...and some more Christmas Card Illustrations!

It's pretty much Christmas year-round here at the studio.  There's been many a summer day where the AC was cranking along with the sounds of Bing Crosby as a new Santa or Snowman image was being created.   I say "new" lightly because let's be honest... these illustrations are about as nostalgic and traditional as they come.   Nothing "new" about them.  I like it that way though.  Just sentimental I guess.

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My "In" with Santa

I probably shouldn't be telling you this, but I'm kind of buddies with Santa Clause.  A while back, he was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to pose for some reference photos to be used for illustrations.  It was a crazy shoot that involved live rabbits, chickens, a puppy, and some very excited young children.   Santa wasn't aware of what he was walking into that evening, but being his jolly old self, he modeled like a pro.   Many thanks to all who helped.

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Christmas Market Barn-shaped Puzzle

Finally!!!!  The Christmas art that gets worked on here year-round can be posted online without fear of angry mobs running me out of town for posting out of season!  (made that mistake before!!)  Prepare ye for a slew of posts this December!!!   There's a pile of Santas, Snowmen, and Christmas cheer laying around here that has been patiently waiting for many, many months.  I figured a puzzle image of happy people looking forward to the big day would be a good place to start...

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Featured in Puzzles Catalog

Found this "Bits and Pieces" catalog amongst the junk mail the other day.   Pretty fun for me to see one of my pieces featured on the cover.  I guess they like me!  That's always a good thing in this business.   Also found a "featured artist" page in the center.   Looks like I'm that guy who does puzzle art now.   Fine by me.   I like being able to feed my family and buy new underwear.

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Baltimore Ravens/ Maryland Lottery Storyboards

A strange thing happens to me from time to time...  One of my long-standing sources of income has been drawing storyboards for television commercials.   They are usually very quick turn-around jobs and are pretty much forgotten once they leave the studio.   I'm not much of a tv watcher, but occasionally I'll sit down to catch a piece of a football game this time of year.  Last night that strange experience came up where a commercial I had never seen before came on, followed by a very weird deja-vu feeling... and then I remembered "Hey-  I drew that!"   This time it's an ad for the Maryland lottery.  Here are some of the frames below that were drawn many months ago:

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Set Cuteness to Ultimate Velocity...

So... this puzzle company, whom I'm very happy to be working with,  keeps pushing the themes to a sweeter and sweeter cute-osity level.   I don't know what's happening to me as an artist... I crossed the boundaries of coolness years ago and am now in a foreign land where kittens and ducklings are napping together.

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Swimming Lessons Puzzle Illustration

Little did you know that while you were splashing and playing this summer, somewhere nearby there were multitudes of responsible animal parents teaching their young survival skills in the wilderness.   See?  Cute puzzles are educational!  

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Puzzle illustration: "Hide and Seek"

The theme of this puzzle series is young animals playing games together.  (Awwwwwww!!)  Puzzle illustrations in this cute and somewhat realistic style have a been an ongoing thing around here for the past couple years.  At first it seemed kind of an odd direction for me as my artistic tastes are mostly in the wild in wacky realm, but after a while I found myself really enjoying making these sweet innocent images.  I'm actually really starting to love it..  Its hard to have a bad day when you're painting kittens and puppies.

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"Jungle Fun" maze for Highlights

Where's Tarzan when you need him?!!!  This was a fun little illustration for a Highlights mazes book.  The line work was done in Illustrator and then the whole thing was colored in photoshop.  

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"LIbraries Rock!" Posters and Spots

Every year I have the pleasure of creating a series of posters and spots for the Public Library system.  One of the reasons this particular job is so much fun is that I get to work in a different style every time!   This year's flavor was concocted from a combination of tattoo art influence and a bit of 60s rock album cover art.  The nice thing is that this is basically how I doodle all the time anyway!   Please take a moment to pop over to my site and check out all the styles I currently work in.  I'm still cooking with a lot of pots, which is how I like it!   I'd love to cook up something for you!

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Graphic Vector illustrations for BGE

What could be more exciting than a collection of straightforward generic-looking illustrations of heating appliances?!!  

The funny thing is...  these were really FUN to create!   It's probably important to explain why though...  First of all, when working in vector via Adobe Illustrator, I always find that the program takes my imperfect skills and magically transforms them into mathematically precise lines and shapes in a way that just puts me in awe.   I sit back and say "yeah- I did that!".  But really, the vector program did it.  Secondly, these illustrations needed to be nice-looking representations of the gadgets, without needing to be completely mechanically accurate.  If I had agreed to make these properly measured and mechanically precise, I would have most likely spent the evenings sucking my thumb and weeping.    

Each illustration is based on an isometric grid.   The process was pretty simple and less-than-scientific.   A grid was downloaded for free from the web and via the transform tools in Photoshop, I stretched and pulled my less-than-helpful low-res and pixelated pieces of photo reference until a rough layout was created.  The rough was imported into Illustrator, along with a layer with a grid.  The vector was built on top of these and voila!

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Digitally "inked" Black and White spots for Public Libraries Materials

In honor of Jake Parker's "Inktober" I'm posting a few spots from a series of 60 black and white  illustrations that were digitally created for the  recent "Build a Better World" theme for the National Library System.    I used to ink everything with... well... ink, but switched to digital a few years back.   Unlike actual ink, working digitally saves me from a few things:  an india-ink induced allergic cough, smudges from my hand, the added step of scanning in and adjusting art, and the lack of an "undo" button.  Real inking is still the "cool" way to work, but hey-  I was never very cool.  I also don't miss the ruined-drawing-rage-outs that sometimes occurred when a pen-nib decided to misbehave.

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Baltimore Ravens themed Lottery Illustration

Quick overnight spot illustration for Baltimore Ravens-themed Maryland Lottery tickets and billboards. Digitally painted in Photoshop. This was one of those fairly normal advertising agency situations where the assignment was given to me many weeks in advance but was put on "hold", and then one afternoon a frantic email shows up saying "It's a go- We need it by tomorrow morning!!!" Fortunately, it went pretty quickly and I was able to go to bed on time. Thank you internet for multiple references shots!

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Which Two Are the Same?...

Also... for the same Highlights Puzzlemania issue, this was an additional game illustrated to go along with the "differences" puzzle.   It was made for little kids, but how fast can YOU figure it out?...  

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Cover and Interior Illustration for Highlights Puzzlemania Book

So... every now and then the little kid in me gets all giddy because I get to work for one of the companies I grew up with.   Many a dentist's office visit I spent searching for hidden pictures in a Highlights magazine.  Here's a recent cover I got to create for an issue of a Highlights Puzzlemania book. The illustration also appears on the inside with a nearly identical version next to it with 20 differences to find.  Check out the pics below in case you're stuck in a dentist's office with nothing to do.

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 Find twenty differences on the next picture...

Find twenty differences on the next picture...

 Find 20 differences from the previous pic!

Find 20 differences from the previous pic!

 Here's the original sketch with cropped areas indicated for cover and interior activity pages.

Here's the original sketch with cropped areas indicated for cover and interior activity pages.

Being an Illustrator (or Two or Three)

The “experts” all say the same thing:  “Don’t confuse people with unrelated styles on your website.”  “Stick to one look or you’ll never make it as a world-renowned illustrator.  After all, it might look like you’re unprofessional… or even worse… that you’re not FAMOUS!!!”  Honestly,  if you think about it, “famous” kind of means being well-known enough to have the amazing pleasure of being locked in to the same style over and over and over and over and over and over and over…and over…”   I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of artistic future that motivates me.

 I get it though.  Their advice is actually sound and well intended.

    So, in spite of this sage advice, why did I branch off into a totally non-related “cut-paper” look for this particular job?…  Well, first of all, because I knew it would be a great fit for my client’s subject matter but furthermore it was because, for almost three decades now, the fun of branching off and actually enjoying the freedom to experiment as an artist is what’s kept my business, well, busy!   If there was a chef who was excellent at making one particularly amazing gourmet dish and was told to only make variations of that dish night after night, year after year… I’m certain they’d eventually be sick of the kitchen and want to seek more exciting employment.  So why in the world are we told that clients are too mindless to see that versatility in an illustrator is an ASSET?

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  I believe it comes down to fear.   We don’t want to mess with that “illusion” that we’re so much more “successful” than perhaps we actually are.  If you ask me, life’s way too short for that kind of nonsense.   It’s a natural game of business to create that illusion for a customer and it may be quite prudent to play that way, but I’m a firm believer that the honest approach is much more enjoyable and fulfilling.  People expect a con these days.  Honesty is a rare trait in business and perhaps the one asset, beyond any talent I may have, that has kept my work thriving over the years.

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   Sometimes an alternative illustration style is just the thing that what would fit a particular project perfectly.  I’ve had the true pleasure of working with many wonderful clients who trust my judgement on changing a style to fit a particular theme.  To all the artists and illustrators out there who have been told (with good intentions) to knock it off with the creative detours… Isn’t that what making art is all about?   Exploring, discovering, expanding, evolving, being excited, even thrilled, etc?

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   So here’s a great question to ask when approaching any job:  How can I have an utter blast solving my client’s illustration needs and delivering art that thrills them far beyond their expectations?   Sometimes you just have to ask their permission to go in a new direction.  Solve this competently, and everyone wins… and... you get to continue to play in new realms over and over and over and over again.

"Scurry Up and Read" Illustrations

Well, I’ve always said it-  Nothing encourages little kids to read more… than hamsters in sweatpants!   I used to own a hamster or two and one thing I knew for sure is that you never store books you care about in an active hamster cage… nor do you try to dress them in work-out clothes.   But hey- we’re living in the 21st century now and hamsters can do whatever the heck they want to.  Anyway, these friendly little fur-balls were illustrated for an educational company who has kept me very busy for over 15 years now.   Thanks to them, I find myself drawing lots of books and lots of animals in weird clothes.

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Kitschy Vintage Style Cocktail Tray Illustrations

This one was a gas, Daddy-O!!!  The scene was to create illustrations with a mock 1950s/60s barware vibe to be arranged and printed onto a old-style black metal cocktail tray.  A combination of many things made this one a blast!...  Whimsical character designs, mimicking an old retro look, the puzzle solving aspects of creating elements that could stand alone or in formation with each other, playing with lighting that works against a black background, and incorporating nostalgic text.   The client is a cool connoisseur of cocktail concoctions who runs a site called “Mr. Booze”.com.   I’ve done quite a bit of really fun work for him over the years- one of my favorites being the Mr. Booze logo itself.   This tray was my kind of kitsch!  Can’t wait to get my mitts on this baby!

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Mock Comic Book Cover Characters

"Holy boring content Batman!!  This info needs some Ka-ZING!!!"    A company that specializes in increasing customer's ease and happiness when dealing with computer-generated voice prompts wanted to make their services more accessible so they came up with the idea of creating super heroes and villains to represent the different aspects of their product.  Normally, the program of choice for nice vintage textures and tones would have been Photoshop but my client requested that all art be done in vector.   The problem with vector is that it can come out cold, stiff, and plastic unless you're REALLY good at it.   So, like any good super-hero-artist-want-to-be, I flew off to the internet to do some quick online tutorials, grabbed TONS of classic comic book reference, and began cranking these babies out:

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Winter Birds Puzzle

It's December here in the studio and things are hopping!   I've found my role as the family Santa has turned more into that of a late-night online ordering elf as brown paper boxes begin arriving at my doorstep on a semi-regular basis,   Today, though, one of those big brown mystery boxes arrived that wasn't another secret kid gift.  Instead, it held a pile of brand new puzzles from Bits and Pieces.  Most likely this bird scene was painted in the heat of August but finally now seems OK to post.  Take a look!:

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