How PEZ sparked a romance and ended up in the Getty Gallery at the Los Angeles Central Library.
This was my first job for candy manufacturer, PEZ. It was a major commission and I was thrilled for a number of reasons. One, well, it's PEZ. Who wouldn't want to make art for this iconic candy company? Two, it was the first time I illustrated a candy package. And three, it was pretty much the catalyst which created a friendship that led to marriage.
I have to go back to 1975. I was a kid growing up in Sayre, Pennsylvania. A very small town near Upstate New York. There was a store called Jordan's News Stand. It was also the bus stop and the place to buy candy, Wacky Packages, and rubber monsters. Of all the candies I bought there, and there were a lot, Nice Mice by Stark Confections was one that carved itself into my memories. All throughout the 80s and 90s I had looked for it.
When the internet thing happened, I searched online, hoping just to find a picture of it. Then one day, it happened! There it was, in The Candy Wrapper Museum, a newly launched website for showcasing the candy collection of Darlene Waddington. As it turns out, Nice Mice was the first piece she had collected in 1975 when she thought of creating her museum in Los Angeles, California, the same year I was buying the candy 3,000 miles away. Of course I had to write to her.
We exchanged pleasant emails and things were nice and professional. Then, I get an email from PEZ asking if I would be interested in working on the new Holiday packaging. I was so excited! When I had the art done, I emailed Darlene a screenshot of it, figuring she would write back right away. I heard nothing for almost two months. Well, I guessed she wasn't impressed. Little did I know (or Darlene), my email got sucked into her spam folder! Good for me, because she felt so guilty, we started writing to each other more seriously. Over a year of sending emails, then a couple phone calls, and now we're happily married for almost 14 years!
Selected pieces from Darlene's candy wrapper collection (along with Holiday PEZ) are now part of a major art exhibit — 21 Collections: Every Object Has a Story at The Getty Gallery in Los Angeles' Central Library. The thesis of the exhibition is that personal collections create stories of our world that traditional history has not told. It was an honor for Darlene's collection to not only be included, but to be the first one selected. However, more importantly, Nice Mice and Darlene now reside in my house. Not a bad deal!
You can visit The Candy Wrapper Museum here.
Crayola Signature Coloring Songbook: Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney
36 premium 8” x 10” line art coloring sheets plus a full color, 4-panel wall art piece.
The book is available exclusively from Crayola.com.
Also as a specially priced bundle with a 50 count Signtature Blend & Shade Colored Pencils tin.
When Crayola contacted me to ask if I'd interested in working on this book, I practically jumped out of my chair! Are you kidding?! I was on cloud nine. About a week later, I received all the specs from the licensing agency and I was ready to go.
The challenge creating the art for this book was the stipulation that I couldn’t use any preexisting Beatles imagery or likenesses. Everything had to be my original interpretations — something less common for officially licensed products, especially for a project of this size. I embraced this "restriction" as it allowed me to take the book in a direction that totally new. What I learned about the lyrics of Lennon & McCartney is that there are so many numerous ways to depict them. I could have done twelve different illustrations for each song!
I was given a list of 50 songs to pick from. The book is made up of 37 Lennon & McCartney songs — All You Need Is Love is a full-color, four page wall mural! I wish I could have illustrated the almost 180 songs they had written together because when I got to the last few pages, I was sad that this project was coming to an end. It was so much fun to work on, and all the people at Crayola could not have been more supportive and enthusiastic about this book. I wanted it to go on forever! There's also four pages — Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, Yellow Submarine, and Revolution — that are color enhanced for even more coloring fun!
To say I'm a Beatles fan is putting it modestly. I bought my first Beatles record when I was in fifth grade, and for four more years that's all I bought. I listened to the Beatles, I drew pictures of the Beatles, I basically thought about the Beatles every day. I listened to some of those records so much, I had to buy new copies because they were getting worn out! I still have all of them. I think I'll go play some now. I hope Paul McCartney likes the book. I hope you like the book.
Here's the stories behind eight of the illustrated pages:
I AM THE WALRUS
There were so many ways to illustrate this song. I was quite nervous working on it, since it’s such an amazing musical achievement. In the end, I decided to go for a theatrical feel. This song was first released in 1967 as a double — A side single with HELLO GOODBYE by The Beatles.
WHEN I’M SIXTY-FOUR
This was the first page of the book I illustrated. It has a Victorian feel to it, which was very popular in the 1960s. One of the first songs Paul McCartney wrote, when he was only sixteen, it was reworked by John and Paul in 1967 for the album SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.
I wanted this page to have a real hippie, nature feel to it. This song is from The Beatles’ 1968 WHITE ALBUM and is based on Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow, who was with the Beatles in India while studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
This is definitely the one the of the strangest illustrations in the book and one that was a lot of fun to work on. Lennon started this as a campaign song for Timothy Leary's run for governor of California against Ronald Reagan in 1969.
“The thing was created in the studio. It's gobbledygook; Come Together was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn't come up with one. But I came up with this, Come Together, which would've been no good to him - you couldn't have a campaign song like that, right?” ~ John Lennon
DRIVE MY CAR
I wanted this page to be like one of those “WIN THIS BICYCLE!” sweepstakes that appeared so often in the back of comic books. The swirling hair that becomes part of the floor, the smile and eyelashes on the car, were all meant to imply the car and the girl are one in the same. Written in 1965, McCartney said this song was lyrically "one of the stickiest" writing sessions he and Lennon had worked on.
Most of this book stayed very close to my original vision. PENNY LANE started out as mostly text and a small scene of stores and street lamps. I gave it some serious thought and decided all the characters should be a part of the nurse’s “play” that is going on in her head — “she feels as if she's in a play / she is anyway”. I posed my wife for reference and I ended up with one of the coolest pages in this book. McCartney wrote this song based on scenes and characters from Penny Lane, an actual street in Liverpool. Originally intended for inclusion on the album SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, the song was released in 1967 as a double — A side with STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER.
This is possibly my favorite Beatles song (which is why I drew myself as the main character). It was fun to include as many references in the song as possible. The two-finger typing method depicted in the illustration is a nod to author Mickey Spillane, famous for his Mike Hammer crime novels. It’s a song that starts and just keeps going! McCartney wrote PAPERBACK WRITER in 1966 after he read an article in the Daily Mail about an aspiring book author.
TICKET TO RIDE
I saw this one visually more surrealistic than the song actually implies. I focused on the lines "living with me is bringing her down", "she would never be free" and "she's riding so high" to depict her as an uncaged bird. It has a nice comic book romance feel to it. Although the song is obviously about a relationship that has ended sadly, there are several conflicting interpretations of the song that you can research online for yourself. Released in 1965, TICKET TO RIDE became the Beatles' seventh consecutive number 1 hit single in the UK.
BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE
John Lennon wrote the song in 1967 based on an actual circus poster from 1843. I paid homage to this by including the same classic Greek styled border around the page. It was my first choice to be one of the four color enhanced pages from this book.
LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS
I wanted to do a kind of Art Nouveau style on this illustration. It's another page in the book that does not have the title of the song in the picture and because of this, it's more about the scene and what is happening. I never planned on putting as many references into the picture as I did. Wish this page was a poster! i could have done all of them! John Lennon said his inspiration for the song came from a drawing his son Julian brought home from nursery school and that much of the imagery was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books. The song was written in 1967 for the album SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.
"Listen to the color of your dreams" ~ Tomorrow Never Knows / Lennon & McCartney
Just in time for Halloween! The Crayola BOOklet was the first time my digital artwork started to look the way I saw it in my head. Before this, I was doing mostly vector art and traditional painting - primarily airbrush. BOOklet was a crash course in digital art and an incredible rush to finish. I started on the 5th of March and finished on the 25th of March, 2002. That's twenty days to write all the activities, design the pages, and finish the art.
BOOklet was a free in-store giveaway with the purchase of two Crayola products. Fourteen pages of craft projects and five pages of activities I wrote and illustrated, plus the cover, and a store riser display.
My favorite page is "It's Alive!", a cut-out mobile dangler of Frankenstein coming to life on a laboratory table. I can't say it was my idea, however. In grade school, one of our class projects at Thanksgiving was to make a scarecrow dangler out of construction paper and yarn. I loved it then, so why wouldn't kids love it today! I still have my scarecrow dangler. He makes me happy.
So, here's the art, the sketches and some stuff that never made it in the book. Happy Halloween!
In-Store Riser Display
The riser was placed above a display of selected Crayola products, Model Magic, Gel Clings, crayons, and markers. I never saw this in the store and I don't have a printed copy of it. Always wanted one. The moon was left blank for the art department to fill with text, probably something like this — FREE BOOklet! While Supplies Last! The book had instructions on how to make the "Bouncing Eyeball" that Dracula is holding and Frankenstein's "Paper Bag Pumpkin Patch". There were also "Ghostly Goodie Bags", "Creepy Spider Web Doorways", and "Jolly Jack-O'-Lantern" craft ideas.
Alternate Unused Sketches
Like every artist and illustrator, I have a wealth of unfinished work and unfulfilled visions of characters and worlds that might have been. Beyond commercial jobs that get "killed" mid stream or never make it into production, there's all the personal work that has sat in folders and boxes for years. I look back on some of this stuff and wonder why I abandoned them. So, here's a short-lived vision that only made it to the rough concept stages - Spy Guy.
About eighteen years ago, I had planned to do five toy boxes and two scene illustrations for a character called Spy Guy, but they never got past the preliminary tonal studies. I was watching a lot of Gerry Anderson puppet TV shows at the time (Captain Scarlet and Stingray). I was also collecting quite a few vintage 1970s G.I. JOE Adventure Team toys by Hasbro. The cool ones with the fuzzy hair and Kung-Fu Grip™! I was also thinking of them as science fiction book covers. But in any case, they were always meant to be concept work and a chance to try something different.
I posed myself and my brother John with trench coats and toy water guns. I worked out quite a few concepts, but only have one sketch and two tonal studies left. I think I threw the ones I didn't like away. I need to stop doing that! So, I get the art to this point but wasn't getting a lot of positive feedback on the idea and most people were confused as to why I wanted to even do this style of art. I was also busy with paid commercial work and, well, life gets in the way and my focus moved to something else.
The Spy Guy series is one of these personal projects I regret never completing. The lesson I learned is, stick to your vision no matter what anyone else says. I don't know if I will ever revisit this concept again as I have more than enough OTHER unfinished paintings to finish! I'll try to get them done soon.
A few years back, I designed some rough concepts for the Dixie Cup Corporation. Dixie is now one of the brands owned by Georgia-Pacific, makers of Brawny, Sparkle, and numerous janitorial supplies. This is the only example I have of the work I made for Dixie. About 13 years ago, a major computer crash caused the loss of quite a bit of my digital art, my Fisher-Price work was hit the hardest. The crash even wiped out my back-up drive!
I believe I did three or four designs, two with characters and two without, all meant to be produced in full color. Because the work was conceptual, I simply did pencil sketches and some quick inkings by hand to show the basic ideas. The inkings were scanned, colored, and then mocked-up to took like cups. I wanted to do something that looked like a MAD Magazine comic book from the 1950s or novelty candy packaging from the 1970s. It kind of got there. Dixie never took these concepts any further, but I wish they had. I wanted it to be a series of five-ten cups with different genres of movies or decades. A silent movie cup, the 1950s, science fiction, and a bigger tub for popcorn or maybe some plates. Probably too much of a targeted subject for home purchase, but it would have been cool!
Shiverin' Scoops Game Cards
"We all scream for ice cream, especially when it's this much fun!" And... when it's a really fun project to work on! I designed and illustrated four place cards for Fisher-Price Games Shiverin' Scoops. The game included a motorized cone that shakes when you pick it up. Each player tries to add a scoop, balance the cone while placing it on the game card of the next player. The player who adds the last scoop wins!
The cards were to be one design with the only change being the color of the floor, and that would be done with an overlay. But the art department wanted to see four concepts in order to pick from one. I submitted my designs using the two kids shown on the red card. They liked them all, and instead of illustrating one card, I got to illustrate four cards and add a few more kids to the scenes.
I don't recall any major problems working on these illustrations. For once, the airbrush didn't accidentally spatter paint all over the board and there were no re-dos. This is one of the last physical airbrush pieces illustrated prior to going all digital. There really isn't a major difference in the look of my later airbrush paintings and my early digital paintings.
The best advice I received concerning digital paintings came from an art director at Mattel. He said
"Avoid using Photoshop filters unless you have to. Make your art look hand painted."
It's advice I still use to this day. Despite the fact that I like seeing the original art and holding it in my hands, I'm really happy that today all my airbrushing is digital! Package designs, product art... it all changes so quickly. The ability to easily edit the artwork is something I've grown fondly accustomed to.
I've illustrated and worked on quite a few games from Fisher-Price, including: Spin-Yo, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Animal 2x2, Saucer Scramble, just to name a few. All of it now, of course, digital. Much of this work is in product development and interactive animations, which is why Fisher-Price seems a bit under represented in my portfolio. So many games and toys that never made it out into the world. But, I plan on posting a lot more of my work for Fisher-Price on this blog soon.
Cadaco Cluster Puzzles of the 1960s and 1970s
I never owned a Cluster Puzzle when I was kid, but it was carved into my memory as strongly as Mad Magazine and Wacky Packages. My best friend's family had one that they kept in a corner hutch in their kitchen. The two things I remember the most from those days, besides his mom's good cooking, was playing the Barnabas Collins Dark Shadows Game (those skeletons and that coffin were so cool!) and putting together this very strange picture puzzle illustrated with all kinds of bizarre characters.
About fifteen years later I'm at an outdoor antique market filled with hundreds of vendors displaying goods in a huge field. I looked down at one display and saw a small blue plastic box with a clear lid. I picked up the box. "I know you!" It was the Cadaco Cluster Puzzle No. 4 - "Make-Up". It's funny how things stay shoved in the back of your head and then get pushed right back up front again. It was even the same puzzle! I started collecting them online and today, I have a fairly complete collection with a couple rare items, variations, and all six from the original series. But who was the master-mind behind these great puzzles?
Alex D. Palmer, engineering tool designer and technical artist, first conceived of his puzzles in 1964. The puzzles were similar to the interlocking artwork of M.C. Escher and tessellation art. Produced under the name Jumble-Fits, Palmer sold and manufactured the puzzles through his own corporation, Tek Method Company in Chicago, Illinois. He started out by going from store to store, contacting catalog distributors, and even enlisting his son Kelvin to sell them door-to-door. The business was very small with packaging and office functions all happening out of Palmer's home.
In 1966, he approached Cadaco, Inc., in Chicago about licensing his puzzles. Cadaco manufactured a wide variety of board games and puzzles. Palmer negotiated a distribution and royalty deal and, in 1966, Cadaco released Cluster Puzzles to the world with the original line-up of six puzzles: No. 1 - "Animals", No. 2 - "Figments", No. 3 - "Sports", No. 4 - "Make-Up", No.5 - "Doodles", and No. 6 - "Whimsies".
Each puzzle came with a humorous Hint Card that would help the puzzle-challenged individual figure out each scene. The Hint Cards were every bit as fun as the puzzles themselves! With wacky character names such as Alec Zandimer Plerp, Lumpy Long Dog, Erpfrog, Hairspray Harriet, Shmonster, and Mr. Lemonsuck, Alex Palmer created an entire world, not just a puzzle. These weren't puzzles that you put together and said, "That was fun. I'm done." No, once done, you looked at them again and again, studying each character and relishing all the details.
Throughout the remainder of the sixties up to 1988, Cadaco continued to produce and sell various incarnations of Palmer's Cluster Puzzles. Cadaco, like many other big toy companies, eventually was sold, subdued and now forever gone. There's a really good in-depth article about the history of Cadaco here.
Alex D. Palmer passed away at the age of 92 in 2013. His son Kelvin Palmer runs The A. Z. Plerp Company, a website devoted to the collecting and historical information of Cluster Puzzles. You can learn a lot there. He also offers for sale, a very informative and fully illustrated book, "The Collector's Guide To Cluster Puzzles of the 1960s and 1970s". If you want to learn more about these unique puzzles, see some original sketches and more, then pick up a copy of the book!
And remember, "intelligent adults can assemble the pieces in 30 minutes. Children 5 years old or more need only 15 minutes." Thank you, Alex D. Palmer, for putting some whimsy in the world.
Here's one from the vault that has always held a sentimental place in my heart - a full page spread that appeared in Sesame Street Magazine entitled S Family's Spring Day for Children's Television Workshop.
I had just begun work as a regular contributor to Crayola Kids Magazine and had a few jobs under my belt. Around this time, the magazine stands at bookstores and grocery stores were filled with kids magazines. With a pen in hand, I jotted down the names and addresses of the art directors from the magazines I liked.
Next, I did what every illustrator is told NOT to do. I went home, folded an 8.5" x 11" color photocopy of an activity page I had done for another magazine and stuffed it into a white envelope with nothing more than the addresses on the outside and my name on the inside. When doing promotional mailers, artists should, for the most part, always send postcards. Art directors don't want to waist time opening envelopes. Most of the time they never even look at your post cards!
One week later, I get a phone call from the art director at Sesame Street Magazine in New York City. I was expecting to be commissioned for a small spot illustration or some supporting art, not a full two-page spread. Not a bad return on investment for a stamp and envelope! My contract arrived with the most whimsical cover letter:
"Sesame Street Magazine is guaranteed to be a smash hit now that you've agreed to do an illustration for it!"
There were little to no changes to the art, but there were some changes to the content as the sketches evolved. Since it's an educational magazine, the games and activities are developed and reviewed long before they reach my desk. I received a very detailed list of what to include in the illustration and how the overall feel of the page should be presented. Beyond that, the characters and style were up to me. The art was hand-painted with airbrush and gouache on bristol board. At this time, I was transitioning into digital art, but still producing a fair number of illustrations in traditional mediums. It's cute little illustration, and I hope it made the kids happy.
Original hand-painted art and the printed page as it appeared in the magazine.
Pencil sketch stages.
Redesigning An American Classic
This was my first major toy packaging commission. Until then, I was doing a lot of product rendering, concept boards, and a lot of line art. To tell this story properly, I need to start with a brief history of Silly Putty packaging.
Binney & Smith (Crayola, LLC.) acquired Silly Putty in 1977. The look pretty much stayed the way it was originally introduced in 1951, retaining it's iconic television frame and two blonde haired kids. Up until 1989, they were still producing Silly putty with this packaging. The nineties were rolling in and it was time for an update. I couldn't believe I was going to be the the guy who got to take this on! Granted, there were several attempts in the '70s at updated packaging, Silly Putty Man featured a Marvel-esque superhero fighting off space pirates and limited run holiday packaging from the early '80s. But they never radically changed the packaging for the original Silly Putty until 1992. I had just finished my studies at Syracuse University and was ready to go full-time into the world of freelancing. I had an interview for a full-time job at an ad agency in Harrisburg, PA, then the phone rang.
"Hey Joe, you wanna work on the rebranding for Silly Putty?"
"Sure!", I said. "When does it start?"
"We need the art in a couple months, gotta redesign the characters... Come in on Thursday, we'll talk about it."
"I'll be there."
I hung up the phone and cancelled my job interview. I couldn't pass this up!
Silly Putty Packaging
The first round of the redesign was Original Silly Putty, Fluorescent Silly Putty, and Glow-In-The Dark Silly Putty. The main focus was on Original Silly Putty, as it would dictate how the others were to be handled. The kids were still blonde, striped shirt, baseball cap and sun dress. I decided to make the kids' heads look like a ball of egg-shaped Silly Putty. A pattern of boomerangs was used as a nod to the 1950s origins of Silly Putty. The back was b&w line art where I was able to include my name. A year later I illustrated the packaging for Glitter Silly Putty and a stocking shaped holiday four-pack of metallic putty.
When the newly designed Silly Putty was released in 1992, I was told David Letterman held up the The Original Silly Putty package I had illustrated during one of his skits about funny warning labels, proclaiming, "Use of this product may cause extreme silliness", or something like that. I never saw the episode, so if anyone out there knows where I can see it, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!
For you collectors out there, these packages appear to be extremely rare. I have searched the internet for several years and have yet to see them posted anywhere. I've never even seen them for sale on ebay! I have quite a few of them and even some huge press sheets of uncut boards given to me by the art director at Binney & Smith. I had planned to wallpaper a room with them. Maybe someday, I will.
In 1997 the packaging was again re-designed with new characters of which I was not involved. Silly Putty continues to go through many package revisions and was inducted into the National Toy Hall Of Fame in 2001.
In 2002 I worked on some concept art for yet another redesign of Silly Putty. Three pencil sketches of rubbery aliens, goofy birds, and a dog and cat named Stretch and Bounce, never made it past the drawing board, but it was fun to work on Silly Putty again.
I hope this article gets you in the mood to go out and buy some Silly Putty. Like the package says, it's for kids aged "Four to forever". There's nothing else quite like it!
BASIC: Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code created in 1964.
BEATLES: English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960.
“You are wasting your time, my time and the class's time. I want you out of this class.”
And so, my career as a digital artist was over and it hadn’t even begun! Now I have to tell my mom I got kicked out of my high school computer class for drawing pictures of the Beatles using advanced BASIC computer code. She wasn’t too happy about this, but she stuck up for me and went to see the principal the next day. Funny, how when a parent visits your school, things change. Seems, a student who is averaging an “A” in computer programming can’t be kicked out for “wasting his time”. In the teacher’s infinite wisdom, he made it very clear to me that computers are very serious machines that will never be used on frivolous endeavors such as art. I got back in class the next day, did only what I was supposed to do and and never drew any more pictures in the computer until many years later.
Pictured here is a young and optimistic Joe Lacey serving his time in high school as his dreams and ambitions are repressed and conformed to adapt to society's standards of acceptability.
To be honest, I first designed them by hand using pencils and graph paper. After all, it was a covert operation! I printed out a list of every number, letter and symbol that could be generated using BASIC code. I broke them up into a series of details and grey scales. Then, I filled in the graph paper blocks to make portraits of John Lennon and Paul McCartney from the Beatles' White Album.
I’ve kept the original printouts all these years. I no longer have the graph paper designs. I had George ready to go and Ringo was in the works, but, sadly, they never came to be. I think I’ll get back to work now and waste more of my time making art in the computer.
Let's Go Digital!
Print magazines were having a digital revival in the '90s. Crayola Kids Magazine, published bi-monthly by Meredith Corporation, offered a variety of art styles, games and stories for young readers. It was my first foray into this type of publication and I absolutely loved it! Every couple months, I worked on anywhere from one to three activities, spot illustrations or promotional web items.
It was also my first step into the world of digital art. I remember the day I walked into the Crayola offices and saw all the drafting tables, drafting arms and markers being pulled out and replaced with computers. I was very young and out of school, but thought, "Uh, oh... this looks like trouble." I asked everyone I worked with, "Would you like it if I got a computer and started going digital?" Crayola said "YES!", Fisher-Price said, "YES!" I thought about it and then Bob Riley, the art director at Crayola Kids called.
My phone conversation with him went something like this, "You can do the art any way you want, as long as it looks good, but we'd prefer digital if you can do it, and we need it in one month." I said, "Sure! I can do it digitally." I hung up the phone and went out and bought a Macintosh Quadra 605 computer, Photoshop, Freehand and Adobe Streamline. I had one month to figure all this out.
The game was What's Different? to be included in the upcoming dinosaur issue. Hand inked on vellum, scanned and converted to vector. The art was very simplistic compared to the art I am doing today, but at the time, there were so many obstacles, beyond frequent computer crashes, tube-styled monitors and using a mouse. On top of this, I couldn't email the file and the file had to fit on a 1.4MB floppy disc (Syquest and ZIP Drives were still out of reach). And these limitations went on for quite a few years. It was a golden age for FedEx. The job got done, I figured out how to make an illustration in the computer, I sent off my invoice, and more digital work rolled in soon after.
Bigger And Better Things!
I worked on the magazine for about five years, writing and illustrating games. Multiple computers and programs later, the illustrations were getting more complex. Some being built entirely in the computer. Many, still being hand-inked, scanned and added on from there. The ROW, ROW, ROW series as we referred to them, were some of my favorites. I became the "go-to-guy" for these, writing and illustrating about twelve in all. Here's one I always liked, 9 Shipmates In A Row.
Eventually, I began getting commissions from Sesame Street Magazine, Kid City, Scholastic, Better Homes & Gardens, and even Esquire to write and create children's magazine activities. It became the stepping stone for my future work with corporate promotional books and kids restaurant menus.
Early in my career, I did some editorial illustrations for magazines. This one was for Yankee Magazine which devoted it's pages to life in New England. The art director had seen my work on a series of Halloween illustrations and wanted three black flies that resembled vampires. Cool!
As a kid living near Upstate New York, I was more than familiar with the nuisance of little black gnats that would swarm around everyone's heads. Summer happiness was dictated by the outbreak or lack thereof of these horrible little monsters. Kids pretty much wore baseball caps all summer. The best solution, besides spraying yourself with insect repellent, was to burn punks. Punks were basically incense on long thin sticks that resembled pond water cattails. I used to light two or three of them and stick them on top of my baseball cap where they would burn and encircle my head with a fine smoky mist that created an impenetrable barrier against the flying gnat armies! I thought I looked pretty darn cool! But, then, I was just a dopey little kid. The only time I have ever seen them mentioned in print was in the autobiography Moe Howard & The Three Stooges. Moe talks about "burning punk" to keep away the gnats. Moe knew what he was doing.
Well, finally onto the art! It was commissioned as three small spot illustrations for a side article called "New England By The Numbers". The article listed numeric facts about the black fly population in New England. Seems they have a problem with gnats, too. Maybe they just need to burn some punk?
I remember the day I received an email inquiring if I would be interested in taking on an assignment to illustrate a poster about "The Dimensions Of Computational Fluency". At first I thought, "What is this?" and then I thought, "There's no way I want to take this job!" But then I read further and discovered that the poster was going to be a circus tent with clowns, animals and performers! How cool! A chance to take a very serious and often dry subject such as math and make it visually appealing to grade school kids. Of course I accepted the job!
The poster is a 16" x 21" stapled pull-out inside a quarterly classroom magazine for the National Council Of Teachers Of Mathematics. The basic layout for the poster was supplied by the client and followed an established design for computational fluency. Sometimes, it's really nice to have a structure in place while working out the look of an illustration, especially when it involves technical issues. Other times, it can be challenging or even burdensome. In this case, it just made my work a lot easier, so I was grateful to have it.
I started with a very small thumbnail sketch just to get thinking about it. I often do more thinking than rough sketching and like to have a solid visual in my head before I start any serious sketching. Next I did a rough sketch on tracing paper in marker. Marker? It's one of the few times I ever did a rough sketch using marker. Not sure why, but there it is!
I sent the marker sketch to the Senior Designer at The Magazine Group in Washington, D.C. and it was approved with a few minor changes, primarily the banner at the top. I thought a big waving banner with the words FLEXIBILITY, ACCURACY, and EFFICIENCY would look neat being hit by the spot lights. This was nixed, for good reasons. The new layout with each word inside the light beams was a lot better! There were a few character changes, clowns were to be less "hobo" looking, and gender and racial representations were discussed. I was ready to work on the tight pencil sketch.
The tight pencil sketch went through with no changes that I can recall and I was ready to create the flat color layout in vector using Adobe Illustrator. I make flat vector art for two reasons: 1) It gives me a close to finished look in color and layout that I can send to the client for approval, prior to starting the painting. 2) I can create each piece of the illustration in layers and easily move or scale things as needed without any destruction of the images that can occur in Adobe Photoshop when painting with pixels. The final art was digitally rendered using Photoshop.
You can click through the gallery of images below to see the progression of the art.
I was really happy with the final production. The printing came out spot-on and the colors were incredibly accurate. The Dimensions Of Computational Fluency math poster was a big challenge, but a very rewarding project to work on and I'm not clowning around, either!
• Publisher: The Magazine Group of Washington, D.C. • Senior Designer: Janelle Welch.
• Poster front design: Janie Schielack and Tim Boerst. • Illustration: Joe Lacey.
On a side note, shortly after I had completed the poster, I was contacted by a music band in Spain called La Herejia asking if they could use one of my clowns for their new CD "Malabares". Since I owned the rights to the images, I agreed. Funny where things end up. A veces, la vida es un circo ambulante.
The Model Magic™ Wizard was designed for Crayola's Air Dry Model Magic™ Modeling Compound. I wanted him to be very whimsical with a "chunky" look as if he were sculpted from clay. I first intended to make him out of real clay and have him photographed, but the art director said that wouldn't work. I'll talk more about that later.
I looked at a lot of older illustrators for inspiration. Andrew Loomis, who wrote many art instruction books, and Vernon Grant, the illustrator famous for his gnome characters as well as the creator of Kellogg's Snap!, Crackle! and Pop!® were two obvious influences. I didn't go though a lot of exploration and he sort of "magically" happened and was approved with no changes. Wow! that was easy! Or at least that's what I thought.
So, why not make him out of clay? It is Model Magic™ after all? Well, the package was produced quite a few years ago and the flexographic printing process had it's limitations. Printing the art onto a plastic/foil bag and with limited colors was the reason he became a painted illustration.
I ended up painting him twice. The first painting had more tones and textures and felt more like a basic character. The art director felt he needed to look like he was made out of solid white clay with more dimensional elements on his hat. Even with this direction, I pushed it a bit to include a few more darks around the face just to keep the character from fading out.
Below is the original packaging and a digitally restored version using a scan of the second unused painting. Despite all the concerns about the limited printing capabilities, the new wizard printed still ended up printing a bit dark and murky.
I was hoping that he would become the official Model Magic™ mascot. But he was used only once and for a very brief time. His debut opened and closed on this one package. Still, he holds a good place in my heart and the job was a lot of fun. It's nice to finally see him looking his best in this restored version! He's a happy little guy.
To see more of my art, please visit my website.
This is a product I designed and illustrated for Crayola quite a few years ago. It's one that I really like and had a lot of fun working on. Color and Stamp Mix-Up Monsters was small rackable set of eight high quality rubber stamps featuring zany monsters with interchangeable heads and bodies. The set also came with four washable markers and two background sheets for stamping.
Everything was hand illustrated. The box art above was done in gouache on bristol board. The inkings for the stamps were probably done on vellum with brush or maybe an art pen. I can't remember, and they don't appear to be in my possession anymore.
The set was always planned with four characters, but I designed five of them. Surprised I didn't have to design twelve! Depending upon the project, I either do one design or quite a few. All the extra concept work is used for market testing or simply to have a variety to pick from. And, of course, my favorite character, a burly-looking pig monster with horns and fur was not chosen. *Insert sad-faced emoji here. Oh, well, seems that's the way it goes! Most of the characters made it through with few changes. You can see the original sketches below. I also designed and illustrated a matching set called Color and Stamp Dinosaurs.
Don't confuse Crayola's Color and Stamp Mix-Up Monsters with Crayola's Monster Mix-Ups, a big rubbing plate kit. I designed that one too and will be posting it for Halloween.
To see more of my art, please visit my website.
Whenever I work with a client, I like to pick up old product catalogs to see what they were making years ago. It's a nice way to make a connection to the past and see where my work fits into the company's history. These two books, Wilton Sugar Mold Ideas and Wilton's Wonderland of Cake Decorating Supplies were gifts I sent to the Creative Director at Wilton. I may have to get my own copies. What was I thinking?! There's so much fun art in these books! I could post every page, but here's a few of the ones that really impressed me.
My services with Wilton over the years have been in product development, creative exploration and production design. Much of my work has made it into production as single items or as major parts of full product lines. I'll be posting more of my work for Wilton at a later date, but in the meantime, here's a couple cupcake products that I designed.
To see more of my art, please visit my website.
A Look at Vernon Grant's Promotional Books for Kids
You may not know him by name, but you know his work. Vernon Grant (April 26, 1902 – July 9, 1990) is the creator of the Kellogg’s characters Snap! Crackle! and Pop! In 1938, Life magazine called him "America's favorite children's artist." Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, his illustrations appeared on major magazines, cereal boxes, advertising and collectible premiums such as posters and books. It's these premiums which first made me aware of this great illustrator. I hope you enjoy this very brief introduction to the art of Vernon Grant.
Years ago I found a small Kellogg's Rice Krispies flip book at an antique market. "Fold yourself a lot of pictures" it read. It delivered on that promise. I was impressed by the whimsical art and the cleverness of the booklet. I bought it. There was a very distinctive signature on it - "Vernon Grant". I thought, "This is a guy I need to see more of." I love promotional giveaways and Grant's are among the best. Since then, I have added to this collection and am always looking for more of Grant's premiums.
Then I found Flibbity Jibbit, a promotional kids book that told the tale of a key-keeper, a king, and a little bird named Flibbity Jibbit. Their journey to find the key to unlock the door that held Junket's Rennet Powder for the king's custard party is told by Grant in an illustrated 32 page fairy tale. It was adorable! It also made me want to make some custard. I guess advertising really does work!
Grant's style is very economical and not overly rendered. He often makes use of three color tones to create volume with a dark, middle, and light. But more importantly, his drawings have character. A lamp is not just a lamp, it's full of personality. It feels as if even a shoe can be your friend in Vernon Grant's world.
His compositions make use of circles and solid shapes. Buildings and backgrounds can be bold and abstract in nature, similar to the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s and 1930s, creating a world full of dream-like twists and turns. He utilizes classic design principles of color and tone to keep the viewer focused on the center of interest. A signature look of his work is the use of solid color backgrounds, often black.
Today, these commercial premiums are in the form of activity books, not story books, with puzzles, games and coloring pages replacing story driven themes.
I'll be posting an article and samples of my work in this field of illustration sometime soon. In the meantime, to see a small selection of my illustrated kids premiums and books, please visit my website.
BOOKS I RECOMMEND
All the images are from my personal collection.
Just Like Daddy & Mommy
The box sizes, shapes and general layouts were all pretty much determined prior to me working on the sketches. The project moved along smoothly and I did not have to do too many explorations for the look of the kids. The girl was by far the most challenging. She had to scrub her toes, wear a robe, be in the bath and still read very similar to the boy. I think the whole job was done in about two to three weeks.
Bath Time Fun! Hidden Picture Game
The boxes were a pretty good size, so I suggested that a picture game would work nicely on each box. The layout really lent itself to this. It also gave added play value to each kit. I designed a bathtub themed hidden picture game that would be appropriate for little kids. Each has the same game, but the games are color coordinated to match the boxes. And, whenever I get the chance, I like to put a dachshund or two into my illustrations!
Harcourt Books Robot Illustrations
Each picture started out with rough thumbnail sketches. The book covers were 3/4 page wraps - a full cover with spine and about 1/3 of the art wrapping around the back of the book. This always adds a challenge, as I can't let important elements fall off the main page, I have to be aware of the title placement and the spine needs to be kept clean of detail.
When the thumbnails are approved, I draw tight pencil sketches. I like sketching by hand on paper. It's often quicker than trying to sketch on a digital tablet (although, depending upon the illustration, I sometimes do just that). The sketch is scanned and used as a guide to make the flat color vector art in Adobe Illustrator. I send a screenshot to the art director to see what the colors will be, but more importantly the positioning of the illustrated elements. Sometimes, there are unexpected changes in size or direction. It can be very easy to move or scale the vector art to correct these changes.
The final art is painted digitally using Adobe Photoshop. For these illustrations I used a WACOM digital tablet. It would be near impossible to this kind of art using a computer mouse, never mind the damage you will do to your hands and wrists! Today, I use an interactive pen display and "paint" directly on the screen.
Digital painting is a lot like traditional airbrush. I select areas to paint, adjust spray pressure, and manually apply the digital paint using a stylus. I try to avoid using too many preset textures and effects, trying to keep the art looking as hand painted as possible. The art is either sent of flat or with editable layers still intact, depending upon the client's needs.
Nothing beats a robot that looks like it was made out a tin can or three cardboard boxes! This is why so much of my inspiration comes form older toys, movies and TV shows. The trick is to make it look updated without being derivative.
My original vision for The Wacky What's-It Machine was inspired by Ideal's Mr. Machine with little alien helpers. I loved it! The art directors did not. I was sad. So, the second one was more of a Wizard Of Oz inspired robot with munchkin styled aliens. I loved it! They did not. Again, I was sad. OK, third time's the charm. Let's think Robbie The Robot from Forbidden Planet. Yay! That one worked! They loved it! Everyone was happy and I was able to go onto the finished painting.
The machine is a Dr. Seuss Meets The Wacky Races with a touch of Rube Goldberg sc-ifi tossed in for good measure. I wish this had been turned into a toy! Illustrating all these crazy and colorful gears and gadgets got me ready for the Crayola factory themed Maker Kits that I illustrated several years later.
I produce illustrations and creative idea solutions for toys, packaging, publishing and advertising. I'm also a painter and educator with an MFA from Syracuse university.