Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Suburbia: Winter

This time of year I cast my mind back over places like this. The places where I grew up. When I was living in those suburbias of low-slung ranch and split level houses I wished I lived in better surroundings. I preferred elm-lined streets of alternating colonial and Georgian and Tudor houses. Usually these neighborhoods were adjacent to country clubs. We were not country club people. Now I look at the suburban cul-de-sac aesthetic with more nostalgia. It is, after all, the world inhabited by Charlie Brown, who is about my own age. Charles Schulz created the Peanuts characters about a mile from here, in a Spanish Colonial along Minnehaha Parkway.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Real Toys

I'm tired of PlayStation 3s and BMWs being called toys. This is a toy. We need to get back to the tradition of buying and giving toys for Christmas. Enough of my soapbox, I need to address some Christmas cards.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mele Kalikimaka

I did this Santa on a surfboard for Town & Country. Apparently this is how Polynesian Santas arrive on Christmas morning.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Another Christmas Fairy

This is one of a whole slew of holiday sprites I did for Barney's a couple years ago.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Snowy Street in Minneapolis

Funny, I can remember what I was listening to on the radio when I was drawing this. Thirty years ago I was in the Christmas card business, drawing, publishing, packaging and selling my own card line via department stores and gift shops. I can't remember where this street is though. Someplace in Kenwood, I think. Near Lake of the Isles. My parents still prefer my art from this period. I was a completely different artist then.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Tin-Toy Santa

I've said that I like to paint toys, tin-toys especially. Usually the toys are completely invented, but I think this one might be real. Maybe a hybrid of more than one toy item. It's hard to make Santa interesting. It helps if you can transform him in some way, changing the color of his suit, or putting him in a different mode of transportation, a goat for instance. I sent this one out as a Christmas card one year.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Reindeer Shopping

I did this reindeer as a holiday card for Graphique de France some years ago. Except for the antlers this is a self-portrait.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Geography of Christmas

I did this as a black and white map first. I published a black and white card line for several years, and still like doing plain, unelaborated line art. But Graphique de France asked me to do some cards for them and this was one that I thought would look good in color. I also did maps of London, Paris, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles for them. The geography of Christmas required some invention. I especially like the town of Yes, Virginia. As in "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." If any one is mystefied by anything I included, please ask. All details relate to something specific in the popular culture.

Toys Toys Toys

When I can't think what to ask for for Christmas I ask for toys. Tintoys, Dinky Cars, cast metal toy soldiers. Somewhere, in a drawer probably, I have a set of elastolin zoo animals I found at an estate sale years ago; I should find them and put them out. It's a toy time of year. I did this motorcyclist for a designer friend who likes motorcycles. I should maybe offer my services as a toy portraitist. Is there such a thing?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Carolers, Zebras, Thompson Gazelles

Another spot from that holiday issue of Town & Country. The story was about caroling at the zoo. (A hard thing to photograph.) I suppose exotic animals enjoy traditional carols as much as anyone.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I did this for Town & Country several years ago, and I can't remember if they used it or not. It may have been one of those sketches that didn't get picked but I liked enough to paint anyway.

I used to treat our living room manger scene like a toy theatre, arranging and rearranging the figures, enacting family dramas: "Why didn't the shepherds bring a gift?" "Why didn't you check ahead for a hotel room?" Etc. A godlike propensity I have shaken since.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ginger Cookies, etc.

I spent the weekend eating ginger cookies and watching some favorite old movies. I did this for Chronicle Books. Note the line is done with pen; that dates it to the early/mid '90s. I like brushed line better. I love doing title cartouches. I also collect books with illustrated title pages like this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Heroic Bust

The Orientalist is an obsolete idea. Picture a dilettante collecting bits of the mysterious East and putting them around his house, under glass and on shelves, bound in books. It's easier to contemplate people when you convert them into objects first. Which, I guess, is the process I used here. I've never thought of myself as a realist illustrator. It's been useful to come up with devices for getting around life drawing, drawing from life. One of my favorites is to imagine the person or persons in a scenario as toys or bits of Staffordshire pottery. This justifies the stiffness of the pose and the unreality of the situation I've put them into, and lets me get on with the metaphor or the meaning. Is this any different than Hitchcock treating actors as cattle? I can't remember whose portrait I drew this from, but it may have been Horace Walpole. The turban makes me think of Oliver Goldsmith.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Bit Whimsical

It's not a bad description of this kind of illustration. I don't know why, but I sometimes felt it was a bit of a slur. Whimsical. Made me sound less serious. Not that I am serious, but you know what I mean. If I remember, this was drawn for a Japanese client. Used to get lots of calls for character illustration from Japan. I called this character Mr. Leaf. The thing about this pencil technique, it suggests more than it explains. Sometimes it's hard to suggest something implausible with a concrete line, if you follow me. But the eye takes a pencil line on faith. I guess that's what makes it whimsical.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another Skier

This is what is known as a "kick turn." A basic maneuver nobody does anymore. Again, the pencil and watercolor style, which I love but hardly ever get to use.

Monday, November 30, 2009


This used to be me. O.K., minus the downhill suit, but otherwise it's me. I didn't ski a downhill more than a few times and it scared the hell out of me. Slalom scared me enough. But there was a mystique about the racing scene. It lost something when the skiers switched to toy-sized skis. Am I revealing a prejudice? Am I old-fashioned? Anyway, this time of year, I do think about it. I remember being a ski racer. I remember being a coach of ski racers, which was less cool than plain freezing. So any opportunity I get to illustrate the sport is a treat. I wrote lengthy, fairly glamorous travel features for Skiing magazine for many years, and all of that seems like a different life now. This illustration appeared in a recent issue of Snow magazine which also featured an article I wrote about ski fashion.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving, the Revised Standard Version

One of my favorite memories from kindergarten and first grade is of the day we spent cutting and coloring paper pilgrims and turkeys and Indians and log cabins for the classroom Thanksgiving mural. The resulting tableau was a mixture of scales and artistic abilities. It didn't matter if it was wrong in its details; this unevenness was what gave it its charm and energy.

Our modern picture of the historic holiday is similarly uneven, and almost entirely wrong. But we tend to love our traditions even––maybe especially––when they are mistaken. We wrap holidays in sentiment and it's hard to correct people's sentimental attachments. It's hard for some people to be reminded that the Pilgrims were incompetent at pioneering or that the founding fathers––Washington, Jefferson and that lot––were a bunch of agnostics and (worse) Unitarians.

I did this illustration for designer Patrick J B Flynn. The article was about the modern revisionist picture of Thanksgiving, so I used iconic toy figures as a starting point. Despite knowing better, I got the same nostalgic Thanksgiving thrill drawing them. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's For Dinner

I have never shot a pheasant, in anger or otherwise. But I have eaten it and love it. If we had a smaller family we might have pheasant for Thanksgiving. The first time I remember was when my father came home with one from his Saturday golf game. It had been hit by a car and he finished it off mercifully with a golf club, probably a nine iron. It was delicious, and no buckshot. I did this interesting cutaway for an ad agency. The art director loved it so much that he forgot to return the original. Has this ever happened to you? It's theft, but flattering in a way. I enjoyed giving the fowl a diagrammatic treatment. I borrowed liberally from some of those pork and beef ones done for Armour & Co and hung up behind butchers' counters. With jokes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eat Your Veg

I did this for ELDR, a magazine for seniors. Why is it so easy to avoid fruits and vegetables even when they taste good? A relic of teenage rebelliousness? I put healthy things into their own category, and because I'm not a Calvinist I tend to avoid them. When the doctor asks I lie: "Yes, I eat vegetables every day." I categorize chocolate as a vegetable.

Monday, November 23, 2009

More Food

This pastry chef appeared in a Bay Area magazine called Diablo.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Amateur Video

On this day in 1963, Abraham Zapruder used his 8 mm. Bell and Howell movie camera to film the arrival of President John F. Kennedy at the plaza opposite the Texas Book Depository. He filmed for 26 seconds, 486 frames, a little over six feet of film. He sold it to Life magazine for $150,000, and later testified to the Warren Commission, but he was a bystander, as are most of us in the great events of history, and knew very little about what happened. He was 58. Abraham Zapruder appears once in A Book of Ages.

Friday, November 20, 2009


In a previous century I was asked to illustrate a cookbook for Chronicle. The title was Ginger, and all the recipes were very gingery. I did not cook/mix/prepare everything in the book, but I did go rather overboard illustrating it, to the point where the art directors told me to stop or there wouldn't be room for text at all. I did a whole set of illustrations playing with the word Ginger. This one appeared on the half-title.

Q.E.II and Frida Kahlo

Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip on this day in 1947. She was 21 and had been in love with him since she was 13. Theirs is an odd and oddly charming relationship. Look at it from his point of view: he's been walking two paces behind this woman for 62 years, waiting for her to talk, minding his manners as best he can. She pays him an allowance. He appears twice in A Book of Ages, she seven times, and several more times in other people's anecdotes. The royal wedding was celebrated in a film starring Fred Astaire, in which the 51 year-old Astaire danced with dumbbells, a hat rack, a framed photograph, a chandelier and Jane Powell (page 194).

The Mexican Revolution began on this day in 1910, not with gunfire but paperwork, a document called the Plan de San Luis Potosi which denounced the president. Painter Frida Kahlo's earliest childhood memory was of gunfire. Her mother served tea to revolutionaries hiding in their garden, details to be found on page 7 in A Book of Ages. (The book is full of revolutionaries, left, right and center.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009


This pair are obviously suspicious of unfamiliar foods. I did this for the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine for an article about adventurous eating.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pastry Chef & Tarts

For a time I did a lot of illustrations in this pencil style. It had a narrow application and the limitations were hard to explain to art directors. The subject needed to be easy for the eye to comprehend. The handling of color was key. The colors defined the outline of the figure. Done this way, small things like foodstuffs could engage the eye differently without the fuss of a black line. I found if I painted the figure as a Staffordshire ceramic it had sufficient "thingness", almost as if such a frail figure needed a platform to stand on. Anyway, another food illustration; I don't remember where it appeared.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Food Art

I used to do quite a lot of food illustration and I miss it. Makes me a little hungry just thinking about it. I don't know when it tapered off exactly. Maybe I didn't promote myself enough in the category. Do I eat less adventurously than I used to? Probably that too. Here's something from ten years ago. My style hasn't changed much. I still need to remind the rational side of the brain to ignore proportion and common sense. This would be much less interesting if he were frying a normal-sized fish in that little pan. An illustrator's job is to create things you don't see everyday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grown-Ups (Redux)

Illustration for adult readers tends to call for attractive and classically proportioned people––evenly distributed among the usual races and genders. Children's books, meanwhile, are a chance to paint them odd, exaggerated, ugly, scary and funny-looking. Kids think adults are to laugh at, especially when they are depicted as monsters. Illustrating this book I found myself setting the figures at the edge of the frame, off-center, peering in or out. There's probably a deep psychological reason for this.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Terrible Truth About Grown-Ups

This is another alarming but accurate image from my explosive exposé of the menaces and follies of adulthood. It's amazing a civilized society allows grown-ups to vote, much less drive cars and look after children.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The World is your... Apple?

Another globe metaphor from my sketchbook. He's taken a bite out of northern Europe.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Targeting the Globe

Here's a recent image from my sketchbook. Sometimes when I'm doodling I don't know what the drawing is about until I'm done. I can imagine several topics this image could be attached to. The "globe as a plaything" idea turns a bit sinister when you put a gun in the man's hand.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Performance Art

My wife, Faith (the impresario) put this show together to help fund the theatre program at Minneapolis Southwest High School (where our son Evan is in nearly every show, it seems). It was on Sunday night, right on the heels of the Vikings Packer game––which luckily didn't go into overtime. We raised some serious money. I did the art for the posters and the tickets, which Kristi Anderson designed. As always, it was the design that made the art look cool. The show was pretty fabulous, by the way.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Earth As Metaphor

A metaphor for what, you ask. What could Earth be a metaphor for. Earth is more metaphored against than metaphoring, if I can put it that way. It turns up in my drawings a lot. A person, serviceable enough in his or her own right, but standing there to no extended purpose; put a globe in her hand and she is worldly or he is Atlas, or vice versa. I can draw a circle and loop a few shapes inside it, and voila! they are continents and it is Earth. Here is one I did for the Christian Science Monitor and always liked. Especially the fish. I should try to find some other globe images from my files and put them up.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I was writing a story about a boy who grows suddenly large and the problems he encounters. Problem One is something Clifford (the big red dog) doesn't have to deal with. Clothes. This kid has outgrown everything and is very hard to shop for. The style is more dry brush than most of my work, and a rare excursion into nightscape. Most of my art places figures against a white background, so this was a fun departure. One of a series.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Birds Out of Thin Air

Is he a magician producing doves out of his sleeves? I don't know. The sketchbook functions like a dream sometimes, conjuring odd, hard-to-explain imagery.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Large hand, small shoe

The way I remember it, tying his shoes was like tying on a sparse gray hackle. He is now 6'3". Next week he turns 18. He tells me he is excited about being able to smoke while he votes. (Joking.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Like Fish in a Barrel

Before and during our invasion of Iraq some of the expert commentators on various news programs compared the operation to shooting fish in a barrel. I was more skeptical and did this drawing to describe how it might turn out.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Useful Metaphor

Ideas enter the political conversation via radio waves and newsprint, usually shaped by the persons and groups who own the airwaves and the presses. And the rest of us ordinary folks nod our heads in agreement, because opinion shapers are clever. A few years ago the idea of the moment was a flat tax that would have shifted even more of the tax burden off rich people––who already pay at a lower rate than most of us do. I heard working class people applauding the idea. It sounded fair, but if you thought about it for a few minutes it made no sense at all. It required an analogy, a visualization that described why unequal size justifies unequal sharing of a burden, putting more burden on those capable of carrying it. The same could be said about health care. Why do we pile punishing costs and restrictions on people already burdened with illness and physical hardships?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Man in the Rain

This is what October looks like this year in Minneapolis. Another of a series of characters that appeared in The Believer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Man and umbrella

Another in that series that appeared in the Believer. You hardly ever see people like this outside of New York's Upper East Side. If I saw him walking on a sidewalk in Linden Hills I might phone the police. I especially like how his feet are placed. Drawings like this start at the feet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Palm Beach

Another one of those kitchen table portraits I did for The Believer a few years ago. I know these people exist, but I don't see them in my neighborhood. How does she spend her days? And her money?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

inventing people

I remember drawing this. Interesting how the mind works. I can remember what I was listening to (Bill Evans), and that it was a cold evening. I was working at the kitchen table supervising the kids' homework. I had torn some paper into small squares and had some ivory black on a salad plate, a pencil, a brush. I did eight characters that evening. All of them appeared in the Believer a month or two later. They seem real but they are completely invented. They might have appeared in a story. Maybe I should write one about each of them. I could title it Winesburg, Minnesota.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Gourmet Wine Column

I did a lot of wine columns for Gourmet. Then, when they were republished in Japan, I got to do them again. I always made a point of purchasing the wines being written up. Gerald Asher taught me what I know about wine. I drink a glass with lunch and dinner; it's now cheaper than milk. For this article comparing California and French wines I turned the Eiffel Tower into a scale. Something a photographer has a harder time doing. I love doing the Eiffel Tower. Icons are so familiar you can stretch them, simplify them, stylize them and they're still themselves.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gourmet Took Us To Italy For Lunch

Not literally, of course. But that is the beauty of a food magazine. The pleasure (some of it anyway) without the calories or the expense. Or, for that matter, the effort of cooking. I can't remember the article this illustrated, but I do remember not being sent to Pisa to work up sketches. Photographers are always being flown places and housed and fed. My schedule is more relaxing and my overhead is less onerous, but I doubt photographers envy me much. After working for Gourmet for many years I began to get calls from Bon Appetit, which was nice because the look at Gourmet was shifting away from illustration and Bon Appetit was very hip and West Coast. Both were published by Condé Nast, so I didn't worry about a conflict. Then I got a call from my person at Bon App, shocked and hurt that I'd done an illustration for Gourmet. Which reminds me of an anecdote about Anais Nin. In her fifties she had husbands on both coasts, who didn't know about each other. Life is full of innocent complications.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Gourmet Magazine

I just found out Gourmet magazine is being closed down. Gourmet was my first national magazine client. I remember being in New York one rainy day in 1989. I always traveled with a portfolio. In those days it was mostly original art, no xeroxes, and my art is watercolor. I had to keep the book dry. I phoned their offices from a phone booth on Madison, asking if I could drop by. Irwin Glusker got on the line and assigned me a feature illustration over the phone. I never did visit their offices, when they were on Lex or later when they moved. But that's typical. Most of my clients have never met me. But I did dozens of illustrations for them in the years following, mostly maps of wine regions, also maps of cities visited by their writers. I learned a lot about food in the process. I also made a point of drinking the wines from the regions and vineyards I was mapping. Gourmet was always wonderfully written, wonderfully evocative. Delicious.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Campus Map

I did this map of a "typical college campus" for the people at FISH. I had to ask myself What comprises a typical college campus? There'll be a stadium, a science building, the student union, but what else? What makes frat row look Greek? It has nothing to do with Ionian columns or classical sculpture. I once described our local university as a museum of relegated architectural forms (I cribbed the analogy from F. Scott Fitzgerald) and therein lies its charm. Its heterogeneity demonstrates the importance of liberal education, of not settling for one form. Perhaps uniformity shows lack of imagination.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Department Store

I used to visit Marshall Field's State Street store when I was a kid. Not unattended, mind you. The first time I was ever mislaid was at Marshall Field's; luckily I was discovered and raised by a kind family of gypsies who made me what I am today, but I'm digressing. The point is, the Department Store of my imagination is always that store. The enormous first floor ceiling upheld by white Greek columns, the islands of curved counters, the staircases, the Walnut Room for lunch. Never mind that the store no longer exists––by that name, I mean. It was a singular pleasure to design a shopping card for them several years ago, before Macy's acquired them. I'd done a similar cutaway illustration of a department store Christmas, published by Graphique de France a few years earlier, and subsequently published in a calendar in Japan. This was a miniature version to be carried in your pocket but the store in my imagination is still enormous and full of wonder.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Red Hat, Old Cat

The guy in the hat was a sketchbook piece, the old gardener was a character in a children's book I was writing. Sharon Werner put them together into this promo, wrote the rhyming copy, inserted the commas, and voila. Good design makes interesting art more clever. The old guy isn't glamorous, but the color and texture are, and the context is sophisticated. The children's book remains unpublished, but I got some nice jobs out of this promo, some of them pretty glamorous.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Fan

Fans are like bicycles, simple but complicated to draw, and perfectly iconic, suitable for the metaphorists bag of tricks. What can a fan represent? What can't it represent? I was always afraid of fans, especially ones like the one depicted here which practically came with instructions on where to insert fingers to have them lopped off. Thousands of dolls, toy soldiers and small insects have met grisly ends in fans like this. I never harmed anyone or anything; I didn't need to. I could picture what would happen. A fan is a strangely violent instrument for cooling you off.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stick Insect with Cello

I did this for a concert poster for my son and daughter's school. Musical instruments are difficult enough to depict, with all those knobs and curves. Add in the instrumentalist and it becomes even more complicated. The cello has such a voluptuous shape, it seemed amusing to wrap someone thin and angular around it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Art Installation

Art museums butter their bread with "art installations", rooms filled with art that looks like plain ordinary stuff artfully arranged. (I collaborated on a screenplay years ago about an art detective. The funniest line from it was written by somebody else. The detective enters a museum gallery which is filled waist-high with mud and says: "I can't believe this is a forgery.") This is an illustrator's version of installed art. We all collect things. I collect old toys, and they turn up in my art. The arrangement here is influenced a bit by Saul Steinberg, but also (in the styling) by Elwood Smith and Steven Guarnaccia and Seymour Chwast. Our minds are all shadowboxes full of items glued together by Joseph Cornell. The art director on this was Rick Besser, but the art was never used.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Guy and Flower

This illustrated an article about how guys sometimes have a soft, sentimental side. Implausible as that is, this turned into a fairly charming illustration. Sometimes I like leaving the background landscape in black and white. In this case it creates a separate dreamlike dimension. But often a client will ask if I've forgotten to paint in some of the colors.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Down Boy

For several years I illustrated a monthly pet column for a west coast magazine. This particular column was about dogs chewing furniture. An illustrator has a license to exaggerate things a little, imagine things out to their sillier extremes. I doubt a photographer could get a dog to do this in a photo shoot.