WSJ Illustration Monochrome Monoplane

The Wall Street Journal commissioned me to produce an illustration for an article by departing journalist, Jeff Oppdike. This would be his last piece for his column ‘Love & Money’ for he would be opping sticks and moving to another state. Originally, it was meant to be a colour illustration but the flight path was changed to prevent a near miss. 
Here are the two scamps that I provided after reading the proposed column:

I liked the first one with its appropriate little accounting joke about reconciliation but the art editor in his control tower preferred the drama of the airplane and the project [ahem] took off. 

It was easy to find a reference for a dollar bill on t’internet. I printed out both sides, glued them together and folded the newly minted note into a dart. [It turned out that a regular dollar bill would be far too long to make the shape that I wanted, so I cut of around a third from one end and then began folding]. I then photographed it in my shadow box and used 3B pencils on Arches Hot pressed watercolour paper to complete. I altered the position of some of the note’s text to make sure that its ‘dollarness’ was increased. It’s a pleasure to work monochrome and I think it looks very effective, don’t you? 
We hope that you enjoyed your flight of fancy and look forward to having you on board again soon. You can read the article on the WSJ website, minus the illustration.

Corked Wine Label

Recently, I was engaged in the creation of a wine label for a French winery wishing to extend their vines into the North American market. I really loved working on this project, not only because I’m an old soak; but I loved what I produced even though the job was disappointingly scotched.

The initial brief demanded that there be a Fin de Siecle or Belle Epoque feel and Van Gogh’s work appeared in supplied examples. However, being an admirer of Mucha’s work, I presented a more Art Nouveau direction which was accepted by the client. The initial sketches were rough but were made to show my response to the brief.
The Ribbon Lady sketch was picked out to be developed into a more detailed sketch. I wanted to have a classically beautiful Grecian look to the character and found a willing model amongst friends in the local Alliance Française one Saturday morning. I discovered that the position of the arm and hand in my first sketch [drawn from imagination] was unachievable in reality and adjusted to suit. The cascading hair is a reference of sorts to Tamara de Lempicka’s signature style and I worked the hair into the wine’s name. A nice touch was that I was encouraged to break the boundaries of the label and allow ribbons of hair to flow out. The excess forms would be achieved with fancy die-cutting at the printing stage.
Sadly, though, somewhere the bottle went and this wasn’t to be. The job evaporated like a mirage in a dry Arizona town, leaving me thirsty for more…

Alliance française Alliances en résonance Exhibition, Paris

Alliance française Alliances en résonance Exhibition, Paris 2008
My Catalogue for Alliance française Alliances en résonance Exhibition, Paris 2008

I was invited to show in this year’s Alliances en Résonance, held in the Alliance Française in the centre of Paris. Also showing will be Giles Norman, the Kinsale-based photographer. Representing other artistic disciplines will be The Walls and poet, Paul Muldoon.

I created several new pieces -you can see them if you download the catalogue of my work here

The general theme is built around my other passion, namely Irish traditional music. All the names are taken from the canon of tunes. It has always interested and delighted me that the names of tunes are an almost separate entity from the tunes themselves [save for some, for example, Roudledum, which is a verbal expression of the slip-jig rhythm]. The Gudgeon of Maurice’s Car, however, must recall some incident which is lost to memory, unless someone can remind us? Do cars still have gudgeons?
The event is an invitation to Paris and the promotion of Irish Artists throughout a week of Irish Cultural Events organised by the Fondation Alliance Française and the Alliance Française Dublin. Its aim is to broaden and enhance the long-standing friendship that exists between Ireland, France and other French-speaking countries of the world. It helps to enrich the knowledge of the respective Arts.

The event take place from the 20th to 25th of May 2008. Vive l’Alliance Française!

Great Eagle Wood: Illustrated Book Launch

Great Eagle Wood: An illustrated allegory on Economics. Published by Cork University Press
Great Eagle Wood: An illustrated allegory on Economics. Published by Cork University Press

This month sees the launch of a new book, Great Eagle Wood, by Cork writer and academic, Derry Cotter. It is an allegorical tale about how economies work, where the various character archetypes are written as animals. It’s published by the Institute of Accountants in Ireland and is a sort of Animal Farm about general economics. For a dismal scientist, Cotter explains the complexities of money in a simple and fun way.

The Bottom Line. Great Eagle Wood: An illustrated allegory on Economics. Published by Cork University Press
The Bottom Line. Great Eagle Wood: An illustrated allegory on Economics. Published by Cork University Press

The illustration brief identified ten points which were to be illustrated with the instruction that the body of the book would be monocolour. This was a departure for me as I don’t take on much mono work. Nevertheless, I had fun with the project, creating characters and imagining scenes in the text -above is the accountant at the Bottom Line. Accountants are foxes, naturally. So are barristers. We have Beaver blue-collar workers, Duck merchants, a depressive Bear and my favourite; an overly optimistic Bull. All presided over by the Great Eagle himself.

All the interior illustrations are drawn with a soft pencil on Fontaine demi-satin watercolour paper. Mmmmm, smooooth.

It will be launched in UCC’s Aula Maxima [invitation only].


In my on-going quest to rediscover the pleasure of just painting, I blundered upon a large and growing internet-based art movement; Daily Painting. Apparently only going since 2006 as a informal, blog-based idea, it works on several levels. It’s an education to see other artists’ set-ups, thoughts and working practices -often along with step-by-step demonstrations and explanations of techniques. 

For the artists, it’s an encouragement to practice every day. They can then sell originals by availing of several internet outlets, such as Etsy, eBay or just through the blog itself, with a link to PayPal. It’s a super way for the general public to buy reasonably priced original artworks, with no gallery fees. Most of the resulting artworks are small, since they’re only studies -often around 6″ x 8″. 

My own favourite is Peter Yesis’ Daily Painting Practice. He loves to share knowledge and his good-humour and modesty comes across in his writing. Like all the daily painters, his output is prodigious. Another is Carole Marine’s . I find her style captivating -a great sense of colour with a beautifully spare technique that belies the amount of skill and work that goes into each piece. For the same reasons, I like the work of Qiang-Huang.
For my part, I have set up my own Daily Studies in Oils blog. I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to paint with no art director or client to comment or make changes -just me and a blank canvas. It’s also surprising how different the required skills are from illustration. It’s going to be a long haul but I’m going to enjoy every minute. Now, before the light goes…

Irish Times: Snail’s Pace Illustration

illustration in acrylics on paper about eBay MD John McElligott for Sunday Tribune newspaper
illustration in acrylics on paper about eBay MD John McElligott for Sunday Tribune newspaper

Back to the world of editorial illustration. Last Sunday saw the publication of this meisterwerk in the Sunday Tribune. It was commissioned to accompany a profile article on John McElligott, MD of eBay Ireland. McElligott made the point that rollout of broadband in Ireland is proceeding very slowly indeed and is an impediment to online business, nay; an embarrassment . And so say all of us.

After presenting a few ideas, all along the same lines, the ‘Traveller’s Caravan’ idea was selected, I think because it conveyed the idea of commerce more succinctly [and isn’t eBay the territory of second-hand goods’ sales and virtual tinkerers?] Additionally, it gives a sense of old Ireland and its unhurried ways.

Pencil sketches for editorial illustration on John McElligott of eBay
Pencil sketches for editorial illustration on John McElligott of eBay

Once I got the go-ahead, I sketched the composition out on the stretched board, as usual and layed down a wash of sap green.

Preparation underpainting for editorial illustration on John McElligott of eBay
Preparation underpainting for editorial illustration on John McElligott of eBay

Part of the idea was for certain elements to break the bounds of the background. I also felt that the character should have an air of someone confounded by his circumstance, rather than horse-whipping the snails, as in the preliminary sketch*. It only remained to start working up the colour. I added a flat cap to one of the snail team to emphasise the bucolic atmos. In so doing, I inadvertently made the snail look like Jackie Healy-Rae. Cool!

Acrylics on Galeria textured paper. 12″ x 10″

*Only some snails were cruelly bludgeoned during the making of this illustration

Evolution of Flight: Art for Irish Times ‘Innovation’

It took two generations to reach the rocket age from Man’s first powered flight. It took me three days. Here’s how, but first settle yourself in, make sure that your seat-belt is buckled and switch on your reading light. Enjoy the flight.

The editor of the Irish Times Innovation Magazine called with a request for an image that would convey how businesses can learn from past failures. As usual, I sent in a few suggestions by email, sketched quickly with just enough information to show the thrust of what I thought would work for them. At left, I’ve cobbled them all together, so you can see at a glance the different approaches on offer.

The editor went for the flight-related idea, which was by far the strongest. It also provided particularly fertile ground for humour. We needed to know that our character had tried flights before and come off worst against gravity, so I put a plaster cast on his leading leg and named the apparatus ‘Phoenix III’. I also wanted to suggest that this was taking place in Dublin city. It’s an inaccurate portrayal but you must remember that the editorial process is almost always pressed for time. I had a look at a few references for the GPO on the electric internet and away I went. The bus had to be an approximation as I wasn’t prepared to wait for one to come by.

This is the drawing, directly made onto the stretched paper. I started, as ever, laying down colour straight over the line

[I always start by laying down a wash of burnt umber and or sap green. Whatever you use, it’s best to work on a ground that isn’t the bright white of the paper].

I made sure that I didn’t lose the line by brushing over the pencil with black at the same time darkening any of the deeply shadowed areas.

I then began blocking in the principle areas of colour. I took the character to a reasonably finished stage because I was as yet unclear how I
would describe the background. If there had been time, I would have made a small colour sketch to determine the background in such a way so as not to distract from the central character. The principal function of illustration is to convey a message, so it’s important that whatever you do doesn’t create visual clutter.

This is the finished art that I submitted to the Irish Times. You’ll notice that I moved the shadow downwards because it looked as if he was about to scrape his undercarriage on the stonework. Now that would be a business failure. I also toned back the cityscape with a little white and cyan suspended in matte acrylic medium. It gives the impression of distance and magnitude, while isolating the main character and maintaining focus on the message.

The second illustration is obviously related to the first, with the same character, now almost entirely encased in plaster, happily rocketing [to a spectacular death?]. Since it was a progression of the first idea, it also required less work in sketching out details. Once again, the same stipulation applied that the composition be set in an urban environment [my tendency being towards laziness and the abstract shapes of nature!]. Still, I enjoyed playing with the details -the little lights blinking in the dusk; tiny plumes of smoke rising from chimneys; the vague shapes of buildings; the frightened cat and the surprised face in the window. I also had our man dropping his crutch to help along the suggestions of movement and height. In all, each illustration took about eight hours to complete, although I could’ve gone on, given time. It isn’t often that what you like doing coincides with what your clients need but when it happens, you’re flying! I hope that this helps you appreciate what goes into good, meaningful and unique art for business. Hopefully, this will encourage you to test how well those drab, meaningless stock CDs fly. I’m McSherry; Fly me.

Bloomsday: Acrylics on Paper Illustration

A self-promotional illustration in acrylics on paper to celebrate Irish literary windbag James Joyce
A self-promotional illustration in acrylics on paper to celebrate Irish literary windbag James Joyce

The annual Joycefest will be celebrated next Saturday. Make sure that you have your inner organs at the ready [preferably somebody else’s]. Have another attempt at reading Ulysses and brush off your straw boater. Die hard fans: contract the clap and relocate to Trieste. Enjoy.

Marrow Envy & Other Stories

My current exhibition, and second in the Alliance Française, was launched last night by eminent historian and broadcaster, John Bowman. The show comprises 24 framed works, the greater part of which were published in newspapers and magazines such as the Irish Times, Marketing Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.

The show runs until June 11th in the ground-floor Café des Amis. Grab some lunch and enjoy the marrows.

Thank you to my sponsors who helped to make this show such a success, including: The Irish Times, the Alliance Française, Celine Cazali of Océ Digital Printing Machines, Adam Lawrie of QPA Print and Lensmen & Associates.

Financial Report Illustration Project

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan organisation have just launched their new financial report, designed by Toronto-based design studio, The Works. The studio art director’s vision for the project used illustration to convey the central theme of this year’s report which is ‘balance’.
Although The Works had a clear idea of the principal image which is one of a high-wire unicyclist, they wished to use other characters throughout the design to focus on other activities of the OTPP.

Several rounds of sketches were made to present ideas for various aspects of the report. However, after consideration by the designers and the client, the concept was kept to one character.

You can see here, the development of the central character. The sketch at left was my first rough rendering which was changed according to the designers’ comments. The final illustration kept close to this last drawing, save for the objects being juggled. A nice idea was to show the reverse of the unicyclist on the back cover:

It was fun trying to get the model to balance just that little bit longer while I set up my easel on the other side of the line. A thorough dousing with fixative spray helped him to maintain the pose. The report is now in print and online on OTPP’s web site. and the model has finally been removed from the unicycle and returned to his family.