Saturday, September 20, 2008

Emma: A Widow Among the Amish

Emma Stutzman was married to Tobias, an Amish man with an entrepreneur's spirit. The book for which this illustration was created tells the story of her challenges and the role her faith plays in raising 6 children by herself after his untimely death in 1956 at age 37.

This is book cover number 3 I've completed for Herald Press, and my favorite of the bunch.

Before I decided illustration was my desired career route, I studied graphic design at Iowa State University. One fine morning, as I was noodling diligently with an x-acto and a glue stick harboring little shards of paper from projects gone by on its lumpy surface, my college professor, a booming man who commanded attention, piped-up and said, "Graphic designers are the smartest people, because they know a little bit about everything." I'll admit, I might have thrown in that "smartest people" bit, but the latter half of that quote is accurate. Since they create layouts covering any number of topics, she or he needs to know a bit about the topic so as not not to create some unforeseen faux pas.

I will say, the words "graphic designers" can be interchanged with the word "illustrators," because the same challenges hold true. And, they certainly did, with this illustration. Clothing, hair style, head-wear, colors...buttons vs no buttons...everything needs to be taken into consideration, because if you are intimately familiar with Amish traditions, any inconsistency will be über-apparent.

The assignment was, obviously, to depict Emma with two of her children in the garden, a central part of the story. Rounding up models and clothing is always an interesting feat. It so happens, that weekend I was off to Iowa to visit my parents. My mother is always a willing participant in such craziness. Being a resourceful sort, she happened to round up a 5-year old gregarious girl who loves the camera and was willing to pose as both children.

Before I make the trek northward, I sift my way through every thrift store in a 20-mile radius, netting me a few plain dresses, which I (wash and) bring with me to the frozen tundra of Iowa. Except, it is now July, and the frozen tundra turns into the bloody-hot-and-humid of Iowa, which becomes a new challenge.

So, on a lovely Saturday morning, I, my mother, and my illustrator's assistant father head over to my grandmother's house, just a couple doors down from the little girl, who gets to pose as both the boy and the girl, in button-up shirt and slacks, and a nifty dress from my sister's younger days, respectively. I plan the shoot for the optimal sun position, but before it becomes too hot, to get some good light and interesting shadows. It's late-morning, and approaching the mid-80s. Gotta make the girl's turn quick before she looses attention, and so she doesn't start melting in the sun.

We play all kinds of fun games, including "walk around the patio, pick up the plastic fruit and put it in your bucket," and "name the plastic fruit as your Mom hands it to you and put it in your bucket." She is an excellent sport and gives me a load of terrific pictures. Furthermore, she loves the dress, and takes it home with her to wear the rest of the day.

Then, my Mom gets to play all kinds of fun games, like "walk around the patio, pick up the fruit..." well, you get the idea.

Sifting through the photos is fun and tough at the same time. I like to shoot a mountain of pics, when I can. You see, I work by playing the odds. If I take 1,000 photos, the chances are good that at least one photo will not totally stink.

After sending the sketches, it turns out Emma needs to look a bit younger, so an artist friend of mine happened to have access to a young, photogenic, willing participant who would pass as an Amish mother.

Voilá -- Emma.

The easy part is illustrating it -- which I did, and the art director, editor, and author were pleased with the I was, too.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

McCain and Obama

In just shy of 60 days, the U.S. will have a new President. What's an illustrator's role in such an event?

Like with any subject, there are lots of opportunities for artists to depict others' or their own interpretation. I would argue, however, that politics has provided more fuel for artists than almost any other combustible source. The recent satirical Barry Blitt New Yorker cover of Mr. and Ms. Obama is one such example. Browse the newsstands today, and you're likely to see any number of interpreted angles on whichever issue is getting the once over on Morning Joe. Check the history books and you'll see a plethora of examples, including political cartoons dating back to Benjamin Franklin's "Join, or Die" days. Remember, the eight-pieced snake, ultimately used as a call to the colonies to unite against the British toward independence?

Political illustrations can be incredibly potent because of the thought involved in developing an idea and subsequently depicting a subject matter that can strike a raw nerve with certain segments of the global population.

Even talking about it can set some folks off. In fact, I may be inches away from setting myself off if I go any farther with such partisan talk. (Just kidding, by the way.)

This McCain-Obama image was done especially for my last newsletter, which had as its theme: politics.

The scrollable nature of e-newsletters lent itself to a strong vertical format and telling the story from top to bottom. The sepia-tone was a conscious decision, as it added a hint of color and a bit more richness to the email.

Politics will continue to be a hotbed of activity through that day in November when we walk, or skitter to the polling booth. Inspiration often-times comes from challenges, real or perceived, in one's life. If one can find a positive to our statistically-divided nation, it is that the partisan friction is great fodder for thought-provoking imagery.