Reworking My Style (It Never Ends)

Here's another version of "Alison" or "My Aim is True." My original sketch was in bubble gum pink, and after showing it to my illustrator-friend, Lisa Adams, who I often rely on for art direction, I decided to go back to the original color scheme. Does it work? Is it too busy now? Is the peachy orange version better? I've looked at this one for too long, so I'll leave it be. Time to move on.

Working on My Style

I've worked in several different styles throughout my career, for a variety of clients. It's always me, my hand and my brain, but because I draw storyboards as well as graphics and spot illustrations, I haven't developed one, clear, recognizable look. So that's what I'm working on these days.

This is an illustration based on an assignment I gave my Junior Illustration class (at Otis College of Art) last year. This illo is based on the song "Alison" from the album "My Aim is True" by Elvis Costello.

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Past Prime

Here's an illustration for a short story about how a middle aged man felt insulted when offered a senior discount at a grocery store.

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Sketchbooks

When you see a photo of an artist's studio space, there's usually a beautiful, tattered stack of waterlogged sketchbooks on the shelf. I always assume they're filled with every genius idea the artist ever thought up, with page after page of wonder and creative brilliance-which makes me very jealous. My own sketchbook use has been sporadic, with several years skipped entirely. This is partly due to my preference for sketching assignments on loose paper, so I can keep making changes without getting attached (bound paper seems so precious). It's also because it hasn't been part of my practice or process. It's a habit I need.

I do have a couple of important sketchbooks I would save if my house were on fire (after Larry and Penny, of course). One is from my travels in Indonesia. Even though it was more than twenty years ago, when I look at one of the portraits I drew while backpacking across Bali, Jakarta and Sumatra, I'm transported to that very moment. It was a special time and a great experience, and the sketchbook is a treasure to me.

Besides being a favorite keepsake or memento,  the practice of keeping a sketchbook is a way to keep your ideas alive and experiment with different mediums. In my never ending evolution as an artist, I hope my sketchbooks will help me to stay with an idea long enough to see where it can take me or allow me to see interesting themes emerge in my work. This is new territory so I'll keep you posted. After all, this is a blog.  

Here's a story about the excellent Scott Bakal and his sketchbooks.

The 2015 Summer Invitational: Pimp Your Sketchbooks, continues with Scott Bakal, who lives and works in the Boston area, and makes sketchbooks an important part of his discovery process. The first sketchbooks, really sketch pads, I had were way back in elementary and junior high school. I still have many of them thanks to my Mom. The earliest drawings I've found were from second grade. Those sketchpads contained things that I thought were cool like band logos and hot rods and interpretations of Dungeons & Dragons characters. Years later, when I was a student at SVA, I was told frequently to keep a sketchbook. I didn't know what that really meant at the time other than a place to work on illustration jobs.

The 2015 Summer Invitational: Pimp Your Sketchbooks, continues with Scott Bakal, who lives and works in the Boston area, and makes sketchbooks an important part of his discovery process.

The first sketchbooks, really sketch pads, I had were way back in elementary and junior high school. I still have many of them thanks to my Mom. The earliest drawings I've found were from second grade. Those sketchpads contained things that I thought were cool like band logos and hot rods and interpretations of Dungeons & Dragons characters.

Years later, when I was a student at SVA, I was told frequently to keep a sketchbook. I didn't know what that really meant at the time other than a place to work on illustration jobs.

  Only later, I started using sketchbooks as an experimental tool and a way to try out new media and different ways of working. My work sketchbooks are 11x14 spiral books that I do all of my rough pencil sketches in. I still use them today but strictly for work related drawing. Now I keep both types of sketchbooks and have many going at the same time. I've seen many nice sketchbooks by super cool friends but I think Barron Storey and Rob Dunlavey and some others use sketchbooks in a way that I can relate to.

 

Only later, I started using sketchbooks as an experimental tool and a way to try out new media and different ways of working. My work sketchbooks are 11x14 spiral books that I do all of my rough pencil sketches in. I still use them today but strictly for work related drawing. Now I keep both types of sketchbooks and have many going at the same time.

I've seen many nice sketchbooks by super cool friends but I think Barron Storey and Rob Dunlavey and some others use sketchbooks in a way that I can relate to.

I was in bands for quite a few years and I think a sketchbook is like the equivalent of putting a cassette into a tape deck, pressing “record” and just letting the tape run while rehearsing, catching all of the mistakes, the restarts, chatter, successes and failures. That's what I want to see in a sketchbook and I think that's what they're meant for. For traveling I use a few different sketchbooks. The standard 5x8 ones or the small Japanese accordion folded ones are great to walk around with. I have a single-subject sketchbook about this deep under-cover agent but after about 30 pages, I got bored with it. I started that sketchbook to experiment with using different dry media together with some inks and also tell a kick-ass story. I might go back to it. No. I probably won't.

I was in bands for quite a few years and I think a sketchbook is like the equivalent of putting a cassette into a tape deck, pressing “record” and just letting the tape run while rehearsing, catching all of the mistakes, the restarts, chatter, successes and failures. That's what I want to see in a sketchbook and I think that's what they're meant for.

For traveling I use a few different sketchbooks. The standard 5x8 ones or the small Japanese accordion folded ones are great to walk around with.

I have a single-subject sketchbook about this deep under-cover agent but after about 30 pages, I got bored with it. I started that sketchbook to experiment with using different dry media together with some inks and also tell a kick-ass story. I might go back to it. No. I probably won't.

My sketchbooks energize my work because I try out new things to bring into my final work. If I didn't do that, I would get bored with my work. One of the issues I have being an illustrator is the fight between being a business person and being an artist. Clients (mostly editors) like to know what they're going to get and use illustrators who don't stray too much from their “style.” I unfortunately have a problem with self-sabotage. I want to keep changing my work and trying different things, which tends to make things a bit visually inconsistent. If I had to do the same thing for 20+ years, I'd just give up and leave illustration so the sketchbook is my release. But sketchbook drawing also helps me change my final work little by little.

My sketchbooks energize my work because I try out new things to bring into my final work. If I didn't do that, I would get bored with my work. One of the issues I have being an illustrator is the fight between being a business person and being an artist. Clients (mostly editors) like to know what they're going to get and use illustrators who don't stray too much from their “style.” I unfortunately have a problem with self-sabotage. I want to keep changing my work and trying different things, which tends to make things a bit visually inconsistent. If I had to do the same thing for 20+ years, I'd just give up and leave illustration so the sketchbook is my release. But sketchbook drawing also helps me change my final work little by little.

At the beginning of every semester, I bring in piles of my sketchbooks and talk with my students about them and offer ideas about how to use them. As I said, I was told regularly to keep a sketchbook but none of those teachers ever brought in one for us to look at and see how to actually use one. It's great to see many of my students continue to use them obsessively.

At the beginning of every semester, I bring in piles of my sketchbooks and talk with my students about them and offer ideas about how to use them. As I said, I was told regularly to keep a sketchbook but none of those teachers ever brought in one for us to look at and see how to actually use one. It's great to see many of my students continue to use them obsessively.

Scott Bakal is an internationally published award-winning illustrator whose work is included in the permanent collections of the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Society of Illustrators and the United States Air Force Museum. Scott is an Associate Professor at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design, received the Artist/Educator of the Year award by 3x3 Magazine and lectures to students and associations around the country.   Links: Studio Blog Facebook Instagram Twitter Vimeo

Scott Bakal is an internationally published award-winning illustrator whose work is included in the permanent collections of the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Society of Illustrators and the United States Air Force Museum. Scott is an Associate Professor at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design, received the Artist/Educator of the Year award by 3x3 Magazine and lectures to students and associations around the country.

 

Links:
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Vimeo

Rally For The Cure, 2010

This is an old piece I came across recently. I don't know if it seems too rough, but I liked making it and it was for a very good cause (and I wanted to draw a fox). I used to walk my dog, Penny, on the Chequessett golf course when I lived in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. On one bright, October day I was walking past an overgrown,  wooded area and I had the feeling I was being watched. I looked over my shoulder and saw a pair of orange eyes staring back at me from the tall grass. The eyes belonged to a beautiful, half hidden mother fox and on a little hill behind her were two adorable baby foxes (kits), one sneaking up and pouncing on its twin. I draw a lot of sea creatures for the CYCC kids camp t-shirts, so I thought it was time to pay tribute to one of the woodland critters that shared the pine forest and as well as the beach.

 

Long Story Short: Time In A Box

As soon as I saw the phrase "I excavate your letters," I knew I wanted to draw an archaeological diagram, with layers of sediment as well as letters and keepsakes. I was also trying to find a way to tell a story without it looking like a storyboard frame. It's something I struggle with as I move between the two worlds of advertising/preproduction and editorial illustration. I'm also still thinking about my style, whether to use this rough, black pencil line or go back to creating vector lines in Adobe Illustrator. I'll probably just keep experimenting until there's a clear winner.

Long Story Short: Fish Out of Water

This illustration accompanied a very, very short story about a kid at camp, his reluctance to swim and the harassment he endured at the hands of the teenage camp councilors.

Illustrated Tweets

I made these pencil illustrations inspired by coffee spills for an ad campaign designed by 360i for Coffee-mate.

This one was chosen (and tweeted) by Coffee-mate:

Here are a couple more..

Character & Costume concepts for Vita Coco commercials.

I was asked to turn Jane Lynch, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto and Sarah Silverman into a kind of absurdist nature family: Mother Nature, Auntie Nature (Dafoe), Brother Nature and Sister Nature. TV commercials featuring each character were proposed for Vita Coco coconut water.

This was way fun.

Excellent Advice for Students from Yuko Shimizu.

I'm sharing this post by Yuko Shimizu because she is an illustrator I greatly admire. Despite the ups and downs of this challenging field, she is always making great art because she's incredibly talented, enthusiastic and hardworking. She's also an educator, teaching illustration at SVA, and is very generous with her time and knowledge. She shares her skills and insights on her blog, including this bit of wisdom below.

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JANUARY 14, 2015

Whether you make it or not is never about talent. New year’s message to the aspiring artists

“Can you tell who’s going to make it in your class?” I sometimes get this big question. And my answer is YES, I CAN. Their eyes open up twice as big. But wait! I need to explain a bit more.

Recently in my class, a students, who is very talented, but lacking a bit of focus, and  hasn’t been creating work up to his talent, said “I always wanted to be a concept artist, but not anymore”. I asked why. Initially he didn’t give me a good enough answer, but after talking for a few minutes, he finally said this:
“I find there are always people who are better than me, and I don’t think I can be as good.”
Now, this is not the best answer, but at least a good enough answer in a way that solving a problem starts from admitting the problem. Right?

So, going back to WHO MAKES IT.
The answer is this: those who dream big, and those who work hard toward it.  Those are the ones, I can guarantee, who make it at the end. It’s that simple. It is never about how talented you are.
I have been teaching for 12 years now. I have met many students and aspiring illustrators. And let me reassure you, talent is NEVER the key to how one makes it or not. Of course, if you have the talent AND extremely hardworking, then, congratulations. You are unbeatable. (Stop reading this and just go back to the work you were doing, will you?) But the truth is, most us are not those very rare few. And that is totally OK.

I have seen many extremely talented students who ended up never making it.  Because they relied too much on the gift they were born with, and never learned to work hard, because they felt they were just too cool for school, stopped listening to professors’ advices, etc, etc…, while others who are not as gifted worked their ass off and get better slowly but surely.

I think one of the best things that happened to me when I was still a student was the fact that my roommate was one of those very rare few. You know, that one person who was extremely talented AND hardworking, that you know you would never be.
The reality was, after that initial intimidation slowly faded away, I was able to just accept the fact there are ALWAYS going to be people who are better than you, and that is totally OK. It is an unnecessary distraction you should never focus on. By having that genius roommate, I was actually able to, from early on, not worry about looking at others and getting intimidated, and rather spend that energy focus on my work and my own strength.

I had a classmate who’s dream was to be a kids’ book artist. She started art later than most of her classmates. Thus her work at that point definitely looked that way. I asked an another classmate, “Do you think she will one day get a kids’ book deal?” The classmate answered without even hesitating for a second, “Oh yeah, for sure! She is so damn determined; I have no doubt she will! ”
One thing she did was she worked really REALLY hard. She listened and applied every advice and criticism instructors and classmates gave her. Sometimes things worked, sometimes things didn’t, but she never gave up. Her work got better slowly but surely each and every single day.
And guess what? More than a decade after graduation, while many of her classmates ended up going onto different paths, she is THE ONE with multiple kids book published, with more on her way, and teaching the next generation of aspiring kids book artists.
She had never stopped, for more than a decade, to have focus, work ethic, and a big dreams always close to her heart.

Princess Penny

Penny and I were featured in Dr. Oz's magazine The Good Life, in an article about the joys pets bring, even as they boss us around.

Who's the boss?

Window decal, with multiple sketches.

Here's an assignment with two clients, a broad subject matter and several rounds of sketches. Just thought you might be interested because it offers an unusual view into the illustration process by showing a variety of approaches to one, wide-open subject.

Trip Advisor and American Express teamed up and needed an illustration for a decal that would appear in restaurant windows. The drawing needed to convey "restaurant", "bistro", "cool neighborhood spot", "travel", maybe with people, maybe not. Indoors or outdoors, lunch or dinner, not breakfast, maybe a place setting. The Trip Advisor palette of bright green, sunny yellow and a tomato red would be featured. Many sketches were made, and here are some that made it to the final round, as well as the final piece (travel, outdoors, place setting, food, no people).

Important caveat: Although there was an unusually long sketch and development stage to this project, it was very enjoyable and the art director and client were easy to work with and very appreciative!

 

Some outdoor ideas.

Some outdoor ideas.

Still life with vegetables.

Still life with vegetables.

Some indoor ideas.

Some indoor ideas.

Some color sketches of preferred pencils (remember Vesuvio in Soho?).

Some color sketches of preferred pencils (remember Vesuvio in Soho?).

More color sketches of preferred pencils.

More color sketches of preferred pencils.

Another couple of sketches...

Another couple of sketches...

The final illustration.

The final illustration.

CYCC Kid's Camp T-Shirt: Summer 2014

Here are two versions of the new CYCC Kids Camp Tee (one is also the color sample). One will be given to each of the campers this year at Chequessett Yacht & Country Club in Wellfleet, MA. Each year I contribute an illustration to the camp (this is my sixth). In exchange, I have off-season dog walking privileges on the golf course, as well as an occasional free burger on the back deck. Thanks, B!

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AmEx Grocery Promo

This was an illustration commissioned by my friend Susan Hildebrand, a graphic designer at Sarankco, for American Express. I've known and admired Susan's design work for several years, but this was our first professional collaboration. Just goes to show, you never know where your next freelance gig will come from. Thanks, Susan!

NYTimes: Science/Artist

"With Science, New Portrait of the Artist" by John Noble Wilford

This is a self-commissioned piece. The article ran without an illustration.

Watertower by Tom Fruin

For my first Christmas card after moving to NYC I made a woodcut of three water towers representing the three wise men, silhouetted against a snowy sky. Water towers just seemed to epitomize the quirky contrast of the past and present in downtown architecture. They’re prehistoric compared to the sky scrapers and their close relationship to the tenements made me feel like I was part of the struggle, another newcomer making my way in New York City.

At that time, the East Village was exciting and new to me, but still somewhat dangerous. Soho was still rough and bohemian, with an edginess and underground glamour. Maybe it still looks like that to a new newcomer. To me, a lot has changed and I sometimes miss my old city. Seeing an old water tower is like seeing a friendly face.

When I saw “Watertower” by Tom Fruin, I felt like I was home again. It made me very, very happy.

And the stained glass makes my little lapsed-catholic heart sing.

****

The tower is lit by the sun in the day and lit from within at night. It’s located on the rooftop of 20 Jay Street, and the prime viewing spots are the Brooklyn Bridge Park at Washington Street and Manhattan Bridge bike path.