Friday, October 31, 2008

From The Vault: "Frankenstein" - 1996

Considering today is Halloween, it seemed only appropriate I find something spooky for this week's From The Vault installment.

By 1996, I had been working in this new style for a year or two, and as this point was trying to stretch what I could do with it as much as possible.

Looking back over my files, I see this portrait was one of my first attempts to illustrate someone beyond a normal, recognizable face, and as you can see it worked out pretty well.

The only thing I would do differently is the layout; I think now I'd make it more of a vertical piece, and have The Monster positioned a little more near the top, to convey his massive height, as compared to the viewer. Maybe something like this:
"Grrr! Re-do good! Fire bad!"

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Ever More Awesome"

Super Special Update Post!

As you'll see by reading the above, I sent the silly Obama-as-Cyclops graphic to The American Prospect's Ezra Klein as a goof.

I was happy enough that he posted it on his blog, but then he actually went out of his way to plug my site and compliment my work! Wow, what a delightful surprise.

I did some work for The American Prospect, which can you can see here and here. They were all fun projects, and hopefully they'll call me again sometime.

Time Out New York: Elizabeth Moss

Last week's Time Out New York "Hot Seat" portrait, actress Elizabeth Moss.

I knew Moss from her role as one of the President's daughters on The West Wing, but right now she is a regular on Mad Men, and she's currently in a New York production of David Mamet's Speed the Plow, which was what she was promoting in the interview.

Generally, when having to do a portrait of someone who doesn't have a strong public identity, I like to try a Golden Age of Hollywood-era "glamour" type of look, and I was fairly happy with how this one came out.

Looking back over it now, I think maybe I would've pulled in on Ms. Moss a little tighter, and moved her to the right a bit more. But these Hot Seat deadlines are always pretty tight, so unless some glaring change appears to me when I look it over one more time before "shipping it out", I generally go with what I thought was right the first time.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sun Kissed - 2008

I have a whole section on my site of what I call glamour art, which is nothing more complicated than very colorful, fashionista-type pieces of artwork.

I find doing these kind of pieces allows me to experiment a lot with different patterns and color combos, and frequently, being able to pull back from the photo-realism I usually employ and go for something very abstract, like I did with this piece.

I usually wouldn't put together two patterns together on the same piece like I did here, but I thought it worked as a nice contrast to the zero detail on the figure. Overall, it's a very happy-looking piece (hence the name) and that's what I was going for most of all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Turn Out The Lights - 2008

Another one of my faux-paperback book covers, this time done with some (slight) changes to my modus operandi.

I only had a book's title--Turn Out The Lights--to work from. No author or tag line, so that's all my own creation.

Now that I look at it again (a week or so after creating it), all I can see are the things I think I could've done better, but, oh well...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Frankenstein Meets Shirley Temple

A couple of weeks ago, on the superb blog Frankensteinia, my friend Pierre posted a few pages of a comic book sequence called "Frankenstein Meets Shirley Temple", by cartoonist Roger Langridge.

Something about that inspired an idea in me--what if the Universal Frankenstein movie series had devolved so badly by the mid-40s that they decided to try and pair up their #1 monster with America's Sweetheart? I think it might go something like...

I knew having little Shirley Temple in the same visual space as Frankenstein would look so goofy and wrong that I wouldn't need much else to sell it--a couple of standard monster movie props, plus an absurd plot description...done and done!

I sent it to Pierre, and he liked it so much that he wrote a whole post about my Frankenstein work:
Frankensteinia is such a good, well-written site, that I'm enormously proud that my work has appeared on it, and that Pierre said such nice things about me and my work.

And he's right--Frankenstein Meets Shirley Temple is by far the silliest poster I have yet to work on.

But who knows what the future holds?

Friday, October 24, 2008

From The Vault: "Lauren Bacall" - 2003

This portrait of Lauren Bacall (circa mid-1940s) was produced in 2003, during a very productive time. I had just moved into a new apartment, had just started dating my Darlin' Tracy, and a lot of new, exciting work was coming in. I was really operating on all thrusters, and I basically couldn't produce pieces fast enough.

And while I had always intended this to be a portrait of Bacall, it was more the color scheme and design I was going for--the shape is unusual for me, and looking back on it now it reminds me a bit of a lobby card from that era of moviemaking.

Plus I really like the colors, the pose--dang! This one turned out really well!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Time Out New York: John Hodgman

This was the Time Out New York "Hot Seat" portrait from two weeks ago, Daily Show regular, Mac pitchman, author, and all-around egghead John Hodgman.

I'm a huge fan of Mr. Hodgman's--I'm always thrilled when he shows up on TDS--so, like it was for Sarah Vowell the previous week, it made that week's Hot Seat portrait just a little more fun.

Considering Hodgman's first book was called The Areas of My Expertise, and his new one is called More Information Than You Require, my first concept was what you see above--Mr. Hodgman, at a Peanuts-style information booth. His "Mr. Know-It-All" persona seems like a Charles Schulz character, at least to me.

But...I knew this approach was a stretch. TONY generally likes more...generic backgrounds, and this was anything but that. But I loved the idea so much I had to send it in. So as not to cause a problem at the deadline stage, I worked up a safer alternate version:
I liked this one, too, because it felt like Hodgman was sitting at an information booth, ready to dispense helpful info (plus, it felt a little Criswell-ish to me, something I always enjoy).

So I sent both in, and...surprise! The magazine went with the first one. They actually had to run it by their legal department, because "The Schulz people are very litigious", but TONY loved it so much they were willing to try.

Obviously everything got smoothed out, because there it was, on the last page of the magazine when it arrived in my mailbox. Ginchy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Two Bullets In The Chamber"

I posted this poster on my last formal update, but there were some cool developments with it since that I wanted to mention.

As I mentioned when I first put it up, this poster for a movie that doesn't exist was inspired by a particularly fun audio commentary track for the 1948 film noir Road House by authors and film historians Eddie Muller and Kim Morgan.

I met Eddie a few years ago at a book signing, and we've kept in touch since. So after I put the poster up on the site, I emailed Eddie to tell him about it.

He emailed me back, telling me he loved it, and asked if he could post it on his Film Noir Foundation site, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the genre. I was thrilled that Eddie liked it enough to put it up on his site, and he even posted my comments about the making of it, which you can see here:
(click to read the rest)

Eddie also suggested I email Kim Morgan to tell her about it, as well. Not knowing her, that didn't really occur to me. But Eddie thought I should, so I sent her a brief note.

Kim wrote back: "
I love your work. Consider me a new fan and keep in touch." Wow!

One of my favorite things--maybe the favorite--about the internets is how it allows people to communicate that normally never could. It felt good to show to Eddie and Kim how inspiring their passion for film noir was for me, and of course I always enjoy people telling me they like my work.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

V For Vegetarian

I became a vegetarian ten years ago this month. I don't even remember what event--if there even was one--that drove me to finally do it. I just remember one day saying "Ok, that's it" and I've managed to stick with it, all these years later.

The phrase "V For Vegetarian" just popped into my head one day, and the whole viva la revoluci
รณn look followed not too long after. And using a stalk of celery--one of the most benign of foods--as a sort of instrument of turmoil just made me smile.

I wanted a very 40s propaganda poster type look, and it all came together fairly quickly and without a lot of fuss.

Monday, October 20, 2008

From The Vault: "WPA Artists" - 2002

As most of my friends know, the art of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) is an enormous influence on me and my work. Aside from the sheer beauty of these posters, the idea of using art and artists to convey messages to the citizenry seems so...revolutionary nowadays that I simply can't imagine what it must have been like, having the U.S. Government putting thousands of skilled artists to work, all for the common good.

Anyway, books featuring the WPA posters were pretty scarce--for years, the only one I could find was Posters of the WPA, by Christopher DeNoon. A fine book, but even 175 pages to play with, it could only show the tiniest fraction of the posters created during the era.

Around the end of 2002, I was just discovering all this great work, and was so inspired by the artists who did them. So one night, as an act of...tribute, I guess, I decided to do portraits of five of the WPA artists that the book has spotlighted: Anthony Velonis, Robert M. Jones, Richard Halls, Richard Floethe, and Katherine Milhous.

As you can see, the portraits are pretty straightforward, no frills. And what better to have in the background than their own work? So while I don't think these rank as my best work, they are certainly some of the most heartfelt pieces I've ever done.

Why am I posting these today? Well, that's because this month is the 75th anniversary of the WPA, and its being celebrated in high style, right in my own backyard!

Check out Posters For The People, which tells you about all kinds of events scheduled this month to celebrate the WPA. Not only is there going to be a new book about the WPA, Posters for the People: Art of the WPA (yay!), but there's an exhibition of "new" WPA posters by current artists, to be silk-screened (like the originals were) and displayed at an exhibition in the city!

As you might have guessed, I will have a poster of my own creation in the exhibition, which is a huge honor for me. I can't wait to see what the events are like over the weekend and meet some of the people behind it all.

I'll have the whole story (along with my poster) here sometime next week!

Friday, October 17, 2008

From The Vault: "Sunset" - 1994

Every Friday, I'll be posting a piece from what I like to call "The Vault"--the absurdly-vast archive of pieces I've created over the years, but have either never shown, or had in my portfolio at one time but have long since been replaced by newer (and hopefully better) pieces.

This is piece #180, created sometime in 1994, with cut paper and paint. This cut-paper style was still fairly new to me, so I was experimenting with it in all kinds of ways, to see if I could achieve different moods or looks.

And while this piece doesn't have all that much going on in it, really, I did like the contrast of the heavy dark figure and the sunset-y colors. It proved to me that this new style I developed could work well, even if I wasn't portraying someone recognizable.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Time Out New York: Sarah Vowell

I've been doing the weekly "Hot Seat" portraits for Time Out New York magazine for over three years now, and it's been a real learning experience--in numerous ways--doing this same job, week in, week out, for so long.

The most exciting ones for me are when the subject is someone I really like--previously, I've done portraits of Aimee Mann, Albert Brooks, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Colbert and it's been really enjoyable getting an opportunity like that. Subconsciously, I probably put a little extra effort in those to make them extra good.

Another opportunity like that came up two weeks ago, when the Hot Seat interview subject was author and humorist Sarah Vowell.

Ms. Vowell has written several really good books, like Assassination Vacation, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, done some wonderful performances for NPR's This American Life (not to mention essaying the voice of Violet in The Incredibles). She has a new one out, about the Puritans, called The Wordy Shipmates, and that's what she was promoting in the HS interview.

Her books, while mostly being about the United States (and all its odd bits of history), they're not exclusively about that, so I went with a "world traveling" theme in the background. While it wasn't exactly what I would have done if I had had more time, it has a mellow, old-timey look that I thought worked well overall.

Sometimes the editors at TONY will ask me to make a change if there's something about the background they don't like or one reason or another; this time it went right through to print. Yay for me!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Miss Jill From Paris - 2008

This is a first for me--one of my faux-paperback book covers that is a "sequel" to a previous one (see yesterday).

As I've said before, these paperback covers are usually put together on a whim. I don't plan them out, the way I do my posters or other kinds of stuff--I generally get the idea to do one, and a few hours later, it's done.

So when looking for photos to use as the model for Miss Jill From Shanghai, I found two separate photos of the same women, both of which could be used for my purposes.

So after finishing up Miss Jill From Shanghai, I thought why not "continue" Miss Jill's adventures, to yet another glamorous locale? So this time around, Miss Jill heads for Paris.

The background pattern gives (to me) a vaguely "fashionista" feel, so putting her in the fashion capital of the world seemed to make sense.

Will Miss Jill keep traveling? Who knows...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Miss Jill From Shanghai - 2008

This is one of the newest of my faux-paperback book covers that I've been messing with the last few years, Miss Jill From Shanghai.

As I've said before, working on these covers is always a totally pleasurable, no-pressure experience; I imagine they do for me what a musician gets out of covering some favorite song, for no other reason than they enjoy singing and playing it.

My loose set of rules apply here--the title, tag line, and author are real; but the cover art is all of my own devising. I like the contrast of the simple blue and the busy yellow pattern, it's my favorite part of the piece.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Welcome to Rob Kelly Illustration, the new(est) blog I've created, this one devoted exclusively to my illustration and design work.

For years, the main source on the web of my work has been my pro illustration site,, and I've managed to keep it regularly updated and fresh so it always has new people looking at it and checking what I'm doing.

A few years ago, I fell into the pattern of updating the site four times a year (generally when the seasons change--seems as good a time as any), and letting everyone know via an announcement email that there's new work to look at.

But I produce a lot more work than I can ever post there, since I don't want my What's New page becoming a too-long parade of stuff, since I've found that some good work can get lost if there's simply too much stuff to look at.

And since I enjoy blogging so much, I thought I would create a companion blog to the site, where I can put up as much stuff as I want--whether it be new work stuff from "the vault". Also, hopefully it will make it easier for people who follow my work to keep updated with what I'm doing, on a more regular basis.

I thought I'd kick the blog off with the piece you see above--a portrait of Orson Welles, circa 1949 in his film The Third Man.

At the time of creating this piece--1993--I had begun to grow dissatisfied with my current illustration style, a mix of drawing and collage. I had found it too limiting and I was getting less and less satisfied with the results.

So for a few months preceding this piece, I was knocking around with all different kinds of styles, never setting on one. Not only were they not all that fun to do, I also knew that there was precious little chance I'd ever get paid work with them.
Then, one night, I saw a picture of Orson Welles as the sweaty, panicked Harry Lime, and something about that picture spoke to me--I wondered what it might look like with all the photographic detail stripped away, leaving just the extreme blacks and whites (and a little gray).

I don't remember how I got the idea to do it with cut out pieces of paper instead of pen and ink, but it seemed to make sense at the time. I cut the pieces out, glued them together, and then put it away.

I looked at it the next morning, and I was blown away--I was amazed how cool it looked, how compelling. I didn't know this was going to me "my style" but I knew I wanted to try more of it.

And so I did. I kept messing around with other styles, but in short order I phased them out, and (except for some brief returns of collage), I never looked back.

Off-hand, I don't know how much I plan to update the blog--not every day, but now that I have a place to put new work on as soon as I've finished it, I'm pretty sure it'll be pretty regularly.

I guess you'll just have to check back all the time to be sure, won't you?

(Special thanks must go to my pal and fellow artist Sean Tiffany, who gave me the idea for an art blog in the first place, and basically wouldn't allow me not to do it. Thanks pal!)