Calamity Jane: White Devil of Yellowstone


Meet Calamity Jane, wild woman of the western frontier. She dressed like a man, drank like a fish, and told tales so bold they’d strip the paint off your walls. Born Martha Jane Canary, she was dubbed Calamity by Captain Egan when they were ambushed returning to their post after subduing an uprising of Native Americans. Riding in advance she heard a gun shot and turned around to see the Captain had been shot. She galloped back quick enough to catch him as he fell from the saddle, slung him onto her horse and brought him back safely to the fort. While he was recovering, he said to her “I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.” Or so she claims.

I got to know this dame when I was asked to illustrate a tall tale. I started researching the larger than life characters the populated the western frontier in the late 1800’s. There are the big ones– Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, Davey Crocket, the like, but I found myself drawn to this group of characters who hung around Deadwood, South Dakota. You know I can never pass up an opportunity to draw a badass lady, and only Wild Bill Hickok told bigger lies, so Calamity Jane it was.

Now this assignment is for a book cover, so naturally I turned to pulps and dime novels for inspiration. They’re tacky, fun, and even period appropriate. There’s no way to go wrong here.


Check it. I did some thumbnails, like you do, imagining various scenes that Calamity Jane might have swept though and caused chaos. She’s really hard to picture outside of a bar. Oh, I might have also drawn a butt. . .


After about 300 more of these, I narrowed it down to three ideas:


From left to right we’ve got: The shooting of Wild Bill Hikock in Deadwood’s No 6 Saloon– Rumor has it C Jane (Wild Bill’s self proclaimed lover) showed up at his murderer’s house with nothing but a butchers knife, being so angry she forgot her guns at home. Or so she says. Next, C Jane sharp shooting– did I mention she could outshoot anyone worth their salt? And last her telling this story at a saloon. Do you like my campy rific pulp headlines? I hope so! Now there comes a time in every young artist’s life when they’ve gotta make a decision. In this case we’re gonna choose number three. It captures Calamity Jane’s spirit best. She’s maybe not doing all that much but she’s telling one hell of a story. On to layouts and reference:


Reference is serious business. In order to find an appropriate hat, I dragged my roommate on a quest for the costume closet our school supposedly has, but knew what building it had ended up in since the illustration department move of last year. Three buildings later, we’ve enlisted a security guard to get us through locked doors and tell us ghost stories on hat quest 2013. Point is, find a good hat to put on your roommate, point a desk light at her, tell her to get mad, and you’ve got the start of a good illustration. Many hours of painting later BOOM finished art.


It’s the first acrylic painting I’d done seriously in a while, and I think it shows, but I’m having way too much fun courting Calamity to care.

Goodnight cats and kittens, I expect to see you next in 17th century Denmark.


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the Devil’s Ball

Guys I’ve done it. I’ve finally made a thing. For a BAND! The Coward Flowers are a buncha boys makin loud pop songs out in Boston. Check ’em out.


I had a blast and a half making this thang. When the opportunity came up to make a poster, I decided to style it after art nouveau. Now, every art school kid and their mom is in love with art nouveau, and I can’t say I’m an exception. A little bit of background– at the turn of the century, the poster as a form of advertising was rising to prominence. Advances in printing meant more and more publications were being produced. Popular magazines like Harper’s and Atlantic Monthly needed a way to attract more readers than the competition. Artists began to adopt a more graphic style to suit this new need for advertising. Contrary to what the most of the world would have you believe, there were more artists involved in this movement than Alphonse Mucha. He’s a wonderful artist but it gets a bit tired, seeing his work and imitations of his style everywhere, and hardly a glimpse of other artists of the time. If you’re lucky you might catch a Toulouse Lautrec (Chat Noir anyone?) but that’s about it.

Illustrators Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley swept away the art nouveau ennui that had been plaguing me. Clarke technically came to the scene too late to be a part of the Art Nouveau movement, but I’ll count him anyways because his style fits in so well. Both worked primarily in black and white, relying on pattern rather than color to distinguish forms in their illustrations. Feast your eyes, Clarke on the left, Beardsley on the right.


Taking cues from their style, I incorporated solid blacks and whites, patterns, and the broken frame and sweeping curves that were so common in art nouveau. The devil features prominently, since it is a halloween show, after all. Here’s a glimpse at some sketches I did to generate ideas and work out the composition:


Clearly things changed along the way. This is me working on it, surrounded by the images I was into. Sooo art school.

Photo on 2013-09-29 at 19.59

The final line art and painting. I used india ink, random pens, and gauche for the final painting. Plus tears, for the flower pattern on the dress.


I hope you enjoyed seeing all the steps that lead up to a finished illustration! If you are based in the Boston area, go see this show, it’s guaranteed to be at least 95% fun. Thats it for this weeks learning corner, kids. Next stop: the old west.


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the Corinthian

Ladies and gents, meet Neil Gaiman’s Corinthian. Ain’t he cute?


This is the culmination of my September long obsession with drawing this dude. Doodles were starting to not be enough so in the spirit of being back in art school I went illustration crazy. I started with laying a light grey wash, using Bill’s patented feed the bead technique. It turned out that this piece of illustration board was defective and the bottom came out all mottled, sabotaging my stab at a BFW (Big Flat Wash). We call this a happy accident, because that part is pavement and it needed to be textured anyways! The darks we built up with more washes, and the highlights added in with white gouache. To add more texture and to define small areas I drew over it with a pencil. Tada! For reference, I used this pic of a pal:


Don’t worry not all dreams come true.

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The Wonderful World of Lego

This is becoming a reoccurring theme, isn’t it.


This illustration, along with lego New York, was done for a project that focused on creating a new ad campaign for a toy. My group decided to rebrand lego, duh.  Initially we wanted to push the creativity aspect of legos– our idea was roughly “build your world out of legos.”  (That slogan probs needed some work.) That angle wasn’t working so well so we switched tracks to “Back to Basics.” Nostalgia is an irrational and powerful force in the hearts of man, and it is one that SELLS.


We wanted parents who remembered having this in the days of their youth to fondly look back on their memories of playing with legos and want to create a similar experience for their kids. The image above is from the 60’s, but I was drawn to the style of earlier 50’s ads. You know the ones. Although parents buying toys for their kids now (probably) didn’t didn’t live through this era, 50’s imagery screams nostalgia like nothin’ else.

50s ad

As I set off on my path of ultimate camp, it was important for me to avoided gendered advertising. Lego drew a lot of flack for their recent lego friends line. In my illustrations, I showed girls and boys interacting with legos in the same way. Here’s one of the finished package designs:


Props to Josh Waltz for making it looks so rad.

If you’re a dork like me and want to learn a little more about lego’s advertising history, David Pickett’s done some good writing on the subject. Check it out.

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Peter Lorre


I come to the stage with a tale of woe– of suffering, faith, and indolent pride.

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M. Stew


Martha’s a modern day hero.

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