Time to step back in time...
I was playing Brain Salad Surgery by ELP the other day. I thought it would be fun to take a selfie with the cover over half my face. I posted it to social media and of course received many accolades, primarily in the form of "ELP ROCKS!". But, it was really a lot more to me than just a fun selfie.
The cover art* with its gatefold opening is very famous and I don't need to go into any great detail about the amazing artist H.R. Giger, best known for his concept designs for the original Alien movie, nor am I in anyway comparing myself to him. He was and always will be in a class all his own.
Four months before starting college as a freshman, I had undergone major facial reconstructive surgery. My jaw was broken, my chin pretty much removed and reshaped. To this day, I am quite conscious of this experience and have some regrets about it. It all came out well, but it was not without issues that persist to this day. I used to cover my face with my hand a lot when I was young. Here's a photo of me at my college drafting table. Ahh... the days of hand inking.
One of the first assignments for an Introductory Illustration class was to do a self portrait. It's a typical assignment, one I see a lot of. I think it may be a way for the teacher to get a fast glimpse into the mind of the student. I don't recall the exact details of the assignment, we may have had to incorporate some sort of personal element into the portrait. I went out and found an old lawn mower engine and lugged it back to my room. That's where most of the shapes in my self portrait came from. It's a small 8" x 10" acrylic painting. All monochrome. It was one of my first paintings and, despite its naïve approach, it has held up over time and I don't mind seeing it (unlike a lot of other earlier works of mine).
Throughout college I continued exploring mechanical and cubistic interpretations of faces and things for my fine art painting classes. Some of them quite large and typically of friends and other art students. Today, it's pretty obvious why I did this. But at the time I didn't really give it any more thought than "this would be an interesting thing to draw". I always thought I would continue this type of art, but the next thing you know, I'm illustrating for kids! That's another story.
Most of these paintings and drawings are gone now, a few sold, a couple commissioned, and most given away (if anyone reading this has one of my paintings, send me a photo, I'd love to see it! — and no, I don't want it back.), but most of them were destroyed. A couple that survived are more commercial illustrations — a pencil drawing of "Madona and Lizards" and "Good News" (an acrylic painting of George Harrison). I would have benefited from doing more research into mechanical parts, looking at Giger paintings, etc. — but, I tend to put my reference away and make things my own for good or for bad.
So, here they are. A few very old paintings from college days. I'm considering doing a new updated version of this self portrait. My painting has gotten a lot better since college. Maybe even the George Harrison painting? Quite a few of the ideas I had in college were good, I just had trouble pulling them off. I've always said and firmly believe that it's the idea that matters, not how slick something is rendered. Time to get painting. Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!
* The ELP cover art by H.R. Giger was stolen at an exhibit in 2005 and is still missing.
Bubble Gum Tattoos With a Bite!
I've been on a bit of a nostalgia kick the past few months. Probably from watching old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210. You see, Brandon just broke up with Kelly, Donna is still with Ray and Dylan is...oh sorry! Back to the point of this article --
Ultra Tattoo Champ was another one of my very early commercial projects from the 90s for Richardson Brands, best known for Beechies Gum*, Richardson Mints and rock candy. During this time, they manufactured a sizable series of these temporary tattoo packs. Sold in foil packs and in large 180 piece tubs for individual purchase at 5¢ each, the tattoos were wrapped around a piece of gum inside a wax wrapper. The gum had another selling point for kids beyond the tattoos — purple gum turned the mouth purple, green gum turned the mouth green, and... you get the idea. I illustrated two lines for this series, Vicious Animals and Sports. For this article, I'm showing my favorite of the two, Vicious Animals!
*Beechies Gum was originally made by the Beech-Nut Company and introduced in 1933. Richardson Mints have been made sine 1893. They also make a product called Gravy Master which has nothing to do with bubble gum or candy, although, a gravy flavored gum would probably be a big seller! There's my free million dollar idea.
This is the complete set of Vicious Animals tattoos. Each tattoo is roughly 2.5 inches tall and 1 inch wide. I don't recall exactly how Richardson Brands had contacted me, but I do remember driving to their office in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania twice, once to show my portfolio and once to deliver the art. I met with the art director, was given samples of previous tattoos, and some gum that I chewed on my drive back home.
Over 25 years later, these tattoos still work and still look pretty cool! No, I did not eat the gum.
The original art was painted with gouache on bristol board at 300% reproduction size. They worked really well at the tiny 1 inch tattoo size and were remarkably bright and colorful! The original art is owned by Richardson Brands and all I have are 35mm slides. I had enough sense to have taken shots of most of my work back then as I never liked sending the art away, never to see it again. It was a lot tougher to keep good records of my artwork prior to digital scans and photos. It took A LOT MORE TIME but it was well worth it!
I did quite a few sketches for project. They were done pretty quickly as I remember in order to meet the deadline. The art director sent a good amount of them back asking for "more blood" and everything that went along with it, which made me really happy!
I look at these today and only wish I could do them all again! I'd add EVEN MORE GORE! C'mon Topp's, give me a call! I can do this!
Here he is — the Tattoo Champ! ready to chew gum and kick butt! Kinda looks like Steve Sanders!
The foil packs came with an XL big tattoo 3.5 inches by 2.5 inches. I bought about five or six packs to get one of my illustrations. Glad it was the piranha, they're cute!
The BIG Silly Putty
I was watching Seinfeld last night with my wife. The episode was The Big Salad. I saw it when it first aired on September 29, 1994. Since then, I've probably seen this episode countless times — in reruns and in the DVD box set Seinfeld: The Complete Series. Let's face it, I'm a fan and have studied this show in minute detail. So, it was a total shock when watching The Big Salad for the umpteenth time when my wife shouted out, "That's your Silly Putty packaging!" WHAT?! I grabbed the remote, stepped the scene back and sure enough, there it was! All this time, Fluorescent Silly Putty hanging in the stationary store where Elaine had gone to buy a very expensive Rolamech 1000 mechanical pencil for Mr. Pitt. It's high on a shelf right behind the stationery store clerk. The clerk, by the way, is very interested in Elaine and she soon finds herself trying to elude his romantic advances.
The scene (the entire show) is very funny. I blame this for the reason I never caught the Silly Putty before. I'm always looking at TV and movie scenes for products or odd-ball stuff. But this time, Larry David had me sucked into the story and the characters a little too much.
To have this particular packaging appear even incidentally in a Seinfeld episode is such a thrill! Silly Putty was my first major toy packaging commission. I designed and illustrated four blister cards in this series — Classic Silly Putty, Fluorescent Silly Putty, Glow-In-The Dark Silly Putty, and Glitter Silly Putty. 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! But now I've seen them on Seinfeld!
It's nice, too, that set people on Seinfeld chose Fluorescent Silly Putty. Of the four packages, it has the most distinctive 90s graphics. It fits really well into this time period. Nothing else is Silly Putty and nothing else is Seinfeld. I think it goes really well with a Big Salad!
Go HERE for more detailed information about my work on the Silly Putty series.
In another surprise moment, I spotted the Crayola Travel Color 'n Rub packaging just as Jerry and Elaine are leaving the stationary store! I illustrated all the characters for this package, too! WOW! I quickly jumped to the deleted scene included with the DVD hoping, wishing it would be Jerry saying, "Look Elaine! Silly Putty!" — It wasn't there, but I like to think it was shot and just ended up on the cutting room floor.
Let's Spock 'N' Roll!
I'm proud to announce the release of a new book I helped research and write. It's called The Musical Touch of Leonard Nimoy and is available as a paperback and Kindle eBook on Amazon! I also did the book design and cover illustration.
Back in 2006, my wife Darlene and I began the research that would lead to the creation of our popular website Maiden Wine. The site told the tale of when Leonard was a teen idol and recording star, singing as both himself and his dual identity, the highly logical Mr. Spock. After many years of hosting it online, we retired the website, but still had all this great material. We finally decided to go for it and update and expand the story into a groovy full-color history, musical scrapbook, and discography. If you have a love of Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock, and/or the 60s pop scene, you will dig this far out book!
He's groovy! He's sexy! He's a hit with all the kids!
Who's that? Paul McCartney ? Davy Jones?
NO! It's Mr. Spock - WAIT! It's Leonard Nimoy!
The two are inseparable and both are cultural icons. This book captures the moment in time in the far out 60s when Leonard Nimoy was signed to a five album record deal for Dot Records, signed a universe of autographs, and toured the country to promote his singing career to throngs of adoring fans. Highly illogical? You be the judge in this one hundred page book filled with full color photos, press clippings, historical essay, and collectors discography. Find out the story behind the viral Malibu U video "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" and how Leonard Nimoy in his inimitable fashion survived the bumps and bruises from his infamous Golden Throats recordings to live long and prosper as a man of many talents.
The story of Leonard Nimoy's music is showcased with full color photos, press clippings, historical essay, and discography. Available on Amazon as a 108 page full color 8.5" x 8.5" paperback and 169 page Kindle eBook.
Published by Diner Mighty Graphics.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Darlene Lacey is a writer, researcher, and appreciator of things of the past. She is a candy historian; the author of Classic Candy: America's Favorite Sweets, 1950-80 (Shire Books), and curator of the Candy Wrapper Museum, where candy wrappers are enjoyed as art, nostalgia, and humor. Follow her on GoodReads.
Joe Lacey is a creative consultant, illustrator and designer for toys, packaging, and publication art for such companies as Crayola, (most notably, the Coloring Songbook: Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney), Avon, Fisher-Price, Mattel, and PEZ. Follow him on GoodReads.
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.
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.