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.
This is a very disturbing trend. Disturbing and scary make for some great visuals. So…OK, I admit it. I had a lot of fun with this illustration for the TECHNOLOGY section published May 14 in the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times. According to the story by the Merc’s Steve Johnson, cybercrooks are using “malvertisements” to steal data, infect computers and wreak havoc. Codes are hidden in these malicious ads…and the ads can show up on legitimate sites that screen for ads gone wrong. Not only are the malware codes hidden, a user does not even have to click on the ad to become a victim. Experts say this trend is only going to get worse. This story is worth a read to understand the problem and to get a few tips on how to protect yourself. Here is a link to Steve’s story
When I came up with the motif of the sinister shadow of a clawed hand and arm coming out of a computer everything else fell into place. The trick was to show someone getting attacked, but being unaware. I had the woman looking at a website with ads on the side. Out of one of the ads the shadow, filled with malware code, shoots out and wraps around. The hand is just about to get the woman. I hit on the idea of binary code interspersed with the word “MALVERTISEMENT” to layer into the shadow. I would have to say this one is one of my favorites so far this year for Bay Area News Group.
Here is how it looked in print across the Bay Area News Group papers, with a great page design by business design chief, Jennifer Morris.
A quick post on a recent illustration for a Jessica Yadegaran column for the Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News. The column was about her newfound freedom from the trappings of her iPhone. Jessica left it in the back seat of a plane after letting her kid play with the phone during the flight. She was unable to get the phone back and was forced to revert back to her old phone. At first she missed her iPhone and felt lost without it. But she soon realized she was spending more time enjoying life in the moment, rather than respond to each text, tweet or status update. Here is a link to Jessica’s story:
I played with the concepts of being trapped, shackled or imprisoned to contrast the idea of freedom. Also I tried to factor in how to depict the lost iPhone. I started playing with the idea of flight to symbolize freedom. The birdcage seemed like a great way to express being trapped. For the final solution I created the iPhone in illustrator and used the old cartooning trick of using dashed lines to indicate something that is a ghost or invisible. The rest was created in photoshop. The line art of style of the birdcage further contrasts the swirls and looser more painterly approach to the background and the woman with wings flying out of the cage.
Angela Hill’s story, published Sunday in Bay Area News Group papers, explores why it isn’t easy being green…in fact it can be downright confusing. What may claimed to be green, when looking at the carbon imprint and the amount of energy used in manufacturing a “green” product may net an adverse impact on Mother Earth. So sometimes when we are trying to be green we may not be…thankfully sometimes we are. The story offers tips and sites where you can go to help make good green decisions.
For the illustration I wanted to evoke a sense of Earth Day and of the dichotomy of making green choices…and choices that end up not being green. I wanted to avoid using a big earth for Earth Day…been there, done that. Instead I wanted to focus on the personal side of someone making green decisions. I came up with the concept of the Earth being used as the lens in a pair of sunglasses. One side the earth is green with blue ocean in the lens. The other has the continents in red and water is gray. On that side of the figure the color scheme is gray on the figure with red in the lens and background.
On the green side…color is vibrant..using a green, blue color scheme with warm flesh tones in the figure to give that side more life. We positioned the headline in the head scarf and the story in the dress of the figure. An extra embellishment was picking up the continents as a pattern in the scarf and dress.
Of late…all of the illustrations at the news job have been quick turnarounds…but challenging and fun. I working up a rough sketch, scanned it in and did more drawing and painting in Photoshop. I rendered the continents first in Illustrator and then imported to photoshop. Features Design Chief Jennifer Schaefer pulled it all together on the page and made it all work. For the page we used a tight, more dynamic crop.
I’ve been slamming out so much illustration work for Bay Area News Group recently I have had little chance to update my blog…I’ll start catching up this week.
Revenge? Shouldn’t I be wishing everyone Happy New Year? Perhaps this isn’t the most optimistic note to close out 2011 on, but this was one of the edgier illustrations I did in 2011.
This image was for a story on revenge by Bay Area News Group writer Jessica Yadegaran from early December (2011). Viewers revel in watching shows like ABC’s REVENGE where a young woman named Emily Thorne gets even with those who destroyed her family. We dream about getting even with a bad boss or teaching back-stabbing friend a lesson. According to experts in Jessica’s story revenge can even be healthy…so long as it does not go over the line and stays safe and legal. According to the story, we often work out our injustices in our dreams, and quench our desire to get even without actually having to act them out.
I suspect this is one reason why Revenge tales are so popular in movies, books and comics. They are a harmless way of fantasizing about righting wrongs without actually doing the dirty work or facing the consequences.
The woman in the illustration is based on REVENGE’s heroine played by actress Emily VanCamp. I did a bunch of thumbnail sketches and came up with this solution replete with religious symbols. Of course the Eye for and Eye motif is a biblical reference to revenge. I like the idea of exchanging one card of an eye for another with flames trailing behind and the light trails covering her eyes. I worked to depict the tension between right and wrong. The femme fatale figure is powerful and in control, she has angel wings…but perhaps she is more an angel of death. The deep reds and shadows create a dark mood. I did an unusual technique, using a woodless pencil, brush pen and pen and ink on paper. The color was done in photoshop.
I get to work out all of my revenge fantasies with my artwork. How fun is that? I think I’ll do more in 2012. May your New Year be full of fun, fantasy and righting wrongs! Actually, that does sound optimistic.
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:
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.