Friday, April 17, 2020

Stopping by for a breather, face diaper in place

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. The dog, by the way 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.



An illustration completed last week for Strategy Magazine, and their roundtable conference for business leaders.
It was planned for McCormick Place in downtown Chicago, but moved to an interactive online format due to Covid.


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 created roughly 20 illustrations 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.


Edit: A break in deadlines allowed this to be added on 5/12


A story about author Gary Hamel's hiring process: After an email inquiry, Gary asked me to do a phone interview, and he revealed that he had selected twenty cartoonists nationally. (That must have taken him some time, as my call alone lasted over an hour.) The chat was enjoyable and fortunately, I made the next cut.

Five of us were invited to participate in a paid humor writing and drawing "try-out". I don't usually agree to that sort of thing, but for certain projects it is worth the effort, and I liked the author, so I agreed.

Gary told me that the other four finalists were notable "New Yorker" magazine cartoonists. (Yikes). Tough competition, as those guys can draw and write top notch humor...so I have to admit I was a little uncertain about my chances when I heard it.

We each wrote and drew two sample cartoons to fit a chosen theme in the book. After the try-out ended, I was hired, along with one other cartoonist, and the two of us were tasked with creating roughly 50 cartoons. (Yay).

The initial group of cartoons and illustrations is nearing completion, and it has been a great deal of fun.

Next up: I just signed a contract to illustrate a book about families handling the Covid situation, going back to school, work, etc. It will feature whimsical children's fiction style illustrations. The author is someone with whom I worked previously, on a book published by Pelican Books. That starts in June, and I'm looking forward to it.

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 The New Yorker magazine.

Created for a group of newspapers in California

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 



The last stop was St. Thomas and nearby National park known as St. John. (Also our second visit here) We took in breathtaking beaches and snorkeled, swimming with brightly colored fish dancing beneath the waters along the reefs. After 9 days, Beth, Julia and I were browner, a bit blonder, and despite all the activity, I hate to say it, a little less lean...it is hard to avoid when eating out continually.




This was a perfect family trip for three generations...lots to see, many beaches, activities for the kids and opportunities to choose among them for my Mom.

I'm happy to be back in the studio, refreshed and ready to go...(but first must empty sand from my shoes.)

I hope your year is off to a fantastic start!

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 three months ago, 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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Here is another cartoon started, which started as a written idea, and just approved to go forward. The freshly created sketch below features Michael Jordan (see, I did manage to sneak in a live person - though not naming him, and that is the trick) joining the lively Carol Channing and Clark Gable. (My guess is that most people who are Millennials and younger would only recognize the tall guy.)





The initial cartoons 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.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Step by Step Illustration

Most illustrators and cartoonists with blogs post regular samples or "round ups"  of their recent work. (Actually, this is also done by most writers, photographers, painters, loan sharks, etc..)

These posts keep clients and colleagues up to date...and they also serve as great marketing tools. For visual artists, there's an additional benefit: people doing Google image searches for (cartoons, photos, art) click their way to the images in these blog posts, and some become new clients. I'm not enough a marketer to post for that reason alone, but I've read about it, and have seen that it works.

But I'll tell you, doing "What I've been up to lately" posts can be a snooze fest.

I feel similar sleepiness doing the social media marketing that nearly all businesses use now. (It also feels a little too self-involved at times.) But as one of my longtime clients (social media marketing pioneer,  Hubspot) proclaims, "inbound marketing" is essential today.


 Buy this cartoon


Due to to my disenchantment with that kind of blogging, this journal has gone from weekly, to biweekly, to monthly, to quarterly, to biannually...and it's now creeping up on annually. That is fine, because I have more free time, and my drawing board has been steadily busy with clients without it.

But rather than to announce the death of this blog. ..or to make another post filled with (in my estimation) boring Whitman's sampler boxes of 15-20 recent client projects, I've decided to do something else.

After surfacing here the other day, (my first post in 9 months) I realized that some of the more popular posts here, (based on view counters) involved sharing the creative process.

No, I don't think there's a large group of people out there clamoring with wonderment about this stuff, ("Tell us, Mark...how does the fun in your cartoons get unleashed?")

But based on views and comments, there appears to be curiosity. So for those folks, here we go:

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This project was on my drawing board a few weeks ago. It's unlike most of the work I post here, as it is a personal commission or gift...something I typically do about once each month.

What makes it different than most of my client work, is that it is not published or featured online. It is only seen by that individual and whomever happens to see it hanging in that person's office or study (or garage?) wall.  A relatively small audience.

The client was global utility sector leader, Capgemini. I was surprised to learn that the Paris-based company has over 100,000 more employees than Google has, but I'm embarrassed to admit that until they contacted me, I had never heard of them. (Unless you live in France or Canada, I'm betting you haven't either.)

They celebrated the retirement of one of their executives recently, and they wanted to create a gift to present to him at a party - a custom drawn humorous illustration depicting key milestones during his career. One of their Vice Presidents contacted me and, after a brief interview with him - an exceedingly nice guy - they hired me to do it.

Step 1: After discussing what they had in mind, and learning about the retiring executive's career, I requested several reference photos to help in creating a good likeness.

When drawing someone I have never met or whom is not a famous public figure, it is crucial to see front and profile photos with a range of emotions.









Step 2: I worked on the concept for the layout with another executive of Capgemini...someone who had worked with the gentleman to be honored. I was given a list of his achievements and set about illustrating them in a lighthearted and humorous manner.


Step 3: The concept and layout. I discussed two theme ideas with Capgemini: A series of small comic panels depicting milestones of the gentleman's career. I thought this sounded workable, but not really visually interesting, especially for something to be presented at a large group gathering. It needed more visual punch. So, I suggested a caricature drawing/painting of this gentleman surrounded by smaller vignettes. They liked that idea.


Step 4: The sketch.




Step 5: After discussing the sketch, some minor revisions were made, and a few more scenes were added.





Step 6 I formatted the artwork at 11 x 17, which is a nice standard size for printing - and for easy  framing. Color was added in the form of digital watercolor washes. The art was drawn/painted on a Wacom Cintiq drawing screen. (photos below)










Wacom CINTIQ 22HD Review | Warrick Wong Design





Step 7: I emailed a high resolution CMYK (publishing industry standard 4-color process) file, which the client had printed locally and then matted and framed.



                                                                   (Click to enlarge).


I still occasionally print and ship artwork, but with tight deadlines, is it more expedient and more efficient to email these to clients.




A photo taken at the celebration in Toronto: The gentleman with his executive assistant, and another Capgemini Vice President (with whom I worked on the piece).


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Commissioned Illustration #2


I thought I'd share another similar gift commission, to show a slightly different process. (This was created two weeks ago, for a financial industry client in New York whom I first worked with over ten years ago.)

This piece involved depicting the director of another NY financial advising firm who easing his way into retirement. The client's idea was to create a two-paneled illustration...also showing the subject's long time assistant, who will assuming his position. This became a bit of a fun challenge.

I was asked to illustrate the first subject playing guitar while seated on his motorcycle at his desk. (i.e. not really working very hard anymore.)

Meanwhile, on the other side illustration is the new director of the firm...and she was to be shown as clearly very busy after taking the reins.

Step 1: the sketch was a layout of that theme, along with caricatures based upon a photo of each person.




As I mentioned above, having more than one or two photos is very helpful. And as it turns out, in this case, I did not 'capture' the woman's  likeness very well. I wondered about that, as I was told that we only had one photo use, and it was several years old.

Step 2: I tried to revise the drawing, (aging her slightly) based upon comments, but it really wasn't close enough.
Finally, the client was able to find additional images, in the form of a video. So I was able see her as she looks now, from several angles, which is almost as good as meeting her. It helped a great deal.

Step 3: A revised sketch below:
Since I had already gotten good likeness of Kevin, the man on the left earlier,
 I took the liberty of adding color to that part of the cartoon.


Step 4: The client liked the layout and the new drawing, so I applied a 
watercolor wash over everything else in the illustration.


clicken to embiggen


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