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I love to read, so I consider creating a book cover a distinct privilege. I sometimes fantasize about creating a cover for every book I have ever read and imagine what kind of life long project that would look like. Maybe in another lifetime.
Not long ago I got involved with an online manuscript editing company called The Editorial Department. They were expanding their repetoire and looking to offer design services as well as manuscript editing. After a bit of back and forth I signed on as one the the designers in their roster. The first project I worked on for them was the second book in a series of swashbuckling adventures from author John H. Cunningham. John’s stories feature a main character named Buck Reilly. Buck is a bit of an Indiana Jones type who lives in the Florida Keys, flies a Grummon sea plane and looks for sunken treasure.
The title of this new book was “Green to Go” and John wanted some continuity between this cover and the previous one. The first book, “Red Right Return” features Buck’s seaplane in a a circular logo design. John felt strongly about keeping the plane and the logo look. He also wanted to incorporate the idea of color since both book titles make mention of one.
This is all well and good, but for me to get hold of an idea I need to explore what comes to my own mind first. To that end I do loads of thumbnails. Each one an embodiment of a particular concept. Sometimes these concepts are good. Sometimes bad. Sometimes they are rip offs of something I have seen before. The intention is to spill out on to a page all the junk that is spinning around my head regarding the subject. Below are a few pages from my sketchbook that show some of this exploration process.
From here I took four or five of these ideas, blew up the the thumbnail and added color to them just to get an idea of what they might look like. The ones that stuck out the most for me were those that were modeled from cigar or rum labels. For all intents and purposes a label is a logo and if I stuck with that concept it would afford the continuity John was after. As an added benefit it would also speak to the more colorful aspects of the lead characters swashbuckling personality.
With the help of Chris Fisher, the Creative Director at The Editorial Department, I moved though the design, adding the coin, missile, tobacco and Cuban flag to the layout. The final touch was selecting a sun bleached weather beaten green background for the label to sit on. And with a few more tweeks and changes we arrived at the final cover.
Finally, I would like to give thanks to illustrator Tristan Elwell. At the same time he happened to be working on an image of a plane and talked about how he made the propellers look like they were spinning. I used his technique in the final cover.
At the beginning of August 2010 Charles Lawrance and I began our biggest piece to date. A mural for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & Arts. The wall measures about 25 ft x 75 ft and is on the side of Joseph P. Lock’s Funeral Home on N. Central and Hoffman Street and is part of a neighborhood beautification project. The wall faces a lot that has recently been converted to neighborhood garden space by local volunteers.
Charles has done more than a few murals for the City of Baltimore and had this project all lined up with sketch approved before I came on board. He’s well known for his wildlife and nature painting, which is one of the reasons he was selected. But rather than do a straight up nature scene he wanted to include some significant neighborhood landmarks and famous African Americans from Baltimore. Prominently on display would be St. Frances Xavier Church, the first African American Catholic Parish in the United States, The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum and the Apollo Theater. Charles managed to squeeze it all into the sketch with plenty of room left over for butterflies and foliage.
But we still had some research to do. Who would be the notable figures to appear in the final piece?
Patrick Arrasmith asked me to create some key frame animation art for a top secret television commercial he has been working on for a big time client. What we have here is a reaction shot of Captain Ahab after witnessing Moby Dick destroy a ship. At the moment it’s unknown whether or not this will make the final cut. Or if the commercial will even happen. It would be a shame if it doesn’t get used, but that’s the nature of the advertising world.
More drawings with friends….and then some. Two techniques for drawing revolving around music. The larger one is a pencil drawing of Elvis Costello from a performance at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD. I was lucky to be close enough to actually make a couple sketches on the scene.
The rest are ball point pen (red, blue and black) on oaktag, the same stuff they use for office folders. I added a little White Out to bump up some shapes. I wanted to see what I could make with materials just about everyone has laying around. I’m also a fan of those old school red conté crayon figure studies. Yup, that’s Casey with his banjo again. And Anthony with the bass.
I love my friends. They’re all pretty amazing eclectic people that do some pretty cool stuff. Take Casey and Dave here. Casey plays banjo, is a percussionist in a Samba group and drives around an old school diesel minibus that he converted to run on vegetable oil. Dave is an illustrator living in Philly who does some pretty incredible and very unique collage work and also happens to be one of the funniest people I ever met.
I decided to taking my new iMac for a spin and colored these drawings in Photoshop. You can see a watercolor painted version of Casey Playing Banjo here.
For my entire life, anytime I have ever voted, the person I voted for never won. It’s been a long string of disappointments from Mike Dukakis to John Kerry, with each successive loss making me feel less and less connected to the political process. I got so confident in my ability to pick losers that I even considered voting for the opposing candidate to test the validity if my voting mojo. But I couldn’t bring myself to toss my vote away like that. What if I was wrong? I’d never be able to sleep at night knowing I voted for someone I didn’t believe in.
Thankfully that all changed with the 2008 Presidential Election when Barack Obama became, not only the first African-American President, but the first candidate I voted for to make it into office. My interest in the political process restored, it’s nice to feel validated and not like an outsider anymore.
With the long string of “Firsts” associated with Obama’s presidency, it seemed appropriate to channel some of those good vibes and make him the subject of my first blog post. One more “First” for me, this is the first piece I’ve ever done in Illustrator. Here’s to good first steps.