I ignite clarity in all. A window to the Art of Chuck Todd

Posts tagged “clarity

Priority Based Budgeting graphic and Budget Story project get national attention

An infographic created for the city of Walnut Creek to explain how the process works in their city. Part of a group presentation I gave at the "Transforming Local Government Conference"

An infographic created for the city of Walnut Creek to explain how the process works in their city. Part of a group presentation I gave at the “Transforming Local Government Conference”

I was honored to be part of a group asked to give a presentation at the Alliance for Innovation “Transforming Local Government Conference in Atlanta on April 10, 2013. Our presentation was entitled “Think Outside the Bar Chart! Creating Compelling Budget Communications for Public Engagement”  Walnut Creek Assistant City Manager Lorie Tinfow, , Multi-Media Producer Liz Payne and I were joined in spirit by Communications and Outreach Manager Gayle Vassar in spirit though she could not be at the presentation in person.

Last year I was asked to work on a project that grew into “A COMMUNITY CONNECTED: THE 2012-14 BUDGET STORY” for Walnut Creek, CA. The project grew out of a desire to create a more visual, informative and engaging publication than the typical large budget binder. To create something with more context and to also help the public understand the work the city is doing…and the tough challenges and choices ahead. Gayle and Lorie assembled a team that included Finance Manager Cindy Mosser, Liz Payne, Blue Ribbon Taskforce member Karen Majors and myself.

As a visual journalist on the project I was brought in to find visual ways to tell the story. And in the presentation I got to discuss what a visual journalist does and the process of working on the publication, cover and the Priority Based Budgeting infographic. A visual journalist takes complex information, data and ideas and turns it into a visual story….focusing on key messages and what is important to connect to the reader. Visual Journalism is visual reporting using illustration, infographics, design and/or sequential art.

Priority Based Budgeting is a process where a city establishes goals and with input from The City Council, city staff and citizens rank programs and spending in how well they met the goals. It is new, innovative way for cities to aproach budgets and the city of Walnut Creek is one of the first to embrace the process. 

The graphic and publication has been well received by the citizens in Walnut Creek and has garnered national attention. It was a great honor to be asked to give our “Think Outside the Bar Chart!” presentation at the TLG conference.  I’m including here the cover and a two-page spread from the Budget Story.

It was a great experience and I even got to meet the folks who came up with the idea of Priority Based Budgeting. Getting compliments from them on how well the graphic described the process was high praise indeed! For more about their work go to ( For more on Priority based Budgeting go to: http://www.pbbcenter.org)

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VISUAL TRIBUTE TO GARY BOGUE

After 42 years Gary Bogue’s final column published in Friday’s Contra Costa Times.

http://goo.gl/au1jt

Gary wrote his pets and wildlife column for the Times for 42 years. Amazing. More amazing is his wealth of knowledge, his empathy for wild critters and his connection to his readers. I have had the honor of working with Gary at the paper on graphics, wildlife posters….and on our three books for HeyDay Books. Gary is a great resource, a gracious and incredible collaborator and a dear friend. We have been on many adventures together to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum for research and events…and giving talks to schools and civic groups throughout the Bay Area. Gary is a pure storyteller, in his columns, in his books….and on our roadtrips to various events.

I’ll miss working with Gary at the Times…I don’t think the place will ever be the same. But, I better clear off my schedule. Now that he has more time…he’ll be hitting me up with many more book projects to illustrate. Bring it on Gary, let the adventures continue! And congratulations on 42 wonderful years of columns that connected, enlightened and raised millions in funds to help preserve open space and care for animals in the Bay Area.

Here is a link to a story on his amazing career in today’s CCT Times.

http://goo.gl/z7OjW


IDEA INVESTING

Illustration by Chuck Todd.  Story by Peter Delevett. Centerpiece design by Daymond Gascon. For the Monday TECHNOLOGY section in Bay Area News Group print and digital editions

How do you illustrate the concept of Investing in Ideas? One of the two startups highlighted in Peter Delevett’s story called MOTIF aggregates companies into motifs or ideas. Say an investor likes PETS. Yup you can invest in a grouping of PET companies.  Or GREEN companies, or FAST FOOD companies or MOBILE TECH companies, etc.

I thought of an idea taking off, earning money. The concept of turning light bulbs into a flock of ideas flying up and away popped into my head. After a couple of thumbnails the idea gelled. I used $100 bills to construct the wings, which created some fun, bird like patterns. I kept this one loose and fun, I painted up one light bulb and incorporated the finished wings all in photoshop. Then I duplicated the ‘light bulb with wings’ image on multiple layers and made the smaller ones more transparent. I used my artistic license to keep an old style of light bulb…allowing me to leave a subtle birdlike beak on the bulb.

This appeared in Monday print editions. To read Peter’s story online go here:

http://goo.gl/zRLCm


THE INFLUENCE OF BARRON STOREY

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

http://www.barronstorey.com/

Here is the note Barron scribed for me in his book “Life After Black.” Thanks Barron.


CONNECTION POINT

In Today’s TECHNOLOGY section in the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times is my illustration for a Peter Delevett story on new startup services that allow users to stay connected to friends from multiple lists and networks from one central location. Many of the services use geo-location features that allows users to track friends, and their locations, in real time.  Here is a link to the story:

http://goo.gl/GjSFY

This was a super quick turnaround. Thursday I had a thumbnail sketch approved, but I wasn’t able to start illustrating on the finished piece until Friday morning. The concept I came up with conveys a connection to many contacts in multiple networks. Of course this meant on Friday morning I cranked out 28 different faces in my sketchbook. ( I felt like I was doing a homework assignment for the late, great Barbara Bradley at the Academy of Art in San Francisco!) About two thirds of the faces are from photo reference, about a third are invented. ( I snuck in a few friends, family and even jazz musician Joshua Redman.) The main figure holds up her cell phone into the singular connection point that all of the other networks of friends are joined to. The circles were created in illustrator, the faces and figure were sketches I scanned in and rest was painted and combined in Photoshop. Starting on the faces at 9 a.m. I turned in the finished illustration to the designer at 5:30 p.m. I can’t think of a better way to spend a day!

Here is how to looked on the page, design by the talented Daymond Gascon:


Bidding Wars in hot housing markets and Apps with the latest Rental vacancies

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A quick post with two housing themed illustrations for Bay Area News Group. The Bidding Wars illustration went with an A1 story on the San Jose Mercury News and other front pages on housing markets in parts of the Bay Area that are red hot.  In some South Bay areas, the demand is sparking multiple bids and bidding wars on high-priced homes. Hey those newly rich Facebook folks have to find a place to live.

The second illustration below went with a business and technology story in Bay Area News Group. This story dealt with apps and websites that allow users to get up to the minute updates on Rental properties in the Bay Area.

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IS INVESTMENT IN SOCIAL MEDIA KILLING REAL INNOVATION IN SILICON VALLEY?

With the recent Facebook IPO and a lot of venture capital spending going for the quick return of social media companies, there is a growing concern that the pursuit of the quick buck is killing real innovative technologies (in medical, robotics, clean energy, etc.) that take longer for a return on investment. This is my illustration for a Chris O’Brien column in the Sunday (May 27) San Jose Mercury News and Bay Area News Group papers and websites. O’Brien quotes entepreneur Steve Blank as saying that it is “pushing real innovation outside of our country. And it might be the demise of what we do in Silicon Valley.” O’Brien explores the ideas on solutions to the problem that Blank and others have, including the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps. program. You should pick up the paper or go to the story online to read the article…link is below:

http://goo.gl/8RoAb

For this illustration I used a landscape to depict innovation and contrast that with an opposite. The futuristic landscape is an abstraction of Silicon Valley. Innovation is like a bright light…so the sun represents the light of innovation and ideas. Massive clouds gather, casting a shadow over the valley and buildings and starts to block out the light source of innovation.  In the cloud I had fun layering in swirls of money, a few social media companies…and even an eye from the back of a dollar bill. The cloud is building energy and momentum as it pulls in more money.

Here is how the page turned out with a great design by Daymond Gascon.


THE VERDICT: IMPRISONMENT WITHOUT DUE PROCESS

Illustration for The Verdict by Chuck Todd

A couple of quick, direct black and white images for The Verdict – a quarterly journal published by the Coalition of Concerned Legal Professionals (CCLP). I created these a couple of months back, the magazine should be out soon.

The illustration is for an article on the National Defense Authorization Act and its lack of constitutionality and due process that allows for indefinite detention of individuals. Senator Dianne Feinstein has submitted to Congress the Due Process Guarantee Act that would prohibit the indefinite detention of American citizens or permanent residents.

The edgy, gritty images show individuals who have lost their freedom, they are prisoners who have no voice or rights. The illustrations I do for Verdict are always black and white…bring out my printmaking, pen and ink and sequential art skills and influences.

Prisoner spot illustration for The Verdict by Chuck Todd


Sinister Malvertisements: Even when you don’t click sneaky cybercrooks use these ads to attack

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

http://goo.gl/2mc5A

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.


iPhone Freedom…or Life After Your iPhone

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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:

http://tiny.cc/mxofew

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.


‘IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN’ EARTH DAY ILLUSTRATION

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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.


Why does REVENGE taste so sweet? Or a Happy New Year blog post best served cold

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.


Illustrations related to 9/11

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.

Hamlet on stage with ruins of the twin towers in the background...and two lights from above shining down.

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.

Illustration for story about athletes who have to confront a fear of flying, as many of us did after 9/11.


Steve Jobs ascending on the Golden Apple

Steve Jobs ascending on a golden apple.

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.


A tribute to Kazu Sano

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.

For more on Kazu go to his website: http://www.kazusano.com/sano_website.html

The Academy of Art director of the department illustration, Chuck Pyle posted a great tribute to Kazu on his blog:

http://chuckpyleart.blogspot.com/


Code of Chaos: The Mack God

My illustration for a story on the “Mack God” for the Oakland Tribune

The Mack God

Code of Chaos: The Mack God. Finished illustration by Chuck Todd 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.

Rough sketches and painting in early stage

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.

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Detail of the Mack God illustration by Chuck Todd


Connecting and igniting clarity

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.

www.chucktodd.net