Monday, June 30, 2008

Illustration Conference v1

NOTE: To read about the Sudan Scholarship Foundation illustration, please scroll down to the post immediately below this one.

I'm taking an unusual approach with my blog over the next couple of weeks. As I write, I'm in NYC for the Illustration Conference -- a big event for illustrators and the illustration industry. It happens every 2-3 years and it's a rare opportunity to bring a widespread group of creative folks together, talk about solutions to pressing issues facing the industry (like copyright and the proposed Orphan Works legislation), provide ideas on how to better run one's business, and generally provide a re-energizing and a creative shot in the arm. Things get going on Wednesday July 2, so today's post is my reacquaintance with the big city and a look at one of the 100 photographs I shot today. It's also a behind-the-scenes look at my thought processes before paint hits canvas.

This ballet dancer was posing at Columbus Circle among the hip hop dancers and Statue-of-Liberty-adorned performance artists. The air hinted of horse, from the carriage rides parked by the curb, and she seemed flush with artistic potential -- great form, lines, lighting, and gestural flow. Her legs were always positioned with toes pointed out. Her posture just ached "ballet dancer." She also had a small entourage of people with her -- one was carrying some bags and one was shooting photographs. She gave a couple of poses for her photographer and then relaxed as they decided what to do next. This down-time is when I like to engage. The candid moments, to me, are often times more interesting than the staged poses. Her guard is let down, she breaks character, and we witness the convergence of the act of being a dancer and the reality of being a human.

With my camera, I walked up and down Broadway and spent a moment at my Mecca -- the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the Letterman show is held and will unfortunately be in repeats the whole time I'm here. I strolled down to Times Square, spent a moment in Central Park, caught a peek at the Empire State Building, and grabbed a couple sidewalk hot dogs.

Coming from a town about the size of the hotel I'm staying in, I always relish returning to the city. I love the pace, the energy, the color, the culture, the diversity...I even love the driving. These people are pros.

It all feeds into my creativity and makes me a better artist.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sudan Scholarship Foundation

This is an illustration completed for USD Magazine at the University of San Diego. I do quite a bit of work for Universities, and USD is one of the best.

Depicted here is a USD graduate by the name of Daniel Akech James, as well as 2 of the beneficiaries of the Sudan Scholarship Foundation, formed by Mr. James.

From its website --

The Sudan Scholarship Foundation (SSF) seeks to help those gifted Sudanese refugee students who have been expelled to drop out from high schools in light of the evacuation of Kakuma refugee camp and other refugee camps by the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Mr. James works to give educational opportunities to the young people of Sudan in spite of many challenges to his own well-being, which are recounted at his blog. It's very interesting reading, to say the least. If you have a moment, please give it a look, here. USD Magazine did a profile of him and his work by shining a spotlight on his blog. The illustration above accompanies this profile

The artwork painted itself very nicely. I say painted itself, because some illustrations do, while others, equally rewarding, don't come equally as easily. I don't know if it was the right combination of paint and my secret medium, or if the planets were aligned just so, but I remember the brushstrokes and the paint doing just as I wished -- the textures were perfect and the paint lifted out nicely (not easily done with acrylics).

The warmth in the palette lends itself to the positivity of the Foundation, as do the radiant strokes, particularly noticeable behind Daniel.

My next blog entry will be from the Big Apple, as I arrive for the Illustration Conference. I'll have my laptop in-hand, my digital camera in-tow, and my thesaurus packed so as to sufficiently relay the most brilliant adjective for the hopefully non-brick-wall-view from my hotel room.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Barack Obama, Democratic Nominee

Regular followers of this blog will notice the image above can be found elsewhere within these pages. But, the timing is very ripe for a re-posting of Senator Obama, who just last week became the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

Regardless of whether one agrees with his politics, he or she would be hard pressed to successfully deny the historical significance that comes with his nomination. As unremarkable as it should have been, when it became official, I found myself taking a seat to consider its significance, like so many others. It's quite interesting how perception and reality can differ. I wasn't expecting the weight of history to be as heavy as it was on me.

Back to the illustration. It was created in May of 2007 when the 2008 political season was just starting, and Obama was just an intriguing character sneaking into the public consciousness. At that time, most people were putting money on Hillary like she was Big Brown at the Belmont. Da' Tara would go on to win the Belmont Stakes and upset the field.

On another note, I was alerted to Chas Fagan being interviewed on C-SPAN this weekend. Chas is a portrait artist and sculpturist who has done paintings and sculptures of many presidential figures. He was speaking about a Lincoln bust he completed, as part of the Lincoln bicentennial celebration. He was fielding questions that I found very interesting and abnormally relevant to the current docket of assignments on my schedule (which I must keep secret until finalized, but one's a biggie -- for me anyway). Anyone interested in portrait painting and art in general should try to catch it, if you can. Explore Chas' work here.

DNA Capturing Bead

Here is a cool job I recently completed for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, keeper of the Doomsday Clock -- a symbol referenced heavily in popular culture. Minutes to Midnight, a 2007 album by Linkin Park, is titled after the aforementioned clock.

This project called for a colorful illustration of a DNA capturing bead, which is a tool used in genetic sequencing.

One of the reasons I am blogging about this illustration is so I can show off my crafty handiwork. Reference is always key. I'll shoot or acquire photo reference when needed, and if the object of my desired requirement doesn't exist...I'll build it. I happen to have quite a laboratory of foam core items I've built as props. This bead will be perched between my 3-foot high foam and paper missile and my life-size mock test tube rack with complete set of acetate test tubes.

The recipe to craft a DNA capturing bead is thusly: one part 4-inch diameter styrofoam sphere, about 20-30 5-inch long, hand made wire and artist's tape "twist ties," and a sturdy metal rod to act as a stem to the DNA bead "lollipop." Take a screwdriver and twist the wires into curly Q's and other interesting shapes that replicate DNA formations. Be sure to arrange the wire and tape "ties" into an organic, random, yet well-designed composition. Place the rod and composed bead in a glass jar, like a vase propping the creation up. Set up some dramatic lighting, let the shadows do their thing, and be sure to rotate as necessary to explore all angles as you photograph away.

It took a dash into town to reason through and come up with this recipe as I bulldogged my way from aisle to aisle deciding if pipe cleaners, silly straws, or gardening wire would best represent DNA strands. After dumping an armload of weirdness onto the checker's conveyor belt, I hightailed it home to build my bead, shoot it, and prepare two sketches.

The single bead was chosen, and a colorful representation was produced. The freedom was great and the creation turned out kind of cool, I think. It's received some positive reviews, so I thought I would share.

two of my reference photos

my sketches