Thursday, May 26, 2011

Study for The Apothecary

This is an experimental study I made last summer when I was trying to get a feel for the illustrations for The Apothecary.

It’s in ink and acrylic on watercolor paper and is much more “thinly” painted than the final art: try as I might, my light touch always gives way to impasto and opacity. Last night I got see see a roomful of illustrations at the ABC Children's Group at ABA Silent Auction to benefit the ABFFE Fund for Free Speech in Children’s Books - and I really marveled at the ease and confidence shown in so much of the work. How do they do it? One of these days, I’ll apply a flat tone of color and let it be - and not muck around in it.

(This piece was in the show, too - and the winning bid was $500!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Inadvertent Photo-Essay: Woodside Trolley Barns

A little while ago, I posted a photo of a door from the old Woodside Trolley Barns, also known as the depot of the New York and Queens County Railway Company, or the New York and Queens County Railroad Company, or the N.Y. & Queens Co. Ry. Co., or the NY & Q. Co. Ry. Co., et cetera.

And here are some more photos, taken in, I think, the spring of 1986. My goal, then, was to make “artsy” pictures, heavy on textures and shapes - not to document the place, before it - most of it - was pulled down.

It’s called “Tower Square” now, home of a delightful parking lot which services a Pizza Hut, Michael’s, Subway, Boston Market, Starbucks, GameStop, HSBC, and a 99 cents store (or maybe it's a $4.99 store). Former residents include Walgreens, OfficeMax, an underrated Indian restaurant, and an eatery I began to call “Hairy Burritos” after two unfortunate incidents.

The place was the topic of the very first Forgotten New York page in 1998.

Doors and windows along Northern Boulevard (base of the east tower at right)

Base of the east tower on Northern Boulevard

“Waiting Room” entrance, corner of Northern Boulevard and Woodside Avenue

The Woodside Avenue side, at the corner of Northern Boulevard

The west tower on Woodside Avenue

Looking southeast down Woodside Avenue from the base of the west tower

Doorway detail on Woodside Avenue

Chimney on Woodside Avenue

Boarded-up door on Woodside Avenue

Closeup of door on Woodside Avenue

Turret and skylight on Woodside Avenue

Downspout in circular window on Woodside Avenue

Emerging pipes on Woodside Avenue

Bricked-up windows and power lines on Woodside Avenue

Decayed tire (?) in circular window

Flashing-covered windows on Woodside Avenue

Friday, May 20, 2011

Physician, Take a Hike

Kind of creepy, eh? This showed up in The New York Times Book Review for May 12, 2002, and illustrated Natalie Angier’s review of Michael Gearin-Tosh’s memoir, Living Proof: A Medical Mutiny.

As Angier said, Gearin-Tosh, who had been diagnosed with incurable bone marrow cancer, took “his body, his health, his life into his own cautious, obstinate hands. Gearin-Tosh refused the chemotherapy - hence the subtitle of ‘Living Proof’: ‘A Medical Mutiny’ - and chose instead to put together a semipersonalized program of Chinese breathing exercises, acupuncture, coffee and castor oil enemas, megadoses of vitamins and a diet rich in raw vegetables and fresh juices and stripped of salt, sugar and cooked fat.”

So, in lieu of any better ideas, I drew a kind of “universe” of Gearin-Tosh’s alternative medical regimen: the human head functioning as a kind of a sun, with acupuncture needle-rays, orbited by vitamin-stars, garlic- and turnip-asteroids, apple- and orange-planets, carrot- and onion-comets, banana- and pea pod-moons, and enema-bag space-station? Sounds like the worst bowl of Lucky Charms ever.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Turtle on the Fence Post

A cropped version of this illustration appeared in The New York Times Book Review for March 24, 2002. I made it for William Kennedy’s review of Joe Klein’s book, The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton.

The Book Review gave out a particular photo of Bill Clinton to a number of artists, including Barry Blitt, Henrik Drescher, Peter Blegvad, Philip Burke, Robert Grossman, Thomas Fuchs - maybe others - and me. Each of us was supposed to re-imagine the picture and then our results would be ganged-up on the cover and, it was hoped, evoke what Kennedy described as “the duality, triality, quadrality of Bill Clinton's nature and outlook.”

But I (and maybe some of the others) misunderstood the directive. I think I should have shown Clinton’s whole head and shoulders instead of just a fragment of him. So I wound up making the above piece, but while it missed getting on the cover, it was used inside with the review itself.

My mixed-up medium was colored ink on scratchboard, glued to a scrap of Color-Aid paper.

See my other take on Bill Clinton, here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

They Really Are A Scream

Sometimes a better idea comes after I’ve turned in the final art. Other times the best idea arrives in the nick of time.

Take the Adams family. (No, not them.) My assignment for the New York Times Book Review (given on a Friday afternoon, I think, and due before noon Monday) was to illustrate Jeff Shesol's review of America's First Dynasty: The Adamses, 1735-1918 by Richard Brookhiser, in which “his subject is not one life but four - the favorite sons of successive generations of the Adams family” - i.e. John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Charles Francis Adams and Henry Adams.

For better or worse, I’m drawn to American historical subjects: I love to research them, but often I get too caught up in all the details which, in turn, can get in the way of making an interesting picture. Editorial work, though, is (to me) less about making a well-researched or historically accurate depiction of a particular time, place, or person, and more about making something that catches the essence of the piece it illustrates - or, at least, catches the eye.

Despite my immediate attraction to the subject, I didn’t know how to handle it pictorially. One page of notes shows that I considered parodying (or parroting) The Flying Wallendas and The Brady Bunch...

“Clever” - but not very interesting. Nor was the “family gallery” approach I tried, or my half-baked variant of Norman Rockwell’s The Gossips...

Finally, while vainly attempting to capture the features of Charles Francis Adams, it dawned on me that most people probably wouldn’t pick be able to pick Charles Francis Adams (or even Henry Adams) out of a line up, so why bother with straightforward portraits? Why not focus on things they had in common besides their surname: their eyes, their ears, their bald heads? And why not take a more abstract, or less literal approach, which might be more effective in the end?

Maybe I pushed the similarities more than what was “true,” but I felt like I was on to something. And maybe I was paying unconscious homage to one early-to-mid-1960s album cover or another - was it Meet the Beatles!? I don’t know.

And since David McCullough’s John Adams came out not long before this review appeared, I figured the Times-reading masses would probably recognize the Adams on the jacket:

So I replaced John Adams’ understated hairstyle with the bushier variety. But that obscured the face of his son, John Quincy Adams, so I switched the order, tracing and cutting and pasting (with real-live scissors and tape)...

And then I made the final art in ink on scratchboard:

My chief reservation about this is that my pen and “scratching” work should have been less delicate: it gets fuzzy when reduced, or printed on newsprint. Even so, I still like this Adams Family. Neat, sweet, petite.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Borrow, Don’t Steal, Or, Better Yet, Bid

This was my first try at a picture titled “Borrow, don’t steal” for my book, Read It, Don’t Eat It!

But I wasn’t getting along with the paper I was using, so I started it and all the others over and left behind a stack of half-finished illustrations. Last year, though, I revamped my painting of a fox severely “editing” a book for the American Booksellers for Children’s Not-a-Dinner and (Mostly) Silent Auction held during Book Expo America (BEA).

This year, I did the same kind of makeover with this raccoon, who will be auctioned (silently) to benefit the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) Fund for Free Speech in Children's Books on Wednesday, May 25, at the Javits Convention Center in New York City from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.

You can read more about the event (and see another offering by me) in my previous post.

Trompe L’Oeil Gevalt

WANTED! Another fake jacket from the olden days, this time for the very real Howard Zinn classic, A People's History of the United States.
The type treatment is Charles Nix’s, the vague attempt at trompe l’oeil painting is mine. Later I salvaged the piece by adding a mouse clinging to the lower edge of the poster, but I can’t find the critter now.

“...all the way home to BEA”

Give this little pig a good home, please. He’ll be waiting for you later this month at BookExpo America (a.k.a. BEA):
BEA Art Auction to Benefit Free Speech for Kids

Attendees at BookExpo America will have an opportunity to support the free speech rights of young readers when the children's art auction and reception that formerly benefited the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) is relaunched as a fundraiser for the new American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) Fund for Free Speech in Children's Books. The event will be held on Wednesday, May 25, in the Javits Convention Center from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.

The ABC Auction has long been one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the social calendar of the children's book industry, attracting booksellers, authors, publishers, illustrators, and others. This year's auction is chaired by author Laurie Halse Anderson, whose novel Speak has been challenged in schools by people who object to its exploration of sexual assault. More than 100 artists have donated work to the auction. A preview is available online.

Tickets for the auction and reception, which are $69 for bookseller members of the ABC Children's Group and $89 for all others, can be purchased here. If the tickets are not sold out in advance, they may also be purchased during a preview of auction artwork in the Javits Center's Crystal Pavilion on Tuesday, May 24, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets purchased onsite will be $79 for ABC members and $99 for non-members.
You might recognize this pig. For the auction, I took a color xerox of my painting, mounted it on illustration board, then did a fair amount of repainting - beyond just turning the oval into a rectangle. He comes framed, too.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May It Please the Court: The First Amendment

A jacket for May It Please the Court: The First Amendment: Live Recordings and Transcripts of the Oral Arguments Made Before the Supreme Court in Sixteen Key First Amendment Cases.

This box set was published by The New Press in 1997. As I recall, Charles Nix, who had designed the first volume - May It Please the Court: The Most Significant Oral Arguments Made Before the Supreme Court Since 1955- used the only known photo of the court in session, so we had to come up with an apt image ourselves. My resultant painting of the scales of justice, below, was not a particularly novel idea. It came at a time when I was tentatively trying to emulate the wonderful still-lifes of Walter Murch, but I could have/should have been more painterly about it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Enemy Women for the New York Times

Sometimes my first ideas are stronger than those that go into print. This might be a case in point: my New York Times Book Review cover highlighting John Vernon’s review of Paulette Jiles’ Enemy Women: A Novel.

The book is set during the Civil War and centers on an 18-year-old woman from the Missouri Ozarks, who is arrested on suspicion of being a Confederate spy and is thrown into a St. Louis prison. There, the prison commandant (a Union major) interrogates - but soon falls in love with - his captive, and ultimately helps her escape.

But how to illustrate that, or, rather, how to illustrate a review that has no physical descriptions of the characters, etc.? (Book Review illustrators are - or were - only provided the text of the review, not the book itself.)

Above is an early, more “realized” sketch: no facial features, but, I hoped, their hands and clothing and setting would hint enough at what the book was about. And here is a page of pencil notes for it - as well as another concept: a crazy-quilt map of Missouri that, I realized, would be better to stitch together with real bits of cloth, rather than to paint (something I wasn’t equipped to risk trying).

My “hand holding” design was turned down, though. So I ran out and got the novel and searched for descriptions of the two main characters. I wound up settling on an “ambrotype” idea, with a “magic realism” slant, with the major desperately - maybe too desperately - reaching out toward his love. For the major’s pose - and in the interest of time - I adapted one of my favorite Sidney Paget pictures of Sherlock Holmes, illustrating one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite stories, “The Adventure of the Reigate Squire“ (or “Squires” or “Puzzle”): “You’ve done it now, Watson,” said he, coolly. “A pretty mess you've made of the carpet.”

And so this color sketch was born - as was this poor Photoshop tweak where I raised the major’s arm and closed the ambrotype case a little:

Tthe major “breaking through the frame” idea was nixed, however. I had to keep him under glass, and the end result, below, is much more staid and, I think, less intriguing. That orange surface is supposed to be wood, but it looks like the ambrotype case is precariously balanced on it or suspended from it: looking at it now, I should have placed the case on top of a table or the like. But sometimes the better ideas come too late - or too early.

And here is the image as published....

Gravity and Grace and Dirigibles

Gravity and Grace by Simone Weil: a real book and a real author, but a fake jacket, made as a sample in collaboration with my friends Charlie and Steve when we had a short-lived design and illustration partnership. Charlie did the type treatment, Steve took the photo, and I drew and painted the pictures. Actually, I'd started the pictures in college - they were just oblong “landscapes” of green oil paint on gessoed wood slats - and a few years later I added the dirigibles in pencil.

The image shown here is “sweetened” inasmuch as it’s a digitally manipulated color xerox of a laminated Ektachrome (I think) print (a lot of color was lost along the way - and the original photo is much crisper, but I don’t know where it is now).

Monday, May 9, 2011

“Unbelievibly Crazy” Book Jacket

My jacket art for The Breaking of the American Social Compact by the recently vilified Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward and published by The New Press.

Recently, one Amazon reviewer called the book “unbelievibly crazy,” and warned, “I can't believe how some people actually believe this stuff. This is not for Americans. It's for socialists. Lord help us all!”

For me, though, it was a chance to experiment in low-tech 3D. My friend and then-business partner, Charles Nix, did the type design which I then “interpreted” in ink and acrylic by “cleverly” adding the “crack” through the “chiseled stone” letters. As with Getting Near to Baby, my black and white original (below, uncropped) was colorized in printed form.

Getting Near to Baby’s Jacket

My jacket for Audrey Couloumbis’ Newbery Honor award-winning novel, Getting Near to Baby.

I painted the original in black and white ink and acrylic and the blue sky color was added in production (I was afraid to do it in two colors myself, so I relied on G. P. Putnam’s Sons’ Art Department to get the desired hue).

My niece Nyssa unwittingly posed for Willa Jo Dean, the girl on the left. By “unwittingly” I mean that I had several dozen photos of Nyssa left over from our work on Amy Littlesugar’s Jonkonnu (see a link and some reviews on the left hand side of this page), so I adapted one or two snapshots of her for this project.

And I just discovered the Chinese edition!