Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Early September illustrations, travel...and snowflakes


The past few months have been a divergent path from what anyone had imagined for their Spring and Summer of 2020. 
 
Regardless of one's habits, things changed, some major, some minor. (As for the latter, 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 and geographically back at college, in an illustration and animation program run by a group of former Disney and Warner Bros. artists. She loves it there and 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 instruction is crucial. 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.


While taking our daughter back to college, we made a visit
to my alma mater, the University of Illinois in Champaign, 


This looks like a selfie, (I have long arms, but not that long) as my 
wife turned the camera to capture an angle of the peaceful quad,


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. Certainly there was some risk involved but we did our to best mitigate that and as my Mother said, nearly complete isolation is close to miserable.

What matters most in life? We spent several magnificent days enjoying just that, and we all agreed that it was much needed for all of us. Several weeks later, we can safely 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 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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A highlight of this past summer was that Julia was able to do an internship with me. We had discussed it loosely this past year,  given her desire to pursue a career as an illustrator and animator. It made additional sense this year with Covid, rather than having her work at an unrelated outside summer job, (last year she was at an ice cream shop) I periodically get busy to the require the help of an assistant, so when that happened in June and July, I hired Julia to help me. She did background sketches for a large book illustration project - and she did quite well! We did not have to travel far for our creative meetings.


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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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Another political cartoon, covering the Uber/Lyft legislation in California, effectively making all drivers employees rather than contractors, (which recently became a national news story). This as commissioned by a group of doctors whose patients are being affected by the move.

 
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One of several cartoons created for a magazine that covers the Boston police department. This has been a monthly gig for nearly 10 years, and I get a chance to read the articles before illustrating them....it always has fascinating and borderline unbelievable stories about criminal activities...(on the part of those arrested and by some of the police.)


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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 I feel apply to many artistic endeavors. The author is a pleasure to work with and when it is published I'll share a link here.








Several more projects danced through here past month, but I don't want to bore anyone. So, b-deep, b-deep, that's all, folks.

There are some exciting projects residing in the studio right now...one involves humorous illustrating for book by a business and personal development author in Massachusetts. He has had several books published, but this will be my first time working with him. There are a few corporate and advertising illustration jobs on the board, including a fun illustration for Ball Horticultural.

I just went outside a few moments ago and breathed deeply as snowflakes were coming down. It was 94 degrees here yesterday (Labor Day)...and now it's 34 degrees. There's nothing like Colorado.

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 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.

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A birthday card for my nephew. He is turning 17 this week and he is a huge fan of "The Office".

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 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 set up interviews with 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 "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 contracts to illustrate a few books; one is 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).



Commissioned by a news columnist - appeared in several publications.

Created for a group of newspapers in California




Commissioned by a news columnist.

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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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.