In honor of Smithsonian’s Jazz Appreciation Month in April my friend Ed Peaco just posted on his blog about one of Duke Ellington’s works. “Harlem Air Shaft.” It inspired me to share this fun piece I did a few years back for LeapFrog.
You should check out Ed’s post: http://edpeaco.blogspot.com/2011/04/can-you-hear-smell-of-dried-fish.html
I created this several years back for a Chicago design firm for their client LeapFrog. LeapFrog does interactive, fun and educational products for kids. This was for an interactive kids magazine. Using the LeapFrog reader kids could use a stylus and click on different images on the pages and hear information on each musician. They could click on each piano key and play music. In the yellow area of the mural the music and lyrics of “When the Saints Go Marching In” it would enable the kids to select the music and hear it…or play the notes, etc.
In my rough sketch all of the jazz musicians in the composition were completely different characters and fictitious…with a variety of instruments. The mural idea was part of the assignment with the family dancing in the foreground. I added the concept of the mural itself being in the process of being painted.
After submitting my composition, the design firm responded that the client loves it…but wants to change this character to Duke Ellington, this one to Benny Goodman…etc. Glad they loved it. I got busy with research and turned in a real dandy on time. I got paid, but unfortunately the piece never got published by LeapFrog. They stopped publication of the magazine it was for. Too bad. But I loved how this one turned out and am really appreciative that I got to illustrate all of these jazz icons.
My illustration for a story on the “Mack God” for the Oakland Tribune
The Mack God refers to a street code of retribution and can be found in song lyrics. It is a kind of “Karmic Vengeance” that some kids on the streets in Oakland have adopted as their distorted view of reality outside of the rules of society. In the Oakland Tribune story a teenager (who was kicked out of his house onto the streets by his mother at age 13) describes the quasi religious code in these terms: “The Mack God is in the streets, and the people doing bad things that live this life go by the Mack God”
Chilling and sad for young kids to have such a violent and distorted view that becomes their reality.
For the illustration I wanted to focus on the psychological state of a kid in this environment.
From my early thumbnails and rough sketches I hit on the idea of using religious iconography of a halo. As I worked out my ideas I started playing around with the tools of this “Mack God” religion – the tools of violence – hand guns, rifles, knives etc. As I explored patterns I realized that placing two gun barrels parallel to each other with the handles opposite form a cross shape. It clicked when I placed the guns around the outside frame of the halo. It became an abstraction, like a decoration from an illuminated manuscript or altar painting. I think in the final result many of the colleagues I have shown the image to didn’t see the pattern as guns at first. I love work that has layers of reading…when the guns reveal to the viewer it has a strong impact.
I kept the figure in shadows and used blood red through the painting to give a visceral and violent edge. Some indications of a city background and a shadow of a figure on the sidewalk finished out the image.
I believe this is one of the strongest, most provocative images I have done in a while. I think the contrast of the sort of transcendent teenage figure with the gun halo and the deep, violent reds create a dramatic contrast making this a very disturbing image. A very distorted religious painting.
Here I am posting some of the rough sketches and the thumbnails along with the finished piece so you get a window into my process. The main image is predominately an acrylic painting on bristol board with nupastel and graphite. I did some additional work in photoshop for the end result.
On a personal note: I will be going to WonderCon in San Francisco this Saturday, April 2. Hope to meet up with other illustrators and soak in a lot of ideas, get recharged and inspired.