Tag Archives: illustration

Improv Illustration

I consider myself fortunate to be able to do what I love in order to pay the bills. So when I have the opportunity to work with talented and creative people, it’s a bonus. And a very enjoyable one.

Last year my friend Mark Peters asked me to illustrate his book Bullshit: A Lexicon, which was a blast to do. Soon after, Cathy Salit asked me if I wanted to draw cartoons for  a book she was writing about how learning the principles of improv can boost your job performance. I was happy to say yes.book cover

Cathy is the CEO of Performance of  Lifetime, a group of individuals grounded in improvisational theatre who help companies to take their work to the next level through an understanding of performance. A few of us cartoonists had performed at a POAL event, so I knew her already. She told me that the book was based on the Becoming Principle, the paradoxical idea that we don’t discover who our authentic selves are until we are allowed to play and improvise, trying on different roles in life.

I’ve never taken an improv class, but I knew that one of the core ideas is that, by saying “yes, and…” to your teammates (and by them saying it to you) you can safely venture past your self-imposed limits and into unexplored territory. I told Cathy that, although she might have initially hired me to read the chapters and then draw cartoons reflecting the concepts within them, I thought it would be fun to try something which honored the spirit of the book – something improvisational. Maybe something I, or we, had never done before, kind of figuring it out as we go. Maybe create a new form of illustration!

I met with Cathy and her team and we came up with a bunch of interesting ideas click here to read the rest of this post

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Three, Two, One…Three!

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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.

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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:

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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:

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eventually became this spread from the book:

page 20-21

And this:

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eventually became this:

page 26-27

And so on.

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page 14-15

More about this book in a day or two.

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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.

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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.

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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:

tripe_book

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

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Speaking of speech

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 1.20.12 PM copy

Recently I was asked by my alma mater to participate in a panel discussion regarding the many threats to free speech at the hands of terrorism.  We are all acquainted with the brutal and troubling ways in which this threat has played out in recent months. The panel happens April 6 at The College of William & Mary, so if you’re in the area, feel free to stop by and say hello. The alumni magazine thought it would be great to do a cover story on the same topic, and it made sense that I’d illustrate it.

In terms of imagery, there are few things that have been done to death as frequently as the “pen as weapon of free speech” has. Pen vs. gun: the symbolism is natural and obvious, but it seems to me like every working cartoonist drew their own similar version of it in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. My colleagues at the New Yorker offered their takes on the issue as well. Some of the images cartoonists created were brilliant and some were legitimately moving, but I intentionally avoided participating because I felt like I was struggling to come up with anything new on the issue. So this was personally a challenging assignment.

The first bunch of ideas I came up with felt a little too contrived, too gauche, especially since magazine covers are not usually the territory for overwrought editorial concepts.

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The cover idea that the editors picked was chosen not necessarily for it’s poignance or cleverness (because it’s not to be found there), but merely because click here to read the rest of this post

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I just reheated the leftovers from last year’s Black friday.

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November 28, 2014 · 5:03 pm

Work in Progress

Orange-PylonThis pylon is going to be here for a long time, because I’ve only just started working on my first children’s book. Did you know that? I suppose I should have made some formal kind of announcement.

ANNOUNCEMENT: I’ve written a children’s book that’s going to be published by Christy Ottaviano Books, an imprint of Henry Holt, some time in 2015.

So yeah, that’s out of the way. I’m illustrating it, too, and I couldn’t be more excited to be doing it. It’s been fun working with Christy so far, even though we’re still in the early stages of nailing down the final product (Christy said “cartoonists are usually good with deadlines,” but I’m wondering if that’s an observation that’s not shared by all in the industry). It doesn’t sound like a huge step up – it’s a 32-page picture book – but it’s definitely a major transition from small black-and-white spot drawings to full pages in color. And at the end of the book the reader can’t say “I don’t get it,” like some people do when they read my cartoons… come on, nobody does that, do they?

I don’t want to say what the book is about, but I wanted to show a teaser of the first part of the process: writing, editing, sketching, rough layouts. There’s also a fair amount of coffee built into each step, but you already know what that looks like.

photo 1Even within the framework of a standard picture book, there are different layout options that are available, depending on what you want to do with the story. You can’t just add or subtract a few pages at the end. So that’s the first step. click here to see more pics

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Full Frontal

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I did my first magazine cover last fall, for this hotel trade magazine (which just went to press). It was a nice change to work in color instead of black and white, but it can be intimidating – there are almost twenty different colors out there that you can work with, I bet. back me up on this, illustrators! It was also refreshing in that I had to show something besides an obvious sight gag. So, no talking elephants at bars. The image had to match the tone of the article, which was a fairly straightforward piece about what American hotel chains are doing to appeal to foreign travelers.

A snapshot of the working process is below. At first I drew a single business traveler, then we decided upon a family instead. Also, my gestures (like the man with the remote) were initially a bit too overstated. And after dropping in the logo of a specific airline on the shopping bag, we decided it would be better to show a fictional airline, whose logo I had to create. My friend commented that it reminded her of Adrian Tomine, which I was pretty happy about. It all worked out in the end, don’t you think?

sketch

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