Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pet Sounds

Maybe that's what I ought to listen to when I do these occasional assignments for Family Circle. I am getting pretty  good at dogs and cats. Pigs are easy. I still have difficulty with horses. This feature was about service pets, which is pets who are helpful and kind to humans because they are paid to be. Art directed by Dana Einsidler and Lisa Kelsey.

I Drew My Way Through School

This is a drawing I did for an education magazine a year or two ago, and looking at it again reminded me how I experienced school. I did not take to it at first. Finally a teacher found she could get me to sit still and shut up by letting me draw. She asked me to draw portraits of the presidents while she taught the other students.* My parents were dubious about this but I accepted the deal with huge relief. We were all relieved. I was the kind of student that made teachers look like this teacher in the drawing. (By the way, I am working on a book about the presidents now. It was fated.)

*By the way, by focusing on drawing I actually listened better. My test scores improved. My grades climbed up into the A and B range. I suspect everybody's grades improved. I think it may have restored a few years to Mrs. Maggard's life.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Collage of Runners

A recent drawing, a collage of drawings really. I like the cat's cradle of lines I can get by overlapping the drawings this way in Photoshop. The colored dots help differentiate them. In a way it's like the montages from films of the 1930s. We'll see how many different ways I can use this.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

We Deserve Gelato

It's been a difficult month, so let's reward ourselves. I did these gelato delivery vehicles for an article about the logistics of gelato in Rome. Design by Pentagram/Austin. The art director was Julie Savasky.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Another Drawing for the New York Times Editorial Page

I've been in the rotation this week doing some editorial illustrations for the Times. This editorial was about the secret rules that govern drone targeting and killing of terror suspects. Art director Sarah Williamson suggested the camouflage idea, and I thought of the idea of a curtain being drawn aside to reveal what is going on.

Drawing the drone and the hands and the missile were straightforward enough, but camouflage is harder than you think. It adds visual noise and pattern, and I tend to prefer simplicity, but keeping the palette narrow helped minimize the complexity. Making the hand match the brown tone in the pattern helped tie the image together.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Drawing for the New York Times Opinion Page

 The Times editorial was about how Hillary runs against an unconventional candidate like Trump in swing states like North Carolina where the outsider candidate has a certain appeal. I tried to think what Trump reminded me of. A lot of personality types came to mind but the one that stuck was the junior high malcontent, the bully, the kid in the back of the classroom who shows his contempt for school by disrupting everything. Trump is the kid throwing paper airplanes when someone else is trying to speak.
 The Times needs an image to work both as a vertical and a horizontal for its print and online editions.

The first drawing I did showed Hillary from the side. Because the Times avoids likeness (and satirical caricature) I drew her hair and her outfit, which instantly identify her. In this version I shifted the Hillary figure into a gray tone.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Rococo Hairdos

To pass the time I like to draw faces. I have a bias toward men's faces; I think because I like drawing them eccentric or humorous and I hesitate to make fun of women. Does that make sense? Here I am making fun of the hair and doing my best to represent the women with dignity and respect. (Does anyone recognize the dark-haired woman lower right?)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Free Drawing the US Map

A Drawing for July 4th in this free range, freedom-worshipping, libertarian age. When you try to "free draw" something as complex as the map of the states you find how uneasily they sit together. The shape of one state is supposed to nest perfectly into the next but if you aren't rigorously measuring and following the exact outlines they don't match very well at all. Most Americans don't remember the time before FDR's various bureaus and departments knit the states together, and then Eisenhower's interstate highways locked them into a uniform grid. Then the television networks did the same invisibly and the only things dividing us were the time zones. For a period of four decades or so we really were E Pluribus Unum. Before FDR main roads traveling across one state often disappeared at the state border. Time zones and laws of commerce were willy-nilly. Citizens from the north driving across the south were viewed as foreigners. They were liable (if they weren't careful) to find themselves on the wrong side of the local sheriff. Southerners visiting the north encountered outrageous customs that were almost as outrageous as their own. After a pleasant interval we seem to be disuniting again, in opinions and sentiments if not legally.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Gun Crazy

I've been slowly writing a memoir about my unremarkable childhood. The writing has gone on for quite a few years, not because it's painful or because I can't remember. I remember everything. It's not as if I have any buried monsters to exorcise in a rush of creativity. I've complained to my parents over the years about my upbringing. How, if they'd been more horrible to me, I might be a successful author today. But unlike Kipling's parents and Dickens's, my mom and dad were very nice people, tolerant, forgiving, pleasant to be around, encouraging, attentive. A person works with what they're given and if they are given a pleasant childhood, I guess they move naturally into a pleasant adulthood drawing pictures. The only thing violent about my youth is the contrast with the violence I saw and we still see on television and in movies, and wherever folks now walk fully armed like western hombres. One of the chapters of this memoir, published today by the Paris Review, was written a few years ago in a fond reverie but the story seems ironically, and sadly apt in the wake of each new outburst of mass gun killing. Looking back I can barely recognize my nine year-old self.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

London in a Fog

I came across a photograph of London, a foggy skyline, nothing especially striking about it except the chaotic scurry of it. None of the charming rooftops; they'd been overwhelmed by boxy cooling units and concrete cubes. Almost lost in the gray were a couple of landmarks, a Wren spire, the Parliament buildings, Nelson on his column. Sometimes I'll draw things to make sense of them. The London I loved from books growing up is gone. I can't decide if the Luftwaffe or property developers have done the worst damage. I think the latter. The UK is an economy that despises history.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Consider the Common Housefly

I am the regular illustrator for an irregular feature in the University of Minnesota alumni magazine art directed by my friend Kristi Anderson. The feature is called Tweets of Yore. It takes old news clippings from university history and translates them into tweets. This one was about a professor's studies of the common housefly. I thought of this tweedy chap (glasses, elbow patches, sweater) and added the fly swatter in lieu of a pointer.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Taking Chances

This is another illustration that the client didn't end up using. The subject they needed me to illustrate was "kids taking chances", not in the sense of risking life and limb but risking failure. I thought of those "leaps of faith" we have to persuade ourselves to make. I paired two figures in two tones, one male, one female, to keep the risk an individual thing but avoid gender bias. I am still very pleased with this drawing and hope to see it published some day.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

An Unused Illustration

I get a lot of work from college magazines. Good ground for me to cover: books, areas of study, ideas, knowledge; my head is full of visual analogies for these abstractions. I generally draw a lot more than is used. This is one drawing I especially liked but the art director preferred another version I did. This one was more minimal, less colorful. They also thought the figure seemed too old. Dressed too old, I think, although when I was that age I remember trying to dress a bit older. A kind of disguise.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Poster For Steppenwolf Theatre Company

I did this poster to celebrate Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago. The project was art directed by Ogilvy/Chicago. Twelfth Night is my favorite Shakespeare play and I've seen it and read it several times. The aspect that caught my imagination was the pattern of overlapping characters and the multiple faces of the characters in the play.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Another Illustration for the Baffler

Art directed by Patrick JB Flynn.

A Desert Run

This illustration was for my regular back page slot in Macalester Today. Art director Brian Donahue let me try out this new style I'd been working in. I think it worked out especially well. This style requires clear outlines and a context that can be simplified. I also need to work from reference, especially for figures. The essay was about a marathon run in the desert, so a certain amount of my time was spent working out what actually happened; the idea of running a marathon on sand in extreme desert heat seemed so improbable it took me a while to get my head around it.

A Gelato Map of Rome

I did this map for Food + City magazine, art directed and designed by Julie Savasky of Pentagram/Austin. Having spent time in Rome eating gelato it was a delicious project. Too bad they don't send artists on location.

Creating Lots of Art Around OneTopic

I did these illustrations recently for The Mockingbird, an Episcopal magazine designed by Tom Martin Design. A particularly fun project because I was given complete freedom to create imagery on the topic of church and religious ritual. It gave me a chance to create a lot of art using this new collage technique. These are just a few.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My Museum Life

I spent a month at the Minneapolis Institute of Art last year as artist-in-residence, in their library. The idea man behind the residency was Jay Peterson, of Coffeehouse Press, someone I'd known several years as my neighborhood bookseller. (My favorite places are bookstores and libraries.) So I went to the museum and spent days in their library of old art books. Stealing, mostly. I get my best ideas looking at art, and what better place than a museum? I gave a lecture after the residency. A kind of show and tell. That was over a year ago. Now, suddenly, the museum is 100 years old, and I feel as if I'd grown up in it. (To celebrate the milestone my friends at Pentagram did a brand makeover. It's now Mia.)

When the museum decided to do a centenary book, Brian Donahue (who designs the Macalester College magazine) kindly asked me to draw something for the cover, and Jeff Johnson (my editor from when I was writing for Minnesota Monthly) asked me to write a chapter. Fun projects.  Brian used the cover art on the title page too.

Here’s the opening page of the essay. I illustrated a couple of my essay spreads with art I’d done during my time there, explaining the process of art, which is mostly osmosis. Illustrating this book was sort of like returning the art I stole from them, or the ideas I stole, transmuted into something strange and new, but old.

Enjoy, but don't touch.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Camera Setting

I've been drawing cameras for several years. Old cameras have a "thingness" that makes you want to pick them up and operate them. Irresistible. I remember on one of my trips for Skiing magazine, taking an old Rollei compact with me. It was built like a very small tank, armored, impregnable, to keep the light out I guess. A lot more cumbersome to ski with than my small new model Zeiss. Naturally I took b/w photos with it, trying to imitate the classic German ski photos of the 1930s.

This drawing is one of a series of Settings. The title is fun. I would take assorted objects and arrange them as if they were a place setting at a table, as if I was preparing to eat them. Delicious. This drawing appeared in The Believer.

Monday, May 6, 2013


In honor of Freud's birthday, here is a painting of Freud and Jung kissing.

Freud appears 13 times in my book. When he saw his mother naked. When he got his famous couch. When he started collecting totems. His attempt to stop smoking. A list of who he got birthday cards from when he turned 80. An altogether interesting life.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fiction Illustration in the New Yorker

I got a call from Awan Jordan, an illustration editor at the New Yorker, who wanted me to illustrate a story for an upcoming issue. The story (The Fragments by Joshua Ferris) involved a New York snowstorm, a relationship, and a stream of cell phone conversations, overheard in fragments like a Greek chorus. Awan suggested including handwritten bits of these conversations in the art. I welcomed the idea and got to work. I've been working with layers and patterns of handwritten text for some time in my art, and I've always done a lot of diagrams and maps. Quick, informal longhand seemed to work, imitating the feel of intimate conversation.

The first idea was to create a palimpsest of overlapping handwritten fragments, which I did several different ways. I liked the effect, but it seemed more like overlapping dialogue, like in an Altman movie, rather than a series of discrete fragments of private talk.

So I thought of something else, something I'd never tried before: inverting the lettering and shifting it into color and cutting and pasting it together. I'd do this in shapes rather than in strips. It's hard to do a sketch of a collage. It makes more sense to do the finished art right off, to see if it works. This is what I was doing. I'd gotten the call at the end of the week and promised sketches on Monday, planning instead to show several finished illustrations and see which they liked, reworking them as needed. This color illustration of bright lettering collaged together was invented as I was trying it out, and it worked pretty nicely. There was a bright Miro-ish playfulness to the shapes and the palette (including a certain amount of pale and gray colors made the other colors brighter and also helped echo the feel of the snowstorm in the story). The composition suggested one large voice balloon comprised of all these simultaneous conversations, all these relationships working themselves out in the air during this snowstorm. (I added snowflakes to this version too.)

This seemed perfect to me, but it didn't resemble the style sample Awan had liked initially, an overlapping diagram in two tones of blue that I'd sent him a few months ago. I went to bed loving the bright collage I'd done, but half of my mind thinking of how I might create something more in the style he'd suggested. Next day I rewrote the bits of dialogue and inserted them into voice balloons, shifting the line into the two blue tones from the style sample he'd liked, and assembled them on top of the earlier palimpsest that I'd also shifted into cool wintry blue shades. Then I inserted a semi transparent layer behind the voice balloons to help them show up better. 

This is the one that ran in the magazine this week. Awan had the clever idea of inserting the story's title into a voice balloon in the middle of the page. Brilliant touch.

When it came in the mail my wife said "After years of submitting your stories to them, you can finally say you've had your writing published in the New Yorker." (She's much wittier than I am.)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

False Spring

April has always been a cruel month. For the past few days the talk has been about the predicted six to twelve inch snow we'd get today. I woke up this morning and they were saying 3-6 instead. Still... The StarTribune writer Bill Ward wrote a clever piece about what Minnesotans should do to defy this late winter weather and they needed art for it, so I drew this surly chap in his sandals and sea monster innertube looking up at the snow. Enjoy.