Friday, November 28, 2008

From The Vault: "Wild To Possess" - 2004

This was the very first faux-paperback cover I ever tried, back in 2004. I have no idea what inspired me to ever try something like this, but I think I wanted to do more stuff with typography and this seemed like as good an idea as any.

I must have been pretty happy with it, since looking back over my records I see that I immediately did about a dozen of these, all in a row, to varying success.

I think my favorite part
of this whole piece is the little circle with the "To" inside of it in the title. I think that looks just awesome.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Time Out New York: Elton John

Sometimes the subject for Time Out New York's weekly "Hot Seat" column really spikes the Fame-O-Meter, like it did this week for music legend Elton John.

I really wanted to do a good job on this one, and I knew I wanted something very bright, cheery, up. So I downloaded a few EJ songs on iTunes and listened to about half a dozen or so on repeat as I worked on this.

I wanted as little black on this as possible, and save for the glasses I managed to stick with that. Looking back over it, I think the likeness is off just a little bit, but I do like the colors, the design, and the overall feel of it.

How wonderful life is with my weekly "Hot Seat" assignment in the world.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Man With The Golden Arm" - 2008

Another one of my faux-paperback covers, but with some slight variations in the format.

First off, this one, for once, doesn't feature some gorgeous-but-dangerous dame, but a scungy-looking guy. I had this photo in an old folder of such items, clipped from magazines over the years, and I realized that I could mess with it a bit (ok, a lot) and it would work really well as the art for another "drug" paperback book, the kind I've been messing around with since I bought a book all about them, called Dope Menace (my first try in this genre I posted here last week).

As I went through the various titles, I realized the best one to pair up with this image was one of the most famous titles of the "drug book" genre--Nelson Algren's The Man With The Golden Arm (which is probably even more famous from the movie starring Frank Sinatra).

Once I started laying type in, I saw that the best use was not to over-design it and dress it up too much--just having it there, as stark as possible, looked the best to me.

Also, I realized the book's hyperbolic tag ("More powerful than a woman's love...more binding than a man's was dope!") line didn't really have a place on here, so I left it off. I think it looked really perfect just like this--the title, that face, surrounded by darkness.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Adweek - 11/17/08

This was an assignment I did for the 30th anniversary issue of Adweek magazine, to illustrate four people who are part of a feature called "The Influentials."

A lot of the time, I'm asked just to provide portraits which are then put into a pre-arranged layout, but this time I had the pleasure of doing a bit of the page design myself. Adweek and I went back and forth and I was able to put together something that worked with what they needed.

Anytime we're talking about guys who are on the cutting edge of technology, I was like to use rounded edges--to me, it feels like you're inside a Mac store, so it always seems like the right way to go.

This was the first job I ever did for Adweek, I hope its the first of many.

sgThese portraits are in the current issue, on sale now. Look for this cover!

Monday, November 24, 2008

WPA: Othello - 2008

This was another WPA-inspired poster, again focusing on Orson Welles, and again using a film version he did of a Shakespeare play as the basis for a poster.

I had done the Welles portrait (when he played the title character in a 1955 film) years earlier, but I always liked it, and thought it would work really well as an image to build a poster around.

I had the toughest time figuring out how to lay in the text, and looking at it now I'm not sure I got it totally right, but maybe that's just my inner Iago whispering doubts into my ear...

Friday, November 21, 2008

From The Vault: "Iced Tea" - 2003

Back in 2003, after a long search, I finally signed on with an agent, who I thought would open a whole bunch of new doors for me, career-wise.

One of the things they asked me to do right off the bat was create some product-specific advertising art, something I didn't really have much of in my portfolio.

I wholeheartedly agreed, wanting to do everything I could to start landing advertising jobs ($$$!), so I did a whole bunch of food-related illustrations, like this one. While they were hardly exciting, I tried to bring the same level of artistic acumen and passion to them that I did for any of my other work.

The whole agent thing came and went (that's a story for another day), but I'm glad I did this stuff anyway.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Time Out New York: Tom Colicchio

Every so often, the week's Hot Seat subject is someone I have absolutely no familiarity with--and this was one of those times.

This is chef Tom Colicchio, who co-hosts the show Top Chef. Never having seen the show, ever, I was sort of at a loss as to what to add to the portrait to make it specific to him.

(I had previously illustrated the show's other host, Padma Lakshmi, but that one was a little easier to get interested in)

Anyway, I did some research, and found the real-life NY restaurant Colicchio runs, and found a graphic of their official menu. I used the background image they have on their menu and put it behind him, which to me gave it enough visual interest to make it work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"H Is For Harlot" - 2008

I recently picked up a book called Dope Menace, featuring nothing but "drug" paperback book covers over the 20th century.

Not only were the covers beautiful to look at, but now I have hundreds of more genre paperback book titles that can inspire me to make my own faux-paperback covers!

This is one of those, and I had different ideas how I wanted this to look when I started it, but eventually the thing kind of took on a life of its own, and it ended up much more of a constructivist-type of thing, all tilted angles and abstract shapes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Sad Girl" - 2008

I wanted to do something colorful and cheery, and I liked mashing up all kinds of colors here. I call it "Sad Girl" because despite the colors, she looks kinda melancholy.

I know the background elements don't make a lot of literal sense, but I just wanted something there without them being too intrusive.

With the very-vertical orientation and heavy black frame, I was consciously mimicking the general layout of my Lauren Bacall piece, which I was really happy with and wanted to try again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

WPA: Macbeth - 2008

As I've talked about ad nauseum lately, I've been really into the WPA-style recently.

After being involved with the 75th Anniversary celebration the Design For Social Impact put together last month, I started working on faux-WPA posters, like the one you see above.

Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater did a bunch of productions under the auspices of the WPA, including some Shakespeare. They never did Macbeth as far as I know, but Orson made a film version in 1948, and so I conflated what he looked like in that film and moved it back to the 1930s, as if he and his company had put on a WPA-funded production of the legendary tragedy.

I was really happy with this once I finished it, and it will be the first of many in this style, of that I'm sure!

Friday, November 14, 2008

From The Vault: "Sheryl Crow" - 1995

I did this piece in 1995, when Sheryl Crow was just breaking out as a star, and I thought she was the sexiest woman ever to walk the Earth.

This piece was a little ambitious, in that it was huge--the original cut-paper piece measured almost two feet high, way bigger than I normally did them. I'm not even sure why I felt the need to do it that big, but it did make the piece feel more impressive, somehow.

I was working on this in an apartment I shared with a fellow artist and Kubert School graduate Sean Tiffany, and another Kubie friend, Dan Eaker, was over at the time. He wandered into my room where I was working on this.

I was just getting to the sunglasses, and he suggested making them a color, which I thought sounded good. I reached for a piece of bright orange paper, and...bang! Perfect!

At the time, I was really happy with this piece--I thought it looked cool and hip and was a great example of what I could do with this style. It was in my portfolio for a long time...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Time Out New York: Paul Rudd

This week's Time Out New York "Hot Seat" portrait was actor Paul Rudd, who I'm a fan of--he has the face of a leading man, but the flinty, goofy personality that makes him more of a character actor, and a hilarious one, in films like The 40-Year Old Virgin and Wet Hot American Summer.

But, as sometimes happens, being a fan of a particular week's subject doesn't always translate into a great piece. First off, I simply couldn't come up with a relevant background that would go with a portrait of Rudd, so I used a generic scheme.

Worse, I had the hardest time nailing the likeness--I won't say what part of the above portrait I feel like I screwed up, but it's there. Sometimes, though, what I perceive as an error will work itself out in my head over time, so after finishing, I'll leave the piece alone for a day and then look at it again. Most of the time, having "fresh eyes" helps me get a better perspective on the piece.

But this time, that didn't happen--I still saw the same problem--so I even went so far as to completely start over, and do an entirely different portrait of Rudd. But about 3/4ths of the way into that one, I saw it was even worse, so I bailed on it. With the deadline for turning the piece in being that same day, I only had the time to try and touch up the original and send it in.

TONY liked the piece just fine, but I feel like this is one that got away from me. I guess the beauty of this gig is, there's always next week...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Universal Monsters: Jack Pierce

Every time I finish up a new "Universal Monsters" poster, I promise that it will be the last one I ever do, because I always feel like I've exhausted every possible subject.

But, inevitably, I come up with yet another idea for one, and the lure of continuing what is by far my most popular work is too strong to deny. So I open a new folder, and start working...

This one is a bit of a departure, since its for a film that doesn't exist. After watching an excellent documentary on Universal's #1 make-up man Jack Pierce on a DVD re-release of The Mummy, I realized that I would love to see a full-length, movie-sized documentary on the man that created the iconic look for almost every single movie monster, as widely-known today as they were 75 years ago.

So I came up with a cast of movie titans that might want to talk about Pierce's work, like Guillermo Del Toro, Rick Baker, Peter Jackson, plus archival footage of Boris Karloff, James Whale, and of course Pierce himself (who tragically died, nearly forgotten, in the 60s).

My original title was Man of a Thousand Faces, but my pal Pierre Fournier (of the great blog Frankensteinia) suggested that Pierce deserved his own title, not a gloss of the one attached to Lon Chaney.

Pierre was right, so I went for a more exploitative, fun title, and I think its much better. Thanks Pierre!

Oh, one last thing--this time, I promise I will not be promising this will be the last new Universal Movie Monster poster I'm going to do. That's because, in between doing I've Created A Monster! and posting it here, I've already completed another one, which will show up here soon.

I can't help myself!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Caught In The Act - 2008

Another faux-paperback cover, this one frustrated me a bit.

I wanted to have some sort of silhouette in the doorway to, you know, underscore the whole "caught" thing.

But no matter how hard I tried moving the various elements around, I could never quite get it the way I wanted--it looked too crowded and didn't read right, so I bailed and left it like this.

I think this is pretty good; but it was one of those times when I couldn't produce what I saw in my head.

By the way, this is an exception to the usual "rules" of my faux-paperbacks--the title, author, and tag line are all mine this time. I'm particularly proud of the tag line--I know I'd like to read a book with a plot like that.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Eat Food" - 2008

This poster was based on my just having finished author Michael Pollan's newest book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. I had read his previous book, An Omnivore's Dilemma, and enjoyed them both immensely--entertaining and informative examinations of an all-important subject: how, why, and what we eat.

In Defense, right on the cover, Pollan boils the entire book down to a simple seven word mantra--"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Aside from the staggering amount of wisdom contained in just those seven words, it reminded me a bit of the very simple language used on the WPA posters, which of course are never far from my mind.

So this poster is what I imagined a WPA-era poster would look like if some artist was enlisted to communicate to a large number of people the best and simplest way to eat right.

I knew I wanted to stay away from any black on the poster at all, to give it a lighter feel. After finding the right font, I kept trying add more little bits of design to it to spruce it up a bit, but after several tries I realized I liked it exactly how it was--just the text and the food. Simple.

Update: I emailed Mr. Pollan, and sent him a link to the poster. He actually wrote back (how cool is that?) and told he really liked the poster, and thanked me for alerting him to its creation. Wow!

Friday, November 7, 2008

From The Vault: "FDR" - 1996

Presidents have been on my mind a lot this week (can't imagine why), so I thought I'd dig out a regular subject of mine, my favorite President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I call him my favorite partly because I have an affinity for the eras he so defined (the 30s and 40s), partly because he accomplished so much, and partly because he seemed to be the last guy who actually liked being President (when asked once if he enjoyed being President, he answered "Of course! Who wouldn't?"). That spirit, that joy, is something I hope maybe, just maybe, we'll be seeing again soon.

Anyway, I did a bunch of FDR portraits (I was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's book No Ordinary Time around this time), and this one came out the best--I think it captured what I saw in the man, even if, looking back over it, I don't think I would've had so much black on the piece--reversing to a white background may have given it a brighter, cheerier look. Oh well, live and learn.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Time Out New York: Mystery

Every so often, the subject of this week's Time Out New York "Hot Seat" portrait is a complete...mystery to me (sorry).

This guy's name is Mystery, apparently, and he hosts some sort of romance-themed "reality show" on VH1. Luckily, someone who dresses as ostentatiously as this has a lot of photo reference available, so I was able to get a little more detailed--the hat, the rings, etc.--than I normally would.

I liked the combo of the spooky colors and the heart background, so even though I didn't know who this guy was, I thought it came off pretty well. Sometimes it happens that way!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Finished at 2:54 am, on one of the most exciting nights of my life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dark Hazard - 2008

Another faux-paperback cover, these are always a fun lark.

I pretty much knew I wanted this color scheme from the beginning, and it was just a matter of figure placement and typography. It all came together pretty easily, and I thought the adding the dice was the proverbial cherry on top.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Foreign Policy - 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered an organization called Design for Social Impact, a design firm that specializes in progressive social causes, and frequently employs a WPA-inspired illustration style for their work, which of course intrigued me greatly. I was even more thrilled to see that they operate right in my own backyard, Philadelphia!

After talking to them about my work, they told me about their plans for a big celebration--this year is the 75th anniversary of the WPA, and one of the ways they were celebrating was with a call to local artists to submit their own WPA-styled posters, about whatever cause they would like. Of the posters submitted, some would be selected to be screen-printed (like the 1930s originals were) and given out for free, in various locations throughout the city.

I didn't hear about the contest until just three days before the deadline, but I really wanted to do something for this. I spent all of Sunday and Monday trying to come up with an idea, with the deadline baring down on me. Nothing.

I went to bed Monday night, and laid in bed trying to come up with either a visual or a tag line, something to build a poster around.

The DFSI had told me that I could do a poster on any subject, but they were looking for one based on any of the three themes not yet covered by other artists--one of them being War & Defense. So I concentrated on that.

Finally, something started to click--I liked the idea of moving away from the idea that all America has to offer is war. I imagined something involving bombs, but that seemed too downbeat, especially since the WPA posters were almost uniformly positive.

Then a phrase popped into my head--"Foreign Policy Can Be More Than Bombs." Yes!

At that point, I couldn't lay there anymore, so I got out of bed (around 2am) and started to work. I imagined an old-timey symbol of America--Uncle Sam--offering a kind hand to someone else, and within a couple of hours, I had what you see above.

Since it was going to be screen-printed, the DFSI asked to keep all posters to two colors (and white), so going with the old red, white, and blue was a no-brainer. I sent it in to them the next morning, and I was thrilled to find they loved it, and it was picked as one of the posters to be screen-printed and distributed.

That event was on Saturday, October 25th, and indeed, my poster was one of the ones offered up free of charge to people. It was a real thrill seeing my work done up like that, and a real honor that the DFSI liked what I did.

People like the DFSI are keeping the spirit of the Works Progress Administration alive and well, and I was glad to be a tiny part of it.