Friday, June 27, 2008

A boy & his dog

Like a lot of kids who grew up to become illustrators I liked to draw cartoon characters and superheroes. Over the years I've worked with scores of licensed characters and properties in the toy business, and my love of character and production design started getting me projects where I'd be asked to come up with original character designs for toys at Mattel, Hasbro, and Fisher Price.

Some of that work will be covered in future posts.
These sketches are the result of an exercise I came up with for myself. One reason was for the experience, but also should any director or design manager ask to see some original character work.

The idea was to explore a range of looks for simply "a boy and his dog". The only restriction I gave myself was that the characters must be capable of being sculpted (no 'floating' elements like eyebrows). Nor could it be too graphic-based (Computer Generated, expressively 'inky' or 'washy', etc.)

I tried to cover a broad range of looks, bearing in mind the requirement of some visual chemistry between the 2 characters. Part of the challenge (and great fun) was playing with different ways the 2 could widely differ, but still complement each other.

Here's what I came up with;


I've always thought these sorts of personal side projects are vital for an artist or illustrator who is out there trying to make a living. They're essentially self-directed projects that work certain muscles and, over time, bring a lot of range and diversity to what you can show an art director.

I've been lucky enough to get work doing other production design for film and video games, having contributed vehicle designs to the 1999 film
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Editorial years

When I graduated from college in 1985 I hit the private sector as an aspiring illustrator. It seemed that the coolest thing to get into was editorial and publishing work, since the other alternatives suggested to the students were Advertising, children's books, or medical and technical illustrators (for visual reference).

I put a portfolio of work together and hawked around the magazine and periodical business for about 7 years.
During that time I worked regularly for a variety of publications like Crain's Business, Outside, Playboy, National Lampoon, Student Lawyer, The Atlantic Monthly.
I really enjoyed doing this kind of work, ..but the assignments were inconsistent, and it never paid well enough to cover all the rent. During this time I supported myself by working at an advertising agency, ..which, after 5 years, was more than enough. I had my own personal work to nourish me, and once I got into the toy business I was so busy that I stopped pursuing editorial work altogether.

All of my editorial work was done before the advent of Mac and Phototshop.
I worked with gouache wet media and colored pencil, developing a 'resist' technique that gave a textural and atmospheric feel that I liked.

These are unretouched.

..this Escher-esque piece inspired one art director to suggest the following, for an article on the acceptance of women CEOs in the corporate world;

..some other spot illustrations;

Over the years, a number of art directors have suggested that I pursue illustrating for children's books.

I had a nice working relationship with Playboy Magazine, and they even called me to do a few 2 page illustrations on occasion. This is one of several spots I did for them sometime in the early 1990s;

This is an illustration for the cover of a 1994 issue of Student Lawyer magazine;

Friday, June 13, 2008

Monster Sports cards

In 2005 I was approached by Shelcore to create illustrations for a line of handheld sports games. The games themselves were themed to 5 different sports, and the characters representing them would be these crazy looking monsters. The handheld games and characters already existed. My part would be generating collector sports cards for each character. a Topps baseball card replete with name, stats, and other invented details. The parameters? An 'action shot' of each monster 'making their moves'. The print size of these illustration would only be the standard 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" , but I did them at 8" x 10" for detail. I went for exaggerated perspectives.
The 'Big Daddy Roth' feel of these characters lent itself to that approach, so it worked out pretty well.

The approved pencil drawings were rendered in Photoshop.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Monopoly 70th anniversary edition

In 2003 I was approached by one of the lead designers at Hasbro, asking me if I'd be available to work on pieces for an upcoming 70th anniversary edition of Monopoly.

"Of course I'm available!"

The more details they gave me, the more excited I became. Aside from fact that it was a nice high-end item, the 70th anniversary edition would have a decidedly Art Deco look, very reminiscent of the late 20s - early 1930s. Influences of Van Alen's Chrysler building, or Sullivan's work here in Chicago.

.. did I mention that it was the Monopoly?
How did this fall into my hands?

I was more excited than daunted. I wasn't going to be designing the entire game, only the tokens, but I was still grateful. How many generations grew up with those little guys, fighting over who got to be the "scotty" or the "racecar", or the "boot".

The classic tokens were, of course;
the boat, the boot, the iron, the thimble, the horse, the scotty dog, the wheelbarrow, the cannon, the race car, and the top hat. Also a more recently added piece; the money bag.

This is what they look like in the classic version;

I was asked to redesign them to suit the aesthetic direction of the new version.
Well, I had already been a student and appreciator of Art Nouveau, Deco, and Bauhaus since college.
I started by looking through my own reference books for feel, then searched online keywording specific objects and dates. That helped with things like trains, cars, and footwear. Items like the thimble, the top hat, the iron, ..these things were always pretty simple and nondescript. I had to re-design them to look authentically Art Deco. As a consequence, influences of Joseff Hoffmann, Le Corbusier, Erte, Van Alen, and even old Busby Berkeley movies would find their way into this project.

I initially submitted 2 designs for each token;

Of course I loved working on the Scotty. I liked the fez.


The horse couldn't have a cowboy. Too unrefined. I went equestrian with the first.
The 2nd design was meant to be more sculptural and stylized, like an Erte.


The vehicles were fun to work on.
The directors at Hasbro encouraged a departure from the classic 'midget racer' favoring something more urban and elegant. With few exceptions, cars in the early 30s were still pretty boxy looking. Art Deco styling wasn't really integrated into auto design until the '36 Cord. The classic Mercedes Benz limo was the 'historically accurate' pass. The stylized '36 Cord was the one they chose.


The 'choo-choo train' had to go. It was too Civil War era. I knew where to go right away. To the gleaming stainless steel bullet trains.


The boot would be changing to an evening wear shoe. One version would be bent up, as if in mid-step.


Hand irons were still pretty primitive in 1930. Most of them were still literally blocks of iron with handles stuck on. You would heat them up on the stove top. They looked really clunky and utilitarian until the 1940s. I had to imagine what an old Art Deco iron might look like.

Decorative thimbles were almost always Victorian. Filigree and flowers.
These deco designs offered both bold and simple options.


Anything can have style, given a little imagination. These are variations on the kind of garden wheelbarrow most people owned back then.


The best approach for the cannon was to go for something decorative looking, like a ceremonial cannon, ..or, in this case, a circus cannon. How perfect.

The boat was tricky. It couldn't be decided if it would be best to go with an old ocean liner, or a classic yacht. I did a couple of ocean liners, which served okay, but I found some photos of some old wooden cigarette racing boats that were stunning. They liked them much better.

..Anyway, designs for the money bag and top hat followed accordingly, and everything went over so well they then asked me if I was interested in designing the
Houses and Hotels.

"Of course I'm interested!"