Monday, February 23, 2015

(Censored) up beyond all recognition

This illustration for The Chronicle of Higher Education is running in the current issue. It accompanies an essay by an associate professor from Virginia Commonwealth University relaying his experience attempting to teach some journalism classes at Northeast Normal University in China. As the professor soon came to realize, it's fairly difficult to teach about press freedom in a country that doesn't have much. Along with the concept of "press freedom," there were several other taboo subjects that he was warned to shy away from: one of them being the Tiananmen Square Massacre.


Many of his students were unaware of the demonstration/massacre, even as they were approaching its 25th anniversary, due to the fact that the Chinese government has made sure to stifle public discussion of the event. I decided to use a heavily redacted text in the shape of a tank, along with an image of the famous "Tank Man" in front of it. It also helped to signify the fact that the professor was standing up to government censorship. He was able to use leaked diplomatic cables made public by Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks to have his students learn about Tiananmen, from U.S. State Dept cables that discuss the issue (apparently using a source that the U.S. government opposes, made it tolerable to Chinese authorities?). I was struck by the irony of a story criticizing China for quashing press freedom, discussing the use of leaked cables provided by Manning, who is now in prison in the U.S. for something that the press in this country has benefited so much from.
Thank you to Janeen, my AD on this one!

Monday, February 2, 2015

In Putin's Russia, stock market crashes YOU

Here's another book review illustration, this time on Bill Browder's Red Notice. It ran in this past weekend's Sunday Globe.


The book is the true story of Browder's experiences in Russia, after renouncing his American citizenship and traveling to Eastern Europe and Russia after the Berlin Wall fell, and once public (state-owned) services, infrastructure, and resources were being gobbled up by oligarchs, creating a huge windfall of moolah for a select few. Luckily for Browder, he was able to take advantage of some of this free-market frenzy, and after starting Hermitage Capital, rode the tumultuous wave of the stock market in Moscow, starting with $25 million, climbing to $1 billion, crashing a couple times, and ending back on top with $4.5 billion. But so this is where the story gets interesting, as Browder is detained, expelled from Russia, and basically stripped of his own company, apparently at the behest of Vladimir Putin himself. He's even convicted in absentia of tax evasion. When he tries to fight back, his tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky is arrested, and later found beaten to death in his cell. The book is billed as a high-drama story of the ruthless corruption present in Putin's Russia, as well as Browder's crusade for justice- not only for the financial persecution he suffered, but for Magnitsky's murder as well. 


My sketches started off with fairly straight forward portraits of Putin, but I tried playing with a fever chart, and noticed how a couple crashes in the market could easily become bloody fangs on the ex-KGB man. Thank you to my AD, Kim! Here's the review.

Cupid, upload your bow

With apologies to Sam Cooke. This piece for the LA Times was actually finished up a couple weeks ago, but it just ran in the Sunday LA Affairs section yesterday. It's for an essay describing the relationship a man had with a woman he met through Twitter. They exchanged various communiques via social networks online, and grew fairly close. However, after they met in person and went on a few dates, the relationship soon fizzled out.


I've heard hundreds of anecdotes about people meeting online, and falling in love, but I thought this essay was really interesting in that it gave an example of when love over the internet doesn't work out. I thought of this concept of a digital cupid sheepishly picking up his cursor/arrows that failed to hit their mark. I also had another sketch that I think would have worked well:


A bouquet of wilted thumbs-up flowers, showing that a relationship based solely on "likes" and whatnot will eventually fade and wither. Thank you to Wes, my AD on this!

My friend Jake, who I went to art school with and now resides in L.A.,  sent me a pic of my piece in the Sunday paper. Thanks, Buddy!




Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Long-distance runaround

I received a copy of Fast Company that I did a little piece for, from my AD Alice. The article was about telecommuting- working anywhere from down the street from your employer, to the other side of the world. Something that most of us illustrators are fairly familiar with.




The piece consists of advice to both employers and workers. Like most relationships, communication is key. Instead of trying to focus on one or more of the tips, I wanted to show the general idea of communicating across long distances. I thought of those setups in offices that shows multiple time zones on clocks. How about the clocks are talking to each other? Here's a shot from my copy:


Thank you to Alice for this one!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Train Dreams

I recently worked on a book review for The Laughing Monsters, by Denis Johnson. The description of the book sounded so interesting, I decided to look for the novel to read for myself. I couldn't find it while I was at the bookstore, but did find some more of Denis Johnson's work: Train Dreams. Spoiler alert: The following contains detailed descriptions that may spoil certain portions of the book. I'd recommend reading it first, and then proceeding... Anyway, it's a novella, not even 120 pages long, and so was a quick, but extremely pleasurable read. It follows the life of Robert Granier, a simple laborer in the Pacific Northwest, living through the first sixty-something years of the 20th century. The story doesn't progress in chronological order, it skips around to various times in Robert's life, from his thirties, to the end of his life, to his childhood, back to his thirties, and so on. He experiences his share of hardship and tragedy (he loses his wife and baby daughter to a forest fire), but also the events that shaped the country- the invention of the automobile, the development of flight, television, Elvis Presley, etc.


So after reading the book, I decided to try my hand at a mock cover for it. Although the story is about not only Robert Granier, but America in general, and how the rugged, pioneering spirit of this country entered the 20th century, it's constructed like a portrait of this one man. I decided to feature a profile of a man that could be Granier, but combined it with an impression of a cross section of a tree. There were a couple reasons for doing this. First: Granier is a laborer working on various jobs around the forests of the Idaho panhandle, clearing timber for a railroad company for a time. Some time after the death of his family in the fire, he rebuilds his cabin, secluded in the woods, and spends the remainder of his life in that cabin, essentially a hermit. The setting is a very important part of the story, and trees in particular caught my attention. They are anthropomorphized in a few instances: "the trees themselves were killers," or "It was only when you left it alone that a tree might treat you as a friend. After the blade bit in, you had yourself a war." Though not explicitly compared to a tree, Granier is described at one point "amid a crowd of people pretty much like himself-his people, the hard people of the northwestern mountains..."  I thought using the analogy was apt. The second reason: I was reminded of cross sections of trees where various events in history are marked on the tree rings when they occurred. There's a giant cross section of, I believe, a redwood in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, that lists various historical events on its rings, going back hundreds of years. This story unfolds almost like someone skipping around on a timeline, and explaining what happened to Robert at that particular point, not to mention a virtual history of America itself, during a period of intense transformation. The rings in the profile of Granier could represent memories from his life, specific events that could be pointed out, as the book does.

I enjoyed Train Dreams so much, I later bought Jesus' Son, a collection of stories, and Tree of Smoke, for which Johnson won a National Book Award. I loved each of these stories immensely, and I'm looking forward to the next work of Johnson's I get the chance to read.

Walk this way

Here are a couple spots I did for the New York Times, the Jane Brody column in particular. The first was for the column that ran about a week back, and focused on warning older pedestrians of the dangers of crossing the street, especially in a busy city like NYC. Senior citizens make up a disproportionate number of those hit by cars while crossing the street.


The second column, for this week, focuses on how we can all make streets safer for pedestrians. And it's not just pedestrians and drivers that bear responsibility, but the people that design our streets too.


 Many thanks to Peter, my AD on these!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves

I usually try (unsuccessfully) to come up with a clever title for my blog posts, but I've done a couple book reviews recently for novels with such cool titles that I decided to feature the book titles instead. Case in point: Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves, by Carolyn Chute. What a sweet title!


This was another review in the Boston Globe, in this past Sunday's paper. As with my post for The Laughing Monsters, I'd advise you to read the review, or better yet, the actual book, but I'll try to give a short description. The book takes place in rural Maine, in the fictional town of Egypt. Ivy Morelli, a reporter for the local paper, is investigating a strange and secretive compound called the Settlement. "It’s a cult, the residents whisper. There are pregnant child brides and child abuse, and even worse, a violent militia is stockpiling weapons, and who knows to what end? But are the stories true?" The group maintains that their aim is to provide an alternative community to the poor and outcast, away from the greed and lust for power in greater society. The charismatic leader Gordon St. Onge seems to convince Ivy that all is well, and she joins the Settlement. But a 15-year-old girl named Bree joins the group as well, and as the review explains, "It’s Bree who will cause a tsunami among the Settlement and the outsiders, one that will change just about everything for just about everyone — and not always in the best of all possible ways."


With my original set of sketches, I wanted to reference the stockpiling of weapons, but also the antagonistic stance of the Settlement toward the greed of society. In #1 and #3 I was trying to show Gordon's relationship with the women in the group- he apparently had twenty-odd wives constantly following him around.


 The editor felt it was too geared toward the "militia" themes, but also wanted the texture of the setting to come through in the illustration. Dirt roads, old wood, etc. I thought it might be a good solution to show the texture as planks of wood for a fence or wall around the compound, leaving peepholes exposing themes from the story: stockpiling weapons, Gordon's apparent stance toward society, and the red-haired Bree. It allows for multiple elements of the novel to be shown, without getting too complex, and implies the secrecy and enigmatic nature of the Settlement. The varying styles of collage also helped to connect to the novel, because it's constructed through multiple narrators, including not only the human characters, but Television, Mammon, and even aliens. Based on this review, and others, it sounds like a great book. Thank you to Kim for the assignment!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Laughing Monsters

I was commissioned last week to do an illustration for the book review of The Laughing Monsters, by Denis Johnson. The piece appeared in the Boston Globe over the weekend. I only got a few lines from the review, so I had to find other reviews and synopses of the novel to get a clearer picture of what the book was really about. I won't go too far in depth (better to read the actual review, or better yet, read the book), but basically the main character, Roland Nair, works for NATO and is sent into West Africa to locate an old anti-terrorism buddy of his, Michael Adriko. The review describes Adriko thusly: "A native of Congo who has ended up affiliated with the US Army by way of Ghana, Michael is a figure cloaked in so many lies, mysteries, and identities that the novel makes little effort to render him 'believably...'" From what I could gather reading as many reviews as I could find, the main themes of the novel seemed to be ever-changing loyalties, enigmatic identities, and the relationship between these two characters- one driven by greed and power, the other seemingly nothing more than a thirst for chaos. I had one firm idea hit me early on, and turned in only one sketch, however I was pretty confident it would work. Luckily it was well received and I was able to proceed with the final:


Following along with the themes I could surmise, I wanted the identity of the figure to be obscured- it also worked out that scribbling over the face with a black pen looked like a ski mask/balaclava. The characters make their money in this world of rebels and terrorists, not always in opposition to them. The Boston Globe review can be found here.




(I did not make the cover illustration above) It seems like a really intense and intriguing novel, and the illustration was a lot of fun to work on. Thank you to Kim, the AD on this!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Where we're from, the birds sing a pretty song

Amid news that Showtime has ordered 9 episodes of a new Twin Peaks series, to be written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, and directed by Lynch, I'm posting this series I started several weeks ago. I was a little too young to watch the show- and especially the movie- when it was on the air, but my wife and I watched it on Netflix recently. I fell in love with the show- from the characters, to the mood, to Angelo Badalamenti's jazzy, noirish soundtrack. I started this series with no particular function in mind. Whether they were mock book covers, or posters, or DVD sleeve covers, I never really decided. It was mostly just a project for me to have some fun, and reference a series and film I really enjoyed watching.


For the Season 1 piece, I included the heart-shaped "Best Friends" necklace, which doubles as the rope Laura Palmer's wrists are bound with at the time of her murder (don't worry, her murder is not a spoiler- the show opens with her body being discovered), as well as events prior. Upon a closer look, the half-heart shape doubles as a silhouette of Bob.


The Season 2 piece features a reference to Windom Earle's chess game (which in turn references the White and Black Lodges, which is probably one of the reasons a chess game was part of the story), as well as the giant's cryptic message of "the owls are not what they seem," and the bird's prominence in this storyline.


The final piece, for the feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, combines the "Best Friends" necklace, with a reference to a line in the film, spoken by Laura. When Donna asks her: if she were falling in space, does she think she would "slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?" In one of the most forceful and striking lines of the movie, Laura replies, "Faster and faster. And for a long time you wouldn't feel anything... and then you would burst into fire... forever. And the angels wouldn't help you... because they've all gone away." It also has to do with the ending of the film, which I won't spoil.

For the title treatment in all of these, I wanted to reference the cut-out letters that are placed under the finger nail of each of the killer's victims. I also wanted the composition to be fairly minimal and subdued, and for the typography not to take away from the illustration. For the designations of which part of the story these pieces were for (ie. Season 1, 2, or FWWM), I wanted it to hint at a file, or folder tab, as the designation moves down the side of the piece in progression of the series. I didn't want the appearance of an actual file, but to be more reminiscent of something that might be catalogued in a file-if that makes sense- in order to reference the FBI's involvement in the case.

These descriptions probably sound fairly confusing and weird if you haven't seen the series and film. Well the series and film are fairly confusing and weird, but I highly recommend you watch them. And look out for the 9 episode Showtime series, supposedly coming in 2016. I told you that gum you like was going to come back in style!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The NFL's domestic abuse problem

This illustration of mine ran yesterday in the L.A. Times Sunday Op-Ed, for a story on the recent case of violence involving Ray Rice and his then-fiancee, as well as the many cases of domestic abuse among NFL players, and the league's refusal to do much about it.


Wes, my AD on this, contacted me Wednesday night with a story on a tight deadline- he needed final artwork on Friday. Although I don't really follow football, I'd heard about the Ray Rice incident along with lots of other people who don't otherwise pay much attention to the NFL. Despite the rush on the job, I thought it was a very important story, and wanted to take it on.


After sending the above sketches in the next day, Wes picked #3, but also mentioned that he had an idea of using a pair of eyes, one of them being a football. He still preferred #3 of my original sketches, but I liked the potential of his suggestion, and quickly sketched out a rough in Photoshop. He liked it, and that sealed the deal. We had our solution.


You can read the op-ed here. Thank you, Wes!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hoo-ray for Hollywood!...er, wait

I did this really quick piece for Grantland.com, which is up on the site now, and is for a piece on Hollywood's lackluster blockbusters this past summer. Titled "Hollywood's Horrid Summer," it details the poor performance of the summer movies, due in large part to the industry's reliance on sequels, spinoffs, and remakes. Such as "Horror 3: The Re-Horroring," my favorite tongue-in-cheek example from the article.


I received the email late Tuesday night: "I'm looking for a 1024x576 illustration that shows the famous Hollywood sign in decay. What do you think?" I think I can do that. I didn't even know the story was focused on the summer's box office performances, but luckily by coincidence I chose to combine the sign with a cow's bones, in a sun-scorched, desert wasteland. It turned out kinda summery. You can read the article here. Thank you to my AD on this, Juliet!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

In love with a roadie

This piece for the L.A. Affairs section of the L.A. Times ran this past Saturday, and follows the story of a woman in a relationship with a roadie, who's currently working with a band out on a world tour. The author explains the difficulty in not seeing her significant other for months at a time while he's working. But, as she expresses: "There are some things in this life that are completely worth it, and he’s one of them."


I had the idea of using a concert tour t-shirt as a calendar, with her crossing off the tour dates until she sees him again (In the rough draft of the story, she mentions that they'll meet up in Japan). You can read the story here. Thank you so much to the awesome Wes!

Monday, August 25, 2014

How many hedgehogs does it take to change a lightbulb?

This spot for the Mind & Matter column of the Wall Street Journal was in last weekend's edition:




The column focused on an old Greek adage, about why hedgehogs and foxes think differently. "Hedgehogs have a single grand idea that they apply to everything, while foxes come up with a new idea for every situation." It basically boils down to how the babies grow up. Foxes spend more time in childhood, where their parents even bring home live prey for them to play with. In contrast, hedgehogs grow up twice as fast, and receive much less attention from their parents, especially the father, who's gone after mating.


One of my sketches focused on the fact that hedgehogs grow up so much faster and don't have time to develop the way foxes do, rolling up into a stopwatch. You can read it here. Thank you to the always great Keith!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Replacements (not the cool Paul Westerberg kind)

I have a piece in the current issue of Newsweek. I believe it should be on stands until Friday, at least that's when I picked up my copy last week (it's the one with the cool Nigel Buchanan illustration of a saluting Marine on the cover). The piece is for the weekly Two Numbers column, which contrasts two different numbers, on things like the median wealth of the average American family in 2007, vs. 2013, or sales of kale in the U.S., vs. sales of corn chips, and has featured such artists as Serge Bloch, and Edel Rodriguez recently. I was excited to get the email from Mike, the A.D., as this is one of those big national publications I've been looking forward to working with since I was in art school. Anyway, this week the column compared the price of a knee or hip replacement, at two different hospitals:


At St. Josephs Medical Center in Yonkers, you can expect to pay the princely sum of $17,068. Ouch. But wait- at Christ Hospital in Jersey City, look forward to a bill of $139,072! The article makes the case that, love it or hate it, Obamacare has made medical costs more transparent, which is a good thing.



You can get to the article here, but you may need a subscription to read it. Thank you to Mike, for the great opportunity! Here's a pic of my copy:


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Computational justice

I did this little spot for Wired Magazine's UK edition a while back. It appears in the July issue, for an article about recent developments in computational justice. Can computers be given a sense of fairness?


It was a tiny little spot, so the image had to be very simple, and easy to read. A cursor as part of some scales of justice worked out well. Here are some of the other sketches:


Ben, my AD mentioned that I could use a different shape for the composition, other than the usual square or circle. It being a story on computers, it seemed only natural to pixelate it.


You can read the article here. Thanks again, Ben!