Saturday, December 28, 2013

Flights of Angels


Here's last week's comic for  It was (as is almost always the case) authored by the team at and drawn by some guy named Noah Kroese.  The comic is about the retirement of Ben Bernanke, chairmen of the Federal Reserve.

Though I'm not sure if this is the last time I'll be drawing Ben Bernanke (I suspect not, as even former Chairmen of the Fed often make the news), but the idea that this could be the last time is a bit strange.  Including this comic, I've drawn Ben Bernanke at least 21 times.  When you draw someone that many times, it can start to feel like you know them.  Acknowledging Bernanke's retirement almost feels like saying goodbye to a friend.  A friend who never, ever talks about anything but interest rates.

I'm not sure if I'll be sorry to draw him less or not.  Drawing Bernanke became almost a ritual after a while.  Or more fitting, it became like a word that you repeat over and over until you can't understand the meaning of that word anymore.  It becomes just a noise.

At any rate, I'm mostly dissatisfied with this comic.  I think Bernanke's face came out fine (I purposefully made him look exhausted), but the rest is a bit of a wash at best.  The plane looks like garbage.  It's flat and lacks detail and character.  Also, the whole thing should have been done as a profile view so that we could see the faces of Bernanke, Yellen, and the bear and bull.  But that perspective didn't occur to me until I was finished with this version and there wasn't enough time to do another.

What can I say?  Last week was the most stressful week I've ever had professionally.  I met four different deadlines over the course of five days.  I worked until I literally got sick.  This comic came at the very end of that gauntlet of work, stress, and sleep deprivation.  I limped over the finish line.  So, while I'm not thrilled about my performance on this comic, given the circumstances, it came out better than expected.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Here are a couple of illustrations for this year's baseball edition of "Lindy's Sports Annual", a great magazine to which I contribute from time to time (and am always happy to do so).  I was asked to work up two illustrations for two different stories.

The first story has to do with runners charging the catcher at home plate.  Here's the sketch:

Aaaaaand here's the final:

Thoughts on this one: Have I mentioned how much I love drawing detail?  Well, I love it a bushel and a peck.  This had some great detail to draw: dirt and grime, black eye, missing teeth, a pink cast, etc.  It had some not so fun detail, too.  It turns out I don't much care for drawing catcher's masks.  There.  I said it.

The second of the two stories deals with a trend of lower batting averages.  Here's the layout/concept sketch:

This here's what the final looks like:

Thoughts on this one: Again, I loves me some detail and this one has it in spades.  And drawing grime is always fun.  In real life (or "IRL", as the kids say these days), I'm a pretty clean dude.  But when I'm drawing, I like things duuuuuurrrrty.

This was a fun set.  Like I said, it's always a pleasure doing illustrations for Lindy's.


Second to Last Supper


Here's this week's comic for  The comic (written, as always, by the team at and drawn by yours truly) is based on Davinci's "Last Supper".  Ben Bernanke's last FOMC meeting took place this week, so the imagery is fitting in that respect.

Here is, as they say in fake Italian, da sketch:

Here is da final:

Not too much to say about this one.  I like the colors.  The caricatures came out ok.  This was also a great example of a thing that happens to me from time to time: I put a lot of work into this comic.  By the end of the day I was pretty happy with the result.  I took a break for a little while.  When I came back and looked at the comic later, I noticed one of Bernanke's eyes was all wonky.  He looked like Sloth from "The Goonies".

I fixed it (more or less; it's still a little wonky) and reminded myself to always step back from the work once in a while for a little perspective.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Auction Poster

    It occurred to me recently that I haven't posted any work other than the comics in weeks.  Well, I'm here to remedy that.  Every other year, the Prichard Art Gallery does a benefit auction.  I was asked if I would be interested in creating the poster for said auction.  The Prichard Gallery is a great venue for all sorts of creative and educational endeavors, so I was more than happy to oblige.

As always, I started by working up a few concepts:

This first one was based on the idea that the gallery takes you places.  In this concept, I explore that idea in a semi-literal way, with the gallery as an actual vessel in which you might travel to interesting places.

Concept number two is half homage and half parody.  It's a nod to the Norman Rockwell illustration of a man standing in front of a Jackson Pollack painting.  In this concept, I was thinking about the fact that the world around the gallery changes with time, as does the art being displayed by the gallery.  But the function of the gallery remains constant.  Plus, robots are cool.

The third concept is mostly about the "behind the scenes" aspects of the gallery.  I've always heard that the best frame for a piece of art is the one you don't notice.  I think the gallery is similar in that respect.  You're supposed to notice the art, not the space.  And because their job is to not be noticed, I think it can be easy to forget just how hard it can be to run and maintain a gallery as well as the Prichard does.

Concept number four: Continuing with the exploration theme, this one is an attempt to highlight the fact that the gallery and the art contained therein are a kind of portal or doorway to an almost limitless world.  Also, it's a double entendre with the whole "space" thing.  It's the only one in color because I wanted to be able to depict the stars.

Finally, this is the "they'll never go for this one" concept.  It features a rough caricature of the gallery's director dressed as Willy Wonka.  They didn't go for it.

They actually ended up choosing the first concept, which is great because that's the concept I felt was the strongest of the set.  I would have been happy proceeding with any of the concepts (I've learned over the years not to present any concepts I wouldn't want to bring to fruition), but the ship concept was the one I was most excited about.

With the concept chosen, the next step was draw the final layout:

You might be asking, "Why not just use the concept sketch?"  Well, first, the concept sketches are just a rough way to convey the idea.  They're done fairly quickly, without the attention to detail and craft that the actual layout sketch deserves.  They're functional, but not usually pretty.  Secondly, I'm a serious glutton for punishment, and why do less work when I can do more?

This version is a lot cleaner and I relied heavily on reference images to draw the ship.  Also, the ship is facing the opposite direction, which was a good suggestion made by the gallery director.

With the layout sketch complete, all that was left was to add a few minor details here and there.  You know: outlines, color, shading, depth...the little stuff:

My goal with this poster was to create something that would attract attention for the event and for the gallery.  I'm extremely happy with the way this turned out.  It was a lot of hard work.  Hopefully it will help the event succeed.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Greetings, Pilgrims!

Here's last week's comic for  For those of you not living in North America, last week was Thanksgiving, which is a holiday that celebrates the eve before Black Friday.  It's typically celebrated by eating an intense amount of food and then watching football in lieu of awkward conversation with family.

I was asked to draw Ben Bernanke carving a turkey while the bear, bull, hawk and dove sat at the table.  Here's the sketch:

Five characters is a lot of work for a single day deadline, so there are all sorts of details I missed accidentally or didn't finish because of time constraints.  But I did add a few details to keep things interesting for myself:

-The dour, non-plussed expression on the bear's face
-The bull, pleasantly checking his watch
-The hawk glaring across the table like that uncle who only wants to fight about politics
-The dove, taken aback at a roasted bird being caved up right in front of her

I know I'm a bit of a broken record about the turnaround time on these comics, but it really is the most influential factor in how these comics turn out (other than the subject).  There just isn't enough time to sit and think carefully about how the comics should look or what details to include.  There's only enough time to act on instinct and then draw for my life.  It's kind of fun.

It's also exhausting.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Keep your hands and arms inside this comic.

Ahoy, there!

This week's comic for involves the tumultuous rise and fall and rise of the value of the Bitcoin.  Over the past several months, the Bitcoin has seen a pretty dramatic fluctuation in value.  The crew at asked me to draw a comic that depicted this fluctuation as a roller coaster ride with Ben Bernanke at the controls.  Here's the sketch:

If there were an actual roller coaster based on the Bitcoin at say, a county fair, what would it be called?  Bitcoin Blastoff, of course.  The sign was a fun little element to include, mostly because it seems like every carnival ride sign was designed in the 80s.

I also thought it would be a whole heap of fun to draw Bernanke as a carny.  I've drawn Ben Bernanke a lot at this point, so adding a little variety to his getup was a way for me to be excited about drawing him yet again.  It's said that humor is usually predicated on the unexpected.  And what's more unexpected than seeing the ever-reserved, conservatively-dressed Bernanke as a poorly-clad carny, smoking a cigarette and emblazoned with tattoos?  Nothing, says I:

It was, as predicted, fun to draw.  However, as I was drawing it, I had the thought that it might not go over well.  And that ended up being the case.  They liked the cartoon, but didn't think it was a great idea to depict Bernanke in such a fashion.  It didn't bother me.  I knew the risk before drawing it and was willing to accept that risk.  Here's the revised version:

A word on smoking: Back in the day, smoking was cool because marketing.  And also because people didn't know what it was doing to them.  And so, the image of a cigarette was one that came pre-packaged with a lot of other ideas about image and culture and sophistication.  These days, I think a cigarette is still an icon, but one of a much different flavor.  We know how detrimental it is to smoke, which is why I think the image of a cigarette is now one that's shorthand for people who don't really care about anything anymore.  And that's powerful, too.  That's one of the reasons I still like to include it occasionally in my illustrations.  It reinforces certain characterizations.  Cigarettes aren't Dorothy Parker anymore.  They're Charles Bukowski.

Anyway, overall, this comic is so-so.  I like the color, but I'm not crazy about the scaling or the composition.  And this isn't my best likeness of Bernanke.  His eyes are too close together and his nose isn't quite right.

I'd give this one a 2-corndog rating.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

This is what it sounds like when doves cry.

Here's the latest comic for  It has to do with Janet Yellen's vetting in front of congress as she prepares to take over for Ben Bernanke.

The idea, thought up by the crew at, deals with the fact that Yellen is seen as a kind of "financial dove", but she would like to be seen (at least for the purposes of the vetting process,) as more of a financial hawk.

I was asked to draw Janet Yellen as a dove dressed up like a hawk.  That's a bit mind-bending, if you think about it.  Drawing someone as an animal and still trying to keep them familiar enough to be recognized is no easy task.  Particularly if that animal is a dove.  A dove has a beak, not a separate mouth and nose like we do, which makes the translation tough.  Birds aren't animals we typically anthropomorphize the same way we do other animals.

And then I had to show she was dressed as a hawk.

This is one of the more unusual comics I've ever done.  But it was SO odd that it ended up being kind of fun.  To be perfectly honest, it's not one of my favorites.  I'm just not all that satisfied with the drawing itself, the composition, or the lighting.  I'll go ahead and use the same excuse as always, which is that if I'd had more time I would have done better.  Maybe.  But some weeks, I'm able to turn out a comic that I genuinely like in the same amount of time.

Then again, none of those comics involved me drawing Janet Yellen as a dove dressed as a hawk.

All in all, I'd say my performance on this comic is a few twigs short of a nest.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Yellen like a felon.

Hey, look: An comic!

It's been several weeks since the last one, and I was glad to get back into the swing.  The one day deadline is a bit of a grind, but I like that they're challenging and they keep me sharp(ish).

This week's subject deals with the ascension to the FED throne of Janet Yellen.  She has a long list of bona fides and will likely do a fine job in a difficult position.  The subject is also about the "tapering" of Quantitative Easing, which has been the cause of much debate, hand-wringing and market uncertainty (wait...has it been the cause of uncertainty?).

The comic itself (as always, penned by the team at, is a reference to "The Karate Kid", the 1984 classic movie in which Ralph Macchio learns martial arts from his enigmatic neighbor, played by Pat Morita.  80s montages, moral lessons, and jean jackets ensue.

The drawing: More fun than a Kenny Loggins concert.

Yes, I drew Bernanke for the 16th time (that's the actual number), but I got to draw him doing karate and looking sensei-like.  I imagine, assuming my work with continues, I will draw Janet Yellen just as many times.  Probably not wearing a karate uniform every time (I'll keep my fingers crossed, though).

I also enjoyed drawing the environment.  I've never drawn a dojo before, so it was new and interesting.  Also, this comic ended up being a lot lighter in color and tone than most.  I'm not sure if that has more to do with the fact that financial officers hang out in tomb-like buildings all the time or if the darker colors are more indicative of my troubled psyche.  Maybe both.

At any rate, I'd give this comic four Crane Kicks.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bookpeople Store Map: Thar She Blows.

Avast, Buccaneers.

The first store map for Bookpeople of Moscow is ready to set sail.  If you don't remember our previous voyage, I was asked by the good folks at Bookpeople of Moscow to come up with some store maps for them, which I was delighted to do.  Maps?  Cool.  Books?  Cool.  Maps of books?  Excellent.

I decided to start with the pirate/treasure map concept, which looked like this originally:

After consulting a rough blueprint of the store, redrawing everything from stem to stern, getting accurate locations of every bookshelf and its contents from the owner and adding additional details, she looks like this:

This project was a veritable treasure chest of fun.  It would be hard to pick a favorite part.  Maybe drawing the little doubloons, which each say "Bookpeople of Moscow" in tiny letters.  And also making the map looked aged.  When I was a kid I would sometimes "age" my drawings using tea bags.  The process is a little more sophisticated now, but the result (a giddy, nerd of an illustrator having fun) is the same.

Great good fun, says I (aye).


Clearwater Logo Finalists

After weeks of work, we're finally closing in on the final version of the logo for Clearwater Pipes and Drums, a local bagpipe band.  First out of the gate, we have three versions with three different bridge options:

Once the bridge variation was chosen, I worked up several border options:

At this point, the band thought the thistle element was a bit too prominent, so I created a whole bushel of options that pulled some of the emphasis away from the thistle (size, color, saturation levels, etc.):

And then there were two:

It's been quite a process getting to this point (which isn't unusual for logo work by any stretch of the imagination), but I'm completely satisfied with where we've ended up.  I'll let you know which one they choose.



New graphs for Decagon Devices, Inc:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Painful for all parties concerned

Here's last week's comic for  If it seems like I haven't posted one of these in quite a while, it's because I haven't.  There was some scheduling difficulty, which lead to a hiatus.

The comic (as per usual, conceived by the good folks at and drawn by yours truly) deals with the debate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the debt limit, and the Tea Party.  In case you're not familiar with the situation, the Republican Party in this country (and more specifically the ultra-right wing faction of the Republican Party known as the Tea Party) hates the Affordable Care Act.  Even though it's been implemented as a law, the Republican party refused to raise the debt limit (which is basically America making good on money we've borrowed) until the A.C.A. was repealed.  Raising the debt limit is absolutely essential, as it directly influences the credit worthiness of the U.S.  The strategy was ill-conceived and eventually failed, but not before it lead to a partial government shutdown lasting two weeks, costing 24 billion dollars, and further eroding Americans' faith in the government's ability to do even the most basic job of governance.

So, that's the skinny on this comic.  I was asked to draw a donkey (the traditional symbol of the Dems) boxing an elephant (traditional Rep symbol), Obama standing nearby, the bull, bear and a Tea Party member spectating, and a representative of Fitch (a credit rating agency) holding a sign up displaying America's tenuous credit rating.  Everyone but the Tea Party guy was supposed to look dismayed.

And so I did:

My favorite parts: Drawing the donkey and elephant beat up.  I don't draw facial trauma all that often (you'd be amazed at how seldom clients ask for it), and it's pretty fun.  It lets me put color and detail into faces that I rarely get to include.  I also really like the way the Tea Party character turned out.  He looks like a crazed hillbilly, which was super fun to draw.  Finally, I've never drawn Obama's frowny face before, which was good fun.

Least Favorite Parts: I hate drawing crowds.  It's a pain and it never looks right to me.  I should just develop some crowd templates that I can use over and over, but the problem is that you never know what the composition is going to be.  The crowd can only be seen through gaps in the foreground, so the crowd basically has to be drawn custom every time.  I also wish I would have included the ropes on the boxing ring, but I ran out of time (this one took me a LONG time to draw) and I was afraid the ropes would block too much of the background detail.

All in all, I'd give this comic 4/5 stars.  I'd give the government zero.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Here are a few drawings from a recent trip.  They're actually on paper.  One of them even has some watercolor!  Gasp.  I'd forgotten just how much fun watercolor can be.  I'd also forgotten how much I'd forgotten about watercolor technique.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Installation and Interpretation Illustration

Here are a couple more recent technical illustrations (drawn for the good folks over at Decagon Devices, Inc.).  The first is an illustration that shows proper sensor illustration techniques:

The second is a data interpretation figure.

It contains a graph with what I think holds the record for longest graph title I've ever drawn: "Volumetric Water Content at Various Depths Over the Growing Season of Wheat Grown in a Palouse Silt Loam".  Rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?  If I ever have a son, I think that's what I'll name him.  He'll have a hard time with government forms.  But no worse than his brother, Tiki Tiki Tembo No Sa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Berry Pembo.


Graph Time

I'm pretty sure I know what most of your are thinking right now.  I can almost hear you shouting at your computer: "You've been posting all sorts of different kinds of illustrations lately, Noah.  Magazine stuff, financial comics, logos, etc.  And that's great.  But I came to this site for some graphs.  That's the only reason I ever come to this site.  And you haven't posted a graph in a long time.  Where are the #@$*^%& graphs?"

Well, first off, stop shouting at your computer.  It makes you look like a complete lunatic.

And second, here are some graphs for you.  All sorts of graphs.  A potpourri of graphs.  All for Decagon Devices, Inc. over the past couple of weeks.

What's that you say?  You still haven't gotten your recommended daily allowance of graphs?  Well, chew on this:

You're welcome.