Sunday, October 28, 2007

Natalie Merchant

Back in 2001, Natalie Merchant released her third solo album, titled Motherland. Her record company was about to send the first promotional single, "Just Can't Last," to radio and needed to commission a cover. Typically, only the radio station will receive the promotional single, at least such was the case with this one, but the coolness factor was still quite high.

3 options were requested of the participating illustrators. Being somewhat excited about the prospect of its use, I thought to gauge my chances by asking how may illustrators would be submitting. The wise-gal on the other end of my probably rotary phone said, "Just one, but he has only one arm." I took the hint and turned my focus toward creating the best 3 options I could muster. Ms. Merchant would then be among those making the final decision.

I sent them off...and waited...and waited...and waited...until? -- nope, false alarm...waited...followed-up...waited. I held my breath long enough to deduce that Natalie Merchant said, "'Thank You,' but no thanks." Oddly enough, it was with this album that she kind of fell out of sight from the popular music scene -- an unfortunate snubbing from radio I can't help but think would have turned out differently had they chosen different cover art for that first single.

My goal with these was to reflect the ethereal and lush feeling of her music by creating a visual interpretation of the richness, texture, and emotion her songs embrace. I also wanted to reflect a bit of the mystery that she seems to have. Her face lends itself perfectly to such an illustration. I wanted to let it arise with just enough detail from a sea of darkness, still capturing the intensity in her eyes.

Whenever I have the chance to illustrate a musician, I wear out their CD gleaning inspiration as I work myself into the zone. For this project, they sent over a live disk and Ophelia. I love live disks.

I'm most pleased with with the one in which she's peering to the side.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Great illustration is great storytelling.

There is a story here, but I'm going to let you tell it. Why is the chair red, like the picture hanging above her head? What's her name? Is it 3:29 a.m.? Why is she dressed like this and why is she holding her glass like that? Does everything point to the wine and what could the wine represent? Bitter, sweet, red, blood, thirst, heart, mind, dependence? Is it important that the wine level is perfectly horizontal, yet not quite spilling? And, why isn't the picture frame level? What does the hanging picture symbolize...a memory? What is off the right side of the page? Does it matter? Does it have something to do with the way she is piercing your eyes with hers or that her right foot extends off the right side of the frame? Do the boots symbolize something? Power? Sexuality? Red wine, red hair. Love, anger....what do you see on an emotional level? Does it connect with you? Does it make you nauseous, anxious, uneasy, overjoyed? Does it remind you of anything. Does it feel like the dream you had last night?

It could all just be a coincidence.

There are many ways to tell a story. Everything means something. Illustration is so great because the artist has so many tools at his or her disposal with which to tell their story. Everyone has a story and everyone loves a story.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

John Newton

Just who is John Newton?

John Newton became the main pillar of the Evangelical party in the Church of England during the 18th century. His writings and sermons were immensely popular and Newton leveraged influence in helping to end the slave trade. His early life, however, found him as a sailor and slave-trader in Africa. After some brushes with death, he made a spiritual conversion that led him to evangelical Christianity.

He also penned many hymns including the mainstay, Amazing Grace.

The crux of this book cover illustration for Crossways Books tells the story of Newton from his early troubled youth (lost in the woods) to his redemption and role with the Church of England (the Canterbury Cathedral on the right).

One of the benefits of illustrated portraits is they function perfectly when photographic reference is limited or low in quality. I've worked on a number of portraits and feel confident that I can work with any reference, no matter how small, lo-res, and out of focus the image may be. The references here were obviously historical depictions.

This is a charcoal drawing, accentuated and colored in Photoshop.


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Just Like Me

I was driving down the highway recently, listening to Squizz on 48 and the Pumpkins. Enjoying their smashingness. I thought to myself, I should do a portrait of Billy Corgan. He's an interesting character and might cater well to an illustrated portrait.

I was happy to see the Smashing Pumpkins get back together. It seems like his is the type of voice you either love or hate. I wanted to capture his energy and impassioned vocal stylings as well as his kinetic restraint.

I always use fluid and active brushwork, leaving evidence of where I was at that particular moment in time. Coupled with a shock of color, it's an effective technique to relay the energy of my subject. This engages the viewer immediately and pushes her or him toward a particular frame of mind. It adds another dimension to the visual experience.

I think it's also of note to mention his clothing. The title of this entry is from a line in the Pumpkins' song "Zero," one of my favorites. In my mind's eye, if the word "zero" were to be represented with clothing, I believe Billy's wearing it.