Thursday, November 7, 2013

Slavery in Movies

This piece is out in today's L.A. Times, for an article on how slavery has historically been depicted in movies:

The story reviews movies that dealt with the "peculiar institution," going back to Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1903, through 2012's Lincoln, and how the vast majority shy away from showing the true brutality of slavery. Excepting Tarantino's Django or the television classic Roots, the few that did explicitly show the violence and barbarity, such as Amistad, weren't box office draws. Up until now, Hollywood has preferred not to risk putting off audiences with such scenes of depravity. Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave changes all that by putting the reality of the brutality of slavery at the forefront. You can read the article here.

After turning in the sketches, it was a toss up between numbers 1, 3, and 5. We ultimately went with number one, obviously, but I think the other two would have worked out as well. They focused more on the idea of the most offensive aspects of slavery being hidden or cut out of movies.
It was a great assignment to work on. Thank you, Wes!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Monosyllabic Palahniuk Series

As promised, here are the monosyllabic titles of Chuck Palahniuk:

I suppose Doomed and Damned are technically only one syllable too. But they are longer words, and don't go with the four to five letter titles I chose. Plus, I've already read these books, and I haven't read Doomed or Damned. Like my Vonnegut Fortitude and DeLillo White Noise pieces, these are personal projects, not commissioned by anyone. I've been a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk's writing for a long time, and lately I've been having a good time basing personal projects around books and stories. These are strictly for fun, and exercising the creative muscles that tend to atrophy if they're not flexed in new and different ways than they're used to working.

Choke, from the overview: "Victor Mancini, a medical-school dropout, is an antihero for our deranged times. Needing to pay elder care for his mother, Victor has devised an ingenious scam: he pretends to choke on pieces of food while dining in upscale restaurants. He then allows himself to be “saved” by fellow patrons who, feeling responsible for Victor’s life, go on to send checks to support him. When he’s not pulling this stunt, Victor cruises sexual addiction recovery workshops for action, visits his addled mom, and spends his days working at a colonial theme park."

 My idea for this one came fairly quickly. Using the fork prongs to double as legs, positioned in a very suggestive manner, dawned on me almost immediately.

Rant, from the overview: "A high school rebel who always wins (and a childhood murderer?), Rant Casey escapes from his small hometown of Middleton for the big city. He becomes the leader of an urban demolition derby called Party Crashing. On appointed nights participants recognize one another by such designated car markings as "Just Married" toothpaste graffiti and then stalk and crash into each other. Rant Casey will die a spectacular highway death, after which his friends gather testimony needed to build an oral history of his short, violent life. Their collected anecdotes explore the possibility that his saliva caused a silent urban plague of rabies and that he found a way to escape the prison of linear time..."

This image took a bit longer to get to. I was going back and forth on which themes or bits of the story to reference for a while. I was pretty much stuck on the "biohazard" symbol, and wanted to include it in some way. I finally noticed that it looks a lot like a steering wheel, and made a great vehicle (pun intended) for implying Rant's involvement in Party Crashing- and the fact that he may or may not have used his car as a way to time travel into the past.

Snuff, from the overview: "Cassie Wright, porn priestess, intends to cap her legendary career by breaking the world record for serial fornication. On camera. With six hundred men. Snuff unfolds from the perspectives of Mr. 72, Mr. 137, and Mr. 600, who await their turn on camera in a very crowded green room. This wild, lethally funny, and thoroughly researched novel brings the huge yet underacknowledged presence of pornography in contemporary life into the realm of literary fiction at last."

This idea also came fairly quickly. I was initially toying with images of movie cameras, clapperboards, boom mikes, and beds. Then I started thinking about how the 600 men were waiting in line for their... uh, turn, thought about "take a number" tabs, and how they almost look like the droopy tip of a condom. If you're not familiar with the book, Mr. 600, a former porn star himself, shaves his pubes.

I've heard Chuck Palahniuk's writing described as minimalist. He  has a utilitarian way of constructing his prose. I wanted this series to reflect the simplicity and minimalism of his writing style.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"'Twenty Common Mistakes About the End of the World'"

As I had mentioned in a previous post about a piece based on the Vonnegut short story "Fortitude," lately I've been interested in playing around with illustrations for various written works. I also recently came across the 50 Watts blog, and the Polish book cover contest in particular. I came across it too late to enter the contest, which took place in 2011, but it looks like it would have been a lot of fun. It got me thinking about what book I would have worked on, had I entered. Who's to say what I really would have done two years ago, but I settled on White Noise by Don DeLillo. One of my favorite novels, I could have taken it a hundred different directions, but chose to keep it fairly simple as I addressed the themes of death, and consumer culture and mass media- television in particular:

Are you old enough to remember seeing "off-the-air" screens on t.v.? It really wasn't that long ago. I was thinking about referencing everything from the black cloud of Nyodene D., to the cage of poisonous snakes that Orest Mercator plans to immerse himself in, to the bottle of Dylar, but finally settled on this. Like I said, I wanted it to be simple, and of course fairly conceptual, because dammit I just can't help myself. An off-the-air screen forming the grimace of the Angel of Death, or Grim Reaper if you prefer. I also tried out various title treatments, but I just fell in love with this one. I wasn't necessarily trying to make it look like a Polish book cover, because let's face it, the contest is long over. And entering contests that ended two years ago is a little sad. But I've been influenced by Polish and Czech design for a long time, so it would have come out in my work whether I was in the contest or not. You can see winning entries to the contest here. Check them out, and read White Noise!

Here's what it might look like in real life:

Stay tuned for more projects based on literary works. I'll be posting a personal series I recently finished on the monosyllabic titles of Chuck Palahniuk: Choke, Rant and Snuff. Same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Turning legalese, I think I'm turning legalese

I recently worked on a couple pieces for Corporate Counsel, which should be out now. One was for an article urging those in legal departments to write in plain English, as opposed to legalese. Even if the person reading the documents is a lawyer, staying clear of the technical jargon will be greatly appreciated.

The second illustration accompanied an article about a recent SEC rule that would have made U.S. mining and petroleum companies disclose if they had given money to foreign governments, but was vacated by a federal judge. The article explains that the rule provided much needed transparency, and followed rules adopted in many European countries. The author further adds that the SEC should re-propose the rule, in order to get back on "the transparency rails."

 As you can see in my sketches above, I was originally focusing on the transparency angle, as well as the fact that it affected mining companies (what with the canary and all). But the editor wanted the image to keep with the metaphor of a train from the article title, and have the focus be more on the U.S. versus the European countries. Since it emphasized how the U.S. is now falling way behind, with regard to transparency, I thought it would work well to show the Euro countries in the form of a high speed train, and the U.S. as a slow pump car. I suppose it would work for a story about our actual train/transportation system as well.
Thank you so much, Paul! 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Homepage bound

I meant to post this earlier in the week, but never got the time. I've occasionally done illustrations for banners on the homepage of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law site. Here are a few of them:

For a celebration of the fifth anniversary of the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights. They wanted it to include something evoking the idea of signing a constitution (like a quill pen). So this came together easily enough.

For a conference on cyber-bullying. Pretty self-explanatory. We've come so far since the days of "kick me" signs. Now we can torment each other in comments sections and Facebook posts!

For a new program on international law and business studies. They wanted the image to include the idea of finance or the stock market, with the financial center of a city.

Here's the homepage, which is at the moment featuring the David Asper Centre banner. The banners are only up temporarily, so if you look and it's no longer up, it would have looked a little something like this:

Thank you, Lucianna!

Monday, July 22, 2013

What we do is secret

This piece for the Boston Globe's Sunday Op-Ed section was a really quick turnaround. Last Wednesday afternoon/evening, basically. The op-ed is about the Senate meeting that took place out of view of the public, behind closed doors, at night. And something was actually accomplished! The GOP agreed to confirm Obama's appointees for various posts, in exchange for the ability to filibuster. The author suggests that transparency in politics may not be such a good thing:

It's an interesting thought, and I was eager to try my hand at representing the idea visually. Here are the other sketches:

I liked the idea of showing the Capitol blurred, obstructing public view. I also tried using the "off the air" screen over the Capitol, since the meeting took place late at night, off camera- although that may have worked better had this piece been in color. The last sketch shows how the politicians' statements being redacted leads to agreement. The point of the article is that our leaders grandstand and ape for the cameras far too much for any compromise to be achieved. SOAPBOX ALERT: While I do agree that playing to the cameras, and offering sound bites instead of solutions can be extremely frustrating (and this was a meeting about confirming nominees and filibuster rules, not drafting some specific legislation), I personally disagree with the premise. It all seems so backwards nowadays. Private citizens' every electronic communication can be collected, stored and analyzed, with barely any oversight, much less a warrant, and we're expected to allow our elected officials- whom we've hired to work on our behalf- to conduct business in the dark?
Thank you to Greg and Dan for the assignment!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Back in the USSA

Yes, I know that it's USA, not USSA, but that wouldn't have worked as well to reference the Beatles song. We'll pretend it stands for United Surveillance States of America. But anyway, I'm back in the States after visiting Costa Rica. A few out of the four of you who read this blog already know that I recently got married, and went to Costa Rica for the honeymoon. It's a beautiful place, and the trip was much too short, but I'm back home and ready to post again...

I was able to squeeze in some assignments right before the big day, and here's one of them:

This Village Voice edition came out last Wednesday, as my wife and I were probably enjoying some gallo pinto and eggs, with fresh watermelon and papaya for breakfast in San Jose. The story details a case in Manhattan Surrogate Court involving a wheelchair-bound, severely autistic man who inherited a few million bucks from his mother after she passed. The problem is, he's been stuck in an institution, and had barely seen a penny of his inheritance, all while the managers of his trust fund (which include JP Morgan Chase) collected thousands of dollars in fees. If you're in NYC, the issue should be in stands for a couple more days, otherwise you can read it online here.

I think that showing the fat-cat banker pushing around a wheelchair of cash, instead of the trustee he's supposed to look after works well. Thank you to Tom for the assignment!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What goes up...

This illustration for Bloomberg Markets is for an article about the housing market taking off around most of the country. Sounds like good news, right? Maybe. But many economists are warning that if prices keep rising the way they are, we might be in store for another bubble.

Many are optimistic, especially people able to get out from an underwater mortgage. However, economist Dean Baker (whom I referenced in a previous post), among others, is warning that this could be dangerous if the market continues to rise too high, too fast. Baker warned about the last housing bubble, when so many were convinced (or at least tried to convince the public) that the party would last forever.

The article referenced the virtual feeding frenzy of the current housing market, with some homes for sale receiving fifty bids, despite almost a million dollar price tag! I tried to show that idea of frenzy in some of the sketches. You'll notice my original kite sketch shows a nearby lightning storm, but the situation isn't quite to that point yet, so the clouds are a little milder in the final.
Thank you to Corliss, who was a pleasure to work with!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pool Party!

I received an email a little while back from Ben Jones at Image Brew, a production company here in Denver, to do a poster for a party they were hosting. The bash was a Kegs with Legs event, a monthly or so party in the design/advertising/marketing community. The cool part is that there's a pool on the facility of their office, at the Taxi Campus north of Downtown. Most people hosting the parties make a poster for the event, but being a production company, they felt it would make sense to also make some videos. They filmed comedian Nathan Lund preparing the pool for the festivities, and invited me to come along and watch.

 I had free creative reign designing the poster, granted it reference the pool party. I had only the next day to work on the poster, and spent most of it working on something I ended up scrapping in the afternoon. I decided to instead reference a comment Ben made jokingly during the filming, about a pool party full of pale creative/designer folks. I had a little fun with the stereotype of the average "creative hipster," just to amuse myself:

The party was last night, and I stopped by for a bit. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I was able to work on the poster and watch the filming of the videos. Be sure to check those out here.
Also be sure to look at some more of Image Brew's work on their site here. They're the guys responsible (along with Eric Hines at Honest Bros) for the "Rainbow Chasers" video (also featuring Nathan Lund), as well as the Amazon original series "Those Who Can't."
Thanks again Ben and Evan!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Espresso yourself!

I'm expressing with my full capabilities. This illustration is featured in the current issue of Institutional Investor. The article discusses a recently imposed financial transaction tax in Italy.

I'm glad I was able to come up with something other than an Italian flag for this illustration. An espresso cup slowly leaking a Euro stream worked out great.

 There are the usual opponents saying that the tax will cause volatility, less investment, and the end of the world- as all taxes do- and those that say that the tax is necessary to discourage high-frequency trading, reduce risk and create revenue. According to the article, so far it's too early to tell what exactly the effects are. My two cents (as if you care): I've read some great stuff from Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot at the Center for Economic and Policy Research on the subject of financial transaction (speculation) taxes. Here's a recent article by Weisbrot on the Harkin/DeFazio "Wall Street Trading and Speculation Tax Act of 2013."

Thank you so much, Diana!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Paging Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard

The Summer 2013 issue of the Harvard Law Bulletin is out now, and it features some of my illustration. The cover story is on a pretty important topic for this country- healthcare! Apparently medical tourism is all the rage these days. Those without insurance, and even those with it, occasionally travel to other countries for medical procedures that are simply too expensive to get here in the U.S. Sometimes the insurance companies will even pay for patients to travel, covering airline tickets and hotel stays, in order to save the company money. Who needs single-payer when you can get frequent flier miles?!

I was really excited to work on this assignment. There were so many angles I could approach it from, as evidenced by the almost dozen sketches I turned in:

 Hey, I didn't say they were all good. But guess what? The AD liked another sketch so much that it ended up being the cover:

We both really liked the sketch with the patient in the hospital gown carrying his luggage, but ass cheeks might be a little racy for a Harvard publication. Maybe if anybody else needs an illustration on medical tourism... Playboy, I'm looking in your direction.
 Thank you again, Ronn!

Speaking of healthcare, I saw a great story on Democracy Now the other day, featuring a book out now that details how austerity policies impact health. The book is called The Body Economic, Why Austerity Kills. Just food for thought for anyone interested.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The MOOCs are coming!

I did this illustration for The Chronicle of Higher Education a couple weeks ago, on a tight deadline before the Memorial Day weekend. The article discusses MOOCs, Mass Open Online Courses (Wikipedia link here), and how they are a natural progression of how higher education has been evolving over the last few decades. The author explains that colleges, once very localized, are now universal in their departments, courses, standards, and almost every way they function. Instead of offering an education designed around the school's location, all schools are now basically the same. In the author's opinion, this leaves them vulnerable to the MOOC trend. He states in the article: "As any botanist knows, a monoculture is highly susceptible to a single pathogen."

That analogy helped to spark this idea, of the MOOC trend- in the form of binary code- overwhelming a college, much the way ivy has overwhelmed many school buildings over the last couple hundred years. The author likens this situation to the way big department stores closed in the wake of Wal-mart. Most colleges, he forecasts, will eventually be replaced by online courses- "the Wal-mart of higher education." But just as there are specialty, artisan shops for just about any product you might want, so too will there be niche, artisan schools.

 My sketches focused on the idea of these digital, online courses affecting the physical, brick and mortar institutions, or that the traditional setting of the class is a thing of the past. The article is online here, but requires a subscription. Thank you, Ellen!

Still to come: Harvard Law Bulletin, Institutional Investor, and Bloomberg Markets.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Numbers 684 and 685

I received an email the other day notifying me that the slideshow for the American Illustration Show winners is online. You can see the slideshow here. The list is in alphabetical order, so to see my two pieces (numbers 684 and 685) you can scroll through for a good ten minutes, or you can take a shortcut here. According to the email, the slideshow will be up "until November with the launch of the AI32 book and The Archive." There's plenty of great stuff to look at, so enjoy!

Posting soon: Work for the Harvard Law Bulletin and Institutional Investor.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Know your enemy

I should have posted this earlier in the week, but I've been really busy. I believe it ran last weekend in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The author of the article suggests that having enemies, and even creating new ones where none exist, is part of our human biology. Early humans evolved by fending off hostile animals, as well as hostile bands of fellow humans. We battled "others" to protect our tribesmen and resources, and we battled them to steal and secure new (their) resources. Today, we have a pronounced ability to make enemies. An almost genetic need to have one, even if only to swell our patriotic pride. (We'll get all those evildoers someday. U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!) You need a subscription to read the article, but it's online here.

This was a really fun piece to work on. Thanks so much, Ellen!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fortitude (updated)

I've recently been working on some personal projects revolving around short stories by one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut. This is self-initiated, not commissioned, or being published anywhere, I was really just working on it for fun. At the same time, I must admit, I've been trying to break into the publishing industry, with regards to my illustration. One of my wildest fantasies would be to illustrate a Vonnegut book. Sadly, since he's passed, it would have to be a reprint of one of his old titles, not that I would mind that. But, that would mean it would most likely be something that the amazingly talented Carin Goldberg has already had a hand in. Not only that, but the also amazingly talented Gene Greif, who has also sadly passed, contributed spot illustrations to those same titles that Goldberg designed. How do you follow these two giants? I doubt I could... so I decided to play around with his short stories. I own a collection that includes a few of his novels, as well as some shorts, such as "Fortitude."

 I'll try not to spoil anything for anyone interested in reading the story, but here's an explanation to give the image some context:

"Fortitude" is about a woman that is nothing more than a head, connected to all kinds of machinery to perform her bodily functions for her. Everything, down to her emotions, is controlled by the machine. I wanted to flip it around and show the controls on the machine being affected by her emotions. Her hair is the only thing connecting her to her original humanity, as it is not influenced by the machinery, but by her friend and hair stylist, Gloria.
Some background on "Fortitude"- it was originally commissioned by CBS as a comedy special in 1968, but was never made (it even includes stage direction, and instructions on camera shots). It was eventually published in Playboy, however.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Chosen One

I was notified last week that two pieces I had submitted were chosen for the American Illustration 32 show. I submitted my three Loteria illustrations, and two (El Tigre and El Puerco) were chosen. Some of you may remember from an earlier post that they were published last year in Migrate Magazine, the publication of the Loerie Awards in South Africa. Here are the pieces:

For those that are unfamiliar with the way the American Illustration shows work, there are two ways to be accepted: chosen and selected. Chosen pieces are displayed in the permanent collection online, and selected pieces are published in the annual book. It's a great honor to be a part of this competition. According to the email, there were 8,742 submissions and only 401 professional images were accepted. Looking forward to seeing all the work that made it in!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


This illustration for The Chronicle Review ran this past Sunday. It accompanied a very thought-provoking essay by Mark S. Weiner about the relationship between individualism and government. The old adage that in order for individual liberty to thrive, government must be small, or even nonexistent, is a very familiar line among conservative, and even leftist-anarchist thinking. However, the author contends that efforts to shrink, cut, weaken or dismantle government actually has the opposite effect: it hurts individual freedom.

The author explains that governments need to exist to ensure that individuals' liberties are protected. Rights, as well as goods and services in a democracy are based on the concept of "the public good." In the absence of government, humans tend to organize themselves in clans, where rights, goods and services are instead based on membership in the clan.

I wanted to show how the effort on the part of the individual to dismantle government ends up hurting that same individual. It's a great article, and if you have a subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education, you can read it here. On a related note, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from the author, complimenting me on this piece. It's always a huge honor to hear that the person whose work I'm illustrating enjoys it. Thank you to Ellen and Scott, and thank you, Mark, for your kind words.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Can you dig it?

Here's a piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education. It was the lead piece in the Views section, and the story focuses on the need for colleges to get on board with the sustainable food movement, i.e. growing their own food, or at least getting as much as possible from local sources, etc.

The article is titled "Fire Your Food Service and Grow Your Own," and much of it details the way most colleges, despite their commitment to many other hot issues, are very much dependent on Big Agribusiness for their food needs. With my first set of sketches, I was focused on "getting big business out of the food," and also on the idea that so much of the food comes from very, very far away. My favorite was the "registered trademark" symbol being plucked out of the bunch of grapes:

Well, missed the boat on that one... The editor replied that they wanted to focus more on agriculture, and the connection between colleges and the growing aspect. So, back to the drawing board, and ended up with the solution you see above, combining the "university column" with the idea of gardening, by way of a spading fork. You can also see Brian Taylor's "Zombie Marathon" at the top of the page. Sweet! Thank you again, Ellen!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

It takes two to tango

This "L.A. Affairs" illustration for the L.A. Times ran this past Sunday. The essay described a recent experience of the author's during a ballroom dance lesson. The fact that her dance partner and fiancee is also a woman seemed to complicate things. In dancing, as well as everyday life, neither woman was used to letting the other lead. As they both struggled to make the other follow, they realized that instead of competing, partners need to work together. In dancing, as well as everyday life.

 While researching ballroom dancing, I came across images of dance steps. I've never been a dancer, never taken a lesson, and the numbers and footprints and arrows looked intimidating to me. So I exaggerated them to make the steps look as complicated as possible, to compare dancing to the complexities of any relationship. Here's the full page (minus the advertisement at the bottom):

Thank you to Wes! This was a really fun piece to work on! Read the article here.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

For 5280 Magazine

This piece is out now, in the current issue of 5280 Magazine. The essay explains the author's decision to make her kids attend school the Friday before Winter break (one week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary). Although she grants her daughter's request that she visit the school and eat lunch with her, she tells them that even during tragedies like Newtown, it's important to have the courage to press on and live our lives.

With my sketches I was really focusing more on the idea of the author getting past the tragedy, represented by a flag at half mast. None were really relating to school enough though, or even referencing it at all, aside from #6.

Dave, the A.D., liked the inclusion of the school crosswalk sign in #6, and wondered if that could be more central to the composition, given that it was so graphic, with maybe the flag at half mast in the background. After playing with the sketch a little more, I suggested combining the sign with the flag, and including a mother with the two kids normally on the sign (referencing the fact that the author has two kids, and went to school with them for lunch). It worked well tying into the story, as well as suggesting the idea of getting on with every day life, in spite of constant tragedy.

Thanks so much, Dave!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thank you, SID!

As I noted in my previous post, I went up to Colorado State University yesterday to speak to the AIGA Student Chapter, Students In Design, about my work, my influences and my experience as an illustrator. I wasn't sure how many graphic design students to expect, me being an illustrator, but the students at CSU get a good foundation during their time there, including learning principles of illustration, and there was a good turnout. Even those that aren't planning on being illustrators seemed to have a genuine interest in what I had to say, and I thank them for bearing with me as I nervously gave my spiel. A special thank you to Kacey, who got in touch with me a few weeks ago, and invited me up for the talk. And thank you to all the students, for your warm welcome and hospitality.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Where the sun don't shine

Actually, this is about a place where the sun is shining, compared to it's surrounding area. For Milwaukee Magazine, this illustration accompanies a story on Wauwatosa, or simply 'Tosa, a suburb of Milwaukee that the recession/depression most of the country is feeling has apparently skimmed over. The economy of 'Tosa is actually doing better now than it was before the crisis, while the surrounding areas trudge on through high unemployment, and low growth.

Here's the full page:

Thank you, Kathryn! Coming soon: 5280 and L.A. Times...