John Paul II, TIME Magazine, pastel, ink, and acrylic on paper

Raul Castro, TIME magazine, mixed media

Judge Ruth Bader Binsburg, The New York Times, mixed media

Osama Bin Laden, TIME Magazine, pastel and ink on papyrus

Al Sharpton, The New Republic, mixed media

The Right Match

This is a new image for art director Soojin Buzelli at Planadviser magazine.   The direction from Soojin was very open ended and fun, simply to create something related to "searching for the right tools or finding the right match".   I worked with those themes in my preliminary sketches shown below.  The painting is acrylic on bark paper, 16" x 23".


Book Covers

This is a collection of recent book cover commissions from a variety of publishers, along with some of the process that went into putting them together.   I did all of the hand lettering on these covers.   The first is a book jacket for "Dancing Home", a new book from Simon & Schuster.   The book is about the stories of two Mexican girls, one that has come to America and the other one who has stayed behind.  It has also been published in Spanish as "Nacer Bailando".  Art Director - Lauren Rille
Rough sketches for Dancing Home

wraparound jacket

"Home and Exile" is the latest in my series of ten covers for books by Chinua Achebe that are being published by Random House.   This book is a collection of Achebe's essays about growing up under colonial rule in Nigeria.  Art Director - John Gall
"A moving account of an exceptional life...Achebe reveals the innner workings of the human conscience through the predicaments of Africa and his own intellectual life...A story of the triumph of the mind, told in the words of one of this century's most gifted writers.  The book is bound to be a classic of its kind."  —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
sketches for 'Home and Exile"

final art

"Double-Click for Trouble" is a young adult novel published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.  The story focuses on the topic of internet pornography as it relates to teenagers.  The main characters and the reading audience are teens so this was a tricky one to pull off.  I had some fun with the sketches.
sketches for "Double-Click for Trouble"

"Leaving Glorytown" is a story about a boy living in Communist Cuba in the 1960s and his emmigration to America.  I've done a lot of reportage drawings on my own trips back to Cuba and worked in that vain for this book jacket.   Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux.
Some of the other sketches for "Leaving Glorytown"

final pencil study

"Fusion" is my first foray into doing covers for digital books.   This book was self-published by the author, Edward Iwata, and will be available as an e-book via Amazon and other digital outlets.   I treat all of the rights, usage and fees in the same manner I would a printed book.
sketches for "Fusion"

This is a collection of stories by authors such as H.G. Wells, Dickens, and Kipling, published in Italian.  The publisher, Einaudi, saw one of my existing drawings and wanted to use it as the book cover.

Finally, this is another case of existing art used as a cover.  This art was originally published in The New York Times, accompanying a review of the book "Christine Falls", about a beautiful, unidentified, female body that sits, unclaimed, at a coroner's office.  The novel is about trying to find out who she is, her identity, etc.  The book was published in Israel as well, and the publisher wanted to use the art on the cover for their edition.
Gardens of Paradise poster

In March, I received a message from Bernardo Ruiz, the director of an upcoming film titled Gardens of Paradise.   He wanted me to work on a poster and branding for the film, which will start showing up at festivals this Fall.   The documentary follows the life of Sergio Cordero, an editor and photojournalist at the Tijuana weekly newspaper ZETA, during a wave of unprecedented violence against journalists in Mexico.  Last year there were more journalists killed in Mexico than in Iraq, mostly due to the violence related to the ongoing battles between various drug gangs and the Mexican state.   A number of Sergio's colleague's have been killed, the film is a reflection of this loss, and the changes that the country continues to go through.
The film is still in editing and production, I've seen some pieces as it has developed over the last couple of months.   Below is some of the development for the poster as I worked with Bernardo while he flew back and forth to Tijuana while filming.   The film is produced by Quiet Pictures and funded by The Ford Foundation, the Sundance Documentary Fund, and ITVS

The first step in the process was to watch clips of the film to get an idea of the tone and look at production stills for some visual cues.   The title "Gardens of Paradise" comes from Jardines del Paraiso, the town's cemetery.  Above are some stills taken at the funeral home and cemetery.  Below are other photographs from Northern Mexico.

Bernardo Ruiz filming in Mexico

These are my initial brainstorming sketches, dealing with mortality, gardens, etc.   The story is more of a personal reflection so the director liked the focus on Sergio, the journalist at the center of the film.   I developed more ideas based on him, those sketches are below.

The journalist drives all over the countryside to follow leads and interview subjects.  The idea of the rearview mirror worked well with the concept of reflection, moving forward while looking at the past.   Also gives a hint at being cautious, looking out for danger, etc.   A number of the killings in Mexico have happened on the highways.   I lightened the contrast and colors on the final to reflect the quieter tone of the film.  Also collaged some clippings from the newspaper ZETA into the background.  
I tried some hand lettering for the title, but in the end the set type made more sense with the overall design

Here is an article on the newspaper, ZETA, if you'd like to read more about it and the current state of journalism in northern Mexico:  Tijuana newspaper excels at drug war coverage
Podcast Interview

This is a new podcast interview about my work as an illustrator, how I started, my process, etc.   You can check it out online here .   Thanks to Thomas James for putting it together.
Op-Ed: The Shame of Serbia
This is for today's New York Times Op-Ed page, on the arrest of Ratko Mladic, titled "The Shame of Serbia", article online here.    The opinion piece centers around the idea that "Mladic's arrest does not get rid of the mark of shame that has stained the Serbian people for two decades".   The politicians in Serbia want to move on and be considered for membership in the European Union.  But the writer feels that many Serbs still sypathize with Mladic and the ideas that caused the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in towns like Srebernica.  He thinks that the country is losing a "chance to open a painful but necessary debate about the past."  Here is a video news clip that explains some of the history.
These are some of the rough sketches, working with the idea of removing a stain or washing hands

This is another news story that has gone full circle for me.   Back in 1995, after months of atrocities in the Balkans, NATO secured a cease-fire by bombing the Serbian troops which were led by Mladic.   Jane Frey was the art director for the international editions of TIME and she asked me if I had any ideas on the late breaking story.   I did a small sketch, she liked it, and ended up finishing it overnight.   I was 24, just starting out, and it ended up being my first cover for the magazine.
The War on Terror

The killing of Osama bin Laden has revived the old debate about whether or not torture works.   The painting above is for a recent article in The Washington Post titled "Torture-lite:It's wrong, and it might work", which goes into detail about the thinking that went into implementing these techniques soon after 9/11.


With a decade of wars and the killing of Bin Laden, I thought I'd take this moment to look back and show some of the work I've done over these years.   I visit schools often but don't see much politically oriented work being created by the students.   I'm sometimes asked by students how my work developed, or how I got into doing this kind of work.  I’ve met a couple of foreign students who have told me that their interest in politics or displays of their ethnicity is discouraged, that they are often encouraged to pursue a more commercial or decorative direction in their work.   I found this to be odd advice so I thought some of this might help others that may be trying to find a direction.


My interest in politics started early.  I was always interested in following current events and was into subjects like European history in high school.  Since my family was affected by dictatorship, Communism, etc., I think I was trying to make sense of all of that at an early age.   While in high school, I was looking for college scholarships and found one sponsored by TIME magazine.   I applied, which basically consisted of illustrating a hypothetical TIME cover, and won the competition, which gave me some money for college.  Along with the scholarship, I got a free subscription to TIME and started getting the magazine every week.  My parents didn't subscribe to any news or English language magazines at our house so this was a big deal for me.   I just started reading more and more about current events and became very interested in the artwork that showed up in the magazine. 


At my college library, I came across another magazine called The Progressive, which was art directed by Patrick J.B. Flynn.  All of the work in The Progressive was very inspiring.   I ended up sending copies of my drawings to Patrick and he gave me one of my first assignments while I was still in college.  I studied abroad for a summer and traveled around Europe for the first time.  My interest in history, politics, and current events continued.   I kept sketchbooks on my travels and some of those drawings became part of my portfolio.   When I was looking for a design job, I ended up getting in touch with Steve Conley, an art director at TIME magazine.  I showed him my drawings and design work, and began working there as a designer.   Over the years, some of the art directors on the TIME staff began giving me illustration assignments and this kind of work developed further.  


An unexpected result of all of this was that I began to get book cover and film poster assignments for stories that dealt with the intersection of religion, war, immigration and other cultural issues. 

My first portrait of Osama Bin Laden was around 1998 for TIME's Spotlight page, which was being art directed by Ken Smith.  This was sometime after the bombings of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  Bin Laden's name had come up as a possible suspect in the bombings, though people were not very aware of him at the time.  There wasn't even much photo reference on him so I had to make up a lot of his features.   As a result of being a suspect in the bombings, Bin Laden was thrown out of Sudan, where he had lived for a few years.   He left Sudan and sought refuge in Afghanistan with the Taliban. 
During the weeks after 9/11, attention shifted to Afghanistan.  The U.S. was trying to negotiate with the Taliban into turning over Bin Laden.   No one was clear on who the leader of the Taliban was, and rumors of a blind fighter started to circulate toward the end of the week.    This was Mullah Muhammad Omar and  I was asked to turn around another spotlight for TIME overnight.  There were no photographs of him at all, so I had to make him up based on a very rough description of what he might look like.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban went into hiding and bombings became the norm in Kabul.   This was for an Op-Ed in The New York Times

In the Spring of 2004, TIME published a Special Issue, a listing of the world's most influential people at that time.   This was my second Bin Laden portrait, published in that issue.

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Al Qaeda, under the leadership of Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, began a series of bombing campaigns, kidnappings and beheadings throughout the country.   This portrait of Zarqawi was also published in TIME's special issue.

A spread for Foreign Policy magazine
Cover for TIME from 2003, soon after the invasion of Iraq.
A cover for The New Republic, after the capture of Saddam Hussein

Al Qaeda in Iraq, for Foreign Policy magazine

Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Shia Mahdi army that fought against the Americans in Iraq, for Foreign Policy magazine
In 2006, Abu-Musab al Zarqawi was killed in Iraq.   I had an idea of doing a portrait of him out of sand, sort of blowing away or disappearing.   I worked with sand over a piece of paper under a camera setup in one of the photo studios at the magazine.   We photographed it and put a cover together.   This was unpublished, the magazine ended up going with Tim O'Brien's cover of the "X" over Zarqawi's portrait.
The treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo for the Harvard Law Bulletin
Torture memos and finding an exit strategy for articles in The New York Times

Newsweek cover, after the death of Osama Bin Laden

for The New York Times, the day after the death of Bin Laden
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