Sunday, December 7, 2008

Peak Oil

In 1956, M. King Hubbert proposed a peak oil production curve. It was and is a bell-shaped curve that shows the rising and peaking of oil production at the point where half of the earth's reserves are depleted, then sloping downward as further production is likely to begin a terminal decline -- marking the end of "cheap oil."

For the November/December 2008 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, I was asked to illustrate this concept.

I began by ideating -- immersing myself in images, sparking ideas, which I then jotted down in my sketchbook, sometimes accompanied by scratchy thumbnails. After amassing several pages worth of ideas, I whittled them down to my 10 or so favorites, and moved to a sketch phase.

Coming up with ideas is one thing, translating them to a visual form is another -- part of the craft of illustration.

I've been interested in symbolism and clichés, lately. Clichés are immediately recognizable, and sometimes it just takes a minor adjustment or looking at it from a slightly different perspective to turn a cliché into something unique and interesting.

Symbolism is something also universally recognized. How many stress dreams have you had? How many involve missing a final test? Maybe, you've also been naked.

Maybe, that's just me.

That's symbolism, nonetheless. It's a tool I like to explore whenever I can. Symbols are interesting in and of themselves, plus, they allow the viewer to bring their own interpretation to the illustration.

Sometimes, I will find reference, other times I will shoot my own. Sometimes I will construct models or purchase props in order to create the very best possible product I can -- after all, it's also about going above and beyond, right? Otherwise, why bother? Your clients are entrusting you to be just as invested in their product as they are.

So, after acquiring my reference, and compositing it all, digitally, into preliminary sketches, I will weed it down to about 4-6 sketches.

In this case, the client liked the oil wells (2nd sketch), but felt the image would better communicate the idea of peak oil by adding the graph, to emphasize the Hubbert curve created by the wells.

I think it adds to the composition.

This illustration happens to be one of my favorite pieces I've done for the Bulletin. I think it communicates the point, the color palette and value pattern work well together, the textures are nice, and the structure of the composition is interesting.

But, it's always the client who needs to think so.

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