Monthly Archives: March 2011

Graphic Designer Chip Kidd at Columbia College

Last evening, as part of its Art & Design lecture series, Columbia College in downtown Chicago hosted a presentation by legendary book jacket designer and author Chip Kidd. If the term “rockstar” can be applied to graphic designers, he would certainly fit the bill. Though his name may not be familiar to those outside of the graphic arts, if you’ve been near a book store in the past couple of decades, chances are you’ve seen his work.
I arrived early which was good, since apparently word had spread on Twitter, and the place was filling up fast. After a short introduction by talented cartoonist and Columbia College faculty member Ivan Brunetti, Chip Kidd took the podium, sharply dressed as usual with a wide striped jacket and his trademark round glasses. The informal lecture was accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation featuring a number of case studies.
One of the earlier ones involved the designing of the dust jacket for Michael Crichton’s novel “Jurassic Park“. At the time, the film rights for the book had already been sold to Steven Spielberg, so Kidd’s instructions were to “think JAWS”, meaning that he should come up with an iconic image that could be repurposed for the film, in the same way that the image of the shark emerging from below was used on both the “Jaws” book and film poster. The now famous Tyrannosaurus skeleton image was inspired by a drawing from an old book purchased at the New York Natural History Museum. Kidd drew it with a Rapidograph pen on tracing paper and the image was used on the book cover and later as part of the movie poster and on countless merchandising tie-ins (apparently without any further compensation.)
Despite 25 sucessful years as a graphic designer, Kidd makes it clear that rejection is still part of the job. One of the most entertaining case studies centered around a cover design for “You Better Not Cry”, a collection of twisted Chistmas stories by Augusten Burroughs. Kidd had already designed several book covers for Burroughs and the subject seemed a perfect fit for his daring and subversive wit, but the project hit some snags. The first couple of ideas were rejected for either being too tame or too “mean” (One involved a ceramic Santa figurine carrying a sack full of G.I. Joe weaponry). Finally, after weeks of stagnation, the project was completed by the publisher’s in-house staff and featured a not-so-subtle rearview image of Santa exposing himself, which apparently was more in keeping with the publisher’s sensibilities.

Besides his work as a graphic designer, Chip Kidd is also the author of two satirical novels which have attained a devoted cult following. Seated behind me at the presentation was graphic novelist extraordinaire Chris Ware, who illustrated the cover for Kidd’s first book “The Cheese Monkeys“, centering around a graphic design student’s art school misadventures. His sequel, “The Learners” follows the main character, Happy, as he lands his first job at an ad agency. Both books are breezy, fun and convey the same wit and style as his book cover designs.

Many thanks to Columbia College for opening the event to the public and to Chip Kidd who kindly chatted and signed books and posters following the presentation.

Next up: Author Sarah Vowell at Oak Park’s Unity Temple

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Chicago’s Haymarket Anniversary gig poster

I recently had the honor of creating a gig poster promoting a show at the Old Town School of Folk Music headlined by folk musician Bucky Halker marking the 125th anniversary of Chicago’s Haymarket Affair and to raise awareness of workers’ rights. The details of the event have filled several books, but the basic facts are as follows:

• On May 4th, 1886, a rally was held at Chicago’s Haymarket square to demand workers’ rights, among them a standard eight hour workday.
• An unknown person threw a bomb which killed one police officer and injured several more.
• In the confusion which followed, seven more officers were killed and many other police and civilians injured, most as a result of friendly fire.
• After a corrupt and hastily arranged trial of eight labor activists, four were hanged and a fifth commited suicide in prison.
• In 1893, Gov. John Peter Altgeld concluded that all eight men were innocent, and issued their pardons.

This Mayday (May 1, 2011) marks the 125th anniversary of the event. There is a monument in Forest Park, Illinois, just west of Chicago in Forest Home Cemetary, honoring those who were executed.
The site has been designated as a U.S. national monument (The only one located within a cemetary) and is currently being restored though funds raised by the Illinois Labor History Society and its President, Larry Spivack.

I also designed a plaque which will be placed at the base of sculptor Mary Brogger’s memorial honoring the Haymarket Affair. It can be found at the corner of Desplaines & Lake streets in Chicago, the actual site of the incident.

The Haymarket Incident (which some still refer to as the “Haymaket Riot”), was one of the earliest and most significant events in America’s labor history and has been a source of inspiration for workers throughout the world.
A couple weeks ago, I posted some sketches inspired by the unrest taking place in Cairo. Though the current labor protests in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S. can’t compare to the life and death struggles going on in the mideast, it’s important to remember that there was a time when those championing worker’s rights were met with violence and, in some cases, gave their lives to fight for rights that many now take for granted. As recent events in Wisconsin and elsewhere throughout the U.S. show, that struggle continues today.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Making of a Shamrock Shake Leprechaun

As they say in showbiz, “There are no small parts, only small actors” and this guy is a small actor indeed.
The assignment was to digitally illustrate a leprechaun painting a billboard sign, Trompe L’Oeil style, to advertise last year’s announced return of McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. It was termed “urban signage”. Translation: a sign that would go above the entryways to Chicago’s downtown L-train and other locations.
I was provided the Art Director’s thumbnail sketch and told to make the figure turn and look at the viewer as if “caught in the act”.

When working on storyboards or in my usual finished illustration style, I generally don’t use photo reference, but in this case, the client wanted a semi-realistic style, so I had my son shoot a few humiliating reference shots of me in character.
I gave the AD a proposed pencil sketch along with an edgier cartoony version as an alternative. I preferred that version myself, but the client definitely wanted more realism. Even if they’d gone with the alternate version, I’m sure I would’ve had to delete the pipe, which was my favorite part anyway. 🙂
After the sketch was approved, I scanned it in and used it as an underlay in Photoshop. I digitally painted over the sketch on a new layer, reducing the opacity to about 50%. Once the simple shapes were blocked in, I made the layer fully opaque and continued refining the figure, starting with the face. I had to keep reducing the size of the image on the screen to get an idea of how it would look at a much smaller size. By doing that, about halfway through the job, I decided that the body should be smaller in proportion to the head. Fortunately, I was working in layers,so it was a pretty easy fix to reduce the body size. Near the finish, I adjusted the levels in Photoshop to increase the overall contrast and deepen the shadows.
All in all the job went very smoothly and though the finished figure was a miniscule part of the composition, it was fun seeing it posted in a couple of locations within a block of the office.

Tagged , , , , ,