Aug 2012

Born With a Tale

Virtually all of the illustration work I do these days is created digitally. Between deadlines and distribution processes it just makes sense. But I also do a lot of fine art work that is painted traditionally, ( Almost all of these non-digital paintings are done with acrylic on a hardboard surface and gravitate toward portrait and figure subjects, although I do paint some landscapes and non figurative studies.

Born With a Tale acrylic on hardboard

While you could make a case that virtually any piece of art could be used to illustrate something, Born With a Tale, is one of those fine art pieces that would seem to fit into an illustration application naturally. Partly it’s because so much of my non-illustration work still has a narrative slant.

Because I don’t want to narrow the viewer’s experience however, I try to leave a final interpretation of the image to the viewer and so don’t explain too much. I did want to cultivate a timeless quality to the painting, so there is feel of old master’s works and renaissance religious iconography. The pallet was designed to promote a warmth of antiquity as well.

The painting may seem a bit of a departure from my other fine art images in that it is more imaginative in nature. The truth is, many of my pieces feature imagined elements, so this is really not as big a stretch as some may think. Technically, the paint application is done in my usual manner, that is, a lot of glazing and implied texture. If the same methods were employed in Photoshop the number of layers in the file would be off the charts. It is very similar in that way to pieces like The Fisherman’s Wife. Unfortunately so much of the depth that glazing imparts is not as easily appreciated when displayed online or in print. But I hope to exhibit the painting in an upcoming show. I’ll post the info when it becomes available.

Working Outside the Box

As we continue to slog through this challenging economic climate I’ve heard the phrase, “step outside your comfort zone” more than once. Often the term surfaces in regard to workers who have lost jobs, many times in business sectors that have dried up, (quite possibly to never see the light of day again), and refers to the need to expand skill sets beyond what one is used to, in order to stay relevant in a changing job market.

The illustration and design fields have certainly not been immune to the changing market landscape and artists have been spreading into new territory as well. For example, I know designers who formerly were exclusive to print, that now apply their talents to website design as well. In my own case, I’ve been stretching out and becoming much more involved with fine art, (, including doing live demonstrations, and I’m currently planning my second acrylic painting workshop. Even within the boundaries of illustration, I’ve gone forward into the past and started to bring traditional methods back into my illustration work.

Recently I’ve begun creating work for a new client as well. The work involves designing and illustrating band/event posters for an entertainment venue, they book a lot of rockabilly/punk style acts, and all I can say is, it’s been a treat. A different style of art than what I have been involved with on a day to day basis for the past several years, and radically different subject matter, but that’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. And we all know it can be refreshing to shake things up from time to time.

So, I’ve been sketching characters that might fit into the rockabilly, punk and related genres. Lots of hot rods, skulls, flames, zombies, all kinds of fun to draw stuff. A few preliminary and rough idea noodlings are above. These were drawn in a loose, quick, rambling pen style. Come to think of it they look like the stuff you’d see on my book covers from primary school, although if I remember correctly those featured a lot of gun play and laser shooting aliens. (Good thing for young John, doodled violence had yet to be recognized as requiring a school psychiatrists’ visit.) Maybe I’m tapping into my inner child.

There has been some incredible artwork produced for the rock related art market over the past decades, especially during the sixties and seventies, a golden age of album cover art and trippy rock show posters. I’m reminded of the classic work of psychedelic poster giants like Rick Griffin and Stanley Mouse. Look at Mouse’s Grateful Dead skull and roses illustration or Griffin’s iconic flying eyeball pieces. They’ve reached icon status. Or the album cover art done by England’s Hipgnosis, which seemed to be imbued with various combinations of hallucinatory drugs, upper crust manners, and razor sharp wit. The influence of the work these people created is still felt today, and even if my work never makes it to that stays level - it’s a blast to create.