Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cricket Magazine: Giant Worms, Colossal Fun

Greetings, Adventurers.

A couple weeks back, I was contacted by Cricket Magazine.  While doing research for an upcoming article about giant worms, they came across an illustration I drew for "Programs and People" magazine about the Giant Palouse Earthworm:

I did this illustration in the Precambrian era, so go easy on me.

Anyhoo, the good folks at Cricket asked if I would be interested in doing an illustration for their article.  And of course, I was all like, "Do worms love dirt?"  I tend not to be particularly fond of my old work, so I was happy to have the opportunity to get a kind of "do-over" with this illustration.  I'd be striving to put right what once went wrong, like on "Quantum Leap", accept with slightly less time travel.

The first thing I did was draw up some concepts.  Well, actually, the very first thing I did was sit down and think about how I wanted to approach the illustration.  I read the article, looked at reference photos, and wrote down a pile of ideas in my illegible note-taking scrawl.

Then I chose the three ideas I thought were the strongest.  And THEN I drew the concepts:

The crew at Cricket looked over the concepts and decided they liked the first one the most.  I then moved on to phase two: the official layout sketch.  This sketch is typically more detailed and full-size.  I rarely draw concepts at full size or full detail unless there's a deadline breathing down my neck.  The official layout is more precise.  A decent amount of editing happens here as well.  Not usually anything catastrophic, but noticeable:

After that, I move on to the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross 9 Stages of Illustration: Outlining, flat color, shading, struggling, second-guessing, editing, changing, more shading, and finally, acceptance:

It's interesting: I can't actually remember when I drew the original "Giant Palouse Earthworm" illustration, but the difference between the two illustrations seems stark to me.  Time, more practice, and changing taste meant that I made different decisions this time around.  Overall, I'm satisfied with the way the new one turned out.  I think the craft is strong, the composition is decent, and the colors are interesting.

There are always at LEAST a few things in every one of my illustrations that I dislike.  And I could list them, but I'm not going to.  Not this time.  This time, I think I'll just accept that I had fun with this project, that it turned out pretty well by my standards, and that I'm happy with it.  And I'm going to leave it at that.

Don't worry, I'll be back to my usual, overly-critical self soon enough.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quantitative Easing Like Sunday Morning


Here's the latest financial comic for  This week's comic is about the value of the Euro in relationship to the dollar as of late.  It's also about everyone's favorite topic, Quantitative Easing.  Janet Yellen has signaled that the Federal Reserve will discontinue QE in the US in October.  Over in the EU, ECB President Mario Draghi will likely begin a round of QE soon.

I was asked by the crew at to draw Janet Yellen showing Mario Draghi how to use a money printer.  I was also asked to include a photo or poster of Ben Bernanke in the background.  here's the sketch, which is a bit rough.  It was early and I was tired, which is why the drawing looks more like Cyndi Lauper than Janet Yellen:

And here's the final:

Have I mentioned how much I like the faces of Yellen and Draghi?  Both have a lot of character and are all sorts of fun to draw.  Yellen's face is always pretty expressive.  And Draghi looks like one of the suave villains from a James Bond movie.  Describing the physical characteristics of two of the most powerful people in the world might seems a bit odd and shallow, but this is a blog about illustration.  If you want deep, insightful, and intricate commentary about world financial policy, you'll have to go to my other blog, Dollars and Sense.  Which doesn't exist (actually, that name probably does exist but I have nothing to do with it).

I think the craft on this one is decent.  The money printer is a little off in terms of the perspective, but I don't think it's enough to sink the comic.  I think the Yellen and Draghi turned out well enough and I had a great time drawing the skin tones and shading.  Overall, I'd give this comic a B+.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Department of Lands: Culvert Ops

Here's the second set of technical illustrations for The Department of Lands.  The illustrations are part of a "Best Management Practices" manual for landowners.  This particular group will tell you all sorts of helpful information about proper culvert installation techniques...

 See how helpful that was?  Now you can finally install that culvert like you've been meaning to.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Department of Lands: The Spice of Life


I just took a brief look at the most recent posts on this blog and noticed something: The last seven posts have all been comics.  While I'm happy to share said comics and think they're interesting, I imagine you're craving a bit more variety.  The thing is, I'm always drawing something.  But I can't always share what I'm working on right away, either because the project isn't finished or it hasn't been printed or published yet or because I'm being threatened by some kind of cartel.  It's usually not that last one, but you never know.

Anyhoo, here's something new: A set of technical illustrations for the Idaho Department of Lands.  Several months ago, I was asked by the IDL to draw a series of illustrations to be included in a manual of "Best Management Practices" (a manual that illustrates official laws and guidelines for forest management techniques).

This was one of the largest projects for which I've illustrated.  The illustrations varied quite a bit in size and complexity.  The entire project spanned almost seven months.  Because there are so many illustrations, I'm going to be posting this project in multiple segments over the next month or so.

The first illustration shows the proper way to construct a ford (the point where a vehicle crosses a river or stream):

The next two illustrations are techniques for managing water and drainage around forest roads:

Cross Ditch:

And Rolling Drain Dip:

Finally, these two figures are called "Slash Filter Windrows", which are also a method of preventing soil erosion and runoff:

Like I said before, there's quite a bit of variety in the complexity of illustrations in this project.  Some of them are extremely simple.  A few of them are high on the list of the most complex illustrations I've worked on.  Pretty much all of them were fun.

I know it sounds a little odd to say that a series of technical illustrations on forest management techniques would be fun to draw, but I suppose I'm just a little odd.  I love this kind of work.  I absolutely love detail and these drawings have an intense amount of it.  I also love precision and clean, clear illustrations, all of which are prerequisites for technical work like this.

It was such a pleasure to get to work on this project.  I'm a little sorry it's over.  But there will be several more of these illustration sets in the coming weeks, though, so stay tuned.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Deflated Hopes, Comic History

Guten Morgens,

Trigger warming: This week's comic for deals with a severe beating and may be disturbing to some readers.  Particularly Brazilians.

Germany and Brazil went head to head in the World Cup this week and the results weren't pretty.  Germany annihilated their Brazilian hosts 7-1.  This defeat was particularly disappointing given Brazil's World Cup history: The last time the tournament was held in Brazil was in 1950.  Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final round and apparently they're still depressed about it.  Their hopes to redeem themselves on their home turf (they've won five times since then, which seems like it would have washed the taste of the 1950 game out of their mouths) were efficiently and mercilessly wiped out by Germany's wood chipper of a soccer team.

In memorium, I was asked by the crew at to draw a comic featuring the famous Brazilian statue (Christ the Redeemer) with the Maracana stadium in the background and Angela Merkel in the foreground.  They wanted the statue to be crying and holding the official World Cup ball.

Normally, I'm Johnny Follows Directions.  Sure, the concept stage of an illustration is for playing around, experimenting and generating ideas.  But once an idea is decided upon, I draw it as requested.  This week, however, I made a small change to the comic of my own volition.  I thought it would be funnier to draw Angela Merkel holding the ball.  And I also figured it would be funnier if she was squeezing the air out of it.  Here's the sketch:

Of course, I sent it off with the caveat that I was perfectly willing to change the comic back to the original idea if they preferred.  After all, it's my job to provide what they want.  But I've also been drawing cartoons and comics for a while.  14 years, actually.  Since I first started cartooning for my college's student newspaper in 2000.  Those were golden days.  President Taft had the country humming, Ford had just released the Model T, and Penny Farthing bicycles rolled up and down every sidewalk.

When I first started out, my comics were AWFUL.  I'd been drawing most of my life already and reading comics to boot, so I figured drawing good comics would be a cinch.  Turns out, not so much.  The drawings were terrible, the compositions were worse, the concepts stunk and the jokes were laughable.  But not in a good way.  But I kept at it and wasn't fired somehow.  At one point, I was doing six cartoons per week for three different organizations.  You're bound to see some improvement with that much work.  Eventually, the Associated Collegiate Press voted me the best college cartoonist in the country and the money never stopped flowing.  I had my award plated with platinum and I wear it around my neck like Flavor Flav.

But I was only able to hone my craft by doing literally THOUSANDS of awful cartoons.  I was going to post an example of one of my terrible cartoons, but it's too embarrassing.  Maybe I'll work up the courage on another post.  The point is that, given all that experience, I felt confident enough to make a change to the comic that would improve it slightly.  Here's the final:

They liked the change and ran it.  Personally, Merkel staring directly into the camera while she crushes the ball with one hand makes me laugh every time I look at it.  But maybe that's just me.

I think this is a good comic.  Of course, if you read any of my reflections on these comics, you'll know I don't always like the result.  Experience is hardly an inoculation against crappy cartoons.  But it helps.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Born on the 2nd of July

Howdy Pardners.

Here's the latest comic for  This post will be going up on the 6th of July, but it's a comic involving the 4th drawn on the 2nd.  Just for those of you keeping track at home.

This week's comic involves record numbers for both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S & P 500.  This week also happened to contain the 4th day of July, which is a day we celebrate here in the good old US of A.  The comic involves all of the afore-mentioned items.  I was asked by the team at to draw both graphs (showing the climb of the indexes) in the sky, red, white and blue fireworks, and Barack Obama looking on.

Here's what the sketch looked like:

The sketch doesn't really tell us much.  In fact, it doesn't seem to make sense.  But I knew the direction I wanted to go and so I wasn't too worried that it didn't look so great at this stage.  I also included the White House, figuring it would make a nice background detail.

Here's the final:

I think this comic turned out relatively well.  Having only a single character to draw, I was able to focus on his expression and shading and spend more time on the details.  All of which (I think) makes for a stronger comic.

Business and America go hand in hand.  Sometimes for good and sometimes for ill.  Calvin Coolidge said "The chief business of the American people is business."  And so it makes perfect sense to me to reflect on the state of business and finance on the 4th of July.  That's part of why I drew Barack Obama with a pensive look on his face.

I also looked up the entire quote by Coolidge and I was surprised.  I only ever hear the first part of Coolidge's quote.  But what it's excerpted from is perhaps even more interesting:

“...After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these are the moving impulses of our life. But it is only those who do not understand our people, who believe that our national life is entirely absorbed by material motives. We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism.”

Happy 4th of July.