I like writing. Writing requires time to put thoughts down coherently (well, at least for me). Time management has been my enemy because I find with each passing month that there seems to be less and less of it. No, not seems- is. The finishes go to press, the magazines come out and they pass out of consciousness before there's time to write a process blog. It's been an embarrassment of sorts to find myself posting so infrequently of late.
So I'm playing catch up here, posting some of my favorite illustrations from the past few months for some of my favorite mags and art directors.
So much of my early career was taking illustration assignments to pay for domestic responsibilities. Good fortune was with me in one sense that there was never a break in the work load. I would sometimes say, half jokingly, that the 25% of satisfying assignments would keep the enthusiasm going to do the other 75%. Now, after almost 40 years, my journey has gradually brought me to a point where most everything I agree to do nowadays holds an interest for me. I've been blessed with good, often long term working relationships with art directors and, probably more importantly, editors who get it and don't gum up the works and when they do weigh in, point out something I hadn't noticed or thought of; my response is not a sinking feeling. Most of the time.
I have always wanted to do a spoof of one of my favorite Ingre portraits. The opportunity presented itself when I received a call from Peter Kaplan, former managing editor of THE NEW YORK OBSERVER, for whom I had enjoyed 15 years of creating front page illustrations till he left the paper a few years back and moved on to running the fashion mags for Fairchild Publications. It was Peter whom I pressured to write up a promise of publication for me to obtain my press credentials to embed in Afghanistan back in 2011. Peter called describing the extensive interview writer Terry Golway had done with a sometimes testy NYC Mayor, Mike Bloomberg for his new Fairchild magazine, M, and said he wanted an illustration to accompany the interview. I've never seen Bloomberg as being someone with an easy sense of humor and in fact suspect he doesn't suffer fools well. I thought of the expression of one Monsieur Bertin sitting for Ingres and imagined Bloomberg cutting the same attitude. My sketch for Peter was looking so good I decided to continue to finish.
Another piece of visual reference that I enjoy playing off. From Dore's illustrations accompanying the Bible. This one takes inspiration from his depiction of Moses coming down from the mountain. It seemed a perfect image to complement the title of the article for THE AMERICAN PROSPECT- "Obama's Big F'n Deal". The writer focuses on three things the current administration has a chance of making an major impact on; where he has a chance to lay down some new rules.
Since the title of the story included the "BFD" it seemed redundant to repeat it on the tablets. Art director Mary Parsons, never anything less than a pleasure to work with, made a good call there. She did request, for the sake of continuity, that I take Obama out of biblical garb and dress him contemporary. It lessened some of the waviness and flow that looks so cool in Moses' robe in the original piece from Dore; I tried to compensate with stressing a dramatic gesture and add a little flutter to his jacket.
From the same issue, an essay calling on Obama to play more aggressively with the Republican congressional members.
Off and Running. For the very accommodating and easy to work with Ed Johnson, art director of THE NEW YORK OBSERVER. I had dropped away from the publication after Peter Kaplan left, feeling I needed a break as well. But Ed's been calling of late and we've had some good ones to collaborate on. This one was on the current New York City mayoral race- off and running.
Another one of those dream situations where the initial idea and sketch was working so well that all that mattered (no small matter, actually) next was translating the energy and sense of spontaneity into a finish. The only other suggestion was to add the "The Rent's Too High!" guy in the lower right corner.
Sometimes an article is as fascinating as it is frustrating to come up with an image that explains multiple themes and sub-themes. Such was the case with Matt Taibbi's slam on the 3 Strikes Law- "The Stupidest Law Ever" for ROLLING STONE's 'National Affairs' section. He addresses the current American legal system in a number of states- California being one of them-that helps to keep the prison population well stocked and in so many instances for minor, non-violent offenses that add up to 3 arrests and a lifetime behind bars. A kid caught smoking a joint for the third time can wind up in prison with real hardened criminals for the rest of his/her life. Insane. But he also writes of the layers of bureaucratic resistance to realizing the many ways the 3 strikes laws punish not only the non-violent offender but the integrity of the legal system itself.
It looked like we were getting close with this one which attempted to show how more than just the non-violent offender (in this case, a youth) are affected and locked together in a prison of negative consequences. This assignment was one of those assignments that every time it seemed like a piece would work and I could call it quits on sketched ideas, I'd come back yet again to take another crack at a better solution.
The youthful offender getting the book thrown at him for stealing a pair of sneakers (Chucks no less). Going for the exaggeration and dark humor. I liked this one and thought it would be a go. Close but no cigar.
Instead we ( RS art director, Mark Maltais, editors Will Dana and Eric Bates) wanted to try something playing off the idea of the long (and over-reactive) arm of the law doling out serious punishment.
An alternate version. You can probably guess one of the 15 influences I would reference in a Drawger blog if I tackle that challenge.
Yet another great team of people to work with. MOTHER JONES' Carolyn Perot and Tim Luddy. This story was quite a fascinating and complicated piece on a wildlife preserve in Africa where both environmentalists and corporate types entertain and lobby politicians, but with completely different agendas. Sometimes the same person at the same time. It was an article that seemed to remind me on one level that politics is like professional wrestling at times. Enemy lobbyists taking advantage of the same resources to win votes.
Another ROLLING STONE piece. "The GOP's Real Agenda". Published as the much dreaded and debated 'apocalyptic' sequester was happening, the story examined the various ways conservative Republicans have doubled down since the 2012 election and press for policies more extreme than ever. One of those jobs where the ideas were many and always lacking something, or many things, that pulled a bigger picture together.
I didn't see it as a Dems vs GOP thing so much since the Democrats have plenty of mud on their own suits. So I tried making it an Obama vs a multi-headed GOP monster image. Meh.
Carrying out a scorched earth policy as they retreat seemed like a good way to go.
Rather than just one Slim Pickens riding an H-bomb, how about a whole slew of Republicans.
Another situation where every time I thought I was out of ideas, another one would pop us as I was calling it quits. Here the focus was on simple. Just concentrate on a symbolic representation. This struck a chord, and it was approved. Even so, as I was working on the finish I emailed Mark Maltais one last time and questioned the representation of the elephant as a stereotypical redneck wondering instead whether it was smarter for him to be in a suit.
The finish. Gone is the tattoo and redneck look. It's suit and tie as a politician would dress.
Goddamit. We lost a good one today. No, a great one. Derek McConnell was one of the toughest characters I have had the privilege of drawing for the Joe Bonham Project. In relative terms of time, we spent very little with each other, yet the impact of that first meeting remains fresh in my memory. The hospital room was chaotic- his younger brother back in Jersey was being admitted to the emergency room and Derek's mother was, understandably very upset as she talked on the cell phone trying to get answers and clarification. Derek, for all his injuries, which were many, remained the calm in the storm, reminding his mom, in an assertive voice, that everything was okay as his brother was being attended to. We sat around his bed drawing. In a brief moment of calm I offered to Derek that maybe this wasn't a good time for sketching and we could do this later. He looked at us and commanded that we continue drawing. "Keep drawing. What's gonna happen is gonna happen." The tough North Jersey Irish kid couldn't have said it more succinctly. He was utterly unselfconscious about his wounds and the scars of the septic shock he experienced which he exposed for us to document. Later that year we were again at Walter Reed, part of an Arts and the Military week of events. I was one of the artists drawing the wounded vets who agreed to be subjects. Suddenly I was aware of someone saying hello. It was Derek with Krystina. Nothing had changed other than he was looking substantially stronger. The resolute, unflinching look in the eyes and the sweetest, gentlest, all embracing smile hadn't changed. We talked for a short while and he seemed in such great spirits.
This January when I was receiving my gold medal (not knowing about the Hamilton King award) from the Society of Illustrators, I had invited Derek and Krystina to attend the event as they were in Jersey. Unfortunately, a mere half day separated us from their returning to Walter Reed and the night's ceremony. It seemed so right to have him there as he was hanging on the walls at the time. We were down at Walter Reed last Thursday and unable to see him as he had been admitted, unexpectedly, to the hospital. He had been residing at the outpatient Bldg. 62 and planning on returning to Jersey with his fiancee, Krystina. All systems seemed to be on go and he was progressing well walking on his prosthetic legs. His attitude was great and his thoughts were on the future. Derek's support system was strong. I was so looking forward to drawing him in his progress. And then the phone call from Mike Fay this evening asking me if I had seen the Facebook posting. I know what I am feeling right now. I cannot imagine what those who spent their lives with him are feeling. It was an unforgettable honor to have spent time with him.
The months have flown by and I have been unable to post recent work done for ROLLING STONE. The assignments continue to challenge me, in a good way, to create new ideas on topics frequently re-visited. The economy, the environment, the GOP, Obama, marijuana. Fortunately, the writing is always first rate- and if it's a piece by Matt Taibbi, very funny to boot- and somewhere during the reading of the copy connections are made and images pop to mind. Sometimes the sketches turn out close to perfect and are done with great ease; other times there is real head scratching effort in distilling all the complicated elements of a maze-like story ( the economy pieces often fall into this category, reading like detective novels) into one understanable image. Ultimately what winds up on the pages is very satisfactory to the editors, art director Joe Hutchinson, and me.
Post election round up with James Carville. Interview by Tim Dickinson. What went wrong?? Big business/Monopoly man stunned by the results.
I also made a stab at Rove as a failed magician. The big game hunter concept won out.
Don't know why but Obama as Teddy Roosevelt bagging the big elephant seemed a perfect metaphor. Originally I wanted Karl Rove, of FOX-TV election night meltdown fame, to be the elephant. But it was suggested that Obama be more equal in scale with the pachyderm and to lose Rove's head.
There are enough photos of TR by one of his safari kills to find a suitable pose. The trick here was morphing Obama in TR. This sketch simply flowed and the go ahead came quick.
Reefer gladness or Obama's Pot Problem. Also by Tim Dickinson. Examining the voting results in the states legalizing recreational pot smoking and wondering if the administration would continue its aggressive policy of enforcement. Wac-A-Mole popped into my head on first read. Nothing more needed to be done from editorial's point of view except for tweaking the characters and their positioning.
I was also becoming more aware of the frown element in Obama's expression the longer he's been president and started to stress that here.
Secrets and Lies of the Bailout. A brutal piece of journalism from Matt Taibbi. Essentially examining and following the money. Who gets away with these crimes and who will wind up footing the bill. Here was a case where the sketches were great fun to do even as they frustrated because of the need to make sure the elements of the story worked together. Finally nailed it on this one and Joe agreed. The opener.
The mag needed a couple extra spots for the article. This was a sketch of Larry Summers, who along with Tim Geithner, is portrayed as a calculating fabricator of promises of bank compliance. It was decided to go with an image of Geithner.
Uncle Sam endlessly emptying his own pockets to keep propping up too big to fail banks. Didn't make the final cut.
Hank Paulson scaring the bejeezus out of legislators with predictions of immediate economic collapse if they didn't pony up $800 Billion right away that came with no accountability. Loved this sketch because I happily found some reference of Paulson making very weird expressions.
Obama's Climate Challenge. Originally titled, Is It Time to Save the World, Mr. President?
The notion of time running out for something to be done, Obama's relative inaction his first term, and his opportunity now in his second. The idea of the alarms going off for the planet had me think of this.
Obama as Clark Kent finally, maybe, going into action.
Even as I was playing with the Superman spoof idea, the iconic Harold Lloyd image popped into the back of my head. I've always loved that image and don't believe I've ever really had a chance to play with it in an illustration. This struck a note with everyone at RS. Go to finish.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To Pick Up a Gold Medal
This was my original posting from a couple days back:
"My first thought when Anelle Miller first informed me that I had won a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators for the combat art done during my embed in Afghanistan in 2011 that appeared, with an app, in GQ online along in July of 2012, was "Shit. Now I'm really going to have to do something to justify this recognition." I would have been very satisfied just to have the work included in the show. The gold took me by surprise.
I've already described much of the process of getting there, drawing and writing, and getting the work published in an earlier DRAWGER posting last July titled "The Embed in the Stan". I cannot emphasize enough that while I did do the drawings and journals, I did not build this by myself. I never could have gotten the clearance to go over there had not my friend and editor, Peter Kaplan, signed off on the waivers and journalist accredidations necessary to get a media pass, even though we weren't entirely sure where the work would eventually run, though Peter had a good idea. Peter also acted as coach and editor after I returned as I collected all my journals and worked on putting a cohesive story together. That said, the work still would have never seen the light of day had not Fred Woodward of GQ gone to bat for me in a big way to get the work published. The app itself would never have happened had not Fred assigned Jeffrey Kurtz to put it together into such an impressive presentation. The editors and fact checkers at GQ impressed me with their thoroughness and high standards for accuracy and integrity. There was also all the incredibly helpful advice and connections offered by people like fellow combat artists, Michael Fay, Steve Mumford and Roman Genn that helped to keep the stress levels down during the preparation stage. There were the incredible men and women of the Dustoff and Public Affairs teams who were so generous with their time and assistance while I was there in Kandahar and even after I returned, proof reading and providing further clarity and elaborations on parts of my journals that needed such. And of course there was the support of my wife, Terri, and my sons who had the sense of humor to suppress their concerns for a non Alpha dog type of guy to head over by himself to a war zone doing something he had never done before. I still hope to return at the very least once more before things wind down completely there. It was an experience that fueled new inspiration for what I'd like to do over the next 20 years or so.
I am happy to say that a selection of my drawings of seriously wounded vets returning from the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a painting done for Broadway producer Jeffrey Richards, are also part of the Society exhibit that will run through January.
Well, that's what I wrote and, other than the closing sentence, that's pretty much what I had committed to memory for my acceptance speech. It was going to be a great night despite the head cold that I woke up with Friday morning. Chicken soup, vitamin C, lots of medicinal teas were keeping it in check. Two of our three sons, Alex, and Ben with his wife, Maggie, had come from California and Chicago to attend the event as well and it was a pleasure introducing them to Society and Drawger members during the refreshment hour. Even my younger brother, Dan, came into town for the event and he hates NYC. Terri, of course, looked great and holding court on her own.
Standing toward the front of the impressive crowd in the gallery, so that I wouldn't have to work my way through the sea of bodies when my name got called, I stood with family while Society president, Dennis Dittrich and our director, Anelle Miller, made the opening comments. Half listening while going over my speech, making last minute mental edits, I kept my eyes on the front stage. Anelle then made an announcement that the awards event would begin with the Hamilton King presentation. She described the history of the award, who Hamilton King was, the fact that it was a one time only presentation to an illustrator. The list was flashed on the screen of all the past recipients- an unmistakeable assembly of heavy hitters. I returned to the mental editing of my comments. Didn't want to make them too long but didn't want to forget anyone or anything that needed mention. Besides the extra time on the Hamilton King presentation would allow me to keep adjusting the sentences.
It really does happen. The same way everything goes into slow motion in a head on collision. I was probably half listening, at the very least, for 30 seconds to Anelles's introduction before my attention returned to some focus on the situation around me. Looking at the screen it occured to me that the name on the screen was mine. The flashing images were mine. Anelle was talking about me. It seemed that, in a break with protocol, it was decided not to inform me of the honor. Terri, my sons, Anelle, the Society staff, the voting members, had demonstrated incredible restraint in not letting me in on the decision.
"Oh Lord I am not worthy..."
Recovering Cathiolic that I may be the ingrained indoctrination (it never really goes away) resurfaced and I felt a sense of embarrassment at being included in such esteemed company. As I said before, it's an honor just to make it into the SI Annual. The gold medal was beyond what I had expected but I had made peace with receiving it. But the Hamilton King? Something was wrong. There was a mistake- this was such an overreach on the part of the HK voting members. This was not really happening. But it was. By the time Anelle read a congratulatory note from my friend and mentor, Bernie D'Andrea, which had Terri in tears, whatever I had prepared to say for the gold acceptance was erased and I was drawing a huge blank for words as I made my way to the stage to deal with the present situation. In the movies when someone gets surprised like this, they somehow recover and go on to deliver a remarkable, coherent, and moving speech with music slowly soaring in the background. That didn't happen here. I grasped in the mental void for words to describe my gratitude, and, yes, embarrassment, for the honor. I don't remember a thing I said. I don't recall much of what I said when retuning for the gold medal acceptance either, other than remembering to give credit to Peter, Fred, and Jeffrey. I'm sure much was left out. I'm still digesting this remarkable night and it will be a while before this recognition really sinks in.
What I do remember is being in the company of treasured family, good friends, and fellow illustrators and Society members whom I hold in the highest regard and affection. Not enough thanks and praise can be given to Anelle, house manager John Capobianco, Chef Q, and the Society staff for their outstanding service in making this such a great night for everyone.
Saturday. Ben had left with Maggie at midnight to return to Chicago. Terri had to work with clients for most of the day. Alex and I took a ride out to Jersey for a reality check, attending services for an old friend, an accomplished artist, who passed away on New Year's eve. We returned to New York with enough time to see the George Bellows exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. Another kind of reality check. We walked through the various rooms in awe of the tour de force brilliance and bravura of this master painter and graphic artist. Yes, he was also an illustrator in the best sense of the word; a fantastic reportorial artist capturing the energy and characters of the times he lived in. To stand in front of his paintings was to be humbled in a good way and reminded how much more I needed to explore and learn hoping at some point to successfully bring a distillation of that energy into my own work. I still have much to do to earn these distinctions bestowed last night. But, that's what makes the creative process fun.
Middle son and Emmy winning animator, Alexander, Scruffy, his better half, Terri, youngest son SSgt Benjamin USMC, his better half, Maggie. Not in attendance but there in spirit- eldest son, Max, his wife Joyce and the grandkids, Magnus, Joli and Milo.
Also missing- the object of Alex's affections, Sarah.