Friday, December 21, 2012


Lee Carlson, a colleague from my days writing for Skiing magazine, sent me this questionnaire. It's been traveling from author blog to author blog. What is the working title of your book? I have several books in various states of completion. Picture books, novels, stories that want to turn into novels, a novelette I'm adapting for the screen. Since this is a blog about my art, here are the picture books and illustrated books: MR. PONSONBY'S WAY WITH MICE and other stories; THE TERRIBLE TRUTH ABOUT GROWN-UPS; A CAR TRIP; BAD HAIR DAY; A NOSE IS A NOSE; NOTHING EVER HAPPENS AT THE BELVEDERE. There are others which I haven't worked on in a while. I have a lot of drawers full of material. Where did the idea come from for the book? Where do all ideas come from? Thin air. Actually, several of my picture book stories and my ghost stories began as stories I told to Madeline at bedtime. It's been a while since I've told her stories. What genre do(es) your book(s) fall under? Travel. Fable. Adventure. Comedy. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? For my screenplay of the story, THE LAST ADVENTURE OF THE BLUE PHANTOM (published in McSweeneys24), I picture either Forest Whitaker or Denzel Washington. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? The titles usually tell what it's about. Or, as in the case of Belvedere, it's ironic and opposite to what happens. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I have direct relationships with art directors and a few editors, but it's important to have an agent for books. Marly Rusoff sold my first book, A BOOK OF AGES, but I am represented by Sterling Lord for children's books. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? I write very quickly or very slowly. Stories are quick. Novels take forever. I've not finished a novel yet. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? My prose influences are Raymond Chandler, Roald Dahl, M. R. James, Evelyn Waugh. Who or What inspired you to write this book? I put a character into a situation and try to write them out of it. I think of a place or a time or a mood or a predicament first. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? Since books are such a speculative venture it's probably better to put people onto the book I have in print than the ones that may never get there. The best way to do that is to visit the website for A BOOK OF AGES––AN ECCENTRIC MISCELLANY OF GREAT AND OFFBEAT MOMENTS IN THE LIVES OF THE FAMOUS AND INFAMOUS, AGES 1 TO 100 (RANDOM HOUSE, 2008). It's a funny, surprising, fascinating, conversation-starting collection of stories from famous lives, arranged by year of age. (A perfect gift.)

Elves, Christmas Lights, Snow

I did this Christmas card for the Dutch design firm GBE and my friend Fritiof Eriksson. This idea just popped into my head. You never know where they come from. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Reagan the Lifeguard

I drew this a few years ago. You hear Republicans talking about individualism and the evils of government, but they seldom mention all the government props and support they get in the business community, the roads they use, the educated workforce they couldn't do without, the legal protections of their patents and trade agreements. The quote they like to trot out is this one from Reagan, about the scariest words in the world being "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." I don't suppose many people mind the government rescuing them from hurricanes or floods or fire. Do you think of firemen as socialists? I don't. But they're not profiteers either, and I'm glad of that. They don't ask for payment before they help you. Reagan himself was a government employee when he worked as a lifeguard. He didn't look at every near-drowning as a business opportunity. Helping can be a job, but it's also a citizen's duty, a neighbor's duty, and an obligation we all share in common through our democratic institutions. One of the presidential candidates wants to cut FEMA emergency preparedness by half. Can you guess which one?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Political Geography-The Road to 2012

I did this illustration for Northwestern University to help them promote a panel discussion about the election. The event was titled "The Road to 2012". They'd seen the POETRY magazine cover I posted on my website and liked that look. I changed the houses from familiar suburban ramblers and moderns into 21st century mansionettes shaped like red and blue states (choosing states with recognizable outlines––there are a lot of rectangles.) In the final version we added signs with the electoral college count for each, but I like the basic version, which is more conceptual and interesting for being less concrete. Raul Torres art directed.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Original Immigrants

I did this image for the remarkable Patrick J. B. Flynn, for an education magazine article about how to rethink our teaching of Thanksgiving to America's schoolchildren. The natives who greeted and helped the early settlers were a trusting and generous people, and we Europeans didn't repay them very well. Something to think about on Columbus Day. Of course, till the day he died, Columbus thought he was stealing land and gold from the Chinese.

Friday, September 28, 2012

La Table

Faith's birthday was the other day and I drew her a card. Usually I draw flowers, but I bought flowers, so I drew her favorite table in our living room. (Happy Birthday, Faith. Love, Eric.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lucky Jim

I never wanted to leave college. I'd found a place where your job was reading books. I liked the gothic architecture, the ivy, the rumpledness, the quiet. I did leave, but I still go back occasionally, usually by reading novels about college life, the best one being Lucky Jim, which I've reread every ten years or so with increasing admiration and relish. When NYRB asked me to illustrate the covers of Amis's novels for them I quickly began rereading them all, starting with Lucky Jim, which I found as richly amusing as ever.

I did several dozen drawings of Jim Dixon to start. I drew him with a pint in his hand, with a book, wearing a jaundiced expression, a bilious expression, a world-weary expression. Then I decided to do the reader a favor and let them visualize Lucky Jim how they liked. I turned him volte face, striding up a long sidewalk toward the college.

What college? He's a minor instructor at a minor redbrick college, not Oxford or Cambridge. Amis's biographers think he might have been visualizing Swansea (where he was teaching) or Lancaster or Leicester, but he doesn't say. I looked for appropriate examples of Midlands collegiate architecture and started drawing them. The final image is adapted from a wing at Liverpool University. I removed some of the soot and made the brick redder. Still, it looks appropriately prisonlike, because Jim Dixon doesn't like where he is. Unlike myself at his age, he longs for escape; the novel is escapist in that sense. Our hero is a boozer, a slacker, a mocker of authority, but in all things a colossal fuck-up, and his story is a masterpiece of slow-motion catastrophe. I hope I've done it justice.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Art for Gastronomica Magazine

Gastronomica called and wanted me to illustrate a story about pranks. Pranks chefs and sous chefs play on each other. A couple of approaches seemed to work. A plain funny drawing of chefs playing tricks––I drew something inspired by the MAD series Spy vs. Spy, sly looks, furtive cooks lighting matches in each others' cooking clogs. Another part of the story was about the phony equipment requests chefs send the new guy in search of. That's the idea that gelled. It required drawing a number of specialized tools that don't exist, never a problem for me. I think it turned out rather well. The art direction was by the excellent and seldom mischievous Frances Baca. Look for this art in the forthcoming issue. There are several articles in it that I plan to read over lunches this week...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Orientation, a book of stories

Here is the paperback cover of ORIENTATION, an intriguing book of stories by Dan Orozco. I did the lettering right down to the Faber colophon. Art directed by the wonderful Charlotte Strick. It was Charlotte's idea to throw a bright yellow behind these faces. Now the book practically jumps off the shelf. Brilliant.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Anniversary Flowers

Yesterday was our anniversary. I painted this bouquet, but also walked to the corner to buy her a real one. There is something endlessly intriguing about flowers, how they unfold and overlap.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Today's Art in the New York Times

I got a call from Alexandra Zsigmond yesterday. She art directs the New York Times op-ed page, and wanted me to do a drawing for the letters column. David Brooks had written about the Republican alternative to Obama's Affordable Care Act, which had just been upheld by the Supreme Court, and people had written responses to the column. It's hard to do a drawing of nothing, but I had the idea of drawing an elephant holding an empty box. I put a red cross on it to indicate it was a first aid kit, an apt enough analogy.

To make the elephant look more "congressional" I also put him in a suit.

The editors at the Times like to steer away from the hackneyed symbols when they can––the elephants and donkeys and Uncle Sams––so I also drew a senatorial-looking figure holding an empty box. To emphasize the emptiness of the box, I added a moth.

Word came back that they preferred the non-elephantine drawing and wanted it without the moth, which looked too much like a butterfly to them. They also thought it would be better to have the first aid kit covering more of the man's face, to make it more about the box. Adjustments made, drawing rescanned and sent, and this is the one that ran in the New York Times this morning. I like how it turned out.

While we're on the subject of elephants, I sometimes wonder if there aren't millions of Americans who vote Republican not because they like their policies but because they like elephants and perhaps hold a negative opinion of donkeys. I wouldn't be surprised.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Travel Art...Minus the Glamour

I did some art for the New York Times travel section last week, art directed by Shannon Robertson and Angelica Rogers. The topic was legroom in Coach, something I'm familiar with after many years as a travel writer. (Every year it seemed the seats got narrower and closer together...or was I still growing?) The conversation in the column was about the aggravation and aggression that close quarters generate. I drew it two ways for them to choose from. First I drew a conventional composition of unhappy travelers elbowing and scowling at each other. Then I tried to think what they reminded me of. Knees shoved up, shoulders hunched––and I thought of kiddycars, adults shoehorned into seats designed for children. This added the aggressive element that I was reading about. And why not make the kiddycars into small airliners? The space allotted for the illustration allowed me to decapitate two figures on the left, a natural consequence of modern travel.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Tree at Lacock Abbey

I drew this from an old photograph of a tree at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. I couldn't draw it from life because I've never been to Lacock; I've been to Wiltshire. Anyway, the tree was blown down in a high wind a century ago. I find I draw better from an armchair, indoors, out of the wind. Sometimes what I draw can tell you where I'd like to be, but if I was there I doubt I'd draw. I might take pictures. I'd probably sit and read a book, no doubt about someplace else.

Monday, March 26, 2012

From the Sketchbook-an Old Bookstore

I did this drawing over the weekend from an old photograph of Foyles, the London bookstore. The largest, but not my favorite. My favorite haunt for books in London is a small side street called Cecil Court. It's off Charing Cross Road.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Drawing of a Bridge in Bath

Bath is one of my favorite cities, and I'm sad to admit I've only spent two days in it, more like a day and a half, an evening in between. I hardly know it. I know it better from books by Austen and Smollett and Dickens and the films made from them. I did this drawing from a postcard I bought when I was there.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I did this drawing for my wife for Valentines Day. She loves tulips. (I also gave her roses.) The house on the pitcher is our house overlooking Lake Harriet.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dickens

On his 200th birthday, the Great Inimitable is as funny and satirically brilliant as ever. And relevant too, in a world owned and operated by Scrooges. We could use a novelist with his righteous anger and his ability to change minds. I did this illustration several years ago for a Broadway production of A Christmas Carol, the show that Americans love every Christmas and forget immediately afterwards.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


When it's cold and gray here in Minneapolis it sometimes helps to spend a little time drawing a warmer, sunnier place. Somewhere I've been, in this case Rome, my favorite neighborhood of the old city between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. I can almost smell the motorino fumes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The One About the Buddhist Temple

I stopped by the Co-op the other day and was looking at the magazines and happened across the art I did for Shambhala Sun last month. It turned out nicely. The story was about a Buddhist monk and an old temple in Japan. Being about zen and such things there were levels behind the obvious, which is what I tried to express here. Also, being zen, there wasn't a lot of action. This wasn't a Kung Fu story.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Lotus and the Projector

There is something Platonic about the concept of reality projected on a screen. The idea dates back to Plato, in fact, referring to how we perceive reality secondhand and need to trust that it's true. The idea of a film projector was a central metaphor to a story I illustrated for the current issue of Shambhala Sun magazine, art directed by Liza Matthews.