My daughter, Lila just received her acceptance letter to Pratt. She'll be entering the creative writing program there as a freshman in fall, 2007. This is pretty big news around here for a few reasons. One is that she was born in New York City and has wanted to go back since I hauled her down South when she was 4 years old. The second is that it's the only college she applied to. The last reason is that it gives me pretty solid bragging rights, which is cool for dad. Proud pop. She's rockin it, solid.
It's no secret that print editorial, faced with a lot of entertaining competitors, is losing market. When the topic comes up, my suggestion for regaining momentum is simple. Offer something that no other medium can deliver as effectively: remarkable illustration paired with outstanding writing. Make it a product people really want to look at first, then seal the deal with compelling content. My concerns for print have mostly dwelled on a lack of foresight on the part of editorial management. Instead of more art, I see less. Instead of better content, it seems to get worse. Poignant art as a necessary ingredient for catching eyeballs, starting conversations and staying competitive and relevant in a changing world doesn't seem to have many buyers. Why is this the case? To me, it seems fairly simple. If you want to compete, do what you do best. It's easy to lay blame at the doormat of lack-luster and unimaginative management. They're a big target and easy to hit. But, there's plenty of blame to spread around. Imagine if some of it falls squarely at the feet of the illustration community, itself. I started imagining that recently and it wasn't a fun exercise. Anyone involved in the commercial illustration boom of the 1980's and 90's will fondly recall those salad days of cash and plenty. They were good times, but good times can breed complacency. The world of entertainment has changed dramatically, while you could argue that the basic assumptions about what illustration should deliver to an audience has stayed fundamentally the same. Illustration can still offer decoration, of course, but the demands for interpreting hard editorial content with skill and insight should be on the rise. I don't see that happening. Perhaps I'm expecting too much? I see more of the same salad day reruns. A good example of rising editorial standards is Forbes Magazine. Forbes, as anyone in the illustration racket knows, has been a long-time supporter of great illustration. They've used it well and in abundance. At the same time, Forbes has also consistently contributed hard-hitting and provocative editorial views. They remain a class act. The quality of journalism in Forbes has risen and in that regard they seem to be meeting the challenge of a new world. I look forward to it arriving. When Forbes exposes corporate corruption, poor practices and outright fraud, they often turn to the best illustrators in the business to help them tell the story. Their instincts are right. Illustrations should be able to aid this type of important content. As I was doing a casual browse through the last year in print for Forbes however, I was disappointed in the art. I didn't find even one example where the art came close to hitting as hard as the content. It was an unsettling realization for me. I say this knowing full-well that I am referring to the hard work of esteemed colleagues that I both know and admire. So, I'm a cruel SOB. I will loose friends. I don't care.Here's an example of where I'm at, and I'm using an illustration that I personally thought was one of the best that Forbes commissioned this year. In the October 30, 2006 issue, Forbes took a brutal look inside Emgen, a biotech sector business that supplies life-saving and vitally needed medications for cancer patients. Forbes pulled no punches - they exposed a corporate climate that is genuinely creepy and quite likely corrupt. The article stuck with me for weeks and it started a lot of conversations for me. Forbes commissioned Matt Mahurin for a full page to accompany the remarkable story. Mahurin, as many will agree, is a long time professional and well regarded for good reasons. His illustration solution? A bunch of needles, wonderfully executed, pointing accusingly at the CEO of Emgen. It had every single element that I would normally enjoy: High concept, arresting composition, limited palette and very well executed in a unique voice. It had everything. Yet, for some reason I wasn't satisfied in the same way that I used to be satisfied. I wanted more.
The article itself was a huge conversation starter for Forbes. Why couldn't the illustration do exactly the same? Am I expecting too much? I hope I am not expecting too much. I'm a consumer. I just want a better product than the one that satisfied me in the 1990's. If they're smart (and I think they are) Forbes is asking themselves how the art they commission is doing anything more than decorating their pages at this point. I think it's important for illustrators to have that same conversation, as well. The articles themselves often have enormous impact, they start important conversations and actually move markets. Why can't the illustration contribute to the same conversations? They should, but right now they don't. I put all this out there as a consumer only. I'm not a critic. I don't have a masters degree in anything. I don't ever want to sit on a panel of judges. Perhaps I'm just a crabby and unsatisfiable consumer that should be ignored. I can live with that. Editorial print will survive, I'm convinced. I also believe that illustrators need to be an important ingredient for survival and growth. How that happens, I'm not sure. With that said, I honestly detest people who raise concerns without having a viable way forward.
When religion hits mainstream newsstands, you can usually count on the art department rummaging around in the Italian High Renaissance stock to fill space. This weeks cover of US News & World Report is no exception and treats readers to a high quality reproduction of Raphael's (Raphaello Sanzio) Sistine Madonna, to match up with a controversial article on The Real Jesus. Inside, the cover article is "illustrated" by Agnolo Bronzino (1503 72), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640, Baroque) and the always popular, Pietro Perugino (1445-1523). This is a safe editorial decision. An illustrator who's been dead 500 years isn't likely to cause much controversy. And, it's safe to say that an article, teamed up with irreproachable art, gains credibility by proximity, even though the substance might be hot-button and largely conjectural. So sure, it's a good mix: Classic art and controversial religious editorial content. But at the end of the day, sad and perhaps even wimpy. Had USN decided to hire a living artist, imagine how much more public involvement could have been created - both for USN and the artist themselves. The result would be talking points in the broader media that referenced the core ideas of the article, with contemporary visuals that added to the conversation. Instead, the brass at USN run for cover and we get illustrations by esteemed artists from history, and bold editorial content that simply hides behind them.
The truth of matter is that since an encounter between my right wrist and an icy manhole cover in 2001, I haven't been able to draw that well, or very often. Before that, my skills were pretty questionable anyway, but I did land an on-going and really fun card game project with the great folks at Chronicle Books called RubberNeckers. The third in the series is just arriving on shelves, titled Flying Rubber Neckers. The art director for this, Tracy Johnson, was absolutely a dream for me to work with. I need a bit more time to do illustration work since 2001, because my wrist starts to hurt and also because I rarely like the results any more and end up doing other drawings, trying my best to make them look as good as they can be. It's kind of tedious stuff, but Tracy was fantastic. She gave me lots of time and didn't seem to mind me complaining about my lost dexterity. The writers for this are the brothers, Mark and Matthew Lore. I don't hear from them much, but when I do they're pretty hilarious. Anyway - it's cool to be able to draw every once in a while, and Chronicle Books simply rocks.
Some doodly extras for packaging
Sorry for the recent slow-down at Drawger. It was a server problem - database goobers running amok.
Should be running lickedy-split now.
Should be running lickedy-split now.
USN - Illo Watch
Everybody needs to make a living. Some people make a living as an illustrator. Still others make a living illustrating like other illustrators. Chris Gash is just such a fellow, making a living illustrating in the same style as the well established illustrator, Mark Matcho. People who watch illustration (there are probably a dozen or so) are well-aware of Matcho and also most likely aware that Gash does Matcho pretty well. Not a big deal, really. It happens in all walks of life. Copying someone who's popular to make your way in life, it's bound to happen. What normally happens with illustrators who make a living by working in the style of a popular illustrator, is that they work along the fringes of publishing. They work the small magazines, much like a Kiss cover band gets to play the local clubs, but not much more. But, when an internationally recognized and well respected magazine like US News & World Report decides to hire Gash for a multi-page, three spot story (November 27, 2006 issue - pages 67-74), it might give the hard working professionals, who've staked a lot of time and money on refining and promoting their unique style, a bit of pause. The Kiss cover band is suddenly playing Madison Square Garden. What’s happened here? No doubt about it, the excellent art directors (and they are excellent) at USN have known about Matcho for years. The man promotes himself well. He's been at the drawing board for almost twenty years now. And, also without a doubt, the art department of USN is aware that Gash is lifting the stylistic chops of Matcho to make a living. Anyone with an eye for art can spot the alarming similarities without effort. So, let me ask a question. If Matcho is Kiss, and Gash is the cover band, and US News really is Madison Square Garden, hasn’t everybody that bought a ticket just gotten ripped off? The sad conclusion that I reluctantly arrive at is that USN simply doesn't care that much. The public won’t know the difference, unless they’re sitting on the front row like myself. It looks like Kiss from the cheap seats. Who cares? Right? Well, I for one want my money back. Mark Matcho - Chris Gash
USN - Enos Watch
The October 23, 2006 issue of US News & World report sports some fine Randall Enos. The work is a real standout for the magazine, lately. Since the departure of former art director, Rob Covey ( went to Discovery), US News has been steadily dropping illustration as a mainstay of it's content. Hal Mayforth, long-time USN reliable has been missed for some time now, with Barry Blitt seemingly the sole survivor of the illustration crack-down. It's common for many issues of USN to pass by without a single feature illustration, which is sad for a magazine that formerly used illustrators to great effect. I think part of that may be caused by the loss of Covey, who honestly loved illustration and illustrators. He hung framed originals in his office.
All rights preserved in formaldehyde by Randall Enos
The Enos work makes the issue come alive and takes what would be a fairly droll article on a slowdown in investing to giddy heights of fun. Hey, that's the job, right? Randall seems to do a bit more, though. After several issues with no featured art, his drawings seem like a wake-up call, chiming in and saying "Hey! Illustration rocks!"
Got an email this morning from an old friend, saying they were happy as heck to be coming my way soon and staying in the near-by town of Canton. And why not? Check out the marketing for this apparently lovely little mountain enclave.
This is downtown Canton
The reality? Canton is home to one of North Carolina's largest and most productive paper mills, Blue Ridge Paper. Ever been around paper being made? Not only does it smell REALLY bad for miles in every direction, the pollution output (even though they have dropped in recent yers) for old mills such as Canton's are the stuff of environmentally challenged legend.
The Playoff Sign
© New York City Department of Transportaion
The sign was stolen (using bolt cutters) from the Cross Bronx Expressway in 1987 and has gone up in front of my house every year since 1991 that the Yankees have gone into the playoffs. Yes - I have been seen tearing it out of the ground at midnight and dragging it back into the garage on several occassions... Does the NY DOT read Drawger? Yo - it was ME, and now you know where I live! Go Yanks!