Friday, November 30, 2012

Bull and Bear Durham

A quick post of this week's Forexpros comic.  The concept of this one (as always, conceived by staff at Forexpros) deals with the perception that the bull market is capable of overcoming even the most difficult of the current financial woes.

As far as the illustration is concerned, this one was quite a bit of work (12 hours in one day) for a result I think is only mildly successful.

What I don't like: The sound effect bubble in the middle panel.  I was going for a retro-comic look, but I think it just looks a cheesy.  Too clean, maybe.  Or too saturated.  Also, the framing seems a little claustrophobic.  But I'm limited to standard proportions and sometimes that just makes for awkward spacing.

What I like: The expression on the bear's face in the last panel, the dirt on his uniform and the scoreboard behind him.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Going Off the Fiscall Cliff on a Crazy Train

Here's last week's comic illustration for ForexPros.  I was asked to draw Barack Obama looking over the fiscal cliff with a Congressman behind him attempting to break off the section of cliff on which President Obama was standing.  Below, I was supposed to show a bull, bear, and Ben Bernanke looking up.

This assignment gave me a little bit of trouble to compose.  The proportions of the comic, even upright, are pretty short to show a cliff.  But if I draw the cliff at the height I think it should be and draw the characters proportionally, the characters' faces would probably look too small.  So I compromised, choosing a combination of sizes/proportions that felt right.  The cliff, ultimately, is more of a tall ledge.  But I think it works.

Here's what I like about this illustration: The composition, the color, and the sign.  The sign is actually my favorite detail.  If it doesn't look familiar, it's based on a Forest Service sign.  You usually see these in front of a national park or wildlife refuge.  The graphic design of the Forest Service hasn't changed in about 50 years and the joy I get just by seeing one of those signs (both from the nostalgia, my love of the colors and fonts, and the fact that when I'm near one it usually means I get to play outside) is substantial.  I also like the idea that the Forest Service has designated a "recreation area" for the Fiscal Cliff.  It's a little added joke.

So, all in all, this turned out to be one of my favorite ForexPros comics.  So far.


A Logical Case for Illustration

Last week, the good people over at Decagon Devices, Inc. asked if I would be up for something a little...different from their normal requests.  The illustration, requiring a relatively tight turnaround time, would be used in an upcoming video.  The subject?  "Vulcan Pirates Ransack Rome."  That was the description.  I was asked to come up with something based on that one, completely epic phrase.  Vulcan Pirates Ransack Rome.  Would I be interested?  Is Spock vulcan logical?  Affirmative.

Other than the phrase (which I assume is a mnemonic device for a tutorial), I was given no other guidance.  So, what came to mind when I envisioned Vulcan Pirates Ransacking Rome?  Well, my first instinct was to create an absolutely madcap illustration with explosions, people jumping through the air, sword fights, and anything you would generally associate with a melee.  But then I thought about the ones who were actually supposed to be doing the "ransacking": Vulcans.  Vulcans would never be disorderly.  Any task would be carried out intelligently, calmly, and above all, with precision and order (yeah, I actually gave it this much thought).  Even Vulcans who happened to be ransacking.  Even PIRATE Vulcans who happened to be ransacking.  So, as much fun as it would have been to draw that kind of chaos, I opted for a more accurate depiction of Vulcan Pirates Ransacking Rome.

My favorite details are: The nerve pinch being delivered to a Roman soldier (in spite of the fact the delivery Vulcan has a sword),  The bored expression on the face of the damsel, and the fact that, like everything else that's been ransacked, her dress is gold.

This is a great time to talk about the benefits of illustration.  Specifically: Specificity.  If you want a visual representation of just about any idea, product or concept that doesn't exist and you try to use clip art, stock illustration or stock photography, you're gonna have a bad time.  Illustration can visualize any idea, even one as far fetched as this one.  That's a powerful tool to have at your disposal because it can help convince a client, an audience or an investor.  You can describe your idea and you'll probably do a great job of it.  But even with a great description, there's no telling whether or not the picture in your head matches the one in your client's head.  If you utilize illustration you can show your audience exactly how your idea looks.  That makes your idea seem more real.  And that makes your idea more convincing.  That's one of the things I find so exciting about illustration.


Friday, November 16, 2012

A logo with potential

Speaking of design, a couple years back I was asked by Decagon to create a logo for an instrument that measures water potential (the WP4, I think).  Though there were dozens of concepts created, I was never able to design a logo that was a good fit for the instrument.  Fast forward to present day, where I was asked to create a logo based on Water Potential itself.  Not the instrument that measures it, but the concept.

Water Potential is, according to Wikipedia:  the potential energy of water per unit volume relative to pure water in reference conditions. Water potential quantifies the tendency of water to move from one area to another due to osmosis, gravity, mechanical pressure, or matrix effects such as surface tension

Water potential is often represented as Psi, which is a Greek letter that looks kind of like a "w" with a tail on the bottom.  Or an "I" with a "U" going through its center.

During the original attempt to design a logo for the WP4 I had all sorts of trouble.  I can't really remember why.  It was probably mainly because, at that point, I had very little experience designing logos or anything else for commercial agricultural applications.  Since then, I've done multiple logos with that exact purpose in mind.  That experience, combined with the fact that this ain't my first time to Water Potential Logo Rodeo, made this attempt a little easier.

I tried a number of approaches for the graphic element including the fairly obvious water droplet, a combination of water droplets whose negative space forms the letter "w" (it was pointed out to me that the droplets themselves form the letter "m" and make it look like "Mater Potential."  Insert your own Freudian joke here), a gradient from brown to blue (soil and water), three circles with symbols representing the various applications of Water Potential (research, agriculture, food science), the Psi, and finally a series of arrow icons representing four of the factors that influence WP (osmosis, gravity, pressure and surface tension).

Though I liked the arrow icons as an idea, I liked the water droplets and the three circle logos aesthetically (the three circles are arranged to mimic a water molecule, btw).  Once sent in for review, the arrow icons logo and the three circles logo were chosen.  The second page is a series of variations on these two ideas.

Eventually a version of the arrow icons logo was chosen.  I'm pretty satisfied with that.  I'm not sure how evident it is that these icons represent the factors that influence Water Potential, but I imagine if you're one of the people visiting a website devoted to Water Potential, you're more likely to understand the reference than say, your average illustrator with a limited grasp on scientific terminology.


Who's got the button?

Recently, the good people over at Decagon Devices, Inc. asked me to put together a few concepts for a website of theirs.  Specifically, they were looking for designs for two button links that will guide potential customers where they need to go in order to find the products and information that are right for them.

Below are the results of the design process.  The two designs in the second row were eventually chosen.

 Good times.  I like this kind of design work.  Particularly the concept phase.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Re: Election

Soooo.  There was an election this week in the United States.  Anyone watch it?  In some ways it was pretty surprising and in others it was fairly predictable.  It's been interesting to listen to reaction and post-game analysis of the election and the various strategies employed therein.

This cartoon was commissioned by ForexPros in the wake of said election.  This week I was given both the subject matter and a rough idea of how I should draw it.  We never discuss what the cartoon is supposed to convey, really.  It's an interesting dynamic, as it means I have to create the cartoons with a fairly large blind spot.  Typically, the message being conveyed drives the cartoon.  At least, that's how I always did it.  It's possible this ambiguity is intentional.  Perhaps it's engineered that way in order to leave room for interpretation.  But I also think, to a certain extent, the cartoon suffers for it.  If the message is unclear it can lead to a somewhat muddy cartoon (conceptually).

For this one the message seems relatively straightforward: The reelection of Barack Obama means more stimulus money for all.  There's an insinuation of economic irresponsibility.  I disagree with this assumption, as things like TARP and Quantitative Easing were measures taken during the darkest times of the economic crisis.  And, given that the so called "Fiscal Cliff" is rapidly approaching, fiscal responsibility is top on everyone's priority list.

Here's the question for me: Is a cartoon, political or otherwise, SUPPOSED to be inaccurate?   Humor often comes from an exaggeration of reality.  For me to criticize a cartoon because it's a misinterpretation of reality is a little odd.  I never actually believed that John had a cat who ate lasagna or that Gary Larson saw cows howling at the moon or going to cocktail parties and then made cartoons out of them.  They were funny because they were far-fetched.  Is a political cartoon ultimately just a hyperbole-laced vehicle to start a political discussion?  Or does oversimplification of an issue only reinforce entrenched political positions and subsequently curtail discussion?

As always, I have no idea.  It's possible the answer is both.

As for the drawing, this one rocked.  It came together beautifully.  I think the likenesses are great and I'm happy with the composition and color.  I even finished in a mere 11 hours.  If you haven't noticed, I've also started playing with the size and proportion of the cartoons.  I was using standard paper proportions for the cartoons up until recently.  I had an epiphany that most people came to right away: On the internet, the size and proportions don't matter.  Standard paper size is actually pretty awful for most layouts.  So being able to change things up in that regard is fun and interesting.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Oh, Sandy.

Last week, Hurricane Sandy moved across the Eastern United States leaving large swaths of damage in its wake.  I was asked by ForexPros to create a comic about whether there was a possibility of a silver lining to what was dubbed "Frankenstorm" by some media outlets (I think Sandy was a combination of two weather events, plus it was Halloween).  Specifically, would the hurricane "wake up" markets that had been relatively flat for the last week?

My interpretation was a fairly predictable one.  Here's my excuse: Typically I'm just the guy pushing the pencil for Forex.  They give me a subject and how they want it depicted and I spend the next 12-14 hours making it happen.  This time I was told only the subject and given free reign to visualize it as I saw fit.  Because I knew the actual drawing process would take all day, I just didn't spend all that much time on the concept.  The longer I spent thinking about it, the less time I would have to spend crafting it.

That's not a great excuse, though.  The next time I'm asked to work out a solution to the subject matter  (this could be as soon as this Wednesday), I'm just going to try harder to come up with something awesome.  For me, the subject matter drives my excitement about the illustration itself.  The more I like the subject, the more excited I am about the process of drawing it.  Granted, the world of foreign exchange doesn't exactly turn my crank, but that's not a great excuse, either.

Fewer excuses.  More awesome.