Monday, May 31, 2010

Tenement Girl

Another faux-vintage paperback cover, this one's a bit more racy than usual, but something about the subject being monochromatic I thought helped make it work.

I originally had all the text in grey, with the only color being her hair; but after messing around with it I found that I liked this approach better--like the Tenement Girl in question is in the middle of Hell itself.

Friday, May 28, 2010

From The Vault: Peeping Tom - 2004

Since I'm back in the mode of creating my faux-paperback book covers, I thought I'd dig out some older, mostly unseen ones for the next couple of From The Vault installments.

Of all the ones I never put up on my regular site, I think this one is my favorite--it has a cheeky charm that I like. Sure, there's the sex angle, but the look on the woman's face cracks me up. In addition, the font really seems to capture the tone.

Not knowing what the design will be as I do the portraits, I put in all the detail on the figure, only to obscure most of it with the logo. I was sort of frustrated, especially since I was doing it to myself, but I had to admit this was the best way to go, lost detail or not.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Russell Brand

This is my first Thursday without having a new "Hot Seat" to show off. I wanted to fill the spot with something, so I've decided to keep doing new portraits of contemporary celebrities, in the same HS format.

So to start off I went with Russell Brand, comedian and actor, who is currently starring in the new film Get Him To The Greek (a quasi-sequel/spin-off to one of my favorite movies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

Since I don't have to please anyone but myself with this, I realized I could do anything I wanted, take any approach. And since Russell's most recognizable feature is that ridiculous tsunami of stringy hair that sits atop his head, I decided to concentrate almost exclusively on that.

I'm not sure how long I'll feel the need to keeping doing Hot Seat-esque portraits, but for right now I'm having fun, so I'll have another one ready for next Thursday!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I was watching the 1940 version of The Mark of Zorro last week, and of course it occurred to me that the title character is the perfect subject for my style (I kinda can't believe I've never gotten around to Zorro before).

This piece is a lot less ambitious than a full-on, custom poster or anything like I'd normally do--I had other stuff to work on that day, and I couldn't spend all the time needed to do up a whole poster.

So I settled on this basic portrait, but I'll get back to Zorro at some point soon...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Miss Dolly Goes To Washington

Today is Dolly's birthday--she being the extremely photogenic pup of my pals Laura and Ric Menck.

To celebrate the occasion, I made up this movie poster, imagining a Muppet Movie-style adventure, with Dolly trekking across the USA on her way to Washington, to fight for animal rights, culminating with her making an impassioned plea on the steps of the Capitol.

During the trip, she meets all kinds of famous faces (like Casey Affleck, Natalie Portman, and Naomi Watts, who I found via Google on a list of celebrities who are avowed animal rights supporters). To portray Laura and Ric, I cast Cate Blanchett and James Cromwell, and I felt adding the ageless Betty White as the lovable but foul-mouthed "Grandma Menck" would make this movie a must-see.

Behind the scenes, music would be by Sir Paul McCartney, the effects would be by ILM (nothing but the best for Dolly!), and it would be directed by Louie Psihoyos, who made the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove.

This piece was a total blast to work on, and its pretty close to what I saw in my head when I first conceived it.
Happy Birthday Dolly!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sin Street

After not having done one of my faux-vintage paperback book covers in a while, I did one just as a lark--then I found myself working on this one just a week or so later. Frequently my mind works like that.

I had fiddled with how to illustrate the main character, never quite settling on the right way to go. Then I set it aside and went for my daily run, and during the run the look you see above popped into my head. I realized that scratchy, all-black-and-white feel would be the perfect contrast to the brightly colored background. Once I got home, it was all downhill (in a good way), and the whole piece fell into place very quickly.

Unlike the previous paperback cover, this one is more like the other ones in the series--the title, tagline, and author are all from a real vintage paperback book, with an all-new cover.

Friday, May 21, 2010

From The Vault: Marvin Gaye - 1994

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Leaving all the mid-tones out gave this piece a, if I may sound horribly pretentious, a gritty immediacy that I really liked. I had just purchased Gaye's classic What's Going On album, and I was listening to it a lot while working on this.

I remember one time I was showing my portfolio to one of the art directors at Columbia Records/Sony Music. When he got to this piece, he said, in amazement, something to the effect of "Wow, how do you do this?" After hearing something like that, I was sure that I'd be doing CD covers for the legendary Columbia Records in no time.

Ah, 1995 version of me: how naively optimistic you were...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Time Out New York: Michael Emerson

My final "Hot Seat" portrait for Time Out New York is actor Michael Emerson!

After five straight years (plus about a month), Time Out New York is changing their back page features and told me that I will no longer be needed to do a weekly "Hot Seat" portrait. Disappointing to be sure, but after five years and over 250 portraits, I figured this was going to happen eventually.

This is my final regular portrait, of Michael Emerson from Lost. Nothing against Mr. Emerson, but I wished it had been a subject I could've gotten a little more energized over. I don't watch Lost, never did, and actively don't care about it, so combine that with the knowledge this was my last piece kind of left me a bit demoralized. I barely remember working on this, and it was just last week.

Overall, I don't think its too bad; I just wish I could've really gone out with a bang, you know?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Orson Welles as Macbeth

I had started this off thinking it would be another "old school"-style portrait, with just a simple black and white illustration of Orson Welles as Macbeth, from his film 1946 film adaptation.

But of course I can never resist adding some text (most of the time), and I liked how the stark red letters looked on top of the similarly-stark-looking shot of Welles as the title character.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Universal Monsters: Dracula's Daughter

I keep telling myself--and everyone else--that I won't do any more of these Universal Monster posters, since I don't want to overdo it and there simply aren't any of those classic monster films left that really energize me creatively.

Yet I can't quite stay away from this format, since its so much fun to plug in the new elements and see what I can come up with. In between some other projects, I realized I already had two key pieces of art--Gloria Holden and Edward Van Sloan--finished (from the Holden Monster PSA poster and the Universal Dracula poster, respectively), so a Dracula's Daughter poster would be almost pure effortless fun.

In the end, I don't think this one quite matches up, quality-wise, to the others in the series, but since neither does the movie, so it all kind of fits.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Am An American

Like a lot of people, I was pretty horrified at the new immigration laws passed in Arizona a few weeks ago.

For days afterward, I did some more reading about the situation, and thought about it. I wanted to say something about it, but wasn't sure what. Finally, I decided, like I frequently do, to stay away from any sort of protest-y statement, and try and say something positive from the other side of the debate (like I did with my Polar Bears Say Vote Obama poster).

So I decided the poster would have a simple, declarative statement--I Am An American--over a picture of different people, all of whom make up this great country. I asked a friend of mine to pose for it, and then used only simple red, white, and blue (okay, and a little black) to do the portrait.

I originally had a lot more design elements on this, because that's my normal way of doing these things. But I realized that all the bells and whistles took away from the basic message, so I fought against all my own instincts and kept it as simple as possible--even going so far as to use Helvetica for the font. Basic, basic, basic.

No one race has the monopoly on being a patriot or to be called an American.

Friday, May 14, 2010

From The Vault: Marilyn - 2004

This is a pretty straightforward portrait, coming off having seen one of Monroe's early films, the noir classic The Asphalt Jungle.

Since Monroe is one of--if not the--most recognized American icons, I never really got inspired to do a portrait of her, but this has a pulpy simplicity that I like. Maybe could use a little more detail, but I think the contrast and the placement is what makes it work.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Time Out New York: Chelsea Handler

Back in the saddle again! This week's "Hot Seat" portrait for Time Out New York is comedian/host Chelsea Handler!

I didn't want anything too complex for this; just a simple glamorous portrait. The background color isn't one I use much, if at all. But it matched Handler's eyes and I thought it looked good, especially when I added the slight glow behind her.

That hair took forever!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Old School Spencer Tracy

I was going through portraits of old movie stars, sort of just meandering around looking for ideas.

During my first year or so with this illustration style, Spencer Tracy was a frequent subject. I was an am a big fan of his films, and his craggy, serious face was a great match for my angular, rough style.

So I when I did this piece last week, I tried to use my digital tools to replicate the way this piece would have looked if I had done it via cut paper and glue, like I used to. I kept the details to a minimum, using more hard, straight angles, and had just the one gray tone.

To finish it off, I even dropped in a piece of construction paper, to give it that extra bit of roughness. In the end, I was pleased it came out looking so close to those early pieces!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Ghost

This piece started out with me just sort of goofing around with the main image, of the woman brandishing the two guns. After messing with it, it sort of grew into a full-fledged fake movie poster.

I was trying out a couple of different designs, when a central white figure with a monochromatic blue background popped into my head, and at that point I just worked towards that goal. I eventually settled on what "kind" of movie I wanted this as-yet-untitled movie to be: a 70s style adventure/thriller, with exotic locations, great stunts, and shadowy figures.

So I added each one of those elements--somebody falling from a building, a creepy guy draped in shadows, and a mysterious symbol meaning...something. I loved the way all those elements contrasted with the flat white figure (whose appearance eventually inspired the title).

Truth be told, it doesn't look all that vintage, despite the fact that it uses the same cast as my fake 70s sexploitation movie Sisterhood of Sin, but what the hey. Near the end of the process, I thought about adding a "From the people who brought you Sisterhood of Sin" blurb, but I decided that was too cutesy and I left it off.

Overall, I'm really happy with it--its pretty close to what I saw in my head, and I think this looks pretty cool. I'd see this movie!

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Razor's Edge

I've mentioned here before that W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge is my favorite book; I've read it a few dozen times and it never ceases to enthrall me.

I like it so much, in fact, that I created a whole blog devoted to my collection of Razor's Edge editions (called Principles of Psychology), and I've even tried my hand at designing a new cover for the book.

The first time I tried it, I thought I did okay but in retrospect I think I was a little heavy-handed with the whole "man on a spiritual journey" motif, so I had it in the back of my mind to try it again, the result of which you see above.

The picture is from the collection of my late, Great Uncle Fred (1901-1997), who I've also mentioned here before and whose stories and photos of his adventures thrilled me as a child.

When going through some old photos my parents had down in their basement, I saw this one, and it immediately struck me as the perfect image for The Razor's Edge. Not only does it feature the kind of "man looking into the horizon"-type image that's perfect to represent the story, but the photo itself (which I had to crop a lot here, since its horizontal) is simply a beautifully composed image--I love the heavy darks at the top and bottom, with the strong white of the water in the middle. Uncle Fred was a damn good photographer. (An aside: none of us are sure, but that might even be my Dad in the pic!)

I saw no need to use any of my illustrations in this cover, preferring it to be a simple graphic design piece. I had a lot of fun figuring out what font to use, and where to put Maugham's name, the title, and the book's epigram ("The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard").

I think with this version I hit a nice balance between making the book look like the enduring classic it is, but not making it look like a museum piece. I find The Razor's Edge just as relevant today as it (presumably) was when it debuted in 1944. The fact that its still in print to this day I think proves that.

So, I really like this new cover I worked up, but who knows? I might feel the need to create another one, just like I'm always compelled to re-read the book...

Friday, May 7, 2010

From The Vault: Mother's Day - 2006

Since its Mother's Day this weekend, I thought I'd post an old piece that was done as a Mother's Day present.

I don't remember the name of the family this was for, but I was contacted by the husband of this woman, commissioning me to do a private portrait of his wife and their child as a Mother's Day present.

This piece was so complex I had to do it in stages, and build it slowly bit by bit. There was something like fifty different layers of elements, and I wanted to make sure this piece has a gentle smoothness that a lot of my work frequently doesn't have: hard edges on a child's face just looks weird! I also left out any solid black on the piece, to give it a more gauzy feel.

I thought it came out pretty well, and apparently it went over really well as a gift.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Time Off New York: Bob Dylan

This week's "Hot Seat" portrait for Time Out New York is not Bob Dylan!

No--for the first time in five years, I didn't have a "Hot Seat" portrait to do. The subject was artist Sheperd Fairey, who provided his own portrait, so I had the week off.

So I decided to do my own Hot Seat-type portrait, and as a subject I chose someone that I would dearly love to illustrate but am sure will never show up in the magazine's, er, back page--Bob Dylan!

All of Bob's projects in the last decade or so--his albums, his Theme Time Radio Show, etc.--have used a particularly "old-timey" aesthetic, and I tried to replicate that here. For that mane of crazy hair that frames that famous face, I drew it all in, one hair at a time, to give it that wild look that's so famous.

Rest assured, the Hot Seat portraits will be back next week!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tyrone Power

I was watching the 1946 film version of The Razor's Edge (my favorite book), and I got inspired to work on this simple portrait of its star, Tyrone Power.

Power was ridiculously good looking, and Hollywood quickly plugged him into every leading man part they could (he famous played Zorro in 1940's The Mark of Zorro, among other films). But Power was desperate to act, to play some meatier parts that required more from him than his good looks.

To that end, he fought to play the spiritual-seeking Larry Darrell in Edge, as well as a conman/loser in the creepy 1947 film Nightmare Alley, which features Power as nothing less than a circus geek, biting the heads off chickens by the end of the film (really).

I've been doing a lot of text-centric stuff lately, so I wanted to do a simple black and white portrait. But of course, in the end, I couldn't quite help myself and hit the little "T" button in Photoshop...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Reluctant Nudist

I haven't done one of my faux-vintage paperback book covers in a long while, so I figured it was worth trying my hand at one of them again.

This one is more like an old-timey "nudie" book rather than a mystery/thriller. I usually use an actual book title, tagline, and author alongside new artwork, but in this case I decided to make it all up myself.

As much as I like the artwork and design, and I think my favorite part of the whole thing is the tagline. It makes me smile every time I read it.

Monday, May 3, 2010


I have no idea how this image came to me--it simply popped into my head as I was looking through some old photographs taken by my late Great Uncle Fred (1901-1997), who traveled extensively during his 96 years.

He had a photo of a giant statue, of a man pulling back the string on his bow, ready to fire. As soon as I saw that picture, this image of the statue--mostly in black, but with a few highlights--in front of a day-glo background popped into my brain. So I just tried to get it down as best I could.

I added the second background color to give it more of a sense of movement, but for better or worse its pretty much what I saw at that moment.