Mighty Fine

LA artist Jenny Fine was kind enough to swap drawings with me when I was in California recently. I definitely got the better end of the deal. She can draw her ass off. Look at this sketch:


It’s pretty close to perfect, especially the legs. The bold strokes, the varying line thicknesses, the bit of texture where the ink gets dry – it’s all so nice to look at. She nailed the weight shift in this woman’s stance. And this:


It’s a little more exaggerated, but she’s captured exactly what’s going on with this dude’s (Left Brain from Odd Future, I think?) swagger. This is how you draw! If you want to see more work like this, check out the Kid Ink video below, for which she did all the sketches, or sift through her Instagram.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art

Three, Two, One…Three!

FB event invite

My children’s book finally hit the shelves after several years filled with a lot of work and a lot more waiting – picture books take a looooong time to print! It’s the story of the Number Three having a bit of an identity crisis, and to see the published version is satisfying. It’s my first book, and it’s the first time I’ve worked in color on any substantial project. And I love how it came out.

The main hurdle in getting the book was to get the permission of Number Three himself. He knows that he’s kind of a big deal, and he put us through the ringer during contract talks (as you can see, we had to hire John Kerry himself, just to negotiate the foreign rights). Once that was over, though, I was able to start roughing out the book, which I wrote about previously on this site.


The book was actually adapted from an unpublished graphic novel that I wrote: similar concept, and Number Three was still the main character, but this thing spiraled out in all kinds of directions, both philosophical and humorous. For the kids’ book I had to scrap 99% of the story, pretty much, and write it from scratch. As is often the case, less was definitely more. This was the proposed cover for the scrapped version:


We had to change the title to It’s Not Easy Being Three, so that it didn’t look like we (we, meaning me) were copying The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, which, contrary to this theory posed by a GoodReads reviewer, I had not even known about by the time I had already written this story. And then we had to add the word Number Three in the title so that three-year olds – those pompous threenagers! – wouldn’t think the book was only about them.

The process of doing finished art for the book was pretty new to me, but it still was based on the same way I do drawings now: carved ink on scratchboard. I refined my rough sketches until they were ready for ink, and then I did my black & white drawings. In some cases, several of them were layered on top of each other and color added to the layers. So this sketch from my proposal:


eventually became this spread from the book:

page 20-21

And this:


eventually became this:

page 26-27

And so on.


page 14-15

More about this book in a day or two.

1 Comment

Filed under Children's book

Jedi design tricks

Force Awakens_normal

As I was waiting for my friends to arrive at the theatre the other night, I was standing right in front of the poster for The Force Awakens. I observed how, from a design perspective, it’s essentially Composition 101.

One characteristic of good art is the right mix of dynamism and order. Think of Jackson Pollock: the individual gesture of splattering paint is chaotic and turbulent, but hundreds of gestures next to and on top of each other becomes a pattern. In a sci-fi movie poster, you need lasers and spaceships and explosions, but there has to be an underlying logic to how it is presented so that it becomes inviting to the eye, not threatening. Sometimes this order is subtle, working on a subconscious level. In this poster it is Tarantino-like in it’s obviousness, which makes it fun to dissect.

Images need a focal point. In this poster it is Rey’s eyes. The designer (apparently Bryan Morton, who is credited as the art director) has made sure that you won’t miss it by placing her eyes at the center of a giant X, right about at the point at which the red and blue light sabers would intersect if you traced their paths across the page.

Force Awakens_X

An X is a solid compositional structure. It shows dynamic movement – a line moving diagonally upwards crossed with a line moving diagonally downwards (and this is true whether you read left to right or right to left) – and also perfect symmetry, which is a stabilizing element. It’s like Econ 101!


So – you’ve got your dynamism and your order. There is actually another line you can trace, click here to read the rest of this post

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My 10 favorite arty & cultural things from 2015

In no particular order:

1. After whiffing on this for many years, I finally got to see publictheatre.org’s Shakespeare in the Park  not once, but twice this summer. The production of Cymbeline was better than The Tempest, but there’s probably no better way to spend a summer night in Central Park – after waiting for nearly 5 hours in line the same morning to get tickets, of course.


2. After whiffing on this for many, many years, I finally got to see U2 play live for the first time, at Madison Square Garden. Once they became megastars (after The Joshua Tree, a zillion years ago) I basically gave up on seeing them, because I don’t really enjoy paying $200 to see musicians at a football stadium. But this year I was feeling like “mmmm… I just have to, just this once.” I still wasn’t happy about the money, but it was definitely worth it. I got goosebumps during the intro to Where the Streets Have No Name, and this surprise Springsteen appearance was perfect.

3. Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy-completing novel Lila (even though it technically came out in late 2014). Also, after whiffing on this for many years, I finally discovered David Foster Wallace. I stopped whiffing on a lot of things this year, is the point.

4. Jamie xx’s sparkling electronic album In Colour, featuring the sublime single Loud Places. As my friend said, the first album I’ve heard that actually makes steel drums sound tolerable.


5. Courtney Barnett’s brilliant debut-ish album and massive live performances.

6. In September I got to see the first large-scale exhibition of the work of Corita Kent at the Pasadena Museum of Art. It was a revelation. Corita was a socially-engaged nun, working outside of the mainstream art world, who deconstructed print advertising and the stylistic possibilities of letters themselves to create Pop Art that was powerful, poetic, ecumenical, and which feels utterly fresh: a pre-Photoshop graphic design hipster. The middle period of her work, roughly 1964-68, is especially compelling, and culminates in her two printed alphabets – the circus alphabet and the signal alphabet – which are inventive, witty, and layered with meaning. It’s hard to believe that her work has stayed under the radar for so long (or, because of her humble circumstances, it’s probably not). Expect a MoMA show soon?


7. The Juan Maclean‘s sold-out six-night residency at Cameo Gallery and Union Pool.


8. Puros Cubanos, this exhibit of poster art from six Cuban graphic designers which proved that there may be a lack of resources in that country, but no lack of creativity.


9. John Singer Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends, at the Met.


10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, duh.

And I didn’t “officially” put this on the list, just because I’m in it ever-so-briefly, but Leah Wolchok’s documentary Very Semi-Serious about the cartoonists of The New Yorker is a crisp, funny and occasionally poignant film, and skillfully made. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and is now available on HBO, and is well worth watching.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sister Christmas

Is it ever actually going to get legitimately cold out there? It almost feels like the wrong time to be uploading this.

I’m back with another mix of Christmas music, what else? The art for this is an homage to Sister Corita Kent, the pop artist whose work had a breakout year. Corita was a nun, an active member of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, but her work was full of wit and visual inventiveness. I’ll write more about her in my year-end list, but that’s the same kind of thing I’m thinking about when I choose Christmas music. That, and maybe what St. Etienne said here recently about how Elvis fits Christmas (although they are wrong in disliking this classic Pogues Christmas song).

Anyway, here it is. Play or download. Merry Christmas!


I realized as I was uploading this that it’s the 10th one I’ve done. Not the 10th year, because I did two of them in 2014, just the 10th mix. So here they are. If you click on the thumbnails you’ll be able to download each individual one.













Filed under music, Uncategorized


Leave a comment

December 11, 2015 · 9:52 am

Miami Man Machine

It’s possible that there’s nothing better than this Kraftwerk portrait (taken from the cover of Electric Cafe) done by Maxhaus at Space 52 during Art Basel Miami this week. I only wish I was there to see it in person. More pics here at Jackie Hadel’s blog.

image152 image156

1 Comment

Filed under Art, street art

Complete B.S.

Who says Twitter isn’t good for anything? I met Mark Peters there a few years ago, we traded some ideas about collaborating in addition to stupid jokes, and then something cool happened: Mark wrote a book, I illustrated it, and it’s now a real thing you can buy. Bullshit: A Lexicon was just published by Three Rivers Press, a division of Penguin.


Mark’s a terrifically funny guy in general, having written for McSweeney’s, among others, but he is also an etymologist with a PhD in English. So you could say he knows what he’s joking about. As soon as he told me he wanted to write kind of a dictionary of all the synonyms for “bullshit,” I said yeah – that sounds like a winner to me.

It’s out just in time for the holidays, wink wink! And according to my calculations, the world is never, ever going to run out of bullshit, so it will always be relevant. And if you want to know how to work a word like codswallop into your next TED talk, then you’ll find this book incredibly useful.


Because the words are all very similar in meaning, I had to be pretty literal with the illustrations, and I tried to do the whole book without resorting to drawing actual crap. For some reason I really like this drawing I did of a piece of tripe, for the entry for tripe, naturally:


But I thought I’d share some of the things that didn’t make it into the book. This was me fooling around with click here to read the rest of this post

1 Comment

Filed under book, Illustration

Life’s a batch!


The New Yorker has teamed up with radio station WNYC to create The New Yorker Radio Hour, a show which will be broadcast locally here in New York City and also available online or as an iTunes podcast. The intention is not to merely be an audio version of the magazine, but to be a hybrid sort of production that features stories, conversation, and audio that you can’t do in a magazine, and they’re off to a good start so far. Radio: who knew? (although I have professed my love for the medium of radio here.)

Matt Diffee is currently running a segment on the show called “Life’s a Batch.” The idea is that he talks with cartoonists while they are working on their weekly batch of submissions, which somehow start off as a scratchpad of doodles, as below, and if we’re lucky, eventually get selected for publication.


It’s a short little bit, somewhat of a palate cleanser in between longer pieces. I was guest Numero Uno! and you can hear us briefly on Episode One and then continuing the conversations on Episode Two. If you’re really impatient and just want to get to our short phone conversations, they take place here:

episode 2

and then here:

episode 2a

and then here.episode 2b

But you should listen to the whole episode, because it’s compelling stuff. Maybe next time they’ll get Seth Rogen and James Franco to play Matt and I, because: radio!

Leave a comment

Filed under radio

Surrender Music

I know: I need to add Music to the title of Words, Pictures, Humor. When I started the blog, I wasn’t envisioning posting mixtapes. But, this idea just kind of happened, and it wasn’t difficult to do.

I was fortunate enough to see the Chemical Brothers perform at Electric Zoo this year on Randall’s Island in NYC. I have always liked them, but there’s a dichotomy between their live show and their albums. Their albums are albums in the old-school way – a bunch of individual songs that sound kind of like a singles collection – while their live show is your classic DJ performance with songs gliding in and out of a continuously pounding mix. The twin identity, I assume, has enabled them to both sell recorded music and also keep their placement within the EDM world (something which is more common nowadays with David Guetta and the like than it was when the Brothers started out in the mid-90s). But when I listen to their albums I want them to sound more like the live show.

Better Surrender_back

So here’s what I did: I gathered all the tracks from Surrender, arguably their best record. I swapped out the momentum-killing album tracks for Surrender-era b-sides which are considerably more jacked up, threw in some remixes, resequenced the songs, and spliced them together (slickly, I think, for a mere wannabe DJ) into one continuous banger of a mix. It’s like Surrender, but better. And it’s now at Soundcloud.

1 Comment

Filed under music