Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I was young. I needed the money.

I wasn't all that young, come to think of it.

And it might not have been that much money.

These are two pieces commissioned for completely different stories in Cricket Magazine, in 2004 and 2005 respectively. I was kind of fond of them at the time, and the stories were enjoyable to work on.

The second one came about as a bit of an oddity. A different illustrator had been commissioned to illustrate parts 1, 2 and 3 of a serialized fantasy piece, and for some reason didn't complete the fourth chapter. I was called on to finish out the series, staying as close as possible to the original characterizations, one of whom I now see looks serendipitously like the girl in the pickup truck from 2004.

Apparently this poor young actress is floating about in the ether, picking up whatever gigs she can. She's probably pushing 30, still taking on teen angst roles and toothpaste ads, waiting for her big break. I'm now wondering if I've used her elsewhere.

Maybe I made her the pregnant daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper.

Or maybe I sketched her out as an emotionally scarred college freshman, raised in a trailer park and plagued by generalized anxiety and a fear of canines? I'll check my flat file, but I'd bet that was her.

I hope she's doing okay. I've been mostly dealing in juvenile fiction now, picture books and educational bread-and-butter stuff. If she can hang on a little longer, just spend one more year eating Ramen and tending bar in dimly lit Tiki lounges, maybe I can start casting her in some of the Mom roles that crop up.

Yeah, Mom roles. No big break on the horizon, no center stage mass market appeal—still fighting over contracts and escalation clauses, all the while knowing she can't just walk out of any negotiation. But still, something to keep the landlords and meter readers at bay. Maybe buy a new coffee maker, maybe some furniture that doesn't fold up or inflate.

I just hope she can hang out that long.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Flat File Friday.

Murder Lane, Spring. Watercolor on paper, 7.5 x 11.
Monolith. Watercolor on paper, 11x7.5.

Two watercolors, from the southern wilds of New Jersey and the Northernmost counties of New York, respectively. Had to blow some dust off before scanning these fellers.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Office lovin': an editorial assignment.

Let me preface this.

It's not uncommon for illustrators to cringe when enlisted by a client who already has a concept. The fear is that said concept will not hold an incredible amount of aesthetic appeal or involve inspiring imagery, and may be altogether toothless. In defense of cringing illustrators everywhre, this in not infrequently true.

Often, these ideas come from our more corporate clients, or at least clients whose clients live in a corporate culture. It's a tricky working dynamic to begin with, since as a whole, we illustrator types don't really cohabit that world.

This recent job, for instance, was completed for HR Magazine, for an article about Human Resources departments requiring romantically involved coworkers to sign contracts with regard to their relationships, pledging to indemnify their employer should the relationship sour. I haven't actually been in a human resources office since high school, when applying for a summer job at a local nursing home. The phrase "human resources" even creeps me out a little; the thought of an employer referring to personnel by their species–under the category of "resources," like oil, or livestock, or semolina wheat–seems to me one step up from "cannon fodder."

I also didn't get to read the article. I still don't know if the "love contract" was being purported as a good idea, a bad idea, or a complex issue pitting one entity's need for professional productivity against the devaluation of human emotion and the intrinsic need for companionship, love and sex. All I got was a blurry stock photo of three people in business casual dress sitting across a table from each other, smiling rather innocuous stock photo smiles, and a bit of instruction as to who would be who in my picture and what they were doing.

So first off...

I decided the couple involved was deeply, naively, in love. And that, like exchanging class rings, meeting the parents, moving in together and signing a marriage license, signing a corporate "love contract" was another right of passage in our culture's constantly evolving expectations of normal romantic entanglement and perhaps even generate a heartfelt "awww" from onlookers.

Back to those cringing illustrators.

Personally, I kind of like those jobs the rest of my ilk dread...not that there haven't been some real clunkers. But I like working with people. I do enjoy trying to find that little bit of art that can wiggle in within small parameters. And I like sharing credit if something works, or maybe I like not being solely responsible if it doesn't. (I hadn't considered that last on before. I do hope I'm not that shallow, but I'll gladly spare myself the self-examination.) I enjoy having to consider my audience, and making things "good" examples of what they are...like, say, a painting of a human resources desk and some good old fashioned office love.

The relativism of it all appeals to my moderate temperament and populist world view, I reckon. When my artsy elitism gets out of check, I can suddenly feel small and outnumbered in the world at large. This could be because I've never been the type to take off my shoe, pound it on a lectern, and expound red-faced with flying expectoration and vigor. I'm not without passions, but I usually make a much better devil's advocate that ideologue.

That was a long preface. Anyway, above is my sketch for the illustration, followed by the oil painting, all of which fell under a turnaround of just under a week.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Review in the New York Times...

...for my new book, a collaboration with writer Lester Laminack, Snow Day!

And I dare say, they didn't hate it. I personally do love the New York Times. I once received a review there, however, that left me feeling as though our relationship was less than mutual. Having not been reviewed by them several other times, I consoled myself with the knowledge that they'd once deemed a book of mine important enough to hate, which is still a privilege enjoyed or wept over by precious few. And now, by golly, another review, and subtly positive!

My sincere tongue-removed-completely-from-my-cheek-I-swear-it thanks to Ms. Julie Just for penning said review. It's only fair to note as well that the same Ms. Just wrote a very nice review of my book with Louise Borden, "The Last Day of School" in 2006, which was also printed in the New York Times.


January 13, 2008

Written by Lester L. Laminack. Illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Peachtree. $16.95. (Ages 4 to 8)

“So much snow, even the buses can’t go. No — so much snow even the teachers can’t go.” That pretty much sums up the appeal of a cheerful tribute to muffled, white, unexpected days off, with pictures of blue-white, gleaming snow piling up to the sill as a grave-looking forecaster on TV raises hopes for a big storm. All the excited visions of children making snow angels and speeding down a sledding hill are a diversionary trick: at the end we find out who really wanted the snow day.

-Julie Just

Monday, January 7, 2008


Cockroach and Grasshopper were playing a round of beach volleyball over the net Spider had made, but Cockroach became overzealous and spiked the ball right into his friend's green noggin. Grasshopper fell over backward. Cockroach was filled with remorse. Spider tried not to look too hungry, but it was really hard.

My sons and I have been painting at the dining room table; bugs mostly, with the occasional dragon thrown in. This was my contribution. Theirs are likely much cooler, so I'll be posting them a little later.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Morning hair.

Sometimes I wake up
with superhero hair.
I think maybe,
I could be Wolverine,
rugged and fierce,
temperamental yet
dangerously charming.
And then I remember
that I can't grow sideburns.
And superheros
have good scruff.
Except maybe Storm
and Wonderwoman
(though she's getting up there in years
and I wouldn't rule it out).
But Wolverine has formidable,
spiky muttonchops,
not patches of a poorly mowed lawn.
So I sigh.
I wash my hair
and finally shave.
No superheros today.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The age of mammals.

With the words


embossed upon his plastic loins,
the cheap T-rex comes apart.

The mammoth, however, lives on.