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 Inc., that started in July. RL Polo's director of advertising and social media contacted me in June, wanting to to do a series of cartoons, focused 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 Manhattan

I was told that the Polo restaurant in New York is frequented by celebrities, and they wanted to highlight that fact with humor. The goal was to depict some of these well known humans, and to create funny writing and art that fit their character, and the theme of the restaurants.

(A photo from a news article about the Duchess of Sussex/ex 'Suits' actress, dining there 
- provided by RL for background.)

A shot of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, as they dined there, just this week.


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 the attention of today's media and social media audiences...more on that later in the post

An added caveat: Ralph Lauren's upper management wondered if I could do the line work in the style of the late, great caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld.

There are challenges and pitfalls of emulating the style of a legend. It is difficult to nail such a distinctive style, for one thing. And then there's the issue of matching his notably brilliant line work. (Of course it can be a fun challenge, too.)

Here's the process outline for the first cartoon, which was a test, or proof of concept for RL - to see if it would "work":

Step 1: I wrote out around ten ideas on a notepad. These were all done with some seed of humor present, but the specifics were very rough. 

Step 2: Editing the ideas and sharpening the humor. I selected what I thought were the funniest four concepts, and emailed those 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 of them.

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 finished cartoon as it appears on RL' PB Instagram account: (Note that they later decided Marilyn's comment made it too wordy.)


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. 


...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.


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. 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 them 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 musicians, photographers, speech writers, painters,  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. Because of that, I've made these posts myself.

But I'll tell you, doing those 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.

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, 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:


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 200,000 employees (over 100K more than Google), and 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 for him - a humorous illustration depicting key milestones during his career. Another one of their executives found me and, after a brief interview, hired me to do it.

Step 1: After discussing the above plan, 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 with me on 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: Color was added in the form of digital watercolor washes. The art was drawn/painted on a Wacom Cintiq. I formatted the artwork at 11 x 17, which is a nice standard size for printing - and for easy  framing.

Wacom Cintiq 22HD Touch adds finger-friendliness to graphics display - SlashGear

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).


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 one involved depicting the director of another financial advising firm easing his way into retirement. It was to be a two paneled illustration, also showing his long time assistant assuming his position.

I was asked to illustrate this man 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's 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.

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 from several angles, 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

The client approved the finished piece, so I emailed the digital artwork to him. He had two copies printed on a large format printer at Staples, and then matted and framed them as separate gifts for each of his depicted colleagues.

He emailed a few days later, related that they were well received and being hung on each of their office walls.


Lastly, I'll share the process used for an animated commercial created for Intel Corporation. 

This is artwork that I was commissioned to create for a third installment of a series of videos.

worked in concert with a media firm in New York who was also hired by Intel Corporation. It was my responsibility to design and draw the backgrounds and characters. 

There were dozens of scenes, but I chose one to give you an idea of how everything went from sketches to finished art.

 Step1: The sketch of the main scene: The spokesman character created to introduce a new technology, and a typical corporation level user of the new technology.

Step 2: Watercolor and shading added to the approved art.

Step 3: A zoom in look at the scene with employees of the corporation.

Step 4: Color is added to the scene and all characters. There are several angles and views of this scene...all of which are completed in in similar fashion, in succession. 

After the artwork was approved by Intel, I worked with animation team also NYC, giving them poses of each character to to work with for the animation.


Well, that took some time, but it was a nice change of pace, and also fun to write something rather than simply post images. I hope it didn't send you to REM slumber. 

One of the things currently on the board is a commissioned illustration for a prominent Internet security company, as a gift to their CIO. It's just an office scene and a few executives standing around talking with each other about IT, so I'm looking for a way to add some interest and humor. (Other than say drawing them all in their underwear.)


Monday, September 16, 2019

Summer in the rear view mirror

It has been many moons since I spend any time on the blog. As I mentioned in my last post (nine months ago), I have been spending more time with my work and family it's working out pretty well.

A few trips in recent months, including a trip to see my Mom for her birthday, two visits to Nashville Tennessee, as well as an excursion to Alaska.

Well, I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that I have gotten into a nice groove of not posting on my blog, so to break that streak I'll just share some glimpses of those trips.


In May, (not quite summer but close enough for us) we took a work/play trip to Anchorage Alaska...

While took a 25-mile bike ride along the ocean, on the "Alaskan Coastal Trail," It was spectacular, with some views that surprised even us, having been spoiled by great views at home in the Rocky Mountains. 

We spotted a female moose enjoying her lunch, just off the bike trail on the way back.

There is a small but beautiful ski resort about 20 miles north of Anchorage, known as Alyeska. The  mountain does not have the vertical elevation that most large areas in Colorado have, but the terrain is varied with some nice steeps and cornices. The lodge and base area are new and rather upscale.


A July visit to Chicago/Rockford see my Mom for her birthday...below are some shots from an evening boat trip...and a beautiful Illinois sunset.


Two trips to Nashville in June and early August, (bracketing the trip to Illinois) 

A couple of years ago, I took my daughter Julia to Chicago for a comic art and animation camp with former Disney animator Brian Ferguson. It was a great deal of fun, and allowed Julia and I to also spend time in downtown Chicago enjoying the lakefront, Michigan Ave., museums and of course, the Art Institute.

So, we decided to try another similar jaunt in June. We went to Nashville for an animation camp with several animators who have worked with Disney and Pixar. And this time, the whole family came along, (Well, that means my wife Beth joined us, but the poor dog had to stay home with our dog-sitter.)

 It was a terrific time, from start to end,  fun and lots of drawing. Nashville is home to several other things as well, including a full scale replica of the Parthenon, tantalizing BBQ, and some incredible music downtown.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Flight of Reference

Note: This flight - and the included photos - were taken in October. I've been saving them, as I did not have time to post it until now.

When most cartoonists draw cartoons, they draw images from their imaginations, often without much regard for realism. You never know what it might look like, or how distorted it might be. That's usually the best path to humor. 

I also illustrate books, so some of my work (attempts to) lean toward realism. Like most book illustrators, I sometimes use photos as references

Unfortunately, with things that involve depth perception, photos don't always work well; especially larger things like mountains, buildings and expansive views of terrain.

Over the next month I'll be illustrating a children's book that features aerial views of mountains and ranges like those found here in Colorado. So, I decided to charter a tour flight to get some actual glimpses of exactly what I need. 

I was able to find a flight that took a path over Rocky Mountain National Park, south to Red Rocks, and then further west over the Continental Divide. We had several days with 70 degree temperatures lat this Fall, along with clear skies, so it was a perfect time to do it.

My wife does not like to fly in small planes any more than necessary. So, my daughter Julia came along with me, and we had a great afternoon of fun. Even though this was a Cessna and not a speedy jet, we both found it truly amazing as to how much ground you can cover "as the crow flies", rather than sticking to roads...especially ground that varies greatly in height and topographical detail. It would have taken two days to drive a car along this flight path that took less than two hours.

We had music going in the plane, which was perfect until some lowlight efforts of Bob Dylan came on moments before the only part of the flight that wasn't fun...autumn turbulence. We momentarily had wide eyes and bubbly stomachs after we hit some cold air and pressure near the Divide. Our pilot said that it's common to have big changes in air temperature and pressure there this time of the year. Indeed. It's a good thing we were well between lunch and dinner (and sans stomach-churning crooning.)

Combining what I have in my mind's eye, several sketches, and the photos Julia and I took, I was able to get some terrific views. I'm hoping to have plenty for some interesting things to wander out on the page and drawing board.

A special thank you to Ben and Cam at Bluebird Aviation, for making it an incredibly enjoyable and successful day!

Boulder's "Flatirons" rock formations and Chautauqua

                                           The Continental Divide viewed from the Front Range side

A note about growth: When I moved here over 30 years ago, the population of the Front Range of Colorado was roughly half of what it is now. A stunning sign of that increase was visible from altitude in the sleepy mountain town of Nederland, (a half hour up the canyon from Boulder, and the inspiration for Dan Fogelberg's "Netherlands" album). 

After 30 years of staying nearly the same size, the past two years have have had buildings popping up like prairie dogs on a warm day, stretching into the forests in every direction. As Thomas Wolfe said, "you can't go home again"...nor can you see previously small mountain towns like Nederland from 5,000 ft.

Red Rocks Amphitheater, above

A preliminary sketch