What you see above is my office or studio. Just about every detail is there, right down to my clothespin-headed giraffe holding an urgent note for me I will probably forget about. Front and center is my amazing Sitmatic chair. If you spend anything like as much time as I do in a chair, I absolutely recommend you get yourself one of these. I doubt I’d still be working as an illustrator without this chair. Google “Sitmatic”. These chairs aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny.
Where was I? Right. So, if I’m drawing something for you I’m probably doing it in the setting you see, and likely using my trusty old light table, which you can see right in the center. Does that mean I trace stuff? It sure does, though I’ve probably done more drawing from life than most. That light table is a proven time-saver. It also holds paper at a 45-degree angle, which is ergonomically desirable. To the right is my computer monitor and graphics tablet. The tablet is great for clean-up and corrections. I scan hand drawings into the computer on the printer-scanner you see above the light table. Then I clean and correct them on the computer. Finally, I color them on the computer too. These days, this is my most typical way of working. For one thing, it makes changes so much easier than they were in the old days. And, of course, digital files can be emailed. They also don’t take up physical space, of which I have very little.
This image began as a photograph. You can see details in the original photo that were eliminated in the drawing. You can see, for instance, my paint-bespattered floor, which need to be refinished. You might notice other unpleasant details, such as the tangle of power cords under the desk. These are examples of things that are omitted in a process of selection determined by the purpose of the drawing. Usually there’s also more creativity in the process; something needs to be invented or significantly modified to achieve a given purpose. But here the purpose was only to present a somewhat more pleasant version than reality. It’s clearer, simpler, and brighter than what you’d see if you were here. One reason I like to work in this style is that it seems to put me in a more cheerful, optimistic mood. Makes me think there might be a check in the mail box!
A drawing like this usually begins with black lines. These may be traced contours, but they are also often a kind of translation into visual short hand. If you focus on the phone to the right of my light table in the photo, for instance, and compare it to the phone in the black and white drawing, you can see that I’ve reduced the image to a few lines and simple shapes that I believe will convey the concept of “phone”. While I’m drawing the lines I’m also looking for black shapes. These shapes can form the main elements of a composition, and also simply add “weight”. This is easier to notice without the distraction of color. In the black and white drawing you can see a black shape starting in the lower right and sweeping left to the window. In the middle it’s partially interrupted by the compact shape of the chair which weights the whole drawing. In theory, the viewer is drawn in and offered a seat. This doesn’t work for everybody, but, at a minimum the drawing is better for simply having some sort of organizing principle in the composition. In any case I generally like to have some large black shapes in a drawing, and there’s a reason for them, at least in my own mind.
In other parts of this website, in The Gallery and Praise for My Work, you can see that I also work in other styles. But what virtually all my work has in common is an emphasis on drawing rather than painting. That’s because my purpose is always to communicate, and painting is not generally an efficient way to do that. In my own mind this is one of the things that make me an illustrator rather than an artist. Of course, there are illustrators who like to paint. And sometimes there are even clients happy to pay for their art. So this is something I might change my mind about. For now, I believe what I’m offering is a sensible choice, especially because of the ease with which changes can be made. Only occasionally do I get to create what I want; mostly I need to create what you, the client, want. That is actually the main thing that defines an illustrator, rather than an artist. We all know what an imperfect process human communication can be. So I work in a method and medium that can be easily modified. And time is money, so this makes my work more affordable.
I’ve often been asked Why not just use a photograph? Here’s one answer. I asked a client to take the photo on the left, describing how to include all the elements needed. I cropped and re-framed the image, then proceeded to selectively simplify the needed elements while discarding those not needed. This selective simplification is mainly what saves a viewer time and effort in understanding the intended message or content. Also, the illustrations will have a more consistent look or style, as well as being easier to modify, than most photographs. Have you figured out what the above images were meant to communicate? Which does it better? Quicker?
I haven’t said anything about cartoons, but perhaps you’ve already recognized the style I’m using from your Sunday funnies page. Yes, it is a bit retro, and I know fewer and fewer people subscribe to newspapers these days. But I find it both versatile and time-efficient, and, well, I like working in it.