Friday, December 31, 2010

From The Vault: "Loose Canons!" - 1999

This was another catalog I did for Koen Book Distributors during my year there as a graphic designer.

Loose Canons! was Koen's big catalog of the year (half-year, actually, since we did two of them)--a hodge-podge of books from all different genres, a lot of marketing and sales effort was put into it, so much so a Koen employee who was some sort of alt. book specialist would come to NJ twice a year to help guide the catalog's creation.

For all the eyes that were on the catalog, the overall graphic design was surprisingly little commented upon--maybe because everyone was so busy worrying about the rest of it. This was the second of two Loose Canons! I designed, and by this point I was sort of punchy so I decided to just go totally goofy and make up all sorts of crazy fake newspaper-style stories, most of them featuring in-jokes that only other Koen employees would get (click the image to see a readable version).

I remember submitting this to my boss at the time, who laughed a lot and said he loved it (not a total surprise, since that's his daughter pictured at bottom). It then went to the head of sales, who only had one small revision, a joke I had made at a competitor's expense. I thought that was eminently reasonable and changed it, and the cover--and catalog--went out just like you see it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Bullet For Betty Lou

Another faux-vintage paperback, this one took a while to get right in terms of the text (title, author, and tagline made up by me). I started with it all on the background behind poor dead Betty Lou there, but it never quite looked right. But I had a ton of other stuff to work on, so part of me was ready to get close to "right" and then move on.

But before I did that, I thought why not try something else, and see how that goes--and once I did, dropping a box on top of the picture and then adding the title, it clicked immediately and after some minor dabbling with colors, this baby was ready to go!

On a side note: I think my favorite element is the feather pattern on Betty Lou's shawl or whatever--it just sort of screamed 50s showgirl to me. But as much as I liked it, I had to admit that the composition worked best with most of it covered up. Oh well...

Friday, December 24, 2010

From The Vault: Gay & Lesbian Interest Catalog - 1999

I thought I'd cast my From The Vault net a little wider again this week; digging up a graphic design piece I did back when I worked at Koen Book Distributors, doing design and layout work for their marketing department.

Doing the graphic design work for Koen was a great learning experience and one of the creatively satisfying jobs I ever had; my boss had no pretensions about how the catalogs should look, so he simply made sure they met certain standards ever Koen catalog needed; the rest was up to me.

So after a few weeks of getting up to speed, I really poured my heart into making these catalogs as visually arresting as possible--I think I ended up producing about two dozen different ones, and out of that group there's a handful that I think rank as some of my best work, even now.

This Gay & Lesbian Interest Catalog was one of them; I wanted a sophisticated, fun look, appealing to a literate, engaged demographic. This ended up printed on a nice, thick, slightly rough cardstock, making for a really sharp final product.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Caged Canary

Since my last faux-vintage paperback book cover was set in the bitter cold of the frozen tundra, I thought I'd go the other way this one, which from its looks seems to be set in some always-sunny, always-hot, always-humid location, with lots of people going around half-dressed, dripping with sweat.

The plot for this one--featuring title and author made up by me--is pretty standard film noir stuff: a beautiful woman, a mean and cruel sugar daddy, and the inevitable, aforementioned sweaty young hunk who tries to get the girl away from the old man, with disastrous and violent results.

Friday, December 17, 2010

From The Vault: Drive-In Theater - 2001

Its been a little while since I did a From The Vault segment--Friday kept coming around and I had forgotten to find something, on top of the fact that some of the stuff in the vault is so bad I don't want anyone to see it, even in fun.

I didn't want another week to pass having missed yet another Friday, so I rooted around my HD a bit and found this unfinished piece of business--a flier I was asked to design by a friend who was putting together his own genre film screening program called Drive-In Theater. It needed to have lots of big open space that could be filled by that week's films, so I had to design around that pre-fab area.

I don't really remember whatever happened to DIT--I think it sort of died before it ever got started--but I'm still really proud of the design. I think its slick and sorta grubby at the same time, and every time I look at it I'm sorry Drive-In Theater never became a reality.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Time Out New York: Jeff Bridges

I was asked to do this week's "Hot Seat" portrait for Time Out New York, the subject this time being film legend Jeff Bridges!

It only took a few seconds after finding out who the subject was to decide to do this in the same style as my "Tough Guy" series, since now that Mr. Bridges has aged a bit, he's moved into that sort of phase of his career--plus, he was promoting his role in the new Coen Bros. movie True Grit, and these seemed very True Grit-y colors.

I had fun adding all those crazy strands of hair--it adds a nice looseness to my style, and its really hard to put down a "wrong" line. Overall, I finished this piece pretty darn happy with it.

And that's a good thing, because odds are this is the last Hot Seat I will ever do for Time Out New York. As I write this, the magazine is undergoing a face lift, both in content and look, and from what I understand the Hot Seat feature is going away. Now, I heard that once before, back in the summer, and somehow not only did the feature survive, but I was back doing the portraits on fairly regular basis.

So you never really know, but for now I'm going to assume this is it. This week's Jeff Bridges makes for 275 Hot Seat portraits, an extraordinary run for one client. And while there was (of course) some weeks that I wasn't proud of what I ended up turning in, they were almost always fun and at times the results were some of my finest work. I'm happy to have been such a staple of the magazine for so long.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Snow Queen

This faux-vintage paperback book cover was created entirely out of boredom--I had a little bit of time on my hands, but not enough to get into working on some client work. All my blogging work was also done (for the moment, which never lasts too long when you have around fifteen blogs), and I always feel a little guilt just sitting around watching TV (even though I had put on a creepy fun movie, The Dunwich Horror).

So I just started messing around with this portrait, and after too long the "story" behind it came into focus--she was some odd being who lived in the snowy mountains of somewhere--a snow queen, that's it!

I had originally done the shadows in heavy blacks, but once I decided to put her in front of this absurdly desolate snowscape, all that went out the window I went with all blues and white. At first I had her in front of the snowstorm, as if she was so powerful it didn't affect her, but then I realized I liked the depth of field you got from having big chunks of snow in the foreground.

I made up the title and author myself, since I knew I wouldn't find anything that matched--this is kind of more of a gothic romance-type book cover than a mystery thriller, anyway.

And while I'm perfectly happy how this came out, I think my favorite part is the author name--"Abigail St. Nicholas", as a name, just sings to me. I picture a little old lady, cranking out romance novels in the mid-20th century, perhaps living down the street from Agatha Christie.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


This piece started out as just a portrait of Aquaman's wife and queen Mera--I just thought it would be fun to do a portrait of my favorite redhead (fictional division), something relaxing to work on in between client projects.

But as I worked on it, I thought hey, it'd be fun to have Mera holding an Aquaman comic book (featuring one of her favorite covers, I'm sure). And then the piece sort of morphed into a First Person ad for Aquaman, sort of playing up that old adage about you can tell how good a guy is by the woman who's with him. And since DC (Geoff Johns, specifically) has done such a great job transforming Mera into a top tier character, I figured an ad from her point of view, telling you how awesome her husband is, would be a good, effective way to promote any potential new Aquaman series.

You're welcome, DC.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Misadventures of Mistletoe Missy

Not too long after finishing my The Misadventures of Halloween Harriet faux-vintage paperback book cover, I realized that it would be just as perfect to do another cover, this time for Christmas. After all, who doesn't like a smutty Christmas book?

I liked the alliteration of the first book's title, so I decided to replace Halloween Harriet with Mistletoe Missy, which in my mind works even better!

I'm not sure, but I'm betting I'll have to come up with another one of these for Valentine's Day, the smuttiest of all holidays.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Time Out New York: Ewan McGregor

I was asked to do this week's "Hot Seat" portrait for Time Out New York, the subject this time being actor Ewan McGregor!

Mr. McGregor was promoting the long-delayed film I Love You Phillip Morris, so I first thought of putting the PM logo on his t-shirt. But when crop-wise it worked better like this, I added it to the background and faded it a lot so it didn't conflict too much with the central portrait.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monster PSA: Yvonne Craig

I literally couldn't wait to work on this one!

I got the idea for it while working on the previous Ingrid Pitt PSA, and it was sort of amazing to me I hadn't gotten around to doing a PSA portrait of the lovely (in more ways than one) Ms. Yvonne Craig, who of course hit a double in the Genre Fan Sweepstakes by being both Batgirl on Batman and the Orion Slave Girl on Star Trek.

I had first thought of doing the portrait of her as Batgirl (where she helped usher the young pre-teen version of me into puberty), but that quickly gave way to this more sexy look in the service of promoting libraries, which I thought tied it into the Barbara Gordon/Batgirl thing nicely.

I had the chance to meet Ms. Craig at a comic con around 2000 or so, and she was so sweet as the ten millionth overgrown fanboy told her how important she was to them growing up.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monster PSA: Ingrid Pitt

This Monster PSA poster was kind of eerie to work on.

Yesterday, I was just finishing up the last illustration for a large advertising job, and as I am wont to do, having movies on in the background. I've been watching a lot of Hammer Films lately, catching up on the ones I've never seen. Case in point, I put on The Vampire Lovers, a sort of lesbian vampire movie starring Ingrid Pitt as the vampire who crosses all sorts of boundaries.

After I finished the last client piece, I decided to do another Monster PSA poster, this time starring the legendary Ms. Pitt--I had not yet given her her own PSA, even though she played both monster and victim in numerous Hammer films. On top of that, because of the big ad job, I hadn't posted anything new on this blog in a couple of days, and I really wanted to put something up.

So just before I started to work, I noticed a friend's Facebook page that said Ingrid Pitt had just died! I did a double take, because the timing of it was so bizarre. I followed the link, and the sad news was true--Ms. Pitt, age 77, had passed away.

Once I read that (and duly changed my FB page's avatar to a pic of Ingrid), I was determined to put this poster together to have it up for the following day.

For whatever reason, this one was a lot harder than they usually are--I tried two different portraits, that as portraits were fine, but once I plugged them into the PSA poster format, they all of a sudden didn't work--something about the lights and darks and the overall shapes. But I refused to give up, finally completing a third portrait that worked when placed onto the Monster PSA poster, which is what you see above.

This poster's message isn't really a PSA--rather, I just wanted to reflect that schism many a horror movie fan felt when they saw Ingrid Pitt in a movie. Was she a victim, or was she the victimizer? Rarely have actresses had the ability to be believable as both, yet she pulled it off.

Rest in Peace, Ingrid Pitt.

Friday, November 19, 2010

ACA at Bark Radio!

My pal (and all-around sweetheart) Laura Menck, creator of the awesome Animal Care for Artists (for which I did the logo, above) appeared on the radio show Bark Radio, and at one point she was kind enough to mention me and my work (aw, shucks!). Go check it out!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Time Out New York: Aasif Mandvi

I was asked to do this week's "Hot Seat" portrait for Time Out New York, the subject this time being actor/comedian Aasif Mandvi!

Like most people, I'm familiar with Mr. Mandvi as a correspondent on The Daily Show, but he's also an actor, having appeared in a number of films and has several more to come.

Since starting the Hot Seats back in 2006, I've had the chance to do portraits of Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrel, Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, and Olivia Munn. I can only hope TONY taps me if/when they interview Jon Stewart, Lewis Black, Samantha Bee, Jason Jones, or Larry Wilmore!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chiller TV Spots

Some of my Monster PSA posters were chosen to appear as set decoration in two TV spots for the Chiller TV network.

And while those spots aren't yet finished, here are some stills from the ads--as you can see, there are my posters on the wall of Chiller TV's lunchroom, and they make a super-quick appearance in postcard form on the wall of a Chiller TV employee's cubicle.

I had the chance to go to NYC and watch the commercials be filmed, which was a cool, informative experience. I was thrilled Chiller TV liked my posters enough to want to use them like this, and I can't wait to see the finished spots!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Invisible Man @ The Chiller Theatre

I'm giving the From The Vault segment the week off to post this pic that was sent to me by my pal Rob Tullo.

This was a homemade Invisible Man model kit, entered in a Halloween contest at the Chiller Theatre last month. And as you can see, the modeler went ahead and used my Invisible Man poster as a piece of decoration. Pretty nifty, and quite a compliment in its own way.

Rob is great at finding stuff like this--usually its an example of me getting ripped off, but this time its a-ok. Thanks Rob!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

11 Acorn Lane, Pt. 2

Back in December 2009, I did this CD cover art for 11 Acorn Lane's Everybody's Here album, which was a lot of fun.

The band wrote me the other day to let me know that they're still getting use out of my portrait, first on their Amazon page, slightly amended for the season:
sg well as in the animated video for their cover of the holiday classic "Deck The Halls":

...ginchy! Thanks, guys!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monster PSA: Lee Van Cleef

I haven't done a Monster PSA posters in ages, and this one really makes a shambles of that designation--not only did Lee Van Cleef never play a monster of any sort, he never even appeared in anything like a horror movie (even form-busting subjects like Margot Kidder was in at least one genuine horror film).

But when I was working on the portrait of Mr. Van Cleef for my "Tough Guy" series, I realized it'd be cool to draw him doing what he's most associated with--brandishing a gun. So I figured what the hell, a sentiment I think he'd get behind.

This was one of those instances where I let the image decide what the tag line would be, a sound piece of advice in any situation, I think.

Friday, November 5, 2010

From The Vault: "White Dress" - 2006

Another piece done as pure experiment, to see if I could achieve some sort painterly effect via Photoshop. This piece doesn't really do that, and I've seen gone on to create that look via the program. So this one was just a tiny stop on that road.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Robert Mitchum

Probably the most quintessential Movie Tough Guy, Robert Mitchum!

I had lots of pics of Mr. Mitchum to perm through, but I loved this one, with his hair a tousled mess and looking like he didn't give a damn.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Pretty self-explanatory...go out and vote.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Misadventures of Halloween Harriet

Sure, this cover is a day out of date, but bear with me.

I had an idea for a Halloween-centric faux-vintage paperback book cover sometime early in the year. Always having other ideas to work on, I put the raw materials I had on hand in a folder and told myself I'd work on it later in the year, closer to Halloween.

Of course, just a few days ago it dawned on me I hadn't worked on this thing at all, with Halloween just a few days away. So I could either work on it immediately and post it on 11/1, or wait until next year, when I'm sure the same thing would happen all over again. So, here it is.

This one is a complete fabrication on my part--I knew there wouldn't be any Halloween-ish paperback books I could borrow a title from, so I just made it all up myself. Pivoting off of the central image, I came up with a cheeky, nudie-type paperback, rather than a mystery/thriller.

The whole thing came together rather quickly, the last element added being the little white "bubbles" in the background, which to me felt reminiscent of the kind of thing you see emanating from glasses of champagne, something Halloween Harriet surely down a lot of in this story.

Friday, October 29, 2010

From The Vault: "Picasso Woman" - 2004

I did a couple pieces like this around 2004, mostly just to mess around and see if I could get a looser, more painterly look with digital-only tools.

I jokingly called these my "Picasso Pieces" because they seemed sorta silly and quasi-pretentious to me afterward. But by now I've sorted worked my way back around and I think this one at least looks kinda cool--nothing I'm dying to get back to, but a worthwhile exercise nonetheless.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Time Out New York: Kristen Stewart

I was asked to do this week's "Hot Seat" portrait for Time Out New York, the subject this time being actress Kristen Stewart!

All the Hot Seats I've done lately have been in black and white, so I was more keen than usual to change that up and do this one in color. And since I didn't want to make too much of an explicit Twilight connection, using mostly soft colors and gentle fades for the portrait seemed the way to go.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I Made My Bed

I hadn't done a faux-vintage paperback book cover in a while, so I managed to squeeze this one in between some client work and working on my Hey Kids, Comics! book.

I knew I didn't have a lot of time, so I wanted some real simple, only a couple of colors and one central image. My first thought was to do the book's title by hand, but no matter how I tried it never quite worked. So I went with this cartoony font, and by playing around with the baseline of the letters, I could have it semi-trace the contours of the figure, which gave it that feeling of looseness that I was looking for in the first place.

The last thing I added was the white frame all around, which made everything feel jumbled and slightly claustrophobic--I didn't intend that in the beginning but once I saw it I really liked it.

(By the way, like most of the other covers in this series, the title, tag line, and author are real!)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Robert Shaw

As per a request made on my illustration Facebook page , this week's "Tough Guy" portrait is Robert Shaw, who had a lifetime full of great performances, but of course is known mostly as Quint from Jaws, one of the most unforgettable movie characters of all time.

I considered doing the portrait of Shaw as Quint, but decided I wanted a slightly more universal representation of the man. You still have that one wide eye on display here, hinting at the flinty madness Shaw had on display in so many of his greatest roles.

Friday, October 22, 2010

From the Vault: "Brew" Portraits - 2004

I have no memory of what client I did these for; it was some magazine but other than that these are a complete blank. I put "Brew" in quotes because that's the name both of them have in my files; but that doesn't help me recall the end client.

I post them here because I think they look pretty good; giving what can be boring headshots a little visual kick is what I'm hired for and I think I pulled that off pretty well this time around!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Richard Widmark

This one was not a request made on my illustration Facebook page, but Richard Widmark certainly qualifies as a movie Tough Guy, if for no other role than when he played giggling killer Tommy Udo in 1947's Kiss of Death, where he famously pushes a wheelchair-bound old lady down a flight of stairs.

I thought about doing a portrait of Widmark as Udo for this piece, but decided to go a little gentler, since Widmark also played lots of good guy roles (one of my favorites is 1950's Panic in the Streets) as well. They really don't make movie stars like this anymore...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yul Brynner

As per a request made on my illustration Facebook page , this week's "Tough Guy" portrait is Yul Brynner who managed a career in movies as diverse as The King and I, The Magnificent Seven, and Westworld.

Aside from his movie roles, the thing I remembered the most about Brynner growing up was that creepy anti-smoking PSA he did that ran after he died; featuring Brynner basically copping to the fact that his smoking was killing him, and that the message he was recording would have its greatest impact after he had died.

It was really unsettling to me as a kid--especially when they ran it during cartoons and shows aimed at kids. And while I can't say it was a major reason I never picked up the habit (I was much too docile a kid to ever really consider it), Yul's visage probably nestled itself somewhere in the back of my kid-sized brain, always reminding he how nasty cigarettes were.

This piece is a bit of a "cheat"--I had done a portrait of Brynner for a Time Out New York "Hot Seat" assignment (long story), so I had the basic art for this already done when he was requested as the next subject in the "Tough Guy" series. All I had to do was crop it a bit, change the colors, and add some details and it was done.

Since it was so easy and quick doing this one, I had time to do another Tough Guy, which will be seen here tomorrow!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Time Out New York: Johnny Knoxville

I was asked to do this week's "Hot Seat" portrait for Time Out New York, the subject this time being actor/comedian/professional jackass Johnny Knoxville!

I had all sorts of ideas for this one, including a portrait of JK hanging upside down, Houdini-style. But I had a bunch of other assignments on my plate that week, and if that idea was deemed a little too out there, I really wouldn't have time to re-do it, so I went this, which I thought was a little more straightforward.

That said, I still managed to work in a little of that Jackass-danger and violence into the piece. I thought why not combine the hoary old arrow-through-the-head bit, but make it an actual arrow fired into Knoxville's skull? Once that I had that in place, the rest--the colors, the design--was easy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eli Wallach

As per a request made on my illustration Facebook page , this week's "Tough Guy" portrait is Eli Wallach!

I've never really thought of Mr. Wallach (who, at 94, is still with us, thankfully) as a movie tough guy, even in his most famous performance in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, which this portrait is from.

He is, without a doubt, a Really Sweaty and Dirty Guy in that movie and, sometimes, that's enough.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sandra Lee Halloween 2010


A couple of months ago, I was contacted by the people who put together Sandra Lee magazine, asking me if they could use my Universal Monster posters for a special segment that would feature them as decoration at a Halloween-themed dinner party.

I of course said yes, and a week or so ago the issue--a special one-shot simply called Sandra Lee Halloween--hit the newsstands, and I was really blown away by how great everything looked, and how integrated my posters were with the surroundings:
Using eight of my posters in all, the article featured each piece on two pages; one with the poster in its setting, the other with a description of the elements used for the food and the settings. They even used my original logo treatments from the posters to adorn the whole piece!

All told, the article ran eighteen pages, certainly the most amount of space my work has occupied in a magazine!

Reprinted with permission from Hoffman Media and Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Magazine.

Friday, October 8, 2010

San Diego Zoo - 2003

I did this piece--using a bunch of animal portraits I had recently finished--purely as a graphic design exercise. Its really simple, but I loved how it came out.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Charles Schwab On Investing: Fall 2010

While I'm hard at work on another assignment for Charles Schwab On Investing magazine, here's the last piece I did for them; this will probably the only time I will ever have to draw a beret, for any reason.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Warren Oates

As per a request made on my illustration Facebook page , this week's "Tough Guy" portrait is Warren Oates. Even if you're not familiar with his work, one look at this face should tell you he was a tough guy.

My favorite--okay, only--Warren Oates story was something I heard Wayne Rogers tell a few years ago. Apparently he and Oates were in some sort of western together, and they were both in costume, off-camera, waiting for their cue. Dressed as cowboys, Oates whispered to Rogers something to the effect of "Aren't we a little old to still be dressing up like cowboys?"

Friday, October 1, 2010

From The Vault: Travels With Charley - 2002

John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley--a (mostly) non-fiction account of the legendary author's trek across America with his beloved canine pal, Charley--is one of my all-time favorite books. I had never read before finding it at the library in 2002, and I was completely charmed by it.

So charmed that I did this little tribute piece--its a little rough in some places, so I probably wasn't all that concerned with it being some masterpiece, just a fun way for me to extend the pleasurable experience reading the book gave me.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


This is Mookie, a sweet pup whose mommy, named Christine, was the winning bidder in the Animal Care for Artists auction they held a couple of months ago to raise money for the organization.

I had volunteered a free pet portrait as one of the prizes, and a week or so after Christine won my prize I was staring at a picture of Mookie. Christine specifically asked me to use the pattern you see here for the background; it matches the carpet in the room that this portrait will hang in.

Working on this was pure fun, and I'm glad I could help in some small way to raise money for the ACA, a truly worthy cause.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Charlton Heston

Several suggestions were made over on my illustration Facebook page as to which movie tough guy I should tackle next, but since I've been watching all the Planet of the Apes movies recently, movie legend Charlton Heston was on my mind.

Sure, Heston wasn't a classic movie tough guy (at least in the same vein as my previous subjects like Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, etc.), but when I was deciding who to do this week I remembered a passage from a biography of J. Edgar Hoover I read a few years ago.

Apparently Heston--who was a big, vocal proponent of civil rights--was scheduled to appear at some sort of rally in Washington for such a cause in the early 1960s. He got a personal phone call from Hoover, who strongly suggested Heston not attend.

According to the story, Heston told Hoover in no uncertain terms to go screw himself, he was going, and he did. If that isn't a "tough guy" I don't know what is.

Friday, September 24, 2010

From The Vault: Bikini - 2004

I have no idea what this was supposed to be, but looking at other pieces from around this time shows I was seeing how things looked when stripped of almost all detail, leaving just colored shapes.

There are some elements of this I like, but the colors--the orange specifically--is too muted and dull to make much of an impact. Just a doodle, really; quickly finished so I could move on to the next piece...