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 produce illustrations and creative idea solutions for toys, packaging, publishing and advertising. I'm also a writer and fine art painter.
• MFA, Syracuse University