Sunday, August 24, 2008

Citi Slicker

John Reed, former CEO of Citigroup

Julius Caesar walks into a bar. "Gimme a martinus," he says. The bartender casts a sideways glance and asks, "Don't you mean a 'martini'?"

Ceasar retorts, "Listen, if I wanted a double I'd have asked for it!"

What does that have to do with this week's post, you might be asking? When someone pipes up with "(fill-in-the-blank) walks into a bar..." I usually settle in for a story, hopefully amusing, but certainly a little diversion.

This week, I am posting an illustration project replete with its own blog-ready story. You can check out the project in the September issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine, on the stands as I write. It's a cover story spotlighting the executives of Citigroup.

As some of you might know, from following this blog, I was in New York this July for the Illustration Conference. Just prior to the start of the conference, I took some time to look around and enjoy the city. One of my stops was the Top of the Rock, which is an observatory deck atop Rockefeller Center. It overlooks Manhattan from 360 degrees. I've written about the Rock in greater detail, here.

After ascending the 67 floors to the open observatory, I decide it's a good place to check my phone messages. Out comes the Treo, on which I press #2, which speed-dials me to my Missouri residence's land line. The first thing I notice is that the signal stinks on top of the world. You'd think, being closer to the satellites, the signal would be mighty crisp. Not so. After several dropped attempts, I get a choppy signal through, and listen to the message awaiting me on the other end. Hearing only every second or third word, I'm able to put into context that it's a potential assignment for, as mentioned above, Bloomberg Markets magazine. Fantastic!

After staring eye-to-eye with the peak of the Empire State Building, its back down I go. On a bench outside Rockefeller Center, in the corridor between shops, I park myself to follow-up. The job is a one-portrait project depicting the executives of Citigroup, with potentially 3 more, if the sketch for the first goes over well. The medium is charcoal on paper.

When traveling, I've learned to bring a few art supplies with me, for just such an occasion. This trip was no exception. I had also recently purchased a laptop: 1; because it was high time, and 2; for just such an occasion. However, after accepting this job, I realized I needed a scanner and printer in order to cary out my sketches. I could trade time between my hotel room and the nearest Kinkos, but, figuring I'd be hitting my stride on my work at about 3am, I decided to assign $80 bucks from this job's fee to the Madison Avenue Best Buy, two blocks away, on an inexpensive Epson all-in-one printer/copier/scanner.

The parameters of the portraits were to make the executives look less-stiff -- more casual and approachable -- which is one reason they chose illustration over photography. They were to be head and torso depictions, with a gesture, like an expressive hand during conversation. The body was to be loosely rendered, while the face needed to be quite tight.

The photo reference they provided was mainly of just the face, so it was up to me to take care of the torso.

Enter: me.

Luckily, I had packed a sports jacket, shirt, tie, and slacks, so I had the attire, and the torso, to appropriate a male Citi exec.

I didn't pack a tripod, so I needed to find a sturdy place to prop my camera at the appropriate eye level to match the head shots. I also had to find space that would allow the shot to happen with good light and distance to capture enough information.

Enter: the bathroom.

I could prop the camera on the towel rack, step back into the tub -- on my tip toes -- and have both the perfect eye level and some nice lighting from the vanity globes, with reflected light splashing off the porcelain, to-boot. Perfection!

I took a gaggle of shots and looked at them in Adobe Bridge, deciding on what looked good and in what direction I wanted to proceed. The top opening of the room's reading lamp functioned as my light table, as I placed one foot on the desk chair and one foot on the bed, to utilize it as such. Five sketches later, I call it a night

Now, I await the verdict on the sketches for the single portrait, and if the green light will be given to turn loose of the other three. A voicemail is received as I'm tootling around the NYU area. I find an empty bench in the outdoor atrium at the Stern School of Business in which to park myself, and call back on this sunny July afternoon to find out how we're proceeding.

They loved the sketches and have made a choice on their favorite pose. But, not only are we moving forward with the three additional portraits, there will be three more, on top of these, putting the grand total at seven. Fantastic!

My next challenge was logistics -- five more days to do six more preliminary sketches and complete the seven finished portraits. Not usually a problem, but I'm away from home, with only a skeleton studio set-up in my hotel room, and then two days of travel time scheduled, which would bring me home with one day of real studio time. Not enough. I certainly was going to make sure to be in New York for the following day -- my birthday -- but decided I needed to then cut the trip short so I could have at least 2 days at home to finish.

Continuing the bathroom photo shoot another couple days, as the reference came in, I wrapped up four more sketches by 3am Thursday morning. After oversleeping my alarm, a shortened travel day followed. In what turned out to be quite a palatial room in Pittsburgh, after a late-evening, ordered-in pizza, I got dressed, set up my camera on the microwave, propped up with the coffee maker, and stood next to the glowing lamp/light table to shoot some exec-like poses. At 4am Friday morning, the last of my sketches are sent off, and I hit the sack for a couple hours before embarking on my last travel day. All remaining sketch approval comes that afternoon, and I return home that night, after double-digit hours on the road and only a couple of Red Bulls.

Back to work, Saturday, as I race against the clock to push seven head and torso charcoal portraits through for the Monday deadline. Saturday quickly turns to Sunday, which quickly turns to the realization I won't be sleeping Sunday night. I set up my milestones which should have the final work uploaded for the client by Monday morning.

It's now Monday, about 9am, and I'm putting the final touches on the last one. I'm starting to wind down, knowing this big job is close to a finish, maybe enjoy a nice brunch, kick back and bask in the glow of -- yikes, the phone! A last minute change. We need to alter the arm position on two of them. No problem. Fire back up the adrenalin, and race over to the drawing table to render up a couple of arms that hang down, based on two of the many other reference shots I took. They are scanned and composited in Photoshop, and by about 3pm Monday afternoon, everything is uploaded.

The outcome:

The client was super-pleased with the results, as were the chain of command signing off on all parts of the job. And, it did not escape them that I had completed half the job while on the road and traveling. By the way, illustrators working while on the road is certainly not an uncommon tale, but it's always nice when the client recognizes the challenges herein and expresses appreciation for the extra effort.

Speaking of the client, they were terrific to work with, communication was tremendous, and the job was very satisfying on many levels. I am very grateful for the opportunity to help, and personally, it was quite a birthday gift that put the punctuation on an excellent east coast trip.


larry said...

I really like this one and loved reading the behind the scenes account.

Sweet Diane said...

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of that hotel room! Great Work Allan, It shows the real integrity and devotion of a true artist!!

Anonymous said...

Alan, you're freakin superhuman. Cool story, did you happen to use Slough Hollow to get back to your place faster to complete the job?/ I thought so.........

jason haza