Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Election Day

I did this art for the alumni magazine at the University of Minnesota, art directed by Kristi Anderson. This is how it works. Patient, civil, public-spirited, honest, fair. Vote like your life depends on it because it does.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Judicious Illustration

The op-ed I was asked to illustrate in the LATimes was about how the Supreme Court was being endangered by extreme partisanship.

The trick with art like this is to avoid false equivalencies. I happen to think it's not a good idea to put hardline political operatives on the high court. I don't think it's wise to elevate an alleged sexual predator to the Supreme Court. I also think Americans might distrust a justice who has difficulties with telling the truth and seems skilled at hiding it. Call me old-fashioned...

So...here is the finished art. It isn't as sharp as I'd wanted to make it. False equivalency standards require both sides be pilloried or neither, which often tends to undermine the point. This art ended up blaming neither party for this episode. In my opinion the old American principle of "majority rules" was exercised by the Republican majority (to take a hypothetical example) as two men might force their wishes upon a 15 year-old girl in a locked bedroom.

Or is that too hypothetical? Certainly no self-respecting elephant would act that way.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Another Visual Metaphor––When Is Something Really Something Else?

I watched a documentary recently called California Typewriter and found myself drawing typewriters for a few days afterwards. This was one of the ideas that popped up. I never owned a Selectric but always found the orb-shaped cartridge interesting. It seemed illogical (the gyrations required seemed overly elaborate)––but in use it proved very logical. It squeezed a complex sorting of letters into a very compact package, the most elegant of compact packages, the orb. It functioned in spite of itself. Sort of like the weird idea FedEx had of sending packages from New York to New Rochelle via Memphis. The central clearing house idea. It seemed cockeyed until it simplified the process.

Metaphors, likewise, emerge from concepts that seem odd or anomalous. Relations that seem remote that turn out to be direct. This is what analogies and similes are. Useful shorthand that forces the mind to make sense of something odd, a process which makes the idea seem absolutely right and commonplace. The obvious choice isn't always the best choice. (The shortest path between NY and New Rochelle might actually be Memphis.)

This is the key difference between direct representative illustration and metaphorical, idea-based illustration. A drawn metaphor works best if it remains simple, even blunt or crudely rendered. Not obvious or explicit. The more it looks like the image drawn the less likely it will suggest the idea or thing it's being compared to.

This drawing (above) would be a more successful metaphor if the Selectric orb were dropped into a planetary system, if it were revolving around the sun, for instance, or if it were being passed from player to player like a basketball. That said, I like the oddity of this running figure. I don't know what it means. That is what sketchbooks are for. For now I'm storing that drawing of the Selectric orb in this collage and may use it elsewhere someday.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What We Talk About When We Talk About Cities (And Love)

First off: a lovely title and an interesting book by Andy Merrifield.
I love how this cover turned out, with the quickly drawn figures in their isolation, except for the couple in the center, embracing in the middle of Times Square. I also thought two detached figures on bicycles added a subtle note of possibility.
ORbooks' Colin Robinson asked me to do this a few months ago, and, as happens with book publishing, I had forgotten the project until it arrived in the mail. Nothing is as thrilling as a book in the mail... Well almost nothing. It's especially exciting when it turns out to be something which I've had a part in. 

Next possible moment of pleasure: when I see someone reading it in a café somewhere.

Media: ballpoint pen and paper + Photoshop. Simple materials. Portable in the first and second instance and nimble in the third.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Primrose Hill, London

When I was illustrating the covers for NYRB's Kingsley Amis titles I drew a lot more than what ended up being used. This, I believe, was for the collection of stories, but it might just as well have been meant for his novel Ending Up, because this is where Amis ended up: writing in the back garden of the house where he lived in Primrose Hill, London. A house belonging to his ex-wife (Elizabeth Jane Howard) and her new husband, a surprisingly congenial ending for a somewhat irascible character. Note the gin bottle and siphon placed next to his chair. Sara Kramer art directed this series.

This is the sort of drawing which I could imagine working very nicely as a print. I wouldn't mind having it on my own wall (if my own walls weren't so filled with bookcases.) I wouldn't mind writing my late novels in such a setting.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Art For The NYTimes-Nomadic Twentysomethings

I got a call from an old friend (an email, actually) who was designing a page for the New York Times. I'd last worked for Audrey Razgaitis on a spread for Condé Nast Traveler. This was the cover of the Real Estate section of the Times. The story was about twentysomethings living like nomads in the expensive NY real estate market. The picture that popped into my head was of city hipsters wandering with all their worldly goods on their heads. It worked out beautifully I think.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More Green Things

There was a time in my youth when I enjoyed spending an afternoon in the woods identifying plant life. A sure sign of a pathetic, boring childhood. I was a Nature Boy. So I had to get back in touch with that part of me when the LATimes phoned for this story about garden plants and their uses. Here is where a person asks me if domestic plants are easier to draw than wild plants. Yes, they are better at sitting still so I can draw them.

The next question is Do I pronounce them "herbs" or "erbs"? Yes, I do. This page was art directed by Wesley Bausmith.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Green Metaphors

I did some art a few years ago for a new think tank based in Chicago. The name was Greenhouse, so I set to work thinking of every green metaphor and every way I could incorporate greenness into illustrations of other things. Simplicity of line helps a lot. The simpler the drawing the more metaphor it can convey, because concrete art emphasizes the object and its qualities. Simpler art gets the viewers or readers to ask themselves: what else does this mean? Simple, unelaborated line can also suggest other things, other topics, other meanings. Is this simple to do?  Not really. A simple drawing often reaches that nice evocative simplicity after pages and pages of other versions have wound up on the floor.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Hill Town In Italy

 Architecture is a complex enough puzzle when it's looked at straight on, but that complexity increases when you are looking down a hill or along a street. This explains why those views are the most interesting to look at. Capturing that complexity as simply as possible is the trick. Using fewer colors is a start.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Political Ephemera

I am a close observer of events and politics and often go to bed with the latest outrage in my head. Sometimes I wake up in the night with an idea. Sometimes that idea doesn't take shape until I put pencil to paper the next day. But however quick my response is, the lifespan of a political metaphor can be very short. I send new drawings to my usual clients as soon as I draw them because the topic won't be relevant for long. Each outrage seems to be superseded by a new and greater outrage. I drew a lot of political art from 2000  to 2008, then No-Drama Obama calmed things for eight years, except as outrages were hurled at him by the Republicans. Now a strange outrage factory has moved into the White House and Congress. Here is a drawing I did as information emerged about Attorney General Jefferson Davis Beauregard Sessions and his flirtations with the Russians. New outrages have fallen like hard rain in the days since, making this drawing old news. The quote is adapted from an angry disavowal from the late 90s.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ravel's Birthday

I listen to music while I draw. A lot of Bill Evans and quieter, subtler jazz music like that, but also classical music. Among my favorite classical composers I put Maurice Ravel very near the top. Art requires nuance and Ravel is all nuance, subtle variations, nothing obvious or insistent or clichéd or overly sentimental. I've spent years removing these things from my art and listening to Ravel and others like him has helped. Here is a drawing I did from a photograph of Ravel.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

City Landscape

Views like this appeal to me. The receding perspective isn't carried by handsome fronts of houses and boulevard elms, it's garages and garbage cans and telephone poles. This time of year there isn't any softening texture of foliage, it's all lines and planes and fissures.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Leap Into 2017

I drew this for Tilka Design, art directed by Ingrid Noble.
Having been a ski writer for 20 years I thought this was a perfect metaphor for what they wanted to say. (Be bold and don't look down.)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Drawing of a Fiddler

I did this drawing from an old photograph, adding the pipe. Sometimes I add a pipe, sometimes a bird perched on the top of the person's head.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

New Year's Card

I did this New Year's card for Thebe&Co, a local design firm run by Beth Desnick and Thea Nelson. They are a pleasure to work with by the way.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Money Metaphor

The client for this was the Milken Institute, an investment think tank. The article was about managing funds in a balanced way so they don't become topheavy, and the risks of removing pieces from a complex structure.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Eeny Meeny

I did this drawing a couple years ago for Macalester College. 

Art directed by Julie Underdahl.

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

Back to School––Client: Blue Cross/Blue Shield

Art directed by Thea Nelson of Thebe Street Design. This image is one of five panels I illustrated for a wall at Blue Cross's offices here in the Twin Cities.

Pet Health (art for Family Circle

Art directed by Lisa Kelsey and Alison Fedele.

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.