New York Times swimmer illustration

When I started out as a practicing illustrator, I used traditional materials, ink, watercolor, scratchboard. It was 1989, the computer was still fairly new, at least for me. I had a Mac but used it only for word processing, page layout, games, and playing around a bit with MacPaint.

My scratchboard work landed me a regular gig with a local weekly paper. The deadlines were fierce and I kept finding scratchboard unwieldy when making last minute revisions. But I liked the look of scratchboard so, instead of switching to another traditional medium, like pen and ink, I switched to the computer to replicate the look of scratchboard using a digital method. I thought the computer would make revisions much easier and quicker, and it did.

So, as my work matured in its early stages, my medium of choice was the computer, specifically vector art.

I eventually switched to Photoshop so I could incorporate texture and create a more hand-made look to my work. Photoshop became my medium of choice for most of my career. It was the medium I used to develop my signature style. But I still enjoyed making vector art now and then, and incorporating it into my process. And each time I had the opportunity to teach students how to use FreeHand and Illustrator, I became more interested in the process, and the graphic look. I had learned a lot about illustration since my early beginnings with vector art, and I found myself wishing I had known then what I knew now (Faces, "Ooh La La").

This year, my 25th as a practicing illustrator, I decided to revisit vector art, and above is the first piece. It's an illustration I created for The New York Times for a story by Jane Brody about adults not knowing how to swim.  It seems statistics show that a high percentage of swimming deaths are people middle-aged and older. I didn't realize I was in a risky age group when it came to swimming. And actually, I technically don't know how to swim, meaning I can't do that breathing in above water and then breathing out under water. I can swim fine as long as I keep my head above the water, but is that really knowing how to swim?

Above are the thumbnail sketches I sent to the art director. One idea was a person's head with its eyes just above the water. Another idea was a swimmer in a body of water in the shape of a coffin. I thought this idea was stronger. I sent a few variations for both ideas.

The art director went with the coffin idea, but I had to make the proportion taller, which was a challenge at first. The solution I found was to show the side of the coffin.

Above are the vector process steps, path outlines, color, and water pattern.