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.