No body talk illustration

I created this illustration for The New York Times for a story about a summer camp that did not allow any body talk. I used the smiley faces to represent the positive conversation as well as cover the bodies. Below are sketches showing options for the smiley face balloons. For the print version, I sent in two options, one with texture and one without. The art director preferred the texture version but I think I like this texture-free version better.

Snooping government illustration

I created this illustration for Christianity Today for a story about government snooping. I sent in a number of ideas for the illustration, but mostly a big head representing the snooper and a little head representing the person being snooped. The client asked me to go forward with the bottom middle sketch, the big head with an Uncle Sam hat.

Above are the outlines in Adobe Illustrator. This illustration is symmetrical so the left matches the right except for the hand. I decided to use a red, white, and blue palette, white for the face, red for the hair, and blue for the background (below).

I realized I needed to include line work if I wanted the underside of the brim to be white, and for the eyebrows and ear details, so I added a lighter blue to the palette and used that color for the fill of the eyes (above) and for any of the line work. Below is the final vector illustration, the top image in this post is the texture version, with texture added in Adobe Photoshop as a final step.

Jesus strip club illustration

I created this illustration for a story asking the question, "Would Jesus hang out at a strip club?" meaning would Jesus spend time with the fringes of today's society.

In my sketches, I represented Jesus with a Sixties hippy-type look, sort of a George Harrison hair and beard style from 1968, or so. For the strip club, I thought symbols for vices would be safe, maybe, money, booze, cigarettes, and such. I used a dot pattern in the background to suggest the flashing lights used on a marquee sign, spotlights, the overall energy of the place.

For one set of sketches, I showed Jesus close up and for another, set showed him entering the club.

The client chose the lower left sketch, the shoe and Jesus, simple, direct. It was my choice as well. The high-heel shoe really summed up a club dancer I thought without getting too revealing. And it created an obscure relationship between Jesus and the dancer, allowing the viewer to wonder, what is he thinking? Is he sad for her, sad for himself, for both? is he interested, uninterested? is he meditating, bored? a client, friend, protector?

I created this illustration in Ilustrator and then as a final step, added texture in Photoshop. I like the flat, graphic look of the vector art, but a few of my clients prefer my signature texture style. So I either ask which style they prefer or send them both options.

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.

Brain illustration for Quanta Magazine

I created this illustration for Quanta Magazine for a story about the brain and a theory about how it self-organizes. The editor wanted an image where sand or grains represented the brain, as if the sand or grains were being poured into a person's head.

I created this illustration for Quanta Magazine for a story about the brain and a theory about how it self-organizes. The editor wanted an image where sand or grains represented the brain, as if the sand or grains were being poured into a person's head.

I sketched up a few quick directions for this concept. The art director and editor wanted to go with the top left sketch but asked me to make the grains form the shape of a brain rather than a triangular pile.

I sketched up a few quick directions for this concept. The art director and editor wanted to go with the top left sketch but asked me to make the grains form the shape of a brain rather than a triangular pile.

Above is the final sketch with a couple of drawings to show how the brain details could be added to the brain shape. They liked the idea of the grains conforming to the shapes within the brain rather than adding line work.

Above is the final sketch with a couple of drawings to show how the brain details could be added to the brain shape. They liked the idea of the grains conforming to the shapes within the brain rather than adding line work.

I hand inked most of the dots for the brain. I felt the scale of the dots started out a bit too big (middle top) so I reduced the size of the dots to make sure the empty areas within the brain shape would be more easily read. I also drew some dots for the stream of grains coming from the spout.

I hand inked most of the dots for the brain. I felt the scale of the dots started out a bit too big (middle top) so I reduced the size of the dots to make sure the empty areas within the brain shape would be more easily read. I also drew some dots for the stream of grains coming from the spout.

Here is how the illustration appeared online.

Here is how the illustration appeared online.

Walking therapy illustration

I created this illustration for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for a story about a therapist who walks and talks with her patients rather than meet with them in her office.

I created this illustration for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for a story about a therapist who walks and talks with her patients rather than meet with them in her office.

The art director saw these two illustrations in my portfolio and asked me to create a new illustration incorporating hand lettering with walking figures.

The art director saw these two illustrations in my portfolio and asked me to create a new illustration incorporating hand lettering with walking figures.

To reference, Minneapolis, I chose the Stone Arch Bridge, a metaphor for the therapy.

To reference, Minneapolis, I chose the Stone Arch Bridge, a metaphor for the therapy.

I tightened up the sketch but the art director wanted me to include land at the top of the illustration, a reference to the city, or a park, something on the other side of the bridge, a destination.

I tightened up the sketch but the art director wanted me to include land at the top of the illustration, a reference to the city, or a park, something on the other side of the bridge, a destination.

I roughed up a quick revised sketch with a cityscape. These rougher figures actually influenced the direction of how I would end up depicting the figures, less line and more shape.

I roughed up a quick revised sketch with a cityscape. These rougher figures actually influenced the direction of how I would end up depicting the figures, less line and more shape.

Above is the hand lettering I created for the illustration along with some buildings and shrubs. I decided to go with a park destination rather than a city skyline destination for the top part of the illustration. Below is the Photoshop art in sequential states of completion. I begin with a background of textures and then repeat and edit these textures to create the other parts of the illustration.

Above is the hand lettering I created for the illustration along with some buildings and shrubs. I decided to go with a park destination rather than a city skyline destination for the top part of the illustration.

Below is the Photoshop art in sequential states of completion. I begin with a background of textures and then repeat and edit these textures to create the other parts of the illustration.

I really liked this stage, felt finished to me, calm yet active.

I really liked this stage, felt finished to me, calm yet active.

Above is the final with the strip of land at the top. This strip added more color and gave the piece an optimistic feeling, like spring.

Above is the final with the strip of land at the top. This strip added more color and gave the piece an optimistic feeling, like spring.