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.

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.

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.

Step by Step Movie


A Very Bouncy Project
I’ve just completed a small movie, tracking the course of a single illustration. It should go some way to explain how I work -at least once rough sketches have been approved by the client. I had enormous fun making it. Basically, it’s a series of still shots taken while the artwork was being hand-painted in acrylic on Arches watercolour paper [my preferred method!].
Click here for the movie
You’ll notice that I decided some way into the work to eliminate the background. It’s a decision I allowed myself as I had complete control over the final look; the final art not being created for a client.

The thing that really got me excited about the project was licencing the music. It’s the first time I’ve ever ventured into the whole area of licencing a piece of art as a client. Joanna at www.penguincafe.com was wonderful, however, and seemed enthused about the idea. I was sad to learn of Simon Jeffes’ [the Penguin’s composer and founder] untimely death some years ago; it completely passed me by. I’ve loved his eccentric music since the early eighties, although I think he even arranged music for the absurd Sex Pistols film ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle’, so the PCO go back quite a bit further.

Enjoy the movie.