Latest illustration assignment: cover of Harper’s magazine (AKA: Monopoly Mouth!)

Way back in the olden days of illustration, when I first started my career (before there were cell phones, or the internet, or desk top computers, or fax machines!) when illustrators actually had to messenger or physically bring their sketches to show the art directors, is when I first met Roger Black, then the design director of New York Magazine here in Manhattan. 
I worked on a number of illustration projects for him over a period of years in the 1980’s at New York Magazine, and then at The NY Times Sunday Magazine when he was the design director there, and then also again when he started his own design firm. My illustration style way back in those days was darker in mood, with muted colors, and much more “realism” based. I had not worked for Roger for many, many years, during which time my entire illustration style became much lighter, whimsical and more colorful. See my illustration portfolios at stevensalerno.com.

Then about a month and a half ago, from out of the blue, Roger contacted me and wanted to know if I would be interested in creating a cover illustration for Harper’s magazine (his firm handles the cover design each month). Of course I did! It was for a feature article about the riots in Britain this past summer, and obviously needed a serious visual approach for the cover art. I think maybe Roger was expecting my illustration style from many years ago (because he referred to my “Daumier” style being right for the project). Why not? I was up for “going retro” and executing this cover assignment in my own previous style, with a contemporary twist, of course. However, to make it brief, my sketches for this “British Riots” cover project unfortunately never got past the sketch stage, as the editors at Harper’s didn’t like what I presented. Oh well… you win some and you lose some. I collected my kill fee for having completed the sketch stage work, but felt really bad that I had not completed the project all the way through with Roger.

Then a couple weeks ago I was contacted by Roger yet again… with another Harper’s cover assignment. Great! I was being given another opportunity, and hopefully with this one I would get over the sketch stage hurdle with the Harper’s editors. (note to illustrator novices: magazine covers, whether using art or photography, bear much more responsibility financially for a publication because of sales concerns, and also stylistically it has to function within the publication’s perceived brand identity… so therefore the editors and marketing people really scrutinize and obsess over the cover sketch process, far more so than with sketches for images being used inside the pages of the publication.)

This new cover art assignment was for a feature article on how large monopolies in certain industries are making it very difficult for smaller companies to operate, by shrinking the free market arena. The images posted below are the preliminary sketches, as well as some photos of the illustration during the creation process…

This first rough sketch (above) was created before I even had the article manuscript to read, and it was simply based on Roger’s emailed synopsis of the story. It depicts a large corporate character basically pushing and elbowing the smaller businesses literally off of the cover…

This second rough sketch (above), based on my having read the manuscript and having a better grasp on the details involved, used the “walk softly and carry a big stick” concept literally, with the added visual of showing how the huge monopoly character controlled much of the free market landscape and at the same time also corralled the smaller businesses into restricted positions.

From the feedback I was getting, the editors understood the thrust of my sketch approach, but I guess they felt it was a bit too static or tame, because one the editors offered the comment, “What if the large corporate guy was eating the smaller ones?” Roger thought this was a cool idea, that if handled well could be dynamic, and I agreed. I loved the surreal nature of the “eating” notion. I came up with this new rough sketch (above) which depicts a huge, bloated corporate character holding an armful of “little corporate guys” and stuffing one of them into his gigantic, terrifying mouth. I was inspired by Goya’s painting entitled, “Saturn Devouring One of His Sons.” I purposely tilted the large character to one side to suggest his gluttony was making him unbalanced, and from the start was also planning for the background to be handled in a rough, crude texture of hatching marks.

This next stage color sketch (above) indicated my plans for keeping the use of color very simple. In fact prior to the color sketch shown here, I did another version which showed blood staining the front of the large character’s face and suit. However the editors thought it was too graphic. But what I did instead was make the sky a very saturated red, and also made sure to use this same intense red color inside the mouth area, with the net effect heightening the gross and terrifying action of devouring the competition. It seemed bloody without showing any blood!

This alternate sketch version (above) was to explore what the image would look like if I pushed the direction of the huge corporate character to look like a kind of “Mr. Monopoly.” (from the board game MONOPOLY) Sort of like a Mr. Monopoly on steroids! This sketch was rejected, but I was fine with it because I also felt that it just was not necessary to hit the reader’s over the head with a “monopoly” concept anyway. The cover would be stronger, more surreal and unsettling looking if it did not have such a “cartoony” reference.

This layout comp (above) provided by Roger Black inserted my approved color sketch to show how the final cover would look…

This is a photo (above) of my drawing desk, with a number of the pencil and crayon sketches for the cover art.

This is a photo (above) of a quick tracing done on top of a rough sketch, for better defining the facial features of the main character.

This is a photo (above) of my light table, with a sketch of the smaller corporate figures. Here I have placed my quality paper (Arches 260lb hot press) on top of the sketch, and begin to draw the final version.

This is a photo (above) of the completed final drawing of the smaller corporate characters done in pencil, black crayon, black gouache, and black pastel. This drawing element is then scanned into Photoshop and combined (layered) with the final drawing of the large corporate character.

  
This is a photo (above) of a detail of the completed smaller corporate figures. Here you can better see how the black pastel was used to create a medium shadow effect on the characters.

  
This is a photo (above) of my light table, with a sketch of the large corporate figure. Here I have placed my quality paper (Arches 260lb hot press) on top of the sketch, and begin to draw the final version.
 

This is a photo (above) of the final drawing of the large corporate character, that when fully completed would be executed with pencil, black crayon, black gouache, and black pastel. The simplistic landscape is indicated as well. Notice that the smaller corporate characters are not there, because I created them as a separate element. This drawing is then scanned into Photoshop and combined (layered) with the final drawing of the smaller corporate characters.

This is a photo (above) of a detail of the large corporate figure drawing. Here you can better see how the black crayon was used, which gave a slight “rough” quality to the line work.

This is the completed final art image (above) for the cover. The stages you do not see are the various layers in Photoshop which combined the drawing of the large corporate character and the background landscape, with the smaller corporate characters, which consisted of a lot of jockeying back and forth until all the elements were lined up properly. Also not seen are the handful of layers of digital color effects for the sky, the ground, and in the character’s suits, which even though the colors for this particular illustration were minimal, it still took nearly as long to finalize all the color as it did to execute all the drawings. 
 

This is a detail (above) of the completed final art image for the cover, which better shows the smaller corporate characters being held. You can see a bit of the rough hatching that was used to suggest the stormy red sky.

This final cover layout (above) provided by Roger Black shows how the art will look on the “subscriber’s issue” when it is printed in February 2012.
This final cover layout (above) provided by Roger Black shows how the art will look on the “news stand issue” when it is printed in February 2012. This version merely entailed using a close-up detail of the final art image for this additional cover “flap.” It’s really great because this “flap” format showcases the textural element of the drawing quality which is not quite as visually apparent in the smaller format “subscriber’s issue” version.
It was a fun project… and the fact that Roger Black had wanted me to do my “earlier” illustration style for this cover art, actually prompted me to create a new portfolio section on my web site called “new stuff” wherein I posted some recently created illustrations that indeed purposely feel a lot like my illustrations from much earlier in my career, but with a bit of contemporary zip! Take a look!
You can see all my portfolio samples on stevensalerno.com   And make sure to also see my “featured book” section which highlights my next children’s picture book, Brothers At Bat, due out in April 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

See full post here: Steven Salerno Blog2011-12-20.