Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Breaking out the Canvas and Sable

Last year I decided to try my first oil painting in a long while, (since college, when I took an elective, "Oil Painting for Non-Art Majors" at the University of Illinois in Champaign.)

The subject is my Father, who passed away last Fall...and I had intended to do this several months ago, but honestly, it was too hard to think about. But a few weeks ago, it felt like the right time. 

I planned it as a gift for my Mom, and had hoped to get started in June. However, due to client work I ended up with four days in the first week of July to start and complete it before my next visit to see her in Illinois.

(Waiting until the last minute to start a big truly was just like going back to college again.)

Given the many years since I last 
saw a blank canvas and smelled linseed oil, I knew there would be significant rust...and with the time constraint I almost gave up on it. But I decided that I might not otherwise do it anytime soon, and that the tight timeframe might actually help.

The first step; pencil drawing on the canvas:

This is where you make major decisions about shape and proportion, largely determining whether a likeness comes across later. As I started to see glimpses of my Dad looking back, (but asking myself, does he look like he's suffering from indigestion?), I felt it was ready for the next step...

The "underpainting", commonly used in paintings for many centuries, is a study of highlights and shadows, (just raw sienna acrylic washes here.) The acrylic dries instantly, so I did not have to wait to start the next step...oil paint.

Thin layers of mixed colors, eventually followed by gradually thicker brush strokes of paint. I used water mixable oils to speed the drying process so it would be ready in time for travel. (They did not exist when I was in college.)

I had not used real brushes and paint for anything in several years since switching to a Wacom Cintiq for digital book illustration, but the rust began to come off gradually. I also found myself stumbling a bit in shifting gears from realism to cartoon minimalism and distortion, going from this to client work and back again. But it was a great exercise.

The finished painting:

(click to enlarge)

It will take a few months of perspective to know what I think of it. (My Mom was quite happy but she is my Mom, and she would react that way if I had done it with Crayola crayons on construction paper.) 

It worked out to wait to do this in terms of getting it done but also in the heart and mind. Enough time had passed since my Dad passed that I was okay looking at his photos for long periods. It was still emotional but it was helpful, even cathartic, as it gave me a chance to reflect on his life in my own way.

Monday, July 24, 2017

On the Drawing board: McDonald's Illustrations

Two weeks ago I was in Chicago for an illustration & animation conference, which also allowed visits to family. It was relaxing, nice to catch up with my Mom and my brother & his family. Simply put, lots of fun. 

A few days in, I was looking forward to what I thought would be seven more days off from deadlines. More time off! Yippee...

Then I received a call requesting 14 cartoon illustrations for a presentation to executives at McDonald's headquarters July 24, to start immediately. 

I considered turning it down, but after a few hours of internal battling, I realized I should not. (I decided that I should quiet my 'inner child on summer vacation' and tell him to get to work.)

The presentation announces and illustrates a new method for promotions to be delivered to stores: Instructions and images for digital signs will be delivered to restaurant managers' smart phones. Laser cut signs are tailored to the specific architecture and window size of each location.

(By the way, I never tire of hearing corporate executives get excited over innovations that in some cases might sound like wheat crop reports to anyone else...they can be downright giddy! But hey, it means they love their jobs.) 

This interior was based upon a McDonald's restaurant in Tokyo, Japan, but I liked the layout. (Click to enlarge)

The first task was to create a character representing a typical McDonald's store manager. A few were drawn, but having been through a few corporation character creations before, I had a feeling the blonde male or female characters would not used, and instead a dark haired character would be the winner, since it could represent multi-cultural managers. Indeed it was chosen.

B&W sketches of the concepts were created while still in Chicago (using my Wacom Intuos drawing tablet and Macbook Pro), revisions made, and then approved...the digital watercolor for the finished art was done on the Wacom Cintiq, after arriving home in Boulder.

I'd share more of the illustrations, but I don't want to bore anyone. (There was no opportunity to write humor, so these were straight drawings.) Fun and relatively easy to create, but not as much fun for folks who are not McDonald's management to see.

The final artwork for all 14 illustrations was delivered Friday, the presentation is being made in Chicago today. To celebrate, I am taking my my inner child swimming at the neighborhood pool later and if he's good, he might also get a popsicle.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Happy 107th birthday, Mr. Nelson

Four years ago, I posted a note about about my friend and next-door neighbor, Delbert Nelson.

He was a marvel, and he had just celebrated his 103rd birthday.

Well, guess what? We recently joined him to celebrate his 107th birthday. He is as marvelous as ever.

Beyond his obvious longevity, he is an amazing, quick-witted and funny. He needs a walker to get around some days now, but he still exercises and lifts weights to strengthen his legs.

He has lived on his own, largely unassisted, until a little over two years ago. Since that time his nephews and nieces, who live out of state, have been very nice to come and take turns living with him so that he may continue to live in his house. (Incredible gestures.)

His stories of life in Boulder from the early to mid 1900's, as well as his travel to Saipan, Africa, Panama and elsewhere, are engrossing and insightful.

He is a pleasure to be around, and we are very lucky to have him as a friend.

Editorial Illustration for Strategy magazine

I just finished up an editorial illustration for Strategy Magazine, to accompany an article discussing Mexico's economy and the impact of the new U.S. administration.

They sent me the article two days ago, I wrote out the concept and after approval of the Editor in Chief, created the art. Some of the elements, (the "Trump Hurricane" and cluster of cities with aerospace investment/industry) were mentioned in the article. Others were ideas I added.

It will appear in July's issue.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On the Drawing board - Process: From ideas to finished artwork

I thought I'd add a quick post covering creative process and craft, since what you usually see here, (and from anyone in my profession), is finished work.

Here's a quick synopsis of the creation of a series of illustrations I just wrapped up today, for Brainstorm Creative in Los Angeles...

I was hired to assist with creating a presentation for one of their clients, on a very short, 48-hour turn around. Having that amount of time to go from concept and written ideas to sketches, comps and finished color art is not ideal...but sometimes having a quick deadline can be a fun challenge, (and a test of one's ability to ignore the siren songs of bike riding weather.)

The client is a tech firm specializing in mobile Internet security. One of the principals is giving a presentation Monday covering how most companies grapple with these issues, and he wanted to illustrate some key topics.

To begin, they wanted to show illustrated images of common types of mobile security concerns...With phones tablets laptops, etc.

In my discussion with the head of Brainstorm Creative, the original request was two illustrations, the first of which would show a CEO and CSO, (Chief Security Officer),  dealing with their perspectives on this.

It was a lot going on visually, frankly, and more than a viewer would likely decipher quickly.

So, I suggested that we separate the scenarios illustrating the mobile security threats first, and then adding the characters' reactions in a separate image, with a faded background of the first image.

They agreed.

So here are my initial sketches...

The client requested a few revisions, mainly addressing how we want to show threats in the first illustration. We added a hacker in a coffee shop in the upper right, and removed a hacker from the airport scene, since computer threats can be an issue from a distance.

The next stage was black-and-white ink:

Brainstorm's client really liked the look of the B&W ink art and only wanted to change the labels on the holes in the dam in the third image, calling them "threats" rather than "security" - helpful for clarity.

I suggested to watercolor for these, to lend a feel that would be a little bit softer and more organic.

While doing the final watercolor this morning, I was interrupted by a call from our daughter, who is returning home from a 10-day school trip to Italy...and despite being on a tight deadline, I did not want to miss that. (We found out that she caught a cold but had a great last day, and was set for her class flight to NY.)

Back to work, and a half hour later, I delivered the final files, (ten minutes before the buzzer). Not much time left for changes, but fortunately, they were not needed. Later I was told that their client was happy. Phew! I walked the dog after that to clear the little bit of adrenaline lingering.


Next up on the drawing board, hopefully at a slower pace: I just negotiated the commission to illustrate a book for the long-running 'Dummies' books series, (It will be: "Enterprise Agility for Dummies", dealing with the company wide introduction of change at the corporate level. Not something I would personally read, mind you.) I also signed a contract to illustrate a business book soon to be published by Random House. A few advertising illustration gigs to play with will round out the next month or so.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Article for Straight North

I was recently invited to write an article on using humor for lead generation - for Straight North's "Lead Generation Insights" blog. I was flattered, but to be honest, felt a little out of my depth on the subject matter, since it's not something I cover every day. So, I just tried to have some fun with the topic...

On the cartoonist's drawing board...

It has a been a long while since I've taken the time to do this, 
but I thought I'd share a few recent client projects...

An illustration commissioned by the CEO of a California based artificial intelligence firm, to go along with an interview he gave to a tech magazine.

A cartoon featuring the famed Trevi fountain in Rome, Italy, created for Integral Publishers.

I created a new french bulldog mascot for a long-time client, a Washington DC pet care company...And recently also created the artwork for their new vans...(using vinyl wraps).

A cartoon created for a brand strategy company in Las Vegas.

A cartoon for long-time customer, cloud computing pioneer CGNet.

 One of a few monthly cartoons created for a magazine that covers the Boston Police Department.

A cartoon created for Greg Fisher the principal of Gerstein Fisher Financial, NY, NY, for his presentation and speech delivered last week to a group of banking executives in Manhattan.

A birth announcement for a New York couple and their cute dog and cat...and as of last month, an even cuter addition to the family. Congratulations to them!

A cartoon of Uncle Sam in a flying lawn chair, (like the one flown by the guy in California years ago) It was created for long-time client, Jon Henschen to illustrate a financial column he wrote this week.

Lastly, a photo of several workplace safety poster I created for the Armour/Eckrich/Boars Head facility in Chicago.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Interview with Indezine

I was recently asked to do a brief interview with presentation experts, Indezine.

The subject was why and how to use humor and cartoons in PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi presentations. My first inclination was to say I'm not big on these things...but it turned out to be lots of fun.

Here it is, if you're interested: Adding cartoons to a presentation

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My apologies for the lengthy gap in posting here. It has been a furiously busy few weeks, with a several client projects on the board, two of which were time-intensive.

--Naturally, it is also just a busy time of the year now for everyone...So, in lieu of a lengthy post, I'll be brief and share a few images:


First a few samples from a group of 30 illustrations created to help publicize a new 'business meeting' technology. The product will involve VR (Virtual Reality) and holograms, allowing one to meet with someone who is in another state or country entirely.

The technology is being created via a partnership between (long-time client), Cisco Systems and Steelcase Inc.

It involved both copywriting and drawing, and was used in a presentation to their upper management teams. A few sample frames from the presentation:

One of my more interesting clients in the past few years, Downeast Cider, is expanding their distribution as well as their manufacturing operation, moving into a new facility in Boston. I was commissioned to do a series of cartoon illustrations for their advertising.

Speaking of Boston, over the past few months I've been illustrating a monthly magazine covering the Boston police department:

A leadership cartoon for an author, featuring a quite warm Joan of Arc:

Two of several poses for a new mascot for a Washington DC based pet company, (featuring a French Bulldog.)

One of many cartoons created for a San Diego newspaper, covering local politics...

Lastly, I just wrapped up large book illustration project for an author in Florida. There were 30 pen & ink style illustrations with watercolor wash. A great deal of fun, involving an interesting subject. Unfortunately, I must wait until the book goes to press before I can share anything...


I'll close with a Holiday card created for friends and family this year.

May you get what you wish for -- and what you actually need. Merry Christmas to all! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I'll miss you Dad

It is with sadness that I mention that my Dad, Paul Hill passed away recently.

He had been ill, and I was fortunate to be able to visit him and spend a good amount of time with him over the past several months.

After the funeral in Illinois, and then arriving home, I'm finding myself thinking about him a great I thought I'd share a little about him.

He was a loving husband, father and grandfather -- as well as a friendly, personable, energetic and dynamic man. When he was in the same room with you, you knew it.

He was also one of those people who had the courage to say what he believed, even if it wasn't popular. When he told you something, you could be sure you were getting his feelings, without a filter.

He made keen observations that made you stop and think...or laugh out loud.

This lack of filtration extended to just about everything, including his feelings about politics, entertainment and food. If he really liked something or not, he made it clearly known.

Growing up, our family dinners usually consisted of cattle and livestock...we rarely had chicken or fish...and never had Mexican or Asian food, because it was clear that my Dad didn't like those things. My Mom, brother and I would only partake in those offensive items when he was out of town.

Speaking of food, I'll never forget a particular dinner we had while living in Wheaton Illinois. There was a new fast food restaurant on Roosevelt Road that Dad wanted us to try, and the restaurant was Arby's. (This was before Arby's became a huge chain and started serving the meat equivalent of plywood.) They served real roast beef, and they had enormous whole roasts on display, which they would carve right in front of you.

Dad walked up to the counter as if he was in a trance...he leaned over to get close to that big block of beef, smiled and started sniffing the air like a dog.

We ordered, the roast beef arrived...he oohed, ahhhed and smiled through the sandwich...and licked his fingers. And then he went back up to the counter to inquire about a franchise for this hypnotic roast beef place.

In retrospect, he probably chose correctly in founding his industrial pump company a year or two later...but there was no halfway with him...if he liked something, he was passionate about it.

He was that way with boating, fishing, skiing, Cadillacs and other large General Motors sedans...and of course, my Mom.

He always told her how wonderful she is and how lucky he was to have her as his wife...right up through the last few weeks. I'm pretty sure she was only the person on earth who could tell him what to do.

My Dad had many gifts and one of them was his ability to communicate...and hence, to sell. He was the top salesman at Goulds pumps in New York, and later at Crane Deming in Ohio....and at a relatively young age, he was asked to teach other salesmen in Chicago. Later, when he had his own company and hired other salesmen -- the best he could find-- Dad still always sold the most pumps...even though he spent much less time doing it.

His skills applied to work as well as to life in general. One example comes to mind: When I was very young, on certain mornings in the winter, my Dad would usher us into the car, and we would drive to far away icy cold, snowy places. He had us put on really uncomfortable, tightly fitting boots and then heavy skis. We'd stand in long lines shivering, waiting to be dragged by a rope to the top of a hill... All so that we could flail around at high speeds, trying to avoid falling on the icy slopes, until we got back down to the base.

My brother Dan and I absolutely hated this for years. But Dad kept on with it.

Skiing was one of his great passions...(and that fact was important for all of it was also how he met my a small ski resort in upstate New York.)

After a few years, Dan and I fell in love with skiing too. And it became one the main reasons that I moved to Colorado. Whether you call it salesmanship, or instincts...Dad often knew just what you wanted and needed...even if you didn't know it at the time.

My Dad was also an incredibly tenacious guy.

His perseverance was still evident over the past year or two...battling kidney failure, colon blockages, heart disease, diabetes, leukemia and overcooked hospital food.

The last couple of months became foggy for him, but he continued to try hard to recover and to communicate his feelings to us. He was positive and courageous throughout.

Watching him continually persevere in the face of challenges throughout the years -- with business, and in life itself  -- has been a great example.

As many of you can attest, losing one of the few people you have known since the moment you came into this world is hard.

But he is now in a place without pain, fog or confusion.

And they certainly have lots of real roast beef.

I love you, Dad.  I'll miss you.