Tuesday, April 30, 2013

These illustrations will grow on you.

Decagon has expanded quite a bit since I started working with them several years ago.  They're smart, innovative people and they keep doing what those kinds of people do: inventing new instruments and finding new uses for the ones that already exist.

The latter is actually how this set of illustrations came to be.  The Aqualab (which I've drawn on many occasions) is a versatile instrument.  It measures water activity and moisture content in various settings and environments.  This is pretty important for applications like food production, but it turns out it can also be helpful in the construction industry.

Mold isn't exactly a welcome discovery anywhere, but it's particularly bad in buildings and homes.  That sounds like a no-brainer, but I wasn't really aware of how toxic mold could be until events like hurricaine Katrina and Sandy happened.  The Aqualab can be used for detection and prevention of conditions that are conducive to mold growth.

I think that's pretty cool.  Granted, I'm an illustrator, so I suppose there's an argument to be made that my metric for what's cool is a bit off.  Fair point.  But I still think it's cool.

The drawings had to be produced fairly quickly (less than a week).  These first two visualize the movement of water molecules through cell walls due to differing energy conditions:

I think they relate the information in a competent and sober way, which I suppose is exactly what they're supposed to do.

This one, on the other hand...

I think this one is cool.  It's an illustration of mold spores.  These particular spores are sort of a hybrid of two different kinds of spores (with a bit of artistic license as well).  Here's what I like about this illustration:

-Detail (The fuzzy-looking stuff around the edges in particular).
-Composition (I'm experimenting these days with creating visual interest through asymmetry).

-The atmosphere: This drawing, to me, creates a sense of stillness.  If that sounds a little too touchy-feely, let me try again: Mold almost always seems to grow in dark, wet, quiet places.  I think this drawing does a good job of conveying that suspended, static feeling.  It's a little creepy.  And I love it.

Overall, a great little project.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cooked Apple

This week's comic for Investing.com deals with the continuing decline of Apple stock.  It suggests that the decline is partially due to the stewardship of Tim Cook and his inability to effectively replace Steve Jobs (idea courtesy of the people at Investing.com).

This was a complicated comic to draw.  I was asked to draw Steve Jobs trying to give a hand to Tim Cook, who was sliding down a chart of Apple's recent stock gains and losses.  I was also asked to depict Tim Cook attempting to pull the stock back up.  Figuring out the proportions, composition and spacing was more difficult than usual.

I think I met every requirement/stipulation/guideline, but given the fast turnaround time, there are a few hiccups.  For instance, I think Tim Cook's body looks a little weird.  Something about the way his head is sitting on his shoulders and the proportion of his torso and legs bugs me.

But I like the way both faces turned out.  I also like how Tim Cook is pulling on the stock line.  I suppose I like it because it's different.  I don't usually think of a stock market line as an object that can be picked up or manipulated, so in a small way it seems like it's screwing with conventions.

Overall, I'd give this comic about a 73%.  I may increase that score as time goes on (I'm writing this on the day I drew it), but for now that seems right.

On a side note, this comic looks a little like the cover of a bad romantic comedy.  I don't mind it.  I've never drawn one intentionally, but this comic makes the idea seem tempting.


Monday, April 22, 2013

It's a dog eat dog food world out there....

A couple weeks back, the stellar folks at Decagon Devices asked if I would be willing to tackle some cover illustrations for an upcoming publication.  This one deals with the measuring of moisture activity during the production/manufacturing of pet food.

I'm only just beginning to realize I have some preconceived notions about the aesthetics of science and science-related things.  Namely, I tend to create illustrations and designs for this subject that look very clean (you could make the argument that ALL my illustrations and designs fit this description, but I think it's particularly true for scientific applications).  I'm guessing this has something to do with my conception of science itself: I associate science with numbers, measuring and quantifying, precision, exacting standards, etc.

Of course, the PROCESS of science is pretty messy.  There's a lot of theory and experimentation that has to take place before you can get to precision.  But at some point after all that messy work, you've created a standard.  You've created a system of measurement or a means of explaining and replicating a process or system.  You've cleared away superfluous information.  You've Occam's Razored your way to something straightforward and exact.

And now you need an illustration for that.  So you contact this guy you know who's always happy to hear from you and you describe what you need.  He sends you some concepts:

The concepts are all fairly straightforward with one exception: Third from the left.  I thought this was a great idea, but I don't think it was easy to understand the intent.  That's supposed to be three pellets of dog food in the same arrangement/structure as a water molecule.  Again, I thought it was a good idea, but ultimately if no one gets it it's a bad idea.

This concept was chosen from among them and finalized:

My favorite is the poodle.  Somehow I've gotten to this point in my life and never drawn a poodle.  For shame.

I was then asked to come up with a few ideas for the back cover:

My favorite was the nutrition facts label.  Which they chose.  And I was happy.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Golden words he will pour in your ear...but his lies can't disguise what you fear.


Here's this week's comic for Investing.com.  It has to do with the plummeting value of both gold and silver.

This week's installment is different for a couple of reasons: First, the concept was actually my idea this week.  The folks at Investing.com wanted a drawing about the falling price of the two precious metals and they wanted it to include two charts that showed said plummet.  They asked if I had any ideas and, from the list of potential ideas I sent, they picked this one.  I had one that included a pirate, but they went with the more practical idea on the list.  I don't blame them, but it would have been great to draw a pirate.  I'm just sayin'.

Reason No. 2 this one is not like the others: This one is really more of an illustration than a cartoon (the difference being that this one doesn't necessarily make a statement or have humor in it).  I don't mind the change, though.  Variety being the spice of life and all.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013


This was a relatively quick job drawn up last week for Decagon Devices.

I could give you an explanation, but sometimes I think it's more fun to just make up your own stories.


Saturday! The book! The website! The post!

If you've been visiting this site for a year or more (thank you, btw), you'll know that on top of being in the freelance illustration racket, I'm also working on a book.  If you didn't know that already, my book is called "Saturday."

It's the most fun I've ever had drawing, which is really saying something.  Until fairly recently, I've been pretty guarded about it.  It's sort of my nature.  But I also love to see the process of things being created.  Watching how things are made fascinates me, and that goes double for drawing.  So I put together a website that's just about the process of creating "Saturday".  It has concept sketches, character design sketches, early pages and panels, and some talk about the process to boot.

The address is:


(I'll also be adding a link to the list on the left of this page.)

Swing by and check it out.  I'll be putting up new posts probably every Monday and Thursday, so check back in regularly to see the latest.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

What's more exciting than currency values? Nothing.

This week's comic for Investing.com deals with the falling value of the Yen.  Last week I spent most of the post talking about the situation itself, so I'll focus on the technique more this week (also, I don't actually know much about the falling Yen, I was paying more attention to the Bitcoin thing).  This is, after all, a website about illustration.

The idea, as is the case with the overwhelming majority of these financial comics, came from the folks over at Investing.com.  I received the idea in email form early Wednesday morning.  It was basically two sentences: "This week's comic is about the falling yen.  We need a sumo wrestler in a parachute with the yen symbol on it."

I was immediately excited for a couple of reasons:

1.) I've never drawn a sumo wrestler before.  So...awesome.
2.) Single character.  Yeeeaaah!  I love single character because it gives me more time to focus on the details of that character (rather than having to spend more time on, say, drawing buildings and lamp posts).

So I went to work and came up with this initial sketch:

Because I love single character and I'm so comfortable with it, I feel more free to experiment with camera angles, proportions and composition.  I thought this sketch was interesting, but I suspected it wasn't quite right for some reason.

So I did this one:

I thought (and still think) that the first sketch is the more interesting of the two (at least in terms of composition).  It's more dynamic.  But I thought the second sketch conveyed the idea better.  And my job for Investing.com is to tell the story they ask me to tell.  It should be well-drawn, of course, but the drawing is in service of the concept, not the other way around, so I went with the second sketch.

I think the second sketch is interesting in its own way.  It activates three walls, the clouds help direct and focus interest, and it's cropped in a way that's unusual for me, which I think lends to visual interest.

Here's what it looks like with ink and color:

This is one of my favorite financial comics so far.  I love the composition, the color, the expression.  But mostly, I had a lot of fun drawing this one.  That probably makes the biggest difference for me.  I always hope that when I have fun drawing something, that energy and enthusiasm is visible in the illustration (in the same way I FEAR the boredom is visible in a few drawings of mine).

But ultimately, I'm not sure how much an illustration shows other than what can be physically seen, you know?  I'm not sure I'm even the best person to judge that aspect of it.


Quickstart Quickie

Here's the latest set of quickstart illustrations for Decagon.  "Quickstarts" are simple illustrations/visuals that explain to Decagon customers how to set up, install and use their instruments.  This particular set is for the GS3 sensor.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

γειά σου!

Money talk, like sports talk, is often Greek to me.  But the situation in Cyprus is definitely an exception.  My understanding of the situation is as follows: Banks in Cyprus positioned themselves some time ago as a financial destination by offering fairly high interest rates to foreign depositors and investors.  Several of these Cyprus banks then invested heavily in Greek bonds.  They had a bad time.

Now, with the money gone, Cypriot banks need a bailout from the European Central Bank (ECB).  The ECB, which is understandably worried about recouping bailout money, wants money up front before they agree to help out.  Without many options, Cypriot banks have decided to tap the savings accounts of customers with over 100,000 Euros (maybe as much as 40%).  Many of these high-asset customers are likely wealthy Russians who were lured to Cyprus by the high returns from years ago.  So these days, many people with their money in these banks are waiting to have a big bite taken out of their Euros (it sounds like "gyros" if you say it out loud...heh heh...sorry).

So, if you're still reading, that's what this comic is about.

Now, down to the illustration: This is the first comic I've done for Investing.com in a couple of weeks, so wanted to come back strong (the idea, BTW, was thought up by the folks at Investing.com, as always).  I made a genuine effort to avoid some of the things that have bothered me about past financial comics of mine.  Specifically: uninteresting faces and boring lighting.

To avoid these, I found some interesting face references (faces with lots of character) and went with a lighting source I haven't used in these comics before.  The result is, I think, pretty decent.  Ultimately, I ran out of time, but I'm still happy with the finished product.

Favorite parts: The blue lighting on the customer's face from the ATM screen, the dusk background, the sad expression on the bank manager's face, the lighting inside the office.

Least Favorite parts: The bank manager's right hand (the perspective and size are off a bit), the lamp (it's flat).

Overall, I would consider this one to be a win.