Patchwork man illustration

Last week, I created this illustration for The Wall Street Journal for a story about how our early ancestors from different continents mingled earlier than we thought. One of the ideas suggested by the editor was to show "figures of various colors overlapping or merging."

This idea reminded me of an illustration I created seventeen years ago (back in my early vector period) for Outside Magazine for a story about testing athletic clothing material. The idea was a figure running through the environment with a quilt-like outfit.

I revisited this idea but for the new illustration, I wanted the figure to be more monolithic, like a giant running through the woods. And inside the figure would be the merging, different-color figures.

This was a quick deadline so not much time for sketching. I presented four ideas in the merging figure direction, plus a couple of additional ideas. The art director chose the top left idea.

Since it was a fairly simple composition, I knew the fingers, toes, and the head would be important details, so I sat down with my ink brush pen and some paper and started loosely drawing, experimenting with line and edge quality, and with pencil and marker, and then chose the drawn elements I liked the most.

This loose drawing session helped determine the style of the figure. Usually, I resolve that in the sketch, but in this case, the sketch was rough and quick (short deadline) with few details.

I began with a green field and a yellow figure. To make the figure, I duplicated and distorted the ink drawn body elements to create a full figure and then attached the hands, feet, and head. I cleaned up the head a bit and added an eye and a mouth.

Color was an important part of this concept. I used a three-color palette for the figures, yellow for the main figure and then blue and red for the interior figures. To add some additional visual interest, I separated the figure from the background with a white edge and then added a shadow figure.

The trees represented the environment, the woods, and their arrangement created a background pattern that suggested a larger continuous space.

As a final step, I softened and dulled down the colors a bit.

Unfortunately, the editor decided to go with a photo for the story, but it was a great assignment to work on, even if the art didn't make it to print.

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.

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.

Conversation illustration

2013-conversation This is an illustration I did for an essay by Jeff Chu, author of Does Jesus Love Me? A Gay Christian's Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. The essay was about the author's visit to his family after coming out as gay, his boyfriend texting him the words, "Be humble" as he was about to meet with his family, his Midtown Manhattan subway rides, and his research for his book.

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Above is the sketch the client and I decided on. It represents the author's conversation with the people he met on his journey. But this wasn't my first idea.

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In the essay, the author described the 49th Street subway station he used as, "brick, glazed a garish orange-red that always has made me think of the flames of hell." He went on to describe how he felt each evening waiting for his train, fretting about his family as well as his conversations with his friends who were atheist.

So my first idea was to show him as a lone figure set against a hellish train pulling into the station. Other ideas I had related to the text sent by his boyfriend. But the client wanted a more positive image and asked me to send them a sketch about his conversations during his yearlong journey across America.

Below are ink and gouache elements I made to collage together in Photoshop to make the final art.

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