My earliest poster work was for PBS. I was working for an ad agency in Washington, D.C., as a staff illustrator and noticed the agency was hiring freelance artists for the season posters. I was just 22 years old and had stars in my eyes to take on this challenge. I met with one of the owners of the agency to ask if I could produce a sample poster on my own time to get the assignment to keep it in-house. The owner obliged me by sharing a folder brimming with head shots and program images that had been supplied by the television network. I set to work over several evenings to encapsulate a typical PBS lineup and presented the final artwork which earned me a "thumbs up" to take on the next poster assignment. This would be the beginning of several season posters and my indoctrination into a new genre.
It's funny how one project will generate another. Posters started to come in more frequently. I ended up doing several gratis assignments for the Art Director's Club of Washington D.C., my hometown market at the time. Each assignment gave me more confidence in the art form and allowed me to try different things from cut graphic color to fully rendered images. The poster medium is divers since you can create a singular dynamic image or build a complex maze of intricate detail. The uses range from small community events to major campaigns.
I adore advertising art because it has such reach. There's a rush that comes from an illustrated image having persuasive powers over a consumer. The work becomes more than a pretty picture. It's a tool that conjures wants, familiarity, and is approachable. The hand-crafted image doesn't draw comparisons to real life in the way photography does. People can accept illustrated alternate worlds as an idealized reality that doesn't challenge their personal interpretations of their actual world.
The applications of advertising art can be broad and wide. Billboards, packaging, car wraps, and animated web use can amplify the impact of the artwork. It's a blast to be part of the sales pitch to twist a consumer's arm or two. It's been said that the only people who care about advertising are people in advertising. So what!
Faces and places seem to be my body of work with editorial art. I got into editorial illustration much later than many illustrators. I didn't have access to the editorial world until I started my own studio. Having been a staff illustrator, most of what I did was for advertising clients. Once I got a foot in the door, it came to be a fantastic avenue for working with a more human side of communication.
Illustrative storytelling requires its own way of thinking. Creating images that look natural and believable while having an underlying narrative is the goal. Because I had a lot of experience with celebrity likenesses, most of the work that crosses my desk involves just that. Not all of my editorial work requires a known likeness, so those rolls go to my friends.
Whether it's for Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Time, or Billboard, most often times a celebrity takes center stage. "Someone as someone," is what one art director once said to me. If you just want a picture of a celebrity, you can find it. If you want them doing something extraordinary, it's a major undertaking or you have it illustrated to solve the problem. I'm more than happy to oblige.
Where is the first place I want to go when I'm at an art gallery? Directly to the drawings. Paintings are captivating, but the drawings done in preparation are the raw ideas. Brush and Ink drawings puts polish to those raw ideas.
There is something wonderfully simple about black and white. It becomes about form, texture and balance. It's no less complex than working with a full range of color, it's just a different way of thinking. Most of my ink work has been done for playing card designs, however there is an occasional situation where an art director is just wanting the drawn line.
There's no business like show business. My first big break in show poster illustration was when I was assigned to Broadway's ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. It was ambitious and a unique undertaking. Prior to this poster, I always did poster art as a singular image - one piece of art - one format. With the digital era emerging, the agency requested that I create all the artwork in layers so it could be easily adapted to multiple formats. In the end, it required nearly 30 separate pieces that made up the final poster. All the cameos have full backgrounds so they could each be a stand-alone illustration.
As the show opening night grew closer, Times Square was painted from head to toe with all things ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Opening night attracted countless A-list celebs and Bernadette Peters nocked it out of the park!
That experience opened doors for several other Broadway and Off-Broadway show posters. The stage industry is completely unique to working with other illustration buyers. The challenge is to breath life and energy into a show that is often still being rehearsed. Details can be spare such as costumes or sets, and talent can change. The fluid nature of branding a show results from many adaptations and a plethora of opinions.
I've always said, "MAD Magazine takes being funny, seriously!" Being one of the "Usual gang of idiots" has been a true honor. I grew up reading the magazine after saving up enough to buy one off the news stand. It was a big deal to thumb through them and drink in the incredible talent pool that would be featured from cover to cover. The irreverent writing always tickled my funny bone and provided material for the next day at school.
When I got my first assignment, I was over the moon with excitement! I was asked to paint a centerfold piece of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal themed to the classic STAR WARS movie poster. Being that Kenneth Starr was the prosecutor in the case, the tie-in was pretty quick to grasp. One of the first requests was that the cigar be inappropriately large. Things were getting interesting!
This was before the digital era so I had to ship the final artwork to the MAD office in New York City. I waited and waited for delivery confirmation, hoping the editorial staff would be pleased. No call came, so I went to lunch to take my mind of off the anticipation. When I got home there was a message from the editor. He started screaming into the phone that they hated it and they were going to see to it that I never work in New York again. On and on he went. I was sinking into the floor. He then started laughing along with everyone else in the conference room who was reviewing that issue's artwork. They were just messing with me. The final piece was a hit, which was the first of many opportunities to work with the craziest crew.
A little known magician, David Blaine, was getting ready to undergo a stunt conceived of, but never performed by, Harry Houdini titled, BURIED ALIVE. I was asked by the agency handling the promotion for this event, to create a nostalgic poster that would echo the original stunt Houdini had planned to perform. I immediately latched onto the magical persona that Blaine projected through his performance art. He was creepy, mysterious, and to many, just evil. He possessed all the traits of an earlier time when magic was performed for a more naive generation. Blaine's flawless slight of hand left spectators in awe or running for their lives. This dynamic reaction catapulted Blaine to stardom after his television debut in STREET MAGIC.
With the world's eyes now on Blaine's crazy antics, his next stunt would push his endurance to the limit. FROZEN IN TIME, placed Blaine in a block of ice over several days. The assembled ice block tomb eventually melted into a solid piece. Exposure to cold would pay it's toll on Blaine's physical and mental well-being. Passersby encouraged him to hang on until the dramatic conclusion that required a chain saw to release him from the icy prison. As Blaine emerged in pain, fatigued, and fragile, he would require immediate medical attention and a hospital stay to recover.
By the time Blaine conceived of VERTIGO, he and I were working directly and have ever since. This direct relationship allowed more free-flowing ideas, banter, and reworks to get things right. The posters became more personal, incorporating friends and co-workers into the artwork that were by his side through preparation of the stunts. Many of the posters contain symbolism, illusions or secrets to entertain other magicians and collectors.
Subsequent posters would follow for ABOVE THE BELOW, a 44 day stay in a glass box hanging over the Tower Bridge in London, England. DROWNED ALIVE engulfed Blaine in a spherical water world for a week at Lincoln Center in New York City.
DIVE OF DEATH and ELECTRIFIED were his last two public stunts in this poster series. A proposed stunt with a working title ATLANTIC BOTTLE CROSSING is still in waiting. The plan includes crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a free-floating bottle using natural currents to land him on the European coast after departing from New York City.
Be sure to check out the other David Blaine artwork that include custom playing card designs on the Pen+Ink+Brush page.
I distinguish graphics from the rest of my work since the use is generally quite different. The bolder, more simplistic imagery still can tell a story or convey a thought, with less to visually digest. The quick-reads can have applications that fall into their own unique category.
Much of the work I’ve done graphically is still created outside the digital world using traditional tools. The final work is, however, converted to vector files for ease of color adaptations or edits that fit the need.
The music industry has changed dramatically from when I was a youngster. I use to dream of doing album covers when LPs had giant cardboard sleeves that offered a wonderful twelve inch square canvas to display iconic works. As the media shrunk from LPs to CDs and now to downloads, the demand for artwork has also shrunk. Fortunately, I’ve gotten a few opportunities to illustrate for some great musical talent’s.
PANIC AT THE DISCO was on tour when they were getting ready to publish a special edition music compilation. It would come in a collector’s package with a cool flip top box, art cards and a fold out poster, which was my responsibility. Atlantic records was under the gun to get something done quickly so I got a direct line to speak with the band about what they were looking for. They wanted a vintage style poster that would feel much like the traditional vaudevillian performers of the Victorian era. I quickly set to work and sent a single sketch to keep things moving. They signed off and in less than 24 hours I was getting out the brushes. They were thrilled with the end product which ultimately earned the Stephen Dohanos Award from the Society of Illustrators in New York.
Some other CD assignments did not go so swimmingly. After two rounds of finished artwork for rapper, T.I., the cover ended up a photo shoot with a lion. The two covers were for his album titled UNCAGGED that followed his incarceration for weapons charges.
All images in this gallery are intellectual property and copyrighted by DC Comics. They may not be reproduced or downloaded without prior written permission.
Working with DC Comics has always been a thrill. I first became connected to them after working on a collector cup series for McDonald's. My work had to be approved by DC Comics before being hired to do the work.
I had the great privilege to step onto two Batman film sets in Los Angeles and London respectively, while working on projects. The visits were to research costumes, sets, and read scripts that were under lock and key. Everything is kept highly confidential during development. Seeing sets for a high-production film is awe-inspiring. It’s a wonderful way to kick off a project and become consumed by the energy that goes into super hero film making.
The silhouetted figures are often incorporated into other backgrounds. The portability of the figures is important so they can be used in the broadest capacity. The 30+ pieces of artwork for a film are compiled into a “Style Guide” that specifies guidelines for use.
Some of the work using the DC Comics property is commissioned by third parties such as McDonald’s and OnStar that both developed their own campaigns. As an approved DC Comics illustrator, it’s assumed that I am familiar with the intellectual property and I will be respectful of the brand.
Premium giveaways were at an all time high when I first began working with McDonald's. My first project was for a collector cup series that would tie in with the first feature length film of Batman. I was so excited to get the call but the deadline was unbelievably fast. I got the call on a Friday and sobbed all weekend after turning it down. I realized that I could never create six cup designs in just three weeks and felt it would be unjust to accept the project. When Monday rolled around, I got a call back and the agency doubled the time-frame enabling me to accept the project.
That would turn out to be the beginning of a long working relationship. Together, we produced several more cup series, fry boxes, displays, glassware, and more over the course of a decade. Many of the premiums are still in collections and pop up on eBay from time to time. The broadest appeal seemed to reach the preteen and teenage groups who are now adults. Occasionally, I'll hear from a collector who boasts about their full "mint condition" cup series. It makes me smile!
Sometimes there just isn't a font that will do the trick. There are piles and piles of fonts available these days so having something truly unique requires a little hand tooling. That's where I can help. Hand drawn and customized fonts can lend a little something extra when you need it. Whether type resembles chalk, block printing or even honey, going that extra mile can communicate an idea in a special way.
It's also possible to create fonts you can use from your own computer. The example REST IN PIECES, is a full font design with special characters. If you have several titles to create and want a consistent look, it's a great way to go.
Type inversions are a fascinating type illusion that can be created. They require a certain amount of flexibility and a balanced number of characters. The example shown here is the name Lawrence Sullivan that reads right side up and upside down. They are generally more decorative than an easy read. A little imagination is required.
Converting words to pictures is not to be underestimated. Not every book requires a full-read if the author or editor already knows the visual hook. When I do read a manuscript no-cover to no-cover, it’s more complex than kicking back and enjoying the story. I’m usually taking notes, making doodles, lists, and marking pages. Visual content can be hidden in a phrase, be in plain sight, or clearly described.
One of the most visual authors is Stephen King, who I’ve had the great privilege to cover. His work is richly descriptive in the most minute detail. Scenarios are built and woven in a way that can’t help but conjure imagery. The trick to cover a King novel or collection of short stories is to capture a pinnacle moment without being a spoiler. Through the guidance of art directors and editors, I learned to address the human component to his stories without directly identifying the characters. This leaves a bit of imagination to the reader who will more likely assign their own interpretations of who the characters are. Creating environments and a sense of place needs to invite readers to enter King’s world before reading the first word.
A new trend in publishing is the smaller run with unique printing formats and materials. REST IN PIECES by Bess Lovejoy was a good example of breaking the norm for book design, It had a tall, slender format with a half-height, silver foiled dust cover. It also had fully illustrated end papers, a signature font, and chapter heads. It was printed in black and white inside and out.
All of the posters in this gallery were produced for Palm Beach Opera. What started as a single season of four posters ended up a multiyear relationship that provided a hefty cross section of some of the most beloved operas. Each season had a "family feel" but the approaches drifted a little from year to year.
Operas are so moving in their content that it's generally quite simple to find a visual element on which to zero in. Because many of the operas were still being developed as I was working on the posters, I had little or nothing to reference other than a synopsis of the story. All of the costuming was fabricated to capture the splendor I would imagine to appear on stage. Following the production of Turandot, I was told there were some complaints that the crown in the stage production was not as spectacular as the one depicted in the poster. Thank you! The whole purpose of a poster is to entice an audience, so if a little embellishment sells an extra ticket, what's the harm?
It's been said that I don't act my age, which may be true. There is a child in all of us but mine can crowd out the adult in me at any given moment. Having been raised on Loony Tunes and Hanna-Barbera, I learned that conflict resolution is achieved with a giant mallet or an anvil.
I have fond childhood memories and enjoy seeing the world through my former eyes. Fabricating worlds that a youthful audience can relate to is freeing and limitless. The wonderful thing about making art for children is that they are impressionable. You're given a special opportunity to stimulate their imaginations and engage them.
I've categorized this section separately, but I have additional illustrations for MAD Magazine and McDonald's that also target the youngsters.
When Elvis Presley was chosen to be a new subject on a U.S. postage stamp, I was caught off guard. I was one of seven artists working on a stamp series call Legends of American Music. The Post Master General at the time announced that he would commission an Elvis stamp before he left office. All seven artists were asked to drop what they were doing and submit their "best" Elvis impression for the stamp advisory board to review. Over 60 pieces of art were submitted, leaving the advisory board with a huge dilemma; YOUNG or OLD Elvis? Their indecision lead to a brilliant and first-time promotional campaign for the Postal Service. They would allow the public to choose their favored stamp after narrowing the field to two versions. One, was my humble submission of a young depiction of Elvis.
Over 800,000 ballots were cast and the young Elvis reigned supreme, taking two thirds of the vote. Following the stamps issue, it broke all records, selling more than any other commemorative stamp. Following my Elvis' selection, I was then awarded the Rock 'n' Roll Legends series to fill out a set of four stamps.
A more recent endeavor I've taken on is designing playing cards that are popular with magicians and card players who take an interest in unique decks. For the most part, they are an affordable collectible. This art form allows for fully customized decks that can use foils, embossing and inventive die-cuts.
I still create all my decks with traditional mediums using ink, scratch board, brushes, and pens.