Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Badlands Covers

I have forgotten most of the story around the top illustration with the vultures, something about Nike. I do remember it being somewhat of a big deal with Willamette Week (or was that just me?). The art director, Katherine Topaz, threw all her trust in me for an illustration that would be both cover and a two page interior illustration. Later, this was the piece that High Country News saw and liked enough to have Kat get me to do a cover for them. One of the few times my work has been a reference for itself. Kind of fun though, sister illustrations.

With the cover for High Country News I again worked with with Katherine Topaz. She's one of my very favorite art directors and a swell designer. I was fortunate enough to work with her through-out most of her art directorial tenure at Willamette Week. Kat is a blast to work with, lots of fun and a risk taker willing to experiment. She also allows illustrators to have input into the overall design and end use of the illustration, taking advantage of the interplay between AD and Illustrator to great effect. This cover was a last attempt Hail Mary Pass for a tough, dry concept (tax revenue from oil drilling used for government services). The client had seen and liked the vulture cover I'd done for Willamette Week. After doing a butt load of thumbnails with way different concepts, in the end we went with something really close, to the vultures cover, that shared style and composition.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Near Art 3 to 6: End of the run

What was planned to be a 12 strip run made it to 6. Enjoy 3 thru 6 here and 1 and 2 in a previous post, then read below for details.

City Arts recently changed editors. When they did, the decision was made to make changes to my strip, Near Art. They cut the pay by two thirds, cut the size by at least half, and let me know that they were not to confident that the continuity was enough for a monthly audience who may, or may not have been, regular readers. But they did like the art! I'm trying to make the best of it. I will continue with the name Near Art (which I did not come up with) doing something else, for less money that takes less time and is not a continuity.

What saddens me most is that the strip was a 12 part romance, a little valentine for my wife, and we only got to part 6. I had thought I was going to rant here about editors making visual decisions and in-decisions, magazines dumbing down, and the devaluation of visual content, but that all reads like whining. (Oddly, a fitting tie to NA #6.) The best thing to do is to complete the strip myself, on my own.
And then sell it!

Live fast, draw hard.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Cool World covers

I like this cover the best. It was fun to draw the characters in my own style. 

No she's not holding up a building. I think I put something in the street names but I don't remember. 
After hounding my contacts at DC comics, I finally wound up with some work from them. If I remember correctly I had been doing a strip in the DC Comics employee newsletter and had sent off the obligatory second round of inking samples. The Ralph Bakshi film "Cool World" was being released and DC was doing the film adaptation. Film adaptations get a bad rap and rightly so. They are kin to license work and come with a ton of restrictions that are piled on by committee and client, at times making no sense. In this case I was told that I had to avoid likenesses of the actors (Brad Pitt, Gabriel Byrne, Kim Bassinger). I was tasked with inking the film adaptation and doing covers 2 thru 4 of the mini series. Bakshi was doing the first cover. I dutifully inked the adaptation.  I was really happy and excited when the editor kicked back my initial cover sketches as not being wild enough. They wanted me to really cut loose and have fun with the covers. So I did. Looking back, I think I went a little too wild but I did do just what I wanted on three covers for a major comic publisher.  Weeks later I got my share of the inked pages, finished art is divided between the creative team. All the faces that I inked so the did not look like the actors (as we had been told) had been carefully pasted over and redrawn to look like the actors.  It's funny that the method used to patch the art involved cutting a slit in the page art at the throat of each character and sliding in a new piece of paper on which  the new head was drawn. They had all been be-headed.
I don't think I have any of the pages I inked but I do have the pre digital covers stashed away somewhere. Every once in a while I come across the covers on line. Small, cool world huh?

Friday, November 21, 2008

John Waters

After I had completed this illustration and sent the original to the client, a newsweekly on the East coast, the art director called to let me know he got it. We got to talking about Waters and how much we both enjoyed his films and what a wild aberrant creative force he is. Then the art director said the Waters was coming into the office for an interview and asked me if I wanted his autograph. I said sure. Well week passed and the illustration was returned to me in the mail. When I opened the package I saw that someone had scribbled across the illustration. Furious, I stormed into my studio picked up the phone. I was ready to assert myself when I noticed the scribble read "John Waters", just in time to thank the art director for getting me that autograph. Isn't that well…Devine?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dolly Parton

This illustration of Dolly Parton is one of my favorites. I like it when my work is clean and relatively simple. Which is hard for me to do. I tend to want to junk things up, lots of shapes and lines and tangents. Plus it's not often that clients let you work in black and white for no good reason. For this the concept was simple Dolly and her voice, nothing else. She had been thought of as having an angelic sound early on, and I wanted to point that up, the blond hair helped. Nothing like black ink for drawing white shapes.
Again working with No Depression editor/art director Grant Alden was a pleasant challenge. Hs faith in any illustrator he hired spurred you on to some of your best work.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sign of the Times

This illustration received a nice post on the blog of Jürgen Mantzke, the art director of Lore magazine. This illustration was not used. Rarely do I have an illustration "killed". Of those killed only one other have I liked as much as the second go 'round. More often the two attempts are extremely close in concept. This time however I liked the second attempt which was way different from the first. As you can see.

Both concepts were sound, the second coming on recommendation from the publisher. It created some interesting creative hurdles. Both illustrations were done in black and white airbrush with color added digitally. It's wild to think that both illustrations were based on the same article, about the same man. That says something about the power and life of an illustration despite the words that it's tied to. A good lesson about something we sometimes think of as conversely subservient or self serving. That, or they could just be pretty pictures.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Near Art Part 1

I have decided to post the Near Art comics on my blog. If anyone feels like commenting on then please do. I will also be annotating them a bit. I will however refrain from posting the most current strip until after it has run in City Arts magazine. So this will be sort of like the directors cut! So, "Shall we play a game?"
In NA 1 we meet the main players all three in fact. Amanda, Stan and our Protagonist.
Some of the events in the strip are real, no lie. I do remember a panel discussion hosted by Fantagraphics that featured Robert Crumb, Burne Hogarth, and Jamie Hernandez and possibly Gilbert also. There was a party afterword somewhere. Crumb and Hogarth had very opposing views on dealing with editors and what goes into a comic. It was a lively night.
When I use the term Pop Comic, I use it in the same sense as Pop Music. Light frothy, nothing serious. Clean and well produced. I have a lot of influences in this strip but most obvious may be the Rock Hudson/Doris Day kind of romantic comedies I used to watch on afternoon TV. Man, I hope this strip is funny! Another is Serge Clerc. The colors are at this point very clean and bright, but as I get into the strip I find I want to push the limits I have set for myself in service of the story.
I felt the first strip went by to fast, to condensed. So in the next strip I expanded somewhat, to good effect I hope.
Anyway, read, enjoy and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A rose is a rose.

We name everything, from our genitals to our gods. A name helps us deal with the hidden, minor or otherwise hard to explain traits of what we name. Over time I have gotten into the habit of naming illustrations. Particularly any work that requires Character Design. I tend to name them after people I know, have met, or know something about. The name helps me fill in the small bits that flesh out a character, make it fun and give it the undefinable details that, I hope make it a bit special. The characters, once named, seem to me to take on life. Ideas for hairstyles, accessories, poses and colors seem to come faster and make more sense. Oddly, even clients react to the names, responding to them like they were real people. In high school people would just stare at characters I drew without names. Now, with names, clients comment, make requests, the floodgates open up.
Rarely do I pick a person first, then base the character on them. (the exception being when I "cast" a comic book.) However, I do make exceptions, for me very rarely, and sometimes if the client has a special request.
It's always fun to create a character no matter what the use. These characters were for a McSoft project that I think never saw the light of day. Little avatars that you would be able to dress up like paper dolls and take shopping. Cute huh?

The named characters may reflect a part or perceived part of their namesake, but, as far as making a good illustration goes… "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Work product

There is no real overarching theme to this post other than the question I get at times, "What have you been working on?" A lot of things. I used to worry that everything I did needed to have a distinct style. This has always been at odds with my love of illustration and all it's styles and opportunities and that I love to tailor each illustration to reflect a certain style, motif or vernacular. Hell, it can be fun just to switch tools! So, I stopped thinking in that limited way and it is very freeing.Others may still see my/a "style" in all this. If so that's fine. Two of my favorite artist's are Al Parker and Bernie Kriegstein, both know for a mean style switch up. So, hey that's fine company by me!

This is a page from a 30 page comic. All the art was done in Painter 9 at my record pace of 3 pages per day.
A web icon with active and inactive states.

Cartoony illustratioons for Washington State D.O.T. All vector.

This is a game card illustration. Straight up ink on Bristol board.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Big Boy Drawing!

I should be here…as in the above pictures, of my relatively new drawing table. It's the Alvin:Ensign or Workcenter, I can't remember which. If you need to know email me. It's a really good table, and thanks to all the illustrators I asked about what table they had. Alvin has been a nice company to deal with. There is one bolt on the left leg/foot that won't thread completely, but DIZZAMN, the table is so heavy that it doesn't matter! The top moves with a hydraulic assist (suh-weeet!). It came to me all the way from Italy. I get romantic about that because I spent three weeks there hanging out in a castle in central Italy, driving an Alfa Romeo. These shots are of my cockpit after we remodeled earlier this Spring. I still get sentimental about my old oka table, sniff. But now I have a big boy drawing table!
By the way, one of my current crushing deadline is another story for Graphic Classics. A 30 page story and I'm turning around three pages per day. That sloshing sound is ME MIGHTY INKING BRUSH!!! Actually, I'm inking it in Painter. Another story I did the same way received a favorable mention from
And I proudly quote,
"Moxon's Master", about a robotics experiment gone wrong, is one of the best-looking stories in the book. Stan Shaw's scribbly-yet-elegant line serves the darkness of this story well, but it's not difficult to predict what's coming
Yeah! scribbly yet elegant! That's how me roll! Now it's back to work.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Near Art #2

Near Art part 2 is out now and I just delivered part 3 to City Arts!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Top Secret Illustration

Well, this is not a secret illustration, just one of two editorial pieces this week. However this is what it looks like saved as a pdf, with Illy Editing capabilities turned off, out of Illustrator CS3, then selected. Kind cool! Okay back to work.
Live fast, draw hard.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Today was a good day. I got to sit at my Big Boy drawing table and draw these! Theses are sketches for a web icon, actually more like an animated widget, that I will complete as vector art. Three versions here, with all my little scribbly notes to the designer. Rough work has it's own appeal that the final doesn't.
"live fast, draw hard."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Makin' bank

Things have been busy here. Two houses to work on and one to paint, playing with my new 3000 psi pressure washer!
Meanwhile over at my blog… Right now I'm working on a series of bank illustrations.
Yes me doing illustrations for a financial institution. There are six total. Originally the client wanted to match a painted style with something they would initially use on their new website and possibly later for print/collateral uses. I knew that vector art would work well for web use, and allow for scalability, but how to match, or get close to a painted look/feel for print? Texture and lots of it! I have been slowly building a folder of custom patterns and textures to use in P-shop and Sillly-strator. The one I'm using in this series is something worked up from a scan of one of my airbrush illustrations. I used it like an old stacked screen. (Anyone out there remember those? Buller, Buller…?) the texture is on two layers, one set to normal at about 40 opacity and the other set to multiply at about 20 opacity. And like a stacked screen they're angled to offset. This way the texture builds up a more random look and works over the entire value scale. The shapes are very simple, that's more in keeping with what the client wanted stylistically, but each shape may have the fill and stroke set to different opacities. All in all, the Transparency palette and I are quite friendly now.

The illustrations will be used very small and have the potential to be very big, so I wanted to give the client art that would work at both ends of the scale. Conceptually it's a cake walk, but technically?… there's where the work is.

I also decided to have a common background and cloud motif for all the illustrations. Their previous set did not have much in common at all. I was going to have the background be the same color in all, but the designer thought that might be too repetitive. We'll see how the shape up on the website. Even though I have a Wacom all this was mostly mouse work. Parlor tricks!The"In-House-Art Director" really likes these illustrations and says so whenever she passes by my computer, and the client is happy. Well, and so am I. More so with all the technical stuff I was able to do and how I played with texture and transparency.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Near Art Part One

Whew, the first part of my comic novella is out the door! What a long process it's been. A lot of tweaking, fine tuning, editing, course changing and grumbling from me as I had to be smart and give up on some inside jokes and plot elements that would only make any kind of sense to me. What remains is a better story with a clear plot that gets up and running in no time at all! Twelve pages is not that much to tell a long form story and to keep interest over a month between each is a lot to ask. I've done short comic stories ranging from 5 to 11 pages, and read at once it's a good read.
Page count and time aside my goal from the start was to do something different, hence a pop love story, confection, eye candy.

Of course I can never leave thing alone so I had to keep dumping in a lot of stuff and the whole thing took on a love story ala Philip K. Dick tone. Which would be nice if, again, I had the space and pages to set things up. We, the editor and I, had hoped to do a strip within a strip, a twist on reality, a mobius strip. See, it even takes a while to set up a bad pun about it!

I started by coming up with my (half baked) idea, then doing thumbnails. Visually driven, I wound up falling in love (no, no pun intended) with some ideas.
Bad cartoonist, no credit line!

Since this is the launch, I don't want to spoil it by giving too much away. The magazine described it as semi-autobiographical. I like to think of what the writer Denny Eichorn once told me. I had been illustration a few of his auto-bio comic stories and I asked him if they were true, he replied, "Well, they're true enough."

Monday, May 12, 2008

New City Arts comic novella

My new comic is under way! City Arts magazine was so happy with the response to "The Flitcraft Parable" and the way it turned out that they asked me shortly after it was finished if I'd be interested in doing a 12 part story. They are increasing publication to go monthly and cover Seattle and Bellevue/Eastside as well as Tacoma. Who could resist. Cartoonist accepts offer, comedy ensues!
My first idea was to do another detective strip like Flitcraft, but a good friend of mine said,"You've done two, people know you for tat. You do another and you'll be BRANDED!" So I went the other way, and after months of working on ideas I finally came up with a romance story. Ahh, sweet love!
Of course that was just the start. Initially it was to be a sort of romance ala Philip K. Dick story, with a somewhat circular plot mimicking song structure (say wha!?)
Yeah, well, that was a thought. So over the course of developing the story characters disappeared, merged, split,grew and shrunk. I also fell into the trap of desperately holding onto bits of dialog. So back and forth with the editor, me, and my "In-House-Art Director", till me likkle head was in a whirl! But now the characters are set, all 12 parts outlined, the first strip is written and on the drawing board.
The title is "Near Art", which oddly enough is part of a line of dialog that was pried from my cold dead hands (how to really mangle a metaphor!). It was used as sort of a joke placeholder and has really taken on a greater value and added more meaning to the strip.
So this is the first bit. I plan to post more "Near Art" art in the future.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Well, after two remodeled houses, a rough Holiday season, a much needed vacation and a glut of work I'm back to posting.
This is an illustration of Alejandro Escavedo. It's my final piece for No Depression magazine. They closed up shop this month, the last issue. I've known the editor, Grant Alden for years. Just about since the beginning of my career. This illustration is, in many ways, much or more about him and the magazine we met on, The Rocket.
The textures of the illo for me hark back to our Rocket days and the over all treatment, I hope, evokes some of the Seattle punk rock era. Pre-Grunge, mind you.
The overall treatment speaks to what I was doing then, not only for Grant at the Rocket, but alongside him. He started type setting then moved to writing and editing. Whenever I stopped by "The Rocket Towers", I would hang with him and whomever was art director or assistant art director. Later, Grant, as Managing Editor, would ask me to create a comic strip ("Alan Bland, Guerrilla Artist")for the Rocket.
If memory serves, he also had me do one of my first illustrations for the Rocket of Camper Van Beethoven. Years later, as editor/art director of No Depression, he asked me to create a six page comic for Camper Van Beethoven's reunion album. Grant is also an illustrator of no small skill. (He's an all-a-rounder, a triple threat!) His eye for illustration, design and type (whew!) made working with him, or just being asked to work with him a joy and an honor. I have done some of my best work for No Depression. I will always look forward to working with him.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Thor" Energy Biz Magazine

Yawn, sleepy me.
Since I have noticed a lack of updates on my favorite blogs, I knew it was time for me to post something. This was part of the very merry month of December's screamin honkin' stinkin' busy workload. The assignment was a cover, later the A.D. asked for
a full page illus to go with the cover. So being the page hog that I am I came up with a two page spread. The concept springs from the idea of Danish wind power. Thor being the mythological god of storms and wind. The A.D. wanted a bold comic booky feel. I would have airbrushed it to get a moody textural black and white image that I would then color digitally. However due to time limitations I did the base art in Illustrator and added some effects and color in Photoshop, then taking to the Wacom and adding a few lines by hand. THE OLD FASHIONED WAY! Anyway the texture is one I created from scanned airbrush art. A trick I will use on an upcoming series of illustrations for a bank. I'm not overly fond of the windmill in place of Mjolnir. I wanted the hammer itself, but, to paraphrase, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets." Is that paraphrasing? In the end I would have liked even more texture and moodiness, however I had to leave space for type to appear over the illustration.
If all goes well I will post the bank illustrations as the adjunct textural experiment to Thor, and by the way the "Flitcraft Parable", for which I used a rough newsprint texture.

Live fast, draw hard.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Flitcraft Comes Alive!

Okay slight pun with the title. But, "The Flitcrfat Parable" is out in the Jan/Feb issue of City Arts Magazine. Check it out if you can and let me know what you think. A blog like mine is like mine is like a message in a bottle. Oooh, another bad musical reference.