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.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Programs and People" Final!


Remember the concept sketches for the "Programs and People" article I posted a couple of weeks ago?  Well, since that post, I've been working furiously on the final version.

Just to recap: The article details the use of genetic engineering to combat bovine infertility.  Specifically, this effort (as far as the University of Idaho's ag program is concerned, anyway) targets dairy cows.  Which is why the secondary art is all dairy-related:

Well, ALMOST all the secondary art is dairy-related.  I included the "Cow-culator".  I wasn't asked to do so and I don't know if it will be included, but I couldn't resist.  I loves me the puns.

So, onto the feature art.  This is what the original concept sketch looked like:

It was a fine concept sketch.  "Fine" in this context not referring to the archaic use by someone like Lawrence Olivier to talk about the quality of the day in an old movie ("Why, what a fine day it is," Larry would exclaim) but instead "fine" as in you went to Shari's restaurant and ordered the spaghetti.  How was it?  "Fine."  That kind of fine.  Adequate.  And that's how I felt about this concept sketch.  It conveyed the idea in a functional way, but there was an ice cream cone's chance in blazes that I was going to use this sketch as the armature for the final illustration.

So I re-drew it:

All of the elements of the original sketch are there, more or less.  I added some other details as well.  But mostly I improved the craft.  Joe Dalton's face and body are less cartoony in this version.

I think I've mentioned before my relationship with flat color, haven't I?  Here's my process: Sketch, re-sketch, outline, flat color, inking/shading, additional details.  Flat color is what I call the preliminary application of color.  It doesn't have shading of any kind yet.  Consequently, I think it looks terrible.  It's bland and lifeless.  Like the spaghetti at Shari's restaurant.  In fact, it usually looks so bad that it makes me question whether or not the illustration is even going to work.  This feeling can be akin to panic because, by the time I've reached the flat color stage, I'm pretty much committed to the illustration.  But looking at the flat color almost always makes me wonder whether or not I made the wrong choices and now it's too late to do anything but turn in a crappy illustration.

This time was no exception:


Fortunately, it almost always looks better once I've painstakingly added shading and other details.  This part of the process is usually the part that takes the longest, but it's well worth it.  To invoke a cliche, this part brings the drawing to life.  And because of that, it's my second favorite part of the process (nothing beats sketching for me):

I'm pretty proud of the way this one turned out.  I love the detail and the lighting.  This is one of the big reasons I love working for "Programs and People".  They give me plenty of time, which lets me think about the drawing properly and devote the time I need to make it solid.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Double Financial Comic Rainbow!

I know.  It's been a long time since I did a financial comic, right?  Well, to partially make up for that, I did two this week.  Both have to do with the app.

The first comic needed to show a bear and bull sitting outside at a Wall Street coffee shop looking at the app on their phones while customers in the background read newspapers.

And this a' here's the sketch:

This one gave me some trouble.  That may have had something to do with the fact that I haven't done one of these in a couple of months, but mostly my troubles were composition-related.  We (the viewers) needed to be able to see their phones and the phones needed to be big enough so we could see what they were looking at.  It took me a while to get a composition that worked, and even then I wasn't completely satisfied with it.  But I had to move on to color:

The second comic needed to show Ben Bernanke as a professor writing some financial information about the Quantitative Easing programs on the board while his students check the app on their phones.

Here's the sketch:

Most of the time, I like the sketch to be great.  If I'm not particularly enthusiastic about the sketch, it's hard for me to be excited about the rest of the illustration.  And I wasn't exactly loving this sketch.  It just seemed boring.

But then I moved on to color:

And after adding some cool little details (Bernanke's little professor glasses, leather patches on his elbows, the chalkboard writing and the glow of the phones on the students' faces), this became one of my favorite financial comics.  And that's saying something, considering this comic is the 55th comic I've done for


Programs and People: Cows, DNA, and one EPIC mustache.

It's "Programs and People" time again!

This is always one of my favorite projects of the year.  They're great about giving me a lot of time, which allows me to put plenty of thought into the concepts.  It also lets me focus on the craft of the illustration itself.  Don't get me wrong: the frenzied, skin of my teeth, blurred vision and sleep deprivation of split-second deadlines is great for taking years off my life, but sometimes it's nice to have a little more breathing room.

And this year, I'm going to need all the time I can get.  The subjects of these articles are usually fairly complex, which means distilling them into one cohesive and visually-interesting illustration can make for some gnashing of teeth.  But this year it's a REAL peach.

This year, the article is about using genetic engineering to combat bovine infertility.  Put that in your pipe and re-sequence it.

One of the challenges (aside from figuring out how to even begin translating that subject into a single, digestible illustration) has to do with the subject matter itself.  Yes, it's extremely complicated.  But there's another factor that makes this project even more difficult: It's icky.

That's a pretty technical term, so let me explain: Over the years, I've done a lot of agricultural illustration.  This isn't my first time to the rodeo.  It isn't even my first time to the cow drawing rodeo.  But none of those subject matters was biological or medical in the way this one is (we're talking about cow reproduction and reproductive systems, after all).  And in thinking about how to approach this illustration, it occurred to me that it would be tough to avoid an illustration that's either: A.) Creepy, B.) Dry (overly scientific) or C.) Awkward, like a video in Health class.

For instance, here was my first concept:

The guy being caricatured is Joe Dalton, who runs this program at UI.  I had envisioned this concept as a funny, light-hearted approach.  Something like a Peter de Seve New Yorker cover with bright colors and funny expressions.  But I think it's a little creepy.  The idea of a man with a calf in a baby sling is a little off-putting.  Ultimately, I think it could have worked if it was cartoony enough.  If there's enough exaggeration, the illustration is pure farce and I think that eliminates the creepy tone.  But ultimately, I'm glad this one wasn't chosen.

Concept No. 2:

How do you talk about where babies come from without talking about where babies come from?  Avoidance.  I'm pretty sure the stork myth was made up by squeamish parents who couldn't bear to know.  Anyway, this is another concept in the "light and funny" vein.  I like the idea and think it would have worked ok, but ultimately I don't think this concept was related enough to the original subject matter.

Concept No. 3:

Where exactly would we be if there was no attempt by Noah to shoe-horn in some 1950s imagery?  I thought it would be fun to create a page from a fictional grade school textbook, but then to use that page to explain an extremely complex scientific process.  I think this is one of the stronger concepts and it would have been fun to bring to fruition, but it wasn't chosen.  C'est la vie.

Concept No. 4:

Building the perfect cow.  This one focuses on the engineering side of the process.  It gets a little medical, what with the x-ray drawing of the cow, but I figured it would be acceptable if that part of the illustration stayed in the blue and white blueprint/schematic form.  I think this concept was a good way to convey the complexity of the process while still being visually interesting.

Concept No. 5 (the winner):

This concept is Joe Dalton, split down the middle.  One half shows the manual labor side of the process (farm and field) while the other shows the more scientific aspect (the lab).  Plus, lookit that mustache.  I mean, daaaaang.

While this concept wasn't my favorite (the blueprint was my favorite), I think this concept is a great fit for the article.  It conveys the complexity of the process and has enough elements in it to be visually appealing.  It's also not icky, so...bonus.

There were so many ideas that were never sketched.  My favorite of which was probably the "Cow-culator", which would have been a calculator made by Joe Dalton that only had one button: Multiply.  Of course, that's not really a full concept, so it wouldn't have worked.  Oh, well.  Still makes me chuckle.

Now all I have to do is draw it.  Which is maybe the best part.  The deadline is getting closer.  I'll try not to have a cow.


Great Scott: Bagpipes!

A while back I designed and drew a logo for the Border Highlanders, a bagpipe band here in Moscow.  Well, I was recently asked to work up some designs for another bagpipe band called Clearwater Pipes and Drum.  Like the Border Highlanders logo, this one will also eventually be used on a drum head.

The logo needed to feature:

-The name of the band
-The Clearwater River
-The band's Latin motto

Other suggested details included thistle plants, herons, osprey, and a Celtic border/pattern.  After cogitating on the project for several days, I worked up the first round of concepts:

 Most of them, as you can see, feature the Heron.  I've always admired the elegance of the Heron and thought it would make a nice graphic element in the logo.  The first concept is fairly straightforward: A heron in the foreground, the river and sunset behind.  I imagined the final version of this logo would look something like stained glass, which would be striking (heh heh...a "striking" drum cover...) and also, due to its relative visual simplicity, visible from some distance away (another of the prerequisites).

Second from the top is based the medieval family crests (I used mostly Scottish and German reference images).  I think this concept has the strongest conceptual tie in (given the national origin of the bagpipe and all) and also made for a nice, symmetrical design.  Plus, I was able to incorporate the thistle plants in this one.

Concept no. 3 was an unconventional approach.  In looking at photos of bagpipes and herons, it occurred to me that they're somewhat similarly shaped.  I tried several different variations on this design, but this is the only one that was half-way decent.

Finally, a very simple layout (one of the requests for this logo was that it remain fairly uncluttered so as to be visible from a distance).  Just the river and the thistle.

There were all sorts of unsuccessful ideas that I tried and abandoned for one reason or another.  Mostly because they were awful.  Here are a couple of the least-hideous:

Some were too busy.  Some were just ugly.  Some didn't include enough of the references.

There was one idea in particular that I thought was brilliant: I wanted to create an image where the curve of the Heron's neck was also the curve of the Clearwater river.  I must have tried a half dozen different versions of that idea, but I could never make it work.

That's one thing I've learned from a myriad of projects over the last decade:  No matter how great I think an idea is, sometimes it just doesn't translate visually.  I try not to get too attached to any particular idea (I'm only marginally successful at this).  If it's not working, cut it loose and move on.  The value I place on any particular idea and the success of the project itself aren't necessarily related.


Dinosaur Cards!!!


Remember a post I put up about soccer board game called Kickshot?  Well, on top of the original card deck that comes with the game (which features animal characters), creator Aziz Makhani and I have been working for the past several months on an expansion deck featuring dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs playing soccer.  That's pretty hard to beat.  Here's the set in its entirety:

This was all sorts of fun to work on.  The dinosaur expansion pack should be available soon.  In the meantime, if you're interested in buying the Kickshot board game, you can do so through the website (link above).


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Saturday on Sunday!


There are still a couple of days left before I'll be able to post any of the new projects.  I promise there are several on deck (logo designs for a bagpipe band, a bookmark that looks like a pirate treasure map, concepts for a magazine article, etc.) and I'll post them as soon as I can.

In the meantime, here's this week's post from my book, "Saturday":