Monday, March 30, 2009

For Target

Working in Minneapolis one inevitably does something for Target. The taste level is uniformly high, so it's always a pleasure. This was a project I did for a Target booklet about kids and education, specifically arts education which I'm very keen on. The agency that put it together was Jack Morton

Friday, March 27, 2009


I don't usually draw things from life. Usually I visualize. Sometimes I use toy or decorative ceramic versions of things as stand-ins. But there's something wonderfully concrete about the thing itself. A beauty of organization is part of usefulness. The blunt obviousness is what makes an icon; what I call "thingness." It is what it looks like, and how could we imagine it differently? Which is why I still draw dial telephones and fall back on typewriter keys to represent the machinery of letterforms. These were another exercise done at the kitchen table. Still lifes of things on hand on pieces of art paper torn into fourths, with black gouache.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Whenever I'm not sure what a picture is of, or not sure it looks what I meant it to look like, I call it "Figurist". It always works. This is one of a series I did for a gallery show in Florida. The week I arrived there for the show the gallery mysteriously changed hands, leaving me with a whole bunch of valuable paintings, far more than I have walls to hold. I think the thing that looks like an igloo actually is an igloo. Why it is an igloo I am not sure; I just freehanded it. But I like it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I was asked to do some spot series for the New Yorker. None of them ended up being used, but they began a whole category of gallery drawings. I call them bagatelles. This first set has a choreography and story line among the different figures. The second is just an arrangement of icons that might resemble something or might not.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Man With Book

I drew this with a dry brush and gouache at the kitchen table. One of seven or eight I did one evening while supervising homework. They appeared in the Believer magazine, but I've also visualized them printed large as posters for something or other.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gum Machine

This is another image from my children's book "When I'm Big." I like having the chance to work big without complexity. I think the distorted perspective in the wristwatch and the fingers makes it more interesting than if I'd done a perfect rendering. Sometimes I do a drawing and need to go back and work some imperfections into it. Looking at it now I think the torsion in the index finger echoes the torsion in the slot of the gum machine. I left the gumballs without outlines; it makes them look more delicious.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Absent-minded Economist

The lords of money and commerce think of the dollar as an abstract thing. Hedge traders think of it as the bean in a shell game. Businessmen sometimes believe it's holy. I think it's more like the bubble coming out of a bubble-pipe.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Collage With Red

I fell in love with Hannah Hoch after seeing her work in a show Peter Boswell curated at Walker Art Center. I began playing with scissors. The point isn't to nail an explicit idea to the wall but to suggest things. I don't remember what I was suggesting here. It would be interesting to start a list of what it might mean, or write a story around it.


A couple of years ago this image appeared in my sketchbook. I suppose I was trying to describe what kind of leadership was in the driver's seat. A kind of brute instinct seemed to have taken over, and I thought of Caliban, the brute from Shakespeare's play, the Tempest. Our businessman's government is a fine horse, but it's still basically a horse.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Because I never went to art school and never drew live models, I learned how to draw people by looking at art, seeing what I liked and how it was done. Which may explain why my style is as various as it is. Sometimes borrowing a cast of eye or a gesture from Max Beckman, organizing a landscape like Edward Bawden, setting the feet or rendering brickwork the way Ronald Searle did. These faces remind me a little bit of Graham Laidler (Pont), who drew English characters for Punch: the dotted eyes especially. A roomful of people like this becomes an exercise in repeat colors as much as anything, trying to create a balance of pattern and palette, and an even mixture of races, classes and genders. The art director was Mike Schacherer, then of Little + Co.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Country Roads

I love how country roads are ornamented with telephone lines and fences and punctuated with two tire-track driveways and railway lines. Drawing these landscapes I am calling up the hours spent with my cheek pressed against the window in the backseat of a Ford Fairlane, noticing.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Another case of a sketch they didn't choose. The story was about wannabe film directors, and they went with a row of directors chairs instead, which actually turned out very nicely. We all have a technique for getting people to choose the option we prefer. We learned it as kids playing Old Maid. But people choose what they like. I painted this one anyway, for my portfolio.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Occasionally the art director doesn't pick my favorite sketch. If I like it a lot I'll paint it anyway and drop it in my files. This is one of those cases. The story was about how medicines begin to affect our body chemistry, and I imagined this guy, shaped a bit like a pill bottle. The further you stray from realism the easier it is to see the metaphor. I think the art director wanted something more concrete. I can do concrete too.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


The LA Times article described the ways stress affects our general health. (It ain't good for us.) You'll be familiar with the stresses: bosses, kids, medical worries, bills, spouses. I made the main figure a man instead of a woman, probably because I was having a stressful day. But I also have a harder time making women look comical. The wife here looks less hectoring than the familiar Thurber wife. The amount of hair the man has lost to worry reflects my own.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tourist Photographs

(Illustration and photography are rivals, but I love photography. Here is an article I wrote for Hemispheres magazine; I illustrated it with photographs. The illustration above was done for Travel & Leisure. Er-H)

My wife and I were in Crete years ago. We traveled light, everything for two people in one small athletic bag. She discovered olive groves and beaches, I discovered photography. Everything I saw seemed as if it had been invented in that spot, that arrangement, that original and unexpected but inevitable form, just for me to take its picture. Trees shaped by Mediterranean centuries. Box-sized shops with open fronts spilling Greek housewares and hardwares and textiles and groceries. Houses sized and shaped to fit into a photograph, like little Parthenons. People in picturesque costumes stared at me from chairs in front of blue-painted doors, daring me. My wife, who is far more sensitive than I am, told me it would be rude to photograph them. I remembered that in some places it was believed that cameras took your soul. I hesitated until the moment was gone. Henri Cartier-Bresson once said “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.” But people with cameras aren’t neutral any more than they are invisible, and natives of every place are entitled to their souls. I haven’t looked at our photos from Crete for years now, but I can still remember the pictures I almost took, the regret having made them indelible.

When we went to Italy with our children, age three and six, we gave them each a disposable camera to use. At dinner with our friends at their villa above Rome we joked about collecting the disposable cameras at the end of the trip and throwing them away as their name suggests. Grown-ups are arrogant about their own superior eye, but saying children’s eyes aren’t trained only means they haven’t learned to be snobs about what they see. Painted walls in churches are judged by the same criteria as painted billboards along the autostrada. In either case, what is new is new. While we were in Rome our son took three pictures of different arrangements of his friend Sam’s toy airplanes on a blue bedspread. In Siena he took pictures of motorinos with the same gusto that he collected Italian comic books. One of our hosts is a museum curator; he watched the shot selection with professional interest. I was the one giving stupid advice: “Do you really want another picture of a motorcycle?” Of course he did. And Italian cars. There are fine examples of Renaissance architecture in the background of some of the pictures, somewhat out of focus and severely cropped. When we returned to Rome we visited the Colosseum. The modern jostles and impersonates the ancient everywhere in Italy. Handsome Italian men dressed in gladiator costumes were hiring themselves out for the tourists to pose with and be photographed. Our son found one of them seated over near the truck selling sodas and gelato. The gladiator had his girlfriend in his lap kissing him while he ate his gelato. Evan went right up to them, framed the shot and took their picture. Unluckily, all of his film was used up. We find the most revealing images when we turn away from what we are looking at, and at that moment we are usually just out of film.

We visited London one April. As if to prove what T. S. Eliot had said about the month, it was cruel and cold and wet. Luckily, London is a city of interiors and enclosed space. It is also full of photogenic incident and irresistible, un-photogenic people. For me London has always presented a problem. I grew up imagining it, and only saw it for the first time when I was thirty. Our English friends knew ahead of time that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, and told me I would need to learn to “avert my eyes.” A camera is a useful editor-out of unpleasant, modern things––scaffolding, graffiti, incongruous Americanisms (like sandwich bars and other tourists) but you can only spend so much of your time looking through a camera. Use the viewfinder too much and you miss things. I came home in 1986 with hundreds of wonderful photographs that I store in the basement and never look at. There are certain things that must be photographed. We call them “sights.” Big Ben was behind scaffolding when we visited the first time. This time St. Paul’s was undergoing its facelift. It was wrapped in scaffolding, which was itself enveloped in an enormous cartoon of the cathedral printed on cheesecloth. I preferred the scaffolding; at least it was authentic. I averted my eyes. Since 1986 London has grown much more prosperous and clean, more American. The city is systematically removing its old self, not unlike a snake shedding its skin, but more like a caterpillar becoming something completely different, in this case a moth I think. The bobbies with tall helmets, lawyers with periwigs, the men in bowler hats are disappearing. One by one the London streetscape is deleting the familiar red pillarboxes, the red phoneboxes, replacing them with useful, dull, modern reductions that nobody needs anyway because everyone communicates by cellphone. We decided to take our annual Christmas picture of the children at one of one of the few remaining phoneboxes beside a gated park in Kensington. Children are as likely to resent the intrusion of photography as any picturesque native staring at us from a private doorway. Ours hate having their picture taken too, especially together, but for once they seemed to take it as a lark. They peered out of the red, many-paned door, wearing secret, knowing smiles, like the Mona Lisa or the cat who ate the canary. It was a perfect moment in a lovely place. No-one who received the photo at Christmas would know that the insides of London phoneboxes are papered with the calling cards of prostitutes in lewd poses and various states of undress. Having our pictures taken on vacation we are capturing ourselves at a moment in time as much as a place. They are high points, usually, when all of our feet are momentarily off the ground. Like in a slowed down sequence by Edward Muybridge, we and our children are growing older and wiser in front of the camera, disclosing some things, hiding others, describing the journey in a subtle variety of ways.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


March is the only month that's a verb, but it's so indecisive. Friends in Oregon are seeing crocuses, and it's snowing in Atlanta. That's what this image is about. The ensemble of wellies and an umbrella with ski goggles and a down vest. Coffee helps. From my sketchbook.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Once in a while I get asked to do art for jazz performers. I love doing it because I listen to jazz while I work. My depictions of jazz owe a lot to the great Verve illustrator David Stone Martin.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

I remember when Jacko was the coolest individual on the planet. This was around the time Thriller came out. Then he bought a ranch, which he named after Peter Pan, and invested in plastic surgeries. It was downhill from there. A few years ago, shortly after he'd been acquitted of assorted crimes, the LA Times asked me to do a series of illustrations on the topic of what Michael might do to rebuild his career. I immediately thought of having him tour with the Vienna Choirboys. It is easier to cartoon a figure when they are already a cartoon.