Tag Archives: illustration

the Start of an Obsession

Remember that time I had a blog? I forgot too. Anyways, today I’m back to talk about printmaking. Last semester I took a relief printmaking class and guys I think it changed my life a little. Mostly when I think about white line vs. black line I get a little bit giddy BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT BIG NERDS DO.


This is the first print I made in this class, way back in January or something. It’s about dreaming. It’s pretty simple but it set me on the track to make more exciting things! Stay tuned.


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Men of Debatable Sanity: Round Two

Today I bring you a poster for a play, The Air Loom.  Let’s talk about the theater.


Theater is interesting in that it’s an amalgamation of every other art form. A script is a frame work for a director to build their vision on. Actors, set designers, costume designers, and everyone else involved in a production brings their personality to the table to create a living, breathing theater beast.

I was inspired to create a poster for a play because designs for plays tend to be more conceptual than say, book covers or movie posters. I think this is partly because plays have so much room for creativity in their execution. Artists are free to draw on whatever themes they’d like. Look at how six different artists have interpreted Hamlet. (Topical, am I right?)


Each poster draws from a different moment in the play. My favorite is the one on the bottom right. Remember that time I talked a lot about Hamlet’s descent into madness? This artist finds a simple, clever way to show that in two simple shapes. I was also inspired by the polish theater poster tradition. Did you even know that was a thing?


I love the heavy textures and oppressive atmosphere of these posters. And the mood suits my chosen play, The Air Loom. A little about the play– I went to see it at MadLab Theater and I was blown away. It’s loosely based on the case of the first documented paranoid schizophrenic. It follows the story of this dude named Tilly who is in a government prison for assassinating the Prime Minister. He is telling his story to Dr. H, a psychologist who has to determine of Tilly is insane or not, and by extension viable to execute. He recounts how he met a strange gang on his way home from work. And uh, they’re all a little weird. There’s Sir Archie, a swaggering cross dresser who is all bravado and violent threats. Mag the School Mistress has a thesaurus constantly in hand and references an intricate set of rules that the Gang obey. Also in the ensemble– the Gloved Woman, an overly sexual widow who is at least 2/3rds Helena Bonham Carter and Bill the King, their leader (duh). Bill has that kind of easy going charisma that turns to cruelty at the drop of a dime. The Gang is constructing a machine, the air loom, to spread “influence,” akin to mind control, with the ultimate goal of starting a war. They’ve also kidnapped a girl name Charlotte from an anonymous land and treat her as a slave. Tilly is determined to rescue her and stop the gang from causing war. As he goes about trying to do so, every move he makes plays into their scheme. Out of desperation, Tilly decides the only way he can possibly prevent war is to shoot the Prime Minister. At the end it is revealed that the Prime Minister was actually going to make an arrangement for peace, Charlotte is not in fact an innocent victim, she’s the most wanted terrorist operative in the world, and Tilly has been implicated for being involved with her and is going to be executed. Oh, and there’s been a tiny air loom hidden in the psychologist’s room THE WHOLE TIME and the country is going to war. Damn

Throughout the whole play, it’s not clear if Tilly is insane or not. Bill and his Gang are constantly on stage, and talk to him even when they’re in Dr. H’s office. His memory of the story will change at her suggestion. Is he really under the influence of the air loom or is he just off his rocker? Is the country going to war because of the air loom’s influence or because, y’know, the prime minister was assassinated? WHAT’S REAL WHAT’S NOT? This play raises questions, people. I wanted to take on the blending of truth and fiction and the subjectivity of memory in my piece.

The show used interesting visual motifs in the production. Scattered across the stage are newspapers, plastic army men, and chess pieces. And rubiks cubes kept popping up. An air loom built off of Crazy James Tilly Matthews’ designs dominates the stage. Did you read that link?


That thing. Props to the costume designer, who decked out the characters in creative, thematically appropriate outfits. As Tilly assumed different roles, he would put on a costume piece from the stage, like armor when he decides to save Charlotte, and a crown of thorns when he resolves to assassinate the Prime Minister. I thought about including a few of these motifs, but ultimately I decided to create my own imagery for the play. Here’s my thought process via thumb nails:


Okay so this is Anxious Tilly looking up at a reflected air loom. When I was thinking of ways to represent Tilly’s unreliable memory I kept coming back to the image of water. By showing the air loom in water, I am abstracting and distorting it as Tilly does. I decided to do this piece with acrylic so I could really push the texture. Here’s the first version:


I tried to make it a lot more raw than the last painting I did. A lot of it is done with a palette knife. Then I applied image transfer from newspaper on top in reference to all the word play used. I liked how this looked but it still felt very safe. And the last thing anyone ever wants art to be is safe. Plus those polish posters were still way cooler. It was time to ruin this one. I had this flashback to my high school art teacher saying “Sometimes to create you have to destroy” so destroy I did. (Finally I get it!) After gluing on a ton of newspaper I  spread mat medium mixed with paint over the whole things so the image was barely visible. I like how this also fit conceptually with the obscuring of reality the play deals with. After that i scribbled on top with some chalk and colored pencils, and badabing badaboom, finally I had a work with the raw energy and oppressive tone I wanted.


I’d like to thank Jim Azelvandre, who was generous enough to send me the script for reference. If you are in the Columbus area, I’d super recommend going to see a show at MadLab. I’ve been way impressed by everything I’ve seen there.

Thanks friends, I’ll see you at the theater.


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A noble mind is here o’erthrown

Hello friends. Meet Hamlet, prince of Denmark.


It’s a bad time for him. His dad has been murdered by his uncle, who has promptly hopped in bed with him mum. He’s not the happiest young lad. So he starts to go crazy. . . or does he? In this illustration I wanted to focus on the conceptual themes of Hamlet rather than showing a very classic scene.

hamSeriously, google Hamlet for a hot ten seconds.

Like most illustrators, I started of with a bunch of thumbnails. Central themes I’m thinking about: madness/obsession, the ghost, Hamlet’s inability to act, reoccurring motifs like botany and hearing. The image I kept coming back to was a simple portrait of Hamlet, with plenty of dark space at the top, surrounded by smoke.


Let’s talk about what this means. The smoke represents the ghost of King Hamlet. Hamlet is, in a way, haunted by the memory of his father. His fixation on revenge clouds his judgement and makes him disregard everything else, hence his ears are obscured by smoke. The dark space above his head represents the oppressiveness of Hamlet’s thoughts, as they border on madness. It’s debatable whether he actually goes crazy or not over the course of the play. He wears a crown of rosemary, plucked from Ophelia’s crazy plants monologue. Crowns are of course an allusion to royalty, and the rosemary is for remembrance.


You can see this start to come together in my final sketch. Next to it is a portrait by renaissance babe Tintoretto that I was really inspired by, and want to try to emulate once we get to the painting part. There’s one more step before I go start the actual painting. Shooting reference. Photographic reference is what enables illustrators to create believable images.


Here are my handsome head models. They had the task of holding a lamp and glaring at my camera. I also shot pictures of smoke, and taped some herbs to my roommate’s head for the crown.


The first step to creating an oil painting is the underpainting. I laid down a thin layer of a neutral brown and lifted out the highlights, adding the darks in once that had dried.


Looks like Hamlet got a weird Zorro Z stuck on his face somewhere in the process.

paintingaProgressThis is a fast forwarded version of me breathing in oil fumes and crying until it started to look like a real life painting.


Last stop: finished painting. I’m way happy with how this painting came out, and I hope you like it as well as a journey down the dark road that is the artistic process. I have no idea as to where our next destination will be, so enjoy the ride.


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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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