Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seattle Met Illustration

TOM - Last month I created an illustration for Seattle Met Magazine about a new line of streetcars that might be installed in the city. The art director, Benjamen Purvis, had a vintage train poster idea in mind as a fun way to approach this article. After he briefed me on what he had in mind, I went ahead and...
...did this sketch. I looked at a bunch of vintage train/travel posters and tried to capture that quality as best I could. Some of my favorite illustrations happen to be old advertisment illustrations from the 50's and 60's, so I tried to keep that vibe in mind while drawing this.

After the sketch was approved, I tightened up the drawing and threw some ink on it. I knew Benjamen was going to add the tag line in at the end, so I threw this mock text in, just to see how the composition would work with text. Then it was on to Photoshop where I colored the piece and then...

...Benjamen did a great job with the text, I think it really works much better running along the bottom like that. The overall design of it came out really well and I'm very happy with it.
If you're in Seattle, be sure to pick up Seattle Met, it's a cool mag. This particular issue was last months, but I have another illustration in this months issue too, which I shall post about shortly. Take care and thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Illustrated Spokecards!

TOM - After being out here out here in Portland for a couple months now, the one thing you start to see more than anything is bicycles. Still, with all those bikes, I haven't seen many spokecards, at least not any spokecards with sexy bike girls on them! That's where I come in...

I made these pretty recently and I'm glad to say, they're getting a great response out here. I'm really happy with the way they turned out as well. So, if you ride a bike and want a 'Sexy Bike Girl' to rock on your back wheel, you can check these out on my Etsy, or on the 'My Store' section on my website.

Or, if you happen to live in the Portland area, you can find them at Memento on Hawthorne as well as a shop called Mag Big, also on Hawthorne. Have a great Sunday!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Save A Secret For The Moon

JAMES - 4th and final day of "Process Week"! Today I'll go back to basics to show a new black & white poster I made for a couple of local Asheville bands, Warm the Bell and the Cheeksters.

And as an added treat, any orders from my store for the next two weeks will receive one of these babies for free! (and don't worry, anyone who's placed an order in the past few days, I've already included these with your order).

Original Pencil Sketch

This little sketch barely measures an inch square, but all the information I need is already in there. I get excited when I know I'm gonna have a lot of soft brush strokes to draw - so I scanned the sketch into the computer, to blow it up to the final working size, 11" x 17".

Blown-up Sketch and Lightbox

I print the blown-up version onto two pieces of regular 8.5x11 paper, and tape them together. This will act as my guide - I tape it underneath a fresh sheet of bristol paper (I use Strathmore with a Vellum finish), and place them both over my lightbox and begin drawing.

Final Pencils

Here's what the final pencil drawing looks like. Everything's pretty much in it's place, but I made a couple notes before inking - one you can see are the arrows below the lettering, reminding me to bring all those letters down a bit.

Sometimes I'll ink directly over the final pencils, but I'm also kind of a neat-freak (at least with drawing - not so much in the rest of my life), and this page was Dirty! The lines had been worked over so much - lots of deep pencil marks and lots of erased areas. So I got yet another fresh sheet of Bristol paper, taped it above this drawing, put it over the lightbox, and re-drew the whole thing one last time with soft pencil strokes - just enough to suggest where the inks will go.

I know that sounds like overkill, but it's become a habit by now, and I think the final work is always the better for it.

Final Inks

I reach for my trusty #2 Winsor & Newton brush and Black Star ink, and do some quick brush exercises. I always do a little warm-up before I start inking - gets me nice a loose and gets my brush in good shape. Then I begin. With this one I started with his shirt and body, which would be most of the thinner lines on the whole poster - I like to work from thin to thick. (the hair of course is the funnest part).

The hanging letters were outlined with some markers - just for a little ease. Once it was all inked, I used white ink to do the final lettering up top and the stars, as well as to cover a few areas that I decided shouldn't be so dark.

Finally I erase any remaining pencil lines, sign it, and decide it's finished!

Detail Shot

Thanks to everyone who read any or all of these posts this week - I'm always glad to share how these things go down. And I figure if I ever come down with amnesia or something, I'll at least have these documented to remind me of how I used to do it all. Yeah, I know...real pleasant thought.

I've got some more exciting projects in the works, and I'll be dropping some more process posts very soon. Stay tooned! In the meantime you can subscribe to this blog, 'like' my Facebook page, or hit up my Twitter to keep up to date with the latest.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Harlem Hand, A Harlem Heart

JAMES - It's Day 3 of "Process Week," and time to unveil another brand new piece. Pictured above is the art print version of A Harlem Hand, A Harlem Heart, which goes on sale in my store today - $25 each at

I also made an accompanying poster version (pictured below) for my good friend Brian Bonz and his amazing band the Major Crimes, for their upcoming tour. I've known Brian and his brother Mike for what seems like forever - incredibly talented dudes. Our bands all used to play together back in the day - I had worked with him on his first couple of records, and even played keyboards in his band for a bit. It was great to get the chance to collaborate again.

Bonz Tour Poster Version

Unlike the recent two process blog-posts, this is a good example of how each and every aspect of the artwork changed and evolved with each passing minute of working on it. Sometimes I like having a plan, sticking to it, and executing. But other times, it's really exciting to let the artwork steer me in it's own direction - I just gotta hang on.

Sketch Evolution

As always, I start with sketches. I had done some acrobat-type stuff in my sketchbook recently, and wanted to elaborate on the theme with a print. So I had this loose 'circus' theme that I started late one night with a pencil scribble (above left). By morning I had my colors mapped out (next sketch over), but that composition is just terrible. I couldn't live with it, so I took the part I liked the best - the actual acrobats - and decided to close in on them.

The funny thing is that I hadn't intended to have them look as though they're about to kiss - but when I blew up the scribble lines, they already appeared that way. So I went with it. That there pretty much changed the whole direction of it all. By then, the circus theme was kinda gone, and instead of the trapeze platforms bordering the sides, I decided to put them in the city.

Final Sketch

At long last, I had what I would consider my final sketch. On to drawing.

Acrobats drawing

I loved the looseness of the original scribbles, and while I kinda tried to clean them up and get all fancy with it, I realized they were more beautiful as these blurry silhouettes. So I grabbed my Pentel brush pen - it's big and sloppy, and runs out of ink all the time. Perfect for this kind of style.

Duct Tape

Before I started drawing the city, I had this really fun idea - what if I made the city out of Duct Tape? So that's what I did. Tearing little pieces to get those corners and windows just right was a pain - and then getting the lettering together.... that took a few tries. That stuff is mad sticky! I did want a rough look though, and I wanted it to be obvious that it was duct tape, so I didn't pretty it up too much.

I then scanned the drawing and the tape collages into the computer and started to do my Photoshopping. The blue highlights on the acrobats, and the white 'tour info' lettering were drawn in Photoshop with my Wacom tablet - and to get the tape to look like tape when I printed it, I decided it would need to be divided into two tones to show the textures of it. Lots of Photoshop trickery.

I sat and stared at it awhile, till I was finally happy with it. Then outputted my films and off to the studio to print!

Printing 1st color, Blue

Printing 3rd color, Magenta

Here are some pics of printing the first three colors of the poster-version (which I printed first to get them done in time for the tour). Not pictured here is the 'split-fountain' I used to print the trapeze-strings in the background - another last-minute idea. This gives the fading effect as the lines appear strong at the top, then fade to very light at the bottom.

The next day I printed the Art Print version - and once again, at the very last second, I decided to add the moon in the background of that one, since I was missing the balance that the lettering gave me on the poster-version.

Signing & numbering the posters

Then back to the house to curate them and sign & number 'em. Am I the only one who forgets how to spell his own name after writing it 150 times in a row? Probably.

Detail shot

Another detail shot

4-color screenprint, 25"x19", on 100lb Sweet Tooth French paper, 
edition of 50, signed and numbered

5-color screenprint, 25"x19", on 100lb Sweet Tooth French paper, 
edition of 95, signed and numbered

The art prints are available now in my store, - $25 each.

Brian and the band will have the posters available on tour for the next couple of months - do check them out, they're pretty incredible. And their new album, The Triborough Odyssey, is amazing. I named these prints after the final song on the album, a real beauty.

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow is the 4th and final day of "Process Week" - it's back to basics time. Until then...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Donkey Kong "Kill Screen"

JAMES - It's Day 2 of "Process Week", and I'll continue with my Donkey Kong print for the recent show MULTIPLAYER at Gallery 1988 in Venice, CA. The show was a collection of prints from an amazing group of artists, each depicting a selection of classic video game characters - I drew Donkey Kong. Literally. The show was a great success, and I'm honored to have presented with some of the artists I admire most. Incredible stuff.

My prints are now available on my website - get one here:
(And for anyone curious, these copies are in mint condition. Unfortunately, the ones at the gallery arrived with a very minor bent corner - freakin sloppy FedEx! But my copies are perfectly minty!).


As always, it all starts with a tiny sketch. In reality, there were pages and pages (and pages) of little pencil drawings. I went through a ton of ideas before getting where I wanted to go. This is the culmination of all that work. The first thing you'll see is that DK is facing right, which I later changed to face the other way - I just felt it moved better going to the left.


I started with pencils, shaping and creating my version of Donkey Kong. I didn't want to mimic the 'new' Donkey Kong character (who is a little too tame and friendly for my taste), and while this is meant to be an homage to the classic DK, I didn't want to be as minimal as that design was either. So I gave it my own flair, using lots of reference photos of real gorillas and monkeys.

Working the lighting

One I had the basics down, I wanted to find where all the light and shadows would fall, so I created this reference using two sheets of tracing paper over each other. Just kinda blocking out my blacks to give him depth and weight (he's a big dude!).


The final inks were done on this translucent Vellum paper I use - it's very thin, but real smooth and compliments my brush strokes just the way I like. As usual, I used my #2 Winsor & Newton brush and Dr. Ph Martin's Black Star india ink (which is becoming harder and harder to find! I'm almost all out. Help anyone?)

Detial Shot

From there, the inks were scanned into the computer, and I created a grid over it which divided the whole thing into 'pixels' (big ones). I chose which ones would be the wild and stray ones - some of them having only the base color and no linework, which references the classic DK design; some of them are static colors of aqua and pink, which is meant to mimic the look of when your video gets scrambled.

It was then divided into 8 colors, which I hand printed during 2 and a half days in January (I'm pretty sure this is what I was printing on New Year's day). The colors are super saturated - came out sick, in my opinion.

8-color screenprint, 18"x24", on 100lb Sweet Tooth French paper, 
edition of 70, signed and numbered

Again, these are now available in my store - I don't have very many left, so get them while you can. Thanks for reading!

Tomorrow, "Process Week" continues with Day 3 - getting gnarly with some duct tape...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stockholm Syndrome Apollo

JAMES - Today is the first installment of what I will call "Process Week" - each of the next 4 days I will post a different process of a new project I've recently completed. Ready.... Go!

First up is an album cover I finished at the tail end of 2010, for the band Stockholm Syndrome's second album, Apollo. The band features songwriter Jerry Joseph and Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools, as well as an all-star cast. The album is released tomorrow, Feb 15th by Response Records (Feb 28th in the UK). Find it everywhere.

I was approached by the band and management to bring a wild visual to life that somehow combined the Greek God Apollo and the Apollo Theater in Harlem. I was given the title song as reference, which poetically weaves the tale of a man searching for hope and meaning, to eventually soar to the sun from the depths of street life, with the soundtrack of Smokey and the Chi-Lites ringing in his head.

I knew that literally drawing the Apollo theater could possibly confuse people to think this was a live recording from the Apollo, as many such albums have appeared in the past. So I needed a better connection - and what better than the 125th Street subway station.

Pencil Sketch

Here's the simplest of scribbles - in my mind it mapped the whole thing out, even though I realize it doesn't look like much. But compared to the final, it's all there.

Concept Sketch

So I refined the sketch to submit to the band (along with a couple of other different sketches - this is the one they chose) using Photoshop and a quick ink drawing.


Once the imagery was set, it was time to draw. For this one, I drew all the parts separately, starting with the station itself. I created a perspective to work with, and filled the station in around it. From there I would have the basis for the train and Apollo with his horse and chariot, all of which could stay within the proper perspective, using this guide as my key.

Drawing The Train

Drawing Apollo and his horse

Developing the lettering

Again, each element was created on it own, then all combined in Photoshop to be assembled and colored. This makes it a bit easier, in case I decide to change a certain thing later on (and I did...plenty!), it wouldn't affect any other part of the illustration. It also came in handy when creating the image for the back cover, which shows the empty subway station with just a little hint of Apollo's magic being left behind.

The lettering was developed by hand - the style revolves around interlocking circles. Once I had the theme down, I brought it into Adobe Illustrator and refined it till it was perfect.

Back Cover

Detail Shot

I'm very proud of the cover design, of which I also created the booklet and CD face - not to mention the double-LP version on blue vinyl (oooooh!!). And the album is pretty strong - these guys are serious pros. They start their tour on Friday the 18th in San Francisco to celebrate the album's release. Check em out if you can.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a process where I get to do a lot of monkeying around...

Happy Valentine's Day

TOM- Hi lovebirds, this is a Valentine's Day card I made and sent out this year. I had fun drawing this one and sending them out in the mail. I felt like cupid. I like Valentine's Day because it's really the last of the 'winter holidays', so here's to spring!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sketchbook Drawings

JAMES - I just scanned a ton of sketchbookeries - here are some of the better recent ones...