Process

Process examples for various commissioned drawings and paintings.

In June, 2016 Avenues: The World School, a progressive new private school in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood, graduated its first class of seniors.
I'd spoken at the school the previous November, meeting with a number of classes to discuss my work as an artist over the years. As graduation day approached I was commissioned to make a group portrait of the inaugural senior class.
Before even considering how I was going to execute 56 portraits in pen and ink, it seemed to me that some sort of subtle concept ought to be employed for this project. For whatever reason, the idea of a group of people standing on a street corner came to mind. The idea was a play on the name of the school as well as a representation of these young people about to figuratively and literally cross the street as they began the next chapters of their lives.
On a Thursday afternoon in mid-May I visited the school to shoot reference material. 
A handful of the students weren't able to make the photo shoot. For them I relied on yearbook photographs and images provided by those students via e-mail.
I did preliminary drawings of everybody in the class in an 18 x 24" sketchbook.
Then I scanned each of these preliminary drawings and arranged them using Photoshop.
After printing out the final sketch to scale (22" x 30") I transferred it to a piece of 400lb Fabriano hot-pressed watercolor paper and began the drawing using a LAMY Safari fountain pen (medium nib).
Because of the complexity of this particular portrait commission and the tight turn-around (the initial deadline was just barely a week from shooting reference to delivery of the finished drawing), I couldn't afford to make guesses so even something as simple as the crosswalk sign was sketched out before inking.
In Daniel Boorstin's wonderful book, The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination, he notes that the ancient Egyptian "draftsmen" who carved hieroglyphic sculptures referred to themselves as "figure writers." 
As a "figure writer," this became my short story of the Avenues school class of 2016.
The project taught me, or perhaps reminded me, a lot about the importance of Process.
Laura McDaniel, editor of the North Dakota State University Magazine, e-mailed wondering if I'd like to contribute something to the Spring 2016 issue. The Bison had just won their fifth consecutive national championship and their quarterback, Carson Wentz, was the second overall pick (Philadelphia Eagles) in the 2016 NFL draft. So I began with a few stylized drawings of him.
As the issue of the magazine began to take shape, a more general/conceptual approach to the illustration seemed fitting.
I often begin these projects by doodling in rather small sketchbooks. Working at a very small scale during the conceptual phase of a project forces one to be deliberate and straight to the point.
The computer can be a useful tool, like a marker or a set of watercolors. For this project, applying the confetti digitally would allow more control over its placement, which seemed important. These early color studies were made combining traditional and digital media.
As Laura and I continued with the development of the project, she suggested that a simple rendering of a bison (with the celebratory confetti) might do the trick, a sort of shout-out to the cover of the inaugural issue we'd worked on sixteen years earlier.
I began playing around with simple bison forms.
And then I played some more.
The confetti became the sole conceptual element so I added that to the thumbnail sketches digitally, as well as ultimately dropping in a masthead to get a sense of overall balance on the cover.
One more push...
And we landed on a more-or-less final design for the cover.
But the back legs felt a little bit spindly...
And the hump on the bison's back a bit too pronounced...
The final sketch was approved and it was time to execute the final drawing.
Sometimes the differences between the final sketch and the finished drawing are so subtle I wonder why I don't just use the final sketch as finished art. But those subtleties in the finished drawing, in the end, make the drawing.
Several pages of watercolor confetti, to be incorporated digitally.
And I often like to suggest hand-lettering for interior spreads, particularly when my work is featured on the cover of a publication. Sort of ties the outside and the inside of the thing together. 
Finished art on the outside.
A fun collaboration with the magazine's designer on the inside.
The printed pages.

I don't really have a violent bone in my body but for some reason have often been called
on to do illustrations that deal with the subject of violence. This was for an article entitled 
WHY PEOPLE KILL for THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION.
    The sketches for this assignment were made in a small, 5 1/2" x 3 1/2" sketchbook.
    Somehow, Remus & Romulus seemed like a possible solution.

    After all of the ink spilled over why Man is so violent to Man, it's hard to tell whether
    the glass is half empty or half full.
    The sketch that was chosen, as is often the case, addressed the subject most directly.
      On the Court with Homewood's Hoopsters: A drawing accompanying a story about 
      an on-going pick-up game of basketball between faculty, students and alumni for the
      Johns Hopkins Gazette.
 
    This was a wonderful assignment. In my teens and twenties I was severely addicted
    to playing the game of basketball.
    For most illustration jobs, where there is very often some kind of conceptual approach
    possible, I'll work up five or six or seven ideas to send to a client, particularly if that
    client and I have never worked together and we've yet to establish any sort of visual
    shorthand.
    The old and young alike participate in this particular Wednesday-night pick-up
    basketball game at Johns Hopkins University.
    In the end this piece wasn't so much about concept as it was about form, the dance
    of the players' arms and legs across the court and page.
    As I often do, color is splashed around in the sketch-phase of a project, getting a
    sense of where the color might go in the finished piece.
    The final sketch.
It's still a treat to see these things in print.
Malibu magazine called asking for a double-page-spread illustration to accompany an
article about Los Angeles-style traffic congestion creeping up the Pacific Coast Highway.
Often with these commissioned jobs, after I've read the initial brief, I'll just go for a walk 
or take a shower or otherwise just forget about it for ahwile and let that part of my brain 
that dreams do the thinking. These early thumbnails are the result.
    Then it's time to clean up the ideas, so they're communicable. Or translatable. Or
    understandable. You understand. Like this guy surfing across four lanes of traffic...
    Or this beach bum stopping the traffic.
    Same beach hum, traffic in stereo.
    Not Hokusai's wave...
    Up the proverbial traffic-congested tree.
    I liked this one, and kind of thought that it might be chosen as The One...
    ...But whenever I get that feeling I do just one more, somewhere out in Left Field.
I offered to do some hand-lettering for the opening spread.
The nasty little secret with hand-lettering is that it never works out on the first try.
The title for this article was "NO WAY OUT." My wife came into my studio as I was
working out the hand-lettering. She suggested that if anybody else wandered into my
studio at that moment and saw all of these sketchbook pages with "NO WAY OUT NO
WAY OUT" scribbled all over them they might call the boys in the white coats to come
and take me away.
Credits.
The part of the iceberg that nobody ever sees.
The finished "painting" up on the easel (I was experimenting with a more hybrid
approach here, incorporating pen and ink drawings with acrylic paint and Photoshop
print-outs).
Next!
    Acclaimed Italian chef Roberto Donna was in trouble in Washington D.C.
    (for the Washington Post).
Nobody wants to get into trouble anywhere, especially not in Washington D.C..
Sometimes, an artist can use a formal element like the red dot pattern used here as a
conceptual device.
Finally I just figured I'd put him straight into the frying pan and be done with it.
But the real estate the art director had to work with was vertical, so I made the necessary
adjustments to the final sketch.
The final drawing (oil pastel and digital on paper).
Bon appétit!
And finally, for now, a piece involving the choosing of a new Pope for the Los Angeles
Times (the Los Angeles Times doesn't have a Pope, the Catholic Church does).
I happened to be away from my studio when this call came in, but was happy to rough-up
some ideas and send them to the art director via cellphone photos.
One never knows when we're going to need a new Pope. One always needs to be ready...
This was the first final illustration. I say "first" final because once the art director laid
the piece out on the page he and I both agreed that the image looked a little bit wonky
with the feet of the cardinals cropped off (the text of the page wrapped around
the illustration).
No problem. Cardinals' feet happily extended by hand/assembled digitally.
God's choosing.
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