Saturday, February 23, 2008

Not an Addict

Back in July 2007, TIME Magazine did a cover story on addiction -- the science behind it, hereditary factors, natural tendencies, social influences, and just why people may or may not be prone to addiction. As an exercise, I did an illustration depicting this concept.

At the time, The Soprano's had recently ended it's run, and people were up in arms debating the genius or the outrageous letdown of the final scene. David Chase has voiced his thoughts on what may or may not be behind the lead-up to the cut to black. He said there was no symbolism, but I prefer to think, rightly or wrongly, that there was. In my opinion, "Last Supper" symbolism-meets-2007-Sopranos, in the cafe, meticulously planned and brilliance!

Anyway, that debate had me thinking about the power of symbolism in art. Something I'm interested in exploring is saying as much as possible with as little as possible. Drawing on people's knowledge and experiences by using symbolism can be an effective tool to do this. The question then becomes: what constitutes a symbol? Does it have to be iconic, like a Freudian cigar, or can it be obscure, like a Rold Gold pretzel stick representing a Freudian cigar?

Here, there is the monkey on the back reference coupled with a lost shaker of salt. I had it on good authority that this reference from "Margaritaville" referred to cocaine. Even if it doesn't, it probably someone.

So, what are you addicted to? Internet social networking, perhaps...blogging, maybe? Who knew "blogging" would become a verb?

In 1996, before "blogging" was a verb, K's Choice, many would argue a one-hit-wonder from the "alternative" genre of 90s rock, recorded an album called Paradise in Me. "Not an Addict" was the first single off this disk. I thought it a symbolic appropriation for this entry's title.

Here's an acoustic version from a solo Sarah Bettens (lead singer).

One of many huge losses to addiction.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Black and White Portraits

One of the staples of my illustrative diet is black and white charcoal portraiture. In 1997 I was a fresh-faced illustrator advertising on a new site called One of the pieces I placed in my on-line portfolio was a black and white charcoal portrait which I had produced in college. After a year on theispot with only nibbles, it was time to either renew or jump ship. I opted to jump ship. Shortly after my decision was official, I received a phone call from Science Magazine. On the strength of the lone black and white piece, they asked me to participate in a year-long project to illustrate the authors of a weekly essay on science and society. The illustrations would be black and white charcoal portraits. I subsequently reversed my decision and have been with the ispot ever since.

The project for Science Magazine led to a multi-year relationship with this tremendous organization and its tremendous people. Cynthia Faber Smith, who has since moved on, is still perched high on my list of art directors who have set the standard for excellence and generosity. Preston Huey was a complete joy to work with and resides in my professional network at LinkedIn.

Professionally, what grew from this amazing assignment was more portrait work. Steadily, business publications, universities, entertainment companies, and annual report designers would call about the charcoal work. It has bloomed into some of the best assignments and working relationships any illustrator could imagine.

Aside from a beautiful depiction beyond a typical photograph, there are some practical advantages to the illustrated portrait. Not that you'd want to, but some have taken advantage of the easy ability to take 5 years or 15 pounds off the subject. Also, sometimes the only usable photo is a postage stamp-sized, pixelated web thumbnail. There is no time to track the subject down and shoot new photos before the deadline. In this case, an illustrated portrait would be the perfect solution. I think I've used the complete gamut of reference, and have yet to come close to meeting a photo from which I could not work. They also add an elegant touch to your brand -- something extra that distinguishes you from the crowd.

The portrait above was commissioned for the Columbia Business School through Zehno Cross Media Communications, while the one below was for one of my great clients, the University of Chicago Magazine.

Friday, February 8, 2008

John F. Kennedy

Some interesting things are happening in the world of Allan Burch Illustration. Namely, busyness. More-so than any other point in my history. I'll post the jobs, soon, and I'll talk about the other pending jobs, once they are secured.

In the meantime, I'm watching with anticipation to see if Amy Winehouse can pull off some Grammy wins. She is laced, liberally, throughout this blog, in reference as well as the christening post. Needless to say, I think quite highly of her music.

In current blogging news, how about this nugget from 2007. In my prior post, I mentioned how my Bruce Springsteen portrait ushered in a "golden age" of my illustration development. That was in the mid-90s. A lot of steady development took place between then and the summer of 2007, but JFK ushered in a new golden-age for me, in a number of ways. Firstly, it was my initial foray into a stylistic experiment with a traditional underpainting + digital "overpainting." Secondly, it was the first of my TIME Magazine self-assigned illustrations. When I have a free day, I will assign myself a TIME cover story. Thirdly, it was the first in a long stretch of voluminous output that continues today. I made the decision to continuously and relentlessly generate new work every week with the end goal to master my "game." Whenever I (or others) learn anything, it mostly comes from sheer repetition -- identifying the patterns, understanding the whys and wheres of these patterns -- inside and out -- and finally, being able to manipulate the patterns and let your voice find you. It sounds much easier than it is, but my credo is keep moving forward. Win or lose, I get closer to my goal, and a new piece of the puzzle emerges. For any budding illustrators out there reading, give that a try. It's a solid recipe.

So, the story of the TIME issue was of JFK, and what we can learn from his time in office. This is a fairly straightforward portrait, but upon completion, something nice emerged -- a sort of golden glowing deity feeling stemming from the colors, the sculptural form and shape of his face, and his youthfulness, coupled with the Kennedy aura. As I tend to do, the palette is 90 percent warm with a touch of cool. In this case the cool can be found in his shirt collar and the subtle green shocks in his hair.

My experimentation with a traditional underpainting combined with a digital overpainting stemmed from my curiosity. Could I get where I wanted to go quicker and easier by introducing Photoshop? So, being somewhat nimble with Photoshop, I thought to give it a try. Many illustrators do this in some form or other -- often times digitally coloring black and white linework. But, I would hazard not too many do it this way.

It's all pixels, right?