Wednesday, February 03, 2021

On the drawing board: Planned and Unplanned Travel

After traveling nowhere but to nearby ski areas over the past few months, I suddenly became more mobile...first flying to Florida for business early in January.

It's amazing how open it is there. Most people are being careful and wearing masks, but stores, restaurants, and public facilities are operating normally. Florida has vaccinated 80% of their high risk population, including age 70 and over. Their high risk population is larger than most states...so they are doing things fairly well. The best part is that I was also able to visit a close friend from Boulder who moved to Sarasota last year. (Part of the reason I decided to bite the bullet, and travel to do some hands-on work, on location).

 After heading back home, I holed up in my studio for a couple of weeks to take care of several client illustration and humor writing projects. I was preparing for more of the same, but that quickly changed.


My brother recently learned that he needed heart surgery due to a severe tear in a ventricle valve. Many people have slightly leaky heart valves, producing murmurs. Those are usually graded as 1 or 2 on a scale of 4 in terms of severity. My brother's tear was classified as a 4, leading to some debilitating symptoms.

He consulted with a cardiac surgeon in Chicago, and was informed that would require open heart surgery, and the valve replacement would only last 10 years. Dan also consulted with a surgeon at the esteemed Cleveland clinic, who believed he could repair the valve permanently, using a much less intrusive procedure. That sounded ideal, however, Dan and his wife couldn't logistically bring their kids to Cleveland for 12 days (for tests, surgery and recovery). So, I offered to hang out with them, and flew to Chicago last Saturday. 

I have enjoyed being with my niece and nephew, who are wonderful kids.  I brought my work with me, along with my neophyte cooking skills. Two snowstorms left over a foot of snow, and momentarily I was wishing the snow was under my skis instead of on top of my shovel. It was great fun making snowmen and throwing snowballs with my niece and nephew, one of many memories from the trip that I'll cherish.

Thankfully, Dan's heart surgery went very well. He and his wife return home in a few days, and I will be exiting westward after that.

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On the work front, I just signed contracts this week to illustrate two new books. The first is for an author with whom I have worked several times. This one will be a business book with full color humorous illustrations. The second is a book that will be a memoir of sorts for a gentleman who has had a very adventurous life. I will be doing pen and ink illustrations to go along with stories of events in the Congo, Madagascar, Belgium,  and Ethiopia, covering periods of time over the last 60 years, in various parts of the world. It should be fun.

 Here are a few of the cartoons and illustrations that have been on the board recently.

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A commissioned caricature of the CEO of MGA Entertainment, and creator of Bratz dolls, and LOL Surprise toys. I worked from several photos, refined sketches, and then after approval, sent the finished painting digitally to the client. They sent it to a large fine art printing firm, who then printed it on 18 X 24  canvas with archival ink.




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An illustration from a middle grade fiction book currently in the studio.



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An ad piece for a California-based cloud computing company. The theme: The Chinese New Year.
 

 

Friday, December 04, 2020

Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship for college cartoonists

                                http://cartoonistfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2020jk-768x1024.jpg

 

Every year the National Cartoonists Society bestows the Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship to one talented college student pursuing a career in cartooning. 

This includes comic strips, political cartoons, comic books, animation, graphic novels, editorial illustration…any cartooning discipline. 

The scholarship award is $5,000 and a trip to the NCS Reuben Awards.

Jay Kennedy was my editor at King Features for several years. He encouraged me with written letters and phone calls when I first began submitting comics for newspaper syndication, and then gave me my first syndication contract. After that, I worked with Jay daily in editing my work for King Features. 

I later left King after being offered a contract by Tribune Media, but none of it would have been possible without that initial time spent working with him. It was essentially hands-on training, particularly in succinct humor writing and editing, that was unavailable in any school or university. For a cartoonist or any visual story teller, those skills are as important as drawing ability.

Sadly, Jay Kennedy passed away in 2007 while vacationing in Costa Rica. (A little-known fact is that he died a hero, successfully saving his fiance who was caught in a riptide.) 

The annual Jay Kennedy Scholarship was established in his memory, and is funded by an initial $100,000 grant from the Hearst Foundation/King Features Syndicate and additional donations from professional cartoonists. 

Submissions are judged by a panel and an award is given to the best college cartoonist. This memorial scholarship is the sort of thing that can launch a young cartoonist's career. 

If you think that might be you, enter now! Below is the info on submitting.

The winner will receive:

  • $5,000 scholarship
  • Trip to the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Awards Convention.

To enter:

  • 8 samples of your own cartooning artwork (copies only); noting if and where the work has been published — either in print or on the Web.
  • Print out the samples AND copy them to a CD.
  • Files should be no larger than 8.5×11″ and no more than 300 dpi.
  • DO NOT send original artwork.
  • Completed entry form.
  • Download the PDF of the entry form for more details.

 

https://cartoonistfoundation.org/

Saturday, November 28, 2020

On the drawing Board: Book illustrations, turkey and all the trimmings

I'm stopping by after a nice Thanksgiving, though it was a little less crowded than usual. I hope yours was enjoyable also. It has been a long day drawing and writing, my stomach is growling, and we have many turkey day leftovers tempting me to raid the refrigerator, so forgive me if I make this brief.

 I'm in the midst of some fun projects in the studio and thought I would share a few pieces...

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This is one of 15 illustrations created for a book it will be published in December. The layout here is loosely based upon a jail cell scene from the Disney World/Land ride, "Pirates of the Caribbean". The characters are all part of the book.

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A few years ago I was invited to join Cartoon Stock (a London-based firm which is the largest source for cartoons for purchase.) I periodically send them some of my published cartoons, and this one was among the latest group.

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One of 32 cartoons and illustrations currently being created for a business book by an author in Boston who has had four books published previously. This project has been in the studio since September, and I'm working with the author as he completes each chapter. (Perfect for filling in between other projects). It is allowing me to have some fun with humor writing, along with the creation of a narrator character that will featured throughout the book.

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 I was hired to do a series of illustrations for Ball Horticultural in October. The above piece was created for ads in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The subject matter is a group of new potted plants that allow folks in apartments and condos to grow fresh tomatoes and peppers...also great for those of us with a garden that is in hibernation in the winter months.

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 A personal commission for the Vice President & Head of Marketing of Public Storage Inc. He is also an avid skier, and a fan of one of my favorite Colorado ski towns. This was commissioned to be presented to him as a gift. I created it at 18" X 24" and after the art was approved, it was printed in Giclee on canvas in high resolution, and finally, matted and framed.
 
 
  
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A cover for a book going to press in February, created for an author who is a humorist and former University of Kansas professor. The cover reveals some details of the 
satirical political story within, and its connection to current events. 
This is the fourth book cover I have done for him.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Early September illustrations, travel...and snowflakes


The past few months have been a divergent path from what we had imagined for Spring and Summer of 2020. Regardless of your habits, things changed, some of them major, some minor. 
 
I realized recently that I'm very good at inadvertently making my Covid mask bands pull my ears forward so that I look like Jim Carrey in "Dumb & Dumber". 
 
With regard to seeing friends, out of state family members, and continuing work or school, things have not been as much fun for most people. 


Despite all of that, my daughter is physically back at college, in an illustration and animation program run by a group of former Disney and Warner Brothers artists. She is very fortunate, (in my view) to be enrolled at a university with in-class instruction going on now. For the sort of thing she's learning,  (character design, life drawing, illustration and animation techniques) in-person, hands-on instruction is important. After three weeks of classes, her university's Covid cases are extremely low and it seems to be working well. Fingers crossed that it continues. 

 


 
We saw the contrast to other universities, like the University of Colorado in our home town of Boulder. While taking our daughter back to college, we made a visit to my alma mater, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. The campus was much quiter than usual for mid August with Covid  concerns. 
 
Prior to that, we carefully planned and celebrated a birthday for my Mom, including my brother and his family. My Mom had not seen anyone in months, except for a few delivery people and neighbors. There was some risk involved but we did our to best mitigate that and as my Mother said, nearly complete isolation is miserable, and this visit revived her spirits.

What matters most in life? We spent several magnificent days reminding ourselves of just that, and we agreed that it was much needed for all of us. Several weeks later, we can say we pulled it off...safely.

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With the important stuff covered, I thought I'd share a few of the things from the studio. I am fortunate to have plenty of book illustration projects and advertising work...here are a few recent highlights:

 I had a great deal of fun illustrating and writing humor for the new book Humanocracy, and blogged about it a few months back. It was just published and  released by Harvard Business Review Press
It is currently a Wall Street Journal and Amazon Business bestseller, and I know that
 the two authors are excited to see how it resonates with readers


 
 
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One of over a dozen illustrations for a book written by a Xerox Corp. executive.
 ...illustrating something that has been slowly returning to offices, after being notably missing
 over the past few months of Covid-19: The rush for the door at 5:00.



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A cartoon for a newspaper in Encinitas California. I've always wanted to draw Nancy Pelosi as a
parrot. (I wonder if she's telling Gavin Newsome about a special salon where he can get his big hair shampooed, cut and blown out - despite all California hair salons being closed.)

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I had a chance to work with one of my favorite authors again in August. This was a second book project for a prominent guitarist and guitar instructor, this time encompassing 20 book illustrations. The manuscript is very creative, with several methods for overcoming creative obstacles that  apply to many artistic endeavors. The author is a pleasure to work with, and when it is published I'll share a link here.





Friday, June 19, 2020

A few new things

The past couple of weeks have been a blur, with some book illustration jobs on the board, 
as well as corporate work...and some family outings. I thought I'd pop in and share a few things:



A B&W sketch for another Ralph Lauren Polo cartoon. This one was created for them earlier and saved, but since it features Michael Jordan, it is being used to tie into the recent airing of "The Last Dance" on ESPN. It will be used in ads and SM for their New York City Polo restaurant. Michael joins the surprisingly lively Carol Channing and Clark Gable.  
The next step is to add some more contrast and color.

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A political cartoon for a Canadian news magazine,

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A piece for long time client, California-based Cloud computing firm CGNET
(The characters are still telecommuting, and the male character, "Bob" is still not very smart.)

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A sample illustration from a new book about an author's journey through cancer treatment.
This project recently started and it will be going on over the next few weeks.



Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Book illustrations and dreams of getting back to normal

Just checking in. I hope you are staying healthy, busy and sane.

An old school friend called last night to catch up, and he brought up the subject of personal passions...so I thought I would lead with one.

Those who know me are aware that I've loved skiing since childhood, usually getting in 20+ days a year, which is less than I once did when I was single. But this season was cut short nation-wide by Covid. (It also caused our week-long family ski trip to Vail Resorts to be cancelled 48 hours before leaving in late March.)

Happily, Arapahoe Basin reopened 14 days ago,  (by lottery-based reservation only.) It was one of only three ski resorts in the U.S. to do so, and my daughter and I were greatly tempted to try to go. But then we considered the Covid rules in effect. I have thought of skiing as the perfect social distancing sport...until one gets to the lift line.

Skiing, coming to a stop in a socially distanced lift line and quickly donning a mask - while juggling gloves, goggles, helmets, poles, etc. - would be a strange experience. Additionally, A-Basin's mid mountain lifts are not like the modern widely spaced areas at the big resorts, and I couldn't imagine how they could physically make it work. Many of those upper lifts are accessed via steep runs, with shortened waiting areas. Asking people to suddenly slow/stop and distance themselves six feet from anyone could be dicey if the "line" is lengthy.

The final straw was looking at webcam shots of the snow near the base area...not great. It looked like a negative photo of a golf green with sand traps, open areas everywhere. A-Basin is the highest altitude ski resort in North America, and I have skied there into May & June, as recently as last year, with surprisingly good conditions. But with warm temps last week, what looked great was now less than serviceable.

It turns out that the snow and the awkwardness of all those Covid rules caused A-Basin to quickly close operations a few days later - nearly a month earlier than usual. Oh well. We will just live on the memories of some grand skiing from Dec-Feb this year.

Onward, to some things in the studio.

In addition to the usual corporate client projects, I'm currently illustrating a few books. I thought I'd share an illustration from one of them; a book with a light-hearted theme about families and schools recovering from the Covid-19 situation.

For this book, I'm pairing with an author with whom I have worked previously.  (That was a humor book, published a few years ago by Pelican Books.)

This will be featuring a pen & brown ink children's book drawing style, with some splashes of watercolor... A great deal of fun so far.




Friday, April 17, 2020

Stopping by for a breather, (through the requisite face diaper, of course)

I hope you and your loved ones are staying well in this science fiction movie-like existence.

Like nearly everyone, I am mostly sticking to one GPS location, (and not chasing the siren songs of the deep snow at A-Basin, as usual this time of year). Being busy drawing and writing prevents most rumination about the no-skiing rules in effect. 


I'm taking breaks by doing things like teaching the dog to point. We're also, shaking hands/paws, as I am out of practice. By the way, the dog is the happiest of anyone in our family...he is thrilled that no one leaves the house for long. So, our relationship is definitely on an upward swing.

Another benefit: All of us can say that our cooking skills have improved, (well, except for the dog.)


The impact of the global pandemic is considerable in its reach. Kids are no longer in school and sadly, many people have lost jobs or have been furloughed. (Let's hope that is short-lived). Many more are working differently, staying put and utilizing video meetings and apps.



So far, I am fortunate to have plenty of work with books and corporate clients, and for now, I'm taking on more projects than usual because I don't know what lies ahead. Most of the people I know in my profession are staying busy. I hope the same is true for you.

Over the past few years, I've become well accustomed to working from home. I leased offices for over a decade, but changed that several years ago, since I rarely physically meet with clients (who are usually in other time zones).

Instead of continually renewing leases, we put an addition on the house, and I have been walking twenty feet to the studio instead of eight blocks, ever since. I miss the social aspects sometimes - and certainly more so now, as friends are not dropping by, and I can't visit them, either. But other things are not missed, like the rent for that first office space on the Pearl Street Mall - which has since increased to being more than our mortgage payment.


 
 


A series of  advertising illustrations created this month for a Microsoft affiliate and long 
time client CGNet. Very timely with most of the country working from home.






My wife and I are both used to working this way...just not living this way.

I need to get back to some deadlines, and I don't want to make you snooze, (you can nap anytime these days, right?) so I'll wrap up soon. So before signing off, I thought I'd share some of a current project in the studio.

I was recently hired to illustrate and write humor for a new book by noted author, Gary Hamel. Gary  is the originator (with C.K. Prahalad) of the concept of core competencies. He is also a visiting professor at both Harvard and the London Business School.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8c/Gary_Hamel_and_Eric_Schmidt_at_MLab_dinner.jpg/300px-Gary_Hamel_and_Eric_Schmidt_at_MLab_dinner.jpg
Gary Hamel interviewing Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

His new book is Humanocracy, written with co-author Michele Zanini, and will be released in August by the Harvard Business Review Press. It has been fun collaborating with him and I'll share a few early samples of illustrations: 







I have written and drawn roughly 20 pieces so far, and I'm doing them all in high resolution, as some of them will also be used by the author in presentations on a book promotion tour.

When time allows, I'll share a story about Gary's unique interview and "tryout" hiring process, as well as some other client work, including two other book illustration projects that will be starting soon.

Meanwhile, stay home, and try to keep your sense of humor...though it's not easy to do both long term.

It was once an apple a day, but now incredibly clean hands
and no visits with friends keep the doctor away -
making Mark and his family happy and healthy...um, recluses.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The CoronaMarket virus

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And a few more editorial cartoons, leaning left and right.

Given the focus on the global pandemic, it's easy to forget that this is an election year. But it is indeed, and I'm reminded of that every four years because I get an increase in commissions for political cartoons and editorial illustrations. The political 'climate' is as polarized as ever - and that means diametrically opposed viewpoints on the same issues.

Here are few pieces requested by some magazines and media outlets to accompany articles and stories. I try to cover both of the  very disparate sides of the aisle...(See if you can tell which side each media outlet resided).





Created for a group of newspapers in California




Commissioned by a political blog

Monday, January 20, 2020

A new book release...and some R&R

Happy MLK day! Are you off or are you working?

I have been away and I'm catching up in the studio, but thought I would pop in to post a couple of things...

First, I wanted to mention a book that I enjoyed working on this past year: Good Habits, Bad Habits - which was recently released. The author, Wendy Wood is Provost Professor of Psychology at The University of Southern California.

From the publisher: "She has written for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, and her work has been featured in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Time magazine, and USA Today, and on NPR."

https://www.hillcartoons.com/s/cc_images/cache_4227616181.jpg?t=1551208091


I was contacted, interviewed and hired directly by Wendy prior to the book going to editing stages with the publisher. (MacMillan) This was a little different than straight book illustration, in that each piece needed to have a written element to it: something to communicate the author's point and to make the reader laugh. (Really this is what I do for corporate clients regularly, but not that often in book illustration.)

Wendy initially hired me to create a concept to humorously explain and depict a sample theme. After doing one piece for her and being fortunate enough to make her laugh, I signed a contract to do the rest

Next I chatted with Wendy over the phone about some of the themes in her book. I wrote some humorous concepts, which were later turned into cartoons and chapter-leading illustrations for the book. An example below...





I enjoyed reading the author's manuscript even more than usual, as the subject matter is interesting to me. I am fascinated by the process of establishing habits, and had previously read other books in this genre, (including Charles Duhigg's now classic "The Power of Habit" as well as "Grit" by Angela Duckworth, who wrote the review blurb on this book's front cover).

I was recently notified that Good Habits, Bad Habits is off to a healthy debut with positive reviews and strong sales.


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Secondly, as I alluded to above, my family and I were out of town for two weeks, and we're now back home from a 3-generation family jaunt. After a long period of work, it was time to unwind.

We began by skiing a few days around Christmas...lots of early season snow has made the resorts and folks like me in Colorado quite happy.

And then shortly afterward, we embarked into a different climate, on a tremendously enjoyable trip to the Caribbean.

My wife daughter and I joined my brother and his family along with my mother. for a vacation in several island areas. I visited the Virgin Islands with my wife 15 years ago,  and though I appreciate warm climates, that sort of trip is not my first choice. You're more likely to see me skiing, biking, hiking, riding motorcycles, rock climbing or exploring - rather than sitting on a beach. But this trip added a few elements that made it more active.

We started in Barbados where we ended up doing some diving near a shipwreck off the coast of Bridgetown. My daughter Julia was amazed at the clear blue waters, allowing one to see well into the depths.


                                                     Exploring the reefs in Barbados



Next was Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis...This time snorkeling and swimming in shallow waters, with some friendly stingrays and sea turtles.

                                                                   St. Kitts



After that, Tortola and Virgin Gorda. Climbing through the stunning "Baths" rock formations was challenging and fun...The formations are closely related to those at Red Rocks amphitheater here in Colorado. It was my second time here, however the first visit allowed much less time for exploring...as it was just a quick boat drop for snorkeling.


The Baths rock formations at Virgin Gorda/Tortola 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Children's book sample Illustration

Currently I'm engaged in several book illustration projects, as well as some corporate client projects, (including one ongoing gig detailed here earlier).

I thought I would stop by to share a page from a children's book that I'm working on in my spare time...("Page 3" to be exact - which means little to you at this point.)

                                                          (Clicken to embiggen..)



Monday, September 23, 2019

Step by Step #2 - Writing and drawing a cartoon series

Another step-by-step process blog post...I had some fun doing the first one, so I thought I'd try another. 

This one is an ongoing gig for Ralph Lauren Polo Inc., that started a few months ago. 

RL's Director of advertising and social media contacted me in June, wanting to discuss doing a series of humorous illustrations, focusing on their Polo-inspired restaurants. (I was aware of the restaurant in NYC, but learned there are also "Polo" establishments in Paris, London and Chicago.)



"The Polo Bar" in New York



I was told that the Polo restaurant in New York is frequented by celebrities, and the main goal was to highlight that fact with humor...i.e., depicting some of these well known humans, and to create funny writing and art that fit their character.


Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, dining in the Polo Bar earlier this week.
(They were in NYC promoting the Martin Scorcese film, "The Irishman".)



(Photos from an article provided to me by RL for background; covering the Duchess of Sussex/former 'Suits' actress, dining there earlier this year -.)

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An added challenge arose: RL Inc. felt that I should write and draw concepts only for deceased celebrities. (I get it...and deal with this dynamic often with political and social commentary cartoons. The living are much easier to offend.) However, that is a significant restriction, especially when trying to choose subjects that will get resonate with today's audiences...more on that later in the post

Another caveat: Ralph Lauren's upper management wanted me to write humor in my own voice, but wondered if I could draw the line work of the celebrity caricatures in the style of the late, great caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld. He is widely considered to be the greatest caricaturist of all time, and his flowing lines were mesmerizing. During his heyday, he was fixture in NYC and was known for drawing celebrities.

There are challenges in trying to emulate someone else's work, especially that of a legend. For one thing, it is difficult to nail such a well-practiced and distinctive style. Then there's the issue of drawing in another person's style while getting good likenesses of the aforementioned famous humans. Every caricaturist's method of finding the "right" likeness is different, and I had to combine mine with his. (Of course such a challenge can be fun.)

Here's the process outline for the first cartoon, which was a test, or proof of concept for RL - to see if we could make this "work":
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Step 1: I wrote out around ten concepts on a notepad. These were all done with some seed of humor present, but the specifics were very rough. 

Step 2: Editing ideas and sharpening humor. Afterward, I selected what I thought had the potential to be the funniest four concepts, fleshed them out a bit, and emailed them to RL corporate folks in New York.

Surprisingly, they liked all four ideas, (that does not usually happen), and they approved starting the artwork on two immediately.

Step 3: I started with a sketched concept featuring Elvis and Marilyn Monroe...

Step 5: The sketch was passed around their management and with a positive response, I went forward with finished artwork in "ink" on my Wacom Cintiq.




Step 6: I added or "spotted" areas of black ink for contrast and to lead the viewers' eyes to Marilyn. The text was simplified and shading was rendered.

The cartoons are appearing in RL's various social media, for example, their  Instagram.




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On this second cartoon, an abbreviated glimpse of the process. I went with a Polo theme concept and a young Paul Newman, Clark Gable and Marlon Brando. 



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...But later I decided that it might be fun to have some continuity between cartoons, so I switched Clark Gable for the King. He finally gets a table - as he should.




I made other changes: Redrawing the woman in the left foreground, (giving her less contrast, so as to not draw the reader's eye away from the action. The folks at RL also asked me make her a bit more attractive. I added contrast to the area behind the men. Lastly, I added the RL Polo Bar logo to a window on the right.

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We have done three so far, with two of them released. Those have received a positive response in their various ads and social media platforms, and RL's management wants to go forward with more. I have enjoyed it so far, (after pleasing the client, the main goal for me) and we'll see how it goes over the next several months. 

One thing is nearly certain...I think that I will soon run out of deceased celebrities who are recognizable to today's audiences, and that I will need to talk the RL folks into subtly and tastefully depicting some more people with a pulse.