I wanted to share an illustration project I did a few years ago for the Contra Costa Times that shows the influence on my work of master illustrator Barron Storey. Barron has done everything as an illustrator, book covers, Time magazine covers, National Geographic…he has a mural in the American Museum of Natural History and portraits hanging in the National Portrait Gallery.
If I have ever seen true genius at work it is looking at a Barron Storey original…once in illustrator Bill Koeb’s old apartment in San Francisco and I have had the luck of catching a couple of gallery shows in the city over the years. His sketchbooks are legend: His personal visual journals and his graphic novel work have influenced and inspired many artists: Dave McKean, Bill Sienkiewicz, Greg Spalenka, Bill Koeb, George Pratt and Kent Williams among them.
As a teacher he may be without a peer…so I hear. Barron is the reason I moved to the Bay Area in 1996 to pursue a graduate degree in illustration at the Academy or Art in San Francisco. I researched the influences of artists that influenced me…many of them cited Barron as an important influence. That’s how I discovered the Academy of Art and how I ended up in the Bay Area. My timing was a bit late. By the time I started my graduate courses in the fall of 1996, Barron was no longer teaching at the school, but was teaching at California College of Arts and Crafts and at San Jose State. Although I didn’t take one of Barron’s classes I was taught by artists who studied with Barron (Carol Nunnelly and my graduate advisor Bill Koeb)…so I was able to absorb some of his wisdom though them.
I have had the privilege of meeting Barron a few times. The first was at a gathering at Bill Koeb’s pad in San Francisco probably in 2000. About 5 years ago I was attending the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco with Gary Amaro ( another of my graduate advisors. ) I had some samples with me including these Cancer Journey pieces.
About the Cancer Journey project. Contra Costa Times writer Dan Borenstein penned a five part series in 2007 on his harrowing experience with cancer and cancer treatments. I was honored and humbled by the challenge of illustrating each installment of the series. ( And indebted to Dan for sharing his story and giving me such a poignant project to be a part of.) I came up with the thought of a sequence of panels, interconnected that could each tell each part of the story individually. But when combined –on the final day of the series – made a sequence of panels telling the more complete narrative. The layering of elements, with drawings and line work is a direct influence of Barron. Not as much in the technique (who the hell can draw as well as Barron Storey?)…but in an approach to storytelling that I have soaked in from Barron’s journals.
Coming full circle: At the Alternative Press Expo, Gary and I found a table that Barron had been at to sign his journal book “LIFE AFTER BLACK.” I bought the book, word was that Barron was around and would be back. As we walked around the hall looking at the variety of local artists and creators we bumped into Barron. We talked for a bit and I asked if he wouldn’t mind taking a quick look at some of my work. He very graciously did…and when he saw the Cancer Journey images has asked me about them. I gave him a quick rundown of what it was about and said that I created them for the newspaper. He said something to the effect “Amazing work. So great that they published this in a newspaper.” I honestly died and went to heaven. I felt like I had come from the world of wanting to be…to being. That I had ascended the mountain top after toiling and struggling for years on the climb. From a dream of wanting to be better than I was as a visual journalist and illustrator in Missouri. From a dream of studying with the master in California and falling short. To finally, the master himself holding my work and finding value in it.
Barron continues to inspire me and give me something to aspire to. If you are not familiar with Barron’s work you should be. Here is a link
Here is the note Barron scribed for me in his book “Life After Black.” Thanks Barron.
Wildlife artwork for the new exhibits at Lindsay Wildlife Museum. One of the coolest projects I’ve ever been a part of.
The Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, CA is part wildlife hospital and part wildlife museum where kids and adults can see animals native to Contra Costa County and the Mount Diablo area. The wildlife on display at the Lindsay are those that cannot be returned to the wild due to injuries or that they have become habituated to humans. You can see up close a mountain lion, golden eagle, hawks, snakes and many other birds and mammals.
Illustrations for the Lindsay Museum: I recently was asked to create illustrations for a new interactive flight simulator exhibit and for a field guide display. For the flight simulator I painted the wings, back and tail of a red-tailed hawk.
In the display the wings are life-size and constructed into a bench with controls and a monitor at the front. A kid (or adult) can lay down on the display, face forward to the monitor and can experience a hawk’s eye view of flying over Mount Diablo. The illustration for the simulator is at the top of the post and was created in pencil, acrylic and watercolor on bristol board. I was able to examine and study specimans and had two red-tailed hawk wings as reference. What fun!
You can see what it looks like in action on the front of today’s Contra Costa Times.
Story by Elisabeth Nardi with photos by Jose Carlos Fajardo and design by Chris Gotsill. Very cool. (Full disclosure: Although I work at the Times I was not involved with or mentioned in the story, nor did I design or art direct the package. Elisabeth wasn’t even aware that I had done illustrations for the project until after she had worked on the story and I mentioned it to her.)
Here is a link to the Contra Costa Times story on the new Lindsay exhibits including a video and slideshow.
I’m also including a few other wildlife illustrations for the new Raptors Exhibit and for the new field guide display. The grand opening is next week, I have not seen them myself yet, really looking forward to taking one of my drawings for a ride. Thanks to Loren Behr, Michele Setter and Marty Buxton at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum and to designer Lisa Park-Steskal and James Freed on allowing me to be a part of something so special.
On the somber 10-year anniversary of 9/11 I thought I should post a couple of 9/11 related images I have done. The first illustration went with a story published in the Contra Costa Times a month or so after the horrific terrorist attacks. It went with a story about how we are coming to terms and coping with the terrible events and images of that day. I contrasted a linear portrait of a woman, head bowed, with an abstraction of the twin towers.
The second illustration went with an A&E cover for the Contra Costa Times on how the Arts have been impacted by 9/11. I painted a stage with Hamlet raising a sword, twin lights beaming down from above against a backdrop of the ruins of the twin towers. This published a year or so after 9/11.
The third illustration I painted to go with a story on athletes that have a fear of flying…even though they have to fly on planes to competitive events. 9/11 made this fear more daunting to overcome. After 9/11 I think all of us had to deal with a fear of flying in one way or another. In this painting I tried to portray the emotional conflict and fear the person had to confront. Lines connect different cities he has to travel to. Dramatic lighting, a shadow of a plane and hand lettering for the headline echoed those feelings.
Looking back on these images now, I see that I was also coping with the 9/11 events in my artwork.
Here is an illustration I did of Steve Jobs for the Contra Costa Times a number of years ago. Apple announced today that Jobs is stepping down as CEO. Jobs is a great pitchman, visionary and guru. This illustration was for a story about Apple’s rising success under Jobs’ guidance.
I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of illustrator, teacher and mentor Kazu Sano earlier this summer (May 31). Kazu was a master illustrator who was prolific, creating artwork for book covers, for National Geographic and painting a famous Return of the Jedi poster. Kazu was the epitome of what an illustrator should be. His ability to research, and know his subject matter and his masterful techniques as a painter created a lifetime of work that was revered by other illustrators and honored by the Society of Illustrators.
I took Kazu’s Acrylic Figure Painting class at the Academy of Art in San Francisco in the Spring of 1997 – my second semester in the graduate program in illustration. The class and Kazu’s demonstrations and insights were transformative for me as an artist. Beyond techniques Kazu imparted a passion and love for discovery.
You always went early to Kazu’s class. Without fanfare he we would bring in a painting or two of his and lean it up against the critique board. Seeing these works, leaning up close to them, soaking them in hopes of gleaning from them their magic. Kazu rarely said anything about those paintings. They were there to speak for themselves…and for me they spoke volumes. He would start off the class with a demonstration of one of his acrylic techniques, and then send us off to paint from models. Intense, inspiring, joyful and life changing for me…all in just one semester.
One assignment was a self portrait project and along with that a personal review of my paintings, studies and projects created during the semester. I remember the critique as if it happened yesterday. Inexplicably Kazu did not see just my color, or my brushstrokes or my design and painting skills. He saw what was behind them. He peered beyond the artwork to find the artist. He saw exactly where I was coming from and what I was exploring. He was absolutely in tune with what I was doing in my paintings, and what I was getting at. For me this was an exhilirating and spiritual experience. An incredible validation from a master. I have never had an experience as a student or as an artist that has come close to Kazu’s insight and inspiration that morning in Bradley Hall.
This was only one class with Kazu. Kazu’s wisdom, advice and artwork have made an indelible, lasting impact that continues to inform and influence my journey as an artist. I saw Kazu a few years ago at Barbara Bradley’s memorial celebration. I had a good conversation with him and was able to thank him for his class and insight. Thank You Kazu.
Below is the self-portrait project for Kazu’s class.
The Academy of Art director of the department illustration, Chuck Pyle posted a great tribute to Kazu on his blog:
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.
One of the great pleasures I have in painting and illustrating stories is connecting with people. The last few months with the publication of our new children’s book, “There’s a Hummingbird in My Backyard” author Gary Bogue and I have had a lot of fun chatting with fans of the book at various events and signings around the Bay Area. I particularly enjoy talking with kids about the artwork and being an illustrator. I can often see a little spark in the eye as a kid talks to me. Suddenly illustrating for a book goes from being an abstraction to something that is tangible and possible. Hopefully I am igniting that spark in some of these young minds. It would be rewarding to meet a kid someday that started illustrating in part from meeting me and seeing my work.
I am excited about sharing my artwork and musings about illustrating for books and newspapers. Thanks for joining me in this new adventure.