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.
This is a project I worked on for a local coffee bean importer named Heirloom Coffee, LLC. They needed labels for their different lines of coffee beans, starting with Vietnamese, Philippine and Sumatran brands.
The back story: the client was originally thinking along the lines of landscapes of each country for the labels, but other than that input, I was free to pursue my own concepts. I thought that the landscape idea may have worked on larger signage, but given the small size of the labels, (approx. 3” x 4.5”), I decided to try some simpler imagery.
My first concept was to have an illustration of a coffee cup on each label, and on each cup there would be a design or motif that was indicative of the country where the beans were from. The designs could be current or from antiquity; it didn’t matter. I used the diagonal background to further tie them together.
The second idea was to show a person from each country on each label, dressed in traditional or popular garb from that country. In the backgrounds would be the coffee bean plants from each region.
For the third set of sketches, I went back to the coffee cup with country-specific design theme. Only this time it was an aerial view. I further explored the concept of tying the three labels together graphically. I wanted each label to be part of a larger mosaic when seen together on a shelf.
The final concepts were more of an editorial approach. I had fun with these. In a way, I came full circle because these are landscapes, although very simplified: the coffee cup floating in Vietnam’s Halong Bay, on top of a Sumatran volcano and in a Rousseau-esque Philippine jungle.
The client picked door #2. They loved the idea of focusing on the indigenous people, since Heirloom donates a portion of their profits to help build schools and to create jobs for the local economies, and they are on a first-name basis with their growers. (The guy on the Liberica label is actually from Costa Rica, so we swapped him out).
I don’t have any of the actual printed labels yet but will post those at a later date.
Every illustrator would love to be able to fill up their time doing the very plum assignments, like Time magazine or New Yorker covers. But in reality a lot of us, myself included, must rely on getting some assignments that may be a little less glamorous but are no less important, to earn a living in this business. The bread and butter jobs. If it’s a project that you know fits your style and you have the time, why not do it? That’s how you build your client base.
When I got an email from Shape magazine asking me to do a series of plates of prepared food, comparing a healthy meal to a less healthy one, I didn’t hesitate to accept. I’ve illustrated a number of cookbooks so I was familiar with this type of work. I also knew the assignment would fill in a gap between a couple other jobs and that it would be fun and pretty straightforward. Art Directors Susanne Johansson and Sarah Munoz were great to work with and the job went very smoothly.
This all brings me to an exchange I had a long time ago with my former Greek landlord, who didn’t speak English very well. (He turned out to be a great landlord and a real gentleman). When I was a prospective tenant and he was interviewing me, he asked what I did for a living. I replied, “I’m an Illustrator, that’s my bread and butter.” He looked at me incredulously and asked, “You sell bread and butter?” Well Mr. Anastasopoulos, I guess I do sell bread and butter – sometimes.