Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lunch with James Yang

I'm picturing a tall, skinny high school student visiting his dad at the Conoco Chemicals plant in his hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma and falling in love with a series of watercolor paintings by Jean-Michel Folon hanging on the wall in the conference room. The impact of those watercolors, and the fact that he was told that the artist was paid $5,000 per painting more than encouraged this young kid to pursue illustration as a career. That young kid was James Yang, the Folon paintings he saw were conceived by yours truly for a corporate ad campaign for Conoco. Small world isn't it. But unless the paintings were on tour, he actually saw facsimile prints we did here in New York that were framed and sent out to Conoco's customers, the actual paintings hung in the headquarters in Houston. And Folon not only got $5000 for each of the four paintings to use in the campaign, he got an additional $3000 per for the actual paintings. Folon passed away in 2005.

It is hard to picture anyone from small town America, especially in the midst of conservative Oklahoma being able to even see a Folon print much less a painting. It's even harder to imagine that someone from a small town could rise to such prominence in the illustration field as James has done. I've been to Ponca City a number of times working on projects, and I'm sure I even met his dad--who had over 200 patents to his name-- in the R&D lab but we wouldn't want to miss that last plane home as there definitely wasn't much to do there. But thanks to it being a company town they did recruit some of the better teachers including one art teacher, abstract painter-type who had a great influence on James and his art, including guiding him towards attending VCU with its excellent illustration program.

Following graduation James headed to DC, deep in the Watergate and post-Watergate era, his journalistic bent was well satiated by the journey as well as reaping his rewards as an illustrator working for The Washington Post. Talking to James you're constantly intrigued by the serendipity of his life, the story of how he met his wife in a bagel shop had me in stitches and the fact of being in the right place at the right time echoes throughout his life's story. And it seems only good things have happened.

You quickly learn that James isn't chained to his desk or computer, he's an avid golfer, takes yoga, plays soccer and of course, there's that weekly poker game. Asked if he's always been funny like the class clown, he demurs that he could make people laugh but it wasn't on purpose. I personally think he could take his act on the road and make it as a stand up comedian--he's just naturally funny.

For this Oklahoma-bred guy, we laid out our best homemade Tex-Mex spread naturally starting with made-from-scratch fresh lime margaritas, followed by shredded chicken and three-cheese enchiladas with salsa verde, fresh guacamole and red beans seasoned with pico de gallo; dessert was bread pudding Mexican-style. The one thing that was missing was the typical coffee con leche after the meal, and it was sorely missed later in the day when everything seemed to go into slow-motion. James lives around the park from the studio, it was an uphill climb but he assured us in his email that "the uphill walk home gave him buns of steel."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Student Week

Last week was student week, we had three groups of students visit us here at the studio. The first group was from Missouri State University, Sara Gorski brought her fellow students for a roundtable discussion about the present state of illustration and I shared what I've found to be three secrets for success based on my observations of successful illustrators. Pretty much the same three-hour talk was given to two groups from the University of Brighton, located south of London, Brighton is a real hotbed of illustration in the UK unfortunately we didn't get to visit there on last year's trip. Phil Taylor rounded up the students for their trip to New York.

I was impressed by the genuine interest and intelligent questions from all the groups and received a lovely note from Ms. Gorski that read in part, "Everyone agreed that you gave some of the most helpful, straightforward advice and criticism of any one person we visited. We really appreciate the time you took to meet with us, and hope to keep in touch." Missouri State has been a huge supporter of 3x3, one of their professors has 3x3 as required reading, so we log in quite a few subscriptions every semester from them. Thanks for the support.

And it's always great to meet the next generation of illustrators and designers.

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3x3 International Children's Show

We're ready to accept entries into this year's 3x3 International Children's Show. Expanded last year to include not only children's books but also young adults, book covers, educational, editorial and unpublished children's books, the competition is open to all illustrators, art directors, editors. authors and publishers. Entries must have been produced during the calendar year 2009 but do not necessarily have to have been published last year.

Judges for this year's show include publisher Armin Abmeier, Publisher, Die Tollen Hefte, Germany; Jan Gerardi, art director, Random House; Marijka Kostiw, art director, Scholastic Book Group; Elizabeth Parisi, art director, Scholastic Books and Reka Simonsen, senior editor, Henry Holt & Co. as well as illustrators Carin Berger, André Letria, Portugal and Jessica Romberg, Sweden.

Full details are available online and you may enter either digitally or with the actual book. Deadline is April 16, 2010, no extensions.

Image from a book illustrated by Michael H. Slack.

Lunch with Ai Tatebayashi

I'm remiss in not writing about the wonderful lunch we had recently with Ai Tatebayashi. The parallels with her life and Yuko Shimizu's are quite interesting. Naturally they're both Japanese, educated in Japan—hers was a French Literature major—they both entered the advertising, marketing and public relations industry, stayed awhile and both ended up in New York going to SVA to start a second career. Both cruised through the undergrad program in two years, both went on to the MFA program and graduated. Both have enjoyed success as an illustrator.

Asked about artistic influences at home, while she says she always enjoyed drawing she had no immediate plans to become an illustrator. While Yuko's mother was a seamstress, Ai's was into arts and crafts in a big way, you can see the mothers' influence in both their work.

There's a wonderful whimsy to Ai's work, high-key imagery sparkles on the page whether it's a fashion or business subject, her unique style entices the reader into the story. Bravo!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

For What It's Worth No. 15

Respect. It's something I think is missing from both art directors for illustrators and in too many cases illustrators for art directors and for the life of me I can't understand why. The very title of art director should mean, and has meant in the past, someone who is engaged in visual communication. "Art" should mean they understand and appreciate art; "director" should mean they are experienced in giving guidance to those they commission. But here lately, and I really mean the last fifteen to twenty years that's just not the case. I think it boils down to either little or no respect. Either from art directors or from illustrators. It was not always the case, there used to be a mutual respect for those in the visual arts. But now I see illustrators totally frustrated by art directors to the point of almost irreconcilable differences --this marriage is on the rocks for sure. Not that it's always the case but my feeling is that illustrators have lost any empathy for art directors so let me try to give you a typical day in the life of an art director.

First of all they aren't just sitting around and they aren't spending a lot of their time looking for or at illustration. They have multiple meetings to go to, creative briefs to digest, account executives or editors to deal with, client meetings, presentations, concept development and more meetings; their mail could stack a foot high on any given day, their email mailbox is full, they're so busy you may wonder how they get any work done at all. It is a highly charged creative environment where their creative talent is tested and many times resisted by the powers that be. They may have a wonderful idea but it can be, and most times is, shot down by any number of people during the approval process. Getting a great idea through this process is incredibly difficult which is why you see so many poor ideas out there. On top of that as an art director these days you have to go out on a limb to even recommend illustration, so believe me they have been driven to select you as an illustrator by the desire to use illustration. Unfortunately it is a rarity, when you consider in the US alone there are over 7,000 art directors and only 1,500 are on the editorial side, illustration just isn't being used enough. So when they make that call, and yes it may be at 5:30 on a Friday, they are taking a calculated risk to use illustration, and another one to use you especially if you're someone they haven't used before. From an art director's standpoint it is always easier to recommend photography, it's easier to visualize for any non-art types, there's less to change, less to go wrong. With an illustration, an art director is taking a gamble, and if he or she is any good they're letting you solve the problem--how well you solve the problem has a great impact on them, their project and their career. Sometimes this ends up with a lot of second-guessing on their part--that usually means they're just nervous about what they're going to get. It’s a trust issue.

There are a lot of grips about ADs waiting to the last minute to give out assignments when there's very little time to do the job. Many times this is just a result of the approval process, an art director must first get the project, do the concept, the layout, present it, get it approved and then call you once the project is finally approved. This can take days, sometimes weeks and even a month or two, depending on how many layers there are at the firm. Sometimes it’s the client who has sat on the project, or they’re away on vacation, or they’re having trouble selling the idea to their boss. Any number of obstacles can cause a project to be delayed. Believe me at our agency it was not unheard of for a client to call at 5:30 on a Friday and want concepts done by Monday. Good clients know better but even they have rush deadlines every once in awhile. We pitched a hospital to do their recruitment advertising and found their schedule was to wait until 2:30 on Friday to begin the ad process for a Sunday placement that was due at 5:30--this would give us about 3 hours to do all the work necessary—layout, copy, visual--on any number of ads for that week. We said, politely, no way. We told them they had to have their ad request to us by Wednesday, we'd have the concept to them by Thursday and the ad would go to the papers on Friday at 5:30. We successfully moved three hours to three days, it just took a bit of explanation but they understood that it was in their best interest to follow our advice. Funny thing was their internal department had made a similar request and it had been shot down. Sometimes it takes an outside influence to change things on the inside. Illustrators can be that outside influence.

But please remember you are a freelancer, yours is not a 9-to-5, M-F existence, you are on-call 24/7. That’s the life of a freelancer. You have customers to please and you're working on their timetable, not yours. Now you don't have to accept the jobs at 5:30 on a Friday but someone will. You can tell your best customers that you will only accept rush jobs with a certain lead time, make it clear up front to any art director and you may find they'll work with you. Wait til the job is at hand and just don't count on it. As a suggestion, tell them you have another rush assignment this weekend and ask if there’s anyway they can move the deadline.

Another common frustration is when a client gave us a drop-dead deadline, we met the deadline by working overtime and then they'd always have time to make changes. It's just how it is. The client is always padding the due date, the agency pads theirs internally and then for outside vendors. Keep in mind the difference between using photography and illustration. With photography you may need some retouching after the piece comes to you but with illustration you don't know what you're getting until you get it. What if the heads not right, the background detail they thought would be there isn't, they have no where to run except back to you for a fix. They can't call a retoucher or do it on the fly; you're the only one they can turn to. So they’re going to pad the deadline.

I'm convinced if illustrators did a better job of building bridges with art directors there would be less resistance to using illustration and much more work for illustrators. Gaining respect is a two-way street; if we try walking in each other’s shoes every once in awhile we may find we’re more alike than different.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Winners Again


We just got word from Applied Arts Magazine that two of our covers for 3x3 are winners in the 2010 Applied Arts Photography & Illustration annual coming out in May. This makes the third time this year that the cover by Nick Dewar has been honored and the Applied Arts judges also selected Krister Flodin's cover for Issue 12.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Strand Totebag Design Contest

The Strand Book Store has partnered with the School of Visual Arts, TOON Books, Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics Books to host a tote bag design contest.

Beginning March 1, 2010, artists from around the world are invited to submit original illustrations featuring the Strand Book Store.

Contest Dates
March 1-March 31, 2010

Design Requirements
The illustration must represent the Strand Book Store.
The illustration must include the artist's signature, "Strand Book Store NYC" and "" or a representation of the Strand logo.
Size of Illustration: Artwork must be no larger than 11"w x 10"h.
Line Weight: Use a minimum of a 2 pt. rule.
Halftones: Must be at a 40 line screen or less, with percentages no less than 20% or greater than 60%.
No Trapping: If colors come in contact with each other they CAN NOT overlap.
Typestyles: Should be no smaller than 20 pt. on 15 oz. fabric with a minimum of 2 pt. rule. Do not use reverse type smaller than 22 pt. with a minimum line rule of 3 pt. Avoid serif typefaces! Their detail tends to get lost in the canvas.
Contest is open to all, aged 18 and above. The Contest is void where prohibited.

Françoise Mouly, Art Editor of The New Yorker & Editorial Director of TOON Books
Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize winning comic artist
Steven Heller, co-chair MFA Designer as Author Program, School of Visual Arts
R. Sikoryak, creator of the book, Masterpiece Comics
Adrian Tomine, author of the bestselling book, Shortcomings

Friday, March 5, 2010

Barbara Nessim: Chronicles of Beauty

There was a reception for Chronicles of Beauty-- Barbara Nessim's new photo-collage work last night at the Conde Nast Building, 4 Times Square. On view were a wonderful assortment of recent work which included a series of digital prints on aluminum as well as a mock up for a 28-foot high image that will be going up in the new Kimpton Hotel in Chelsea.

If you get a chance drop by, the work is in the lobby til March 25th.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Congratulations to Milton Glaser

Milton Glaser received the 2009 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama last Thursday (the first time for a graphic designer). He was one of twelve to receive the honor for their outstanding achievements and support of the arts. The medals were presented by the president and Mrs. Michele Obama in an East Room ceremony at the White House.

In presenting the award President Obama said, "The 2009 National Medal of Arts to Milton Glaser, for a lifetime devoted to improving the way people communicate through innovation in graphic design, and for memorable visual artifacts that challenge contemporary artists and delight all Americans."

The National Medal of Arts is a White House initiative managed by the National Endowment for the Arts. Each year, the NEA organizes and oversees the National Medal of Arts nomination process and notifies the artists of their selection to receive a medal, the nation’s highest honor for artistic excellence.

"These individuals and organizations show us how many ways art works every day. They represent the breadth and depth of American architecture, design, film, music, performance, theatre, and visual art, " said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. "This lifetime honor recognizes their exceptional contributions, and I join the President and the country in saluting them."

In addition to Glaser the recipients include Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood, Maya Lin, Rita Moreno, Jessye Norman, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Frank Stella, Michael Tilson Thomas, and John Williams. As Steve Heller said in his post: "Sadly Dylan could not attend, thus making the inevitable photo-op between the poster maker and the poster subject impossible."

Click here to see the video of the presentation.