Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Drawing in Church- Christmas Edition

A recent drawing from the pew, (with some additional time on the desk at home.) Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Video Game of the Year

For Entertainment Weekly's end of the year wrap-up, I was asked to do the drawing for the Best Video Game of the Year- UNCHARTED 2! (I had never heard of it.)

For all the D&D I played as a kid, I haven't invested into the first-person shooter video games- though I have a kind of admiration for them. My video game of choice as a 12 year-old dork was "The Legend of Zelda." So, I had to do some extensive visual research, as this game bills itself as a kind of hyper-real Indiana Jones-esque shoot'em-up. (No, I wasn't able to convince them they should buy me a PS3 for authenticity.)

A few alternate ideas that I sent- along with the final sketch.

The final sketch took an unusually long time to resolve. In drawings of this kind, it is a lot like assembling a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, and for hours it seemed I was missing all the center pieces, resnapping the edge pieces together again and again.

One of my favorite passages from this drawing-

Probably 95% of my drawings are done on one sheet of board with minmal Photoshop surgery... but this piece was a bit different. It really wanted to approach it a bit more graphically - here are a collection of some of the parts of this image.

I even got my beautiful bride to pose with my son's Nerf gun. I really get so little chance to draw this kind of old fashioned '15 year-old's notebook' drawing with evil henchmen and Beretta hand guns, etc.- I tried to enjoy it!

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Info-Wheel

Kenyon College called me to do a cover about Kenyon trivia for their Alumni Magazine. I used the chance to finally create an homage to the wonderful book collection of informational wheel charts 'Reinventing the Wheel' by Jessica Hefland. In many ways, these kind of projects really function as design much more than illustration. An example of how difficult it is in today's visual landscape to divide image-making from design thinking.

The cover above is shown without the masthead and all the headline copy. I also did four two color spots for the interior as well...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jack's Sketchbook

Here is a father and son sketchbook collaboration- and no he wasn't drawing this during church!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

This week in John Brown

A handful of JB related news items today:

Following a wonderful starred review, Publishers Weekly just selected John Brown as one of their Top 30 Books for Children from 2009! Incredible!

John Brown also won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Medal for Books for Older Children.

Also, for all of you in St. Louis, this saturday, Nov 7th, I'll be doing a reading and signing my two recent books, John Brown and Abe Lincoln Crosses A Creek at the CCS Book Fair at Borders Bookstore in Brentwood. The reading starts at 12:30, but I'll be signing books starting at 11am.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

Villans! Famous Fictional...

The brilliant Dan Zettwoch invited me to participate in a show about famous villians. We were asked to make a diptych, selecting one villain from 20th century film, and another from pre-20th century literature. (I loved this assignment so much that I subjected my students to it as well.)

This gave me the rare opportunity to draw one of my childhood obsessions, The Raiders of the Lost Ark- along with all it's face-melting spectacle. From Raiders, I chose Rene Belloq. The ark opening scene was part of my young interior life. Whenever I thought of the twin sided mystery of God's Glory- beauty and judgement- I thought of this scene. Naturally, I chose the Headless Horseman as Rene's counterpart. (Few seem to remember Rene Belloq's demise quite like the other two because in order to secure a PG rating, Spielberg had to cover the Belloq's exploding head with translucent flames.) Part of the fun of this show was that I couldn't count of Photoshop to clean up all my errors, I really had to make the physical drawing count! So I used a bunch of media, colored pencils, block printing ink and brayers, watercolor and pen & ink.

The show will be at Mad Art Gallery in St. Louis, opening Friday November 6th. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More AI shots...

I got a few more production shots of the American Illustration annual today- and had to share them. This is torture not being able to look at it up close! But I'll give you my full review once I get an actual copy in hand.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Book Tour

I spent the last two weeks on a mini 'book-tour' for my John Brown book. I was in Harpers Ferry for the 150th Anniversary of the John Brown Raid (John Brown Palooza '09), did some readings, a workshop, attended the JB Academic Symposium, met Danny Glover and (best part) walked the raid route from the infamous Kennedy Farmhouse to Harpers Ferry on the night of the anniversary in a moving reenactment of the raid itself. Over the week, I was able to get off a few rounds in my sketchbook as well.

Here is my book in the Harpers Ferry National Park Bookstore- see the John Brown plushy there next to it? Had to get one.

Also, did a book signing with Evan Carton, the superstar who wrote "Patriotic Treason"- a great John Brown Biography.

After that, we left for Lawrence, Kansas for a reading, signing and short lecture on illustrating difficult subject matter for children at Signs of Life Gallery on beautiful downtown Massachusetts Street. I ran into a few former students, a handful of people I had seen in Harpers Ferry the week before, the relatives of John H. Cagy (one of John Brown's Raiders) not to mention many people who were eager to talk about the book and John Brown's legacy in Kansas.

...the astonishing geography of 'the Ferry'- looking east down the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Media Blitz, Part II

After the tragic game two loss of the Cardinals last week in rhe NLDS, I returned to my computer to several messages wondering if my drawing from the LA Times was on the broadcast! (Of course, I had deleted it from my DVR in protest right after Matt Holliday's fateful non-catch.) Well, thanks to archiving hero Andy Kerckhoff, here it is- in beautiful LD (Low-Def). I don't get a shout out by name, but a slight bit of research would have told them the illustrator was from St. Louis, the game they are covering! (sound is low- still working on it-i'll post one with better sound tomorrow)


With the 150th anniversary of John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry, there have been many new reviews of the new book, including two new Starred Reviews!

From Publishers Weekly:

A small highlight- "... Hand-hewn, period-fashion fonts spell out Brown's pronouncements and biblical quotations, underlining his convictions. A strong introduction to Brown's controversial legacy."

A starred review from BookList:

Hendrix, who illustrated the terrific Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek (2008), now tries his hand as both author and artist in this account of one of America’s more controversial figures. He traces how John Brown went from conducting slaves along the Underground Railroad to espousing violent insurrection as a means to end slavery. Unflinchingly, he recounts the sometimes brutal lengths to which Brown was driven by his abolitionist furor, walking the line between lauding and condemning the man while making the case for his ideals, if not all his actions. At times, especially evident in the account of the doomed raid on Harpers Ferry, Hendrix loses the reins of the story and reveals his inexperience as a writer, but his inspired ink and- watercolor illustrations help smooth over the rough patches. Reinforcing Brown as a larger-than-life folk hero, the pictures are exhilarating as he twists into Kansas as a righteous tornado in one scene, harrowing as a noose tightens around the battered, unrepentant man in another. While the intense and complicated subject matter reserves this picture book for older readers, the attention-commanding artwork (and indeed, the entire book design) is so magnificently rendered that students who might be resistant to reading about historical figures, especially in a picture–book format, will be drawn in. By embracing Brown’s complexity, especially in the well-argued afterword, Hendrix sows acres of fertile ground for discussion about motivations and repercussions, and the direness of the conflict over slavery that would soon plunge the nation into civil war.
— Ian Chipman

From Horn Book Review:

Let’s face it: when John Brown stormed Harpers Ferry, he earned the historical reputation as a crazed zealot sacrificing his rag-tag army for his own fanaticism. Hendrix shifts his biography away from this view, showing how Brown’s growing militarism began with a wish for all races to be treated equally, exploded in violence as Kansas bled with slavers and free-staters fighting on the border, and concluded with his stand at Harpers Ferry in 1859 and subsequent hanging. Brown is presented as a larger-than-life figure, a rough-hewn man whose physical features and quoted statements become visually more emphatic as the book progresses. But the rock-solid landscape compositions, all earth tones and cool blues, set the stage for Hendrix to argue his premise in a concluding author’s note: that a sensible concern for hostages, rather than ineptness or zeal, led to Brown’s capture and trial. Still, the debate about the ends justifying the means is timely—the jacket art showing Brown marching on with two small black children could well be captioned “Onward Christian Soldiers.” An author’s note, bibliography, and index conclude the book. -B.C.

And a nice review from the book blog 100 Scope Notes:

A highlight: "Vivid, detailed, bold, memorable – Hendrix works wonders here with pen & ink and acrylic washes. Earth tones are rendered in crystal-clarity, providing a crispness that makes some other books seem out-of-focus in comparison. Hand-lettered passages pop up intermittently, highlighting important elements of the story. The result is a book that feels like a statement..."


Moving to audio/visual-

David Weinberg, an independent radio producer also did a nice story on the book, that aired on The St. Louis Beacon's website. Hoping it will find its way to NPR sometime soon. It is found here and also on the Beacon's homepage for now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Princess Leia, slightly older

A quick portrait for an interview with Carrie Fisher about her new book and one-person show "Wishful Drinking"- for More Magazine.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I was asked with a bunch of other great illustrators to design a custom lampshade as part of a benefit for Inner-City Arts in LA. It was fun to combine some of my drawings with the problem of projecting light through the back of them.

Here is a 3-D comp of the lamp they are selling with my drawings on it. It is a limited edition of only three... and here is the full art below. $200 bucks each, and you get the lamp too!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

American Illustration 28

Over the summer, I was given the extreme honor of working with Matthew Lenning on the art for this years American Illustration annual, number 28. Truly, I've never had a project that produced as much emotional anxiety as this did over the three months we worked on it together. I would often wake up in the middle of the night with new ideas, forced to go to the studio and get them down before I could sleep again. A few shots of the final book, from the vendor.

I've made a long and detailed post on the process over at my corner of the illustration blog Drawger. Head over there for much more on how this came together.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Freeway Series

Growing up in St. Louis, I love baseball- so I'm always up to take any work diamond-related illustration. This cover for the Playoff Preview for The Los Angeles Times represents the hope of greater So-Cal for a 'freeway-series' between the Dodgers and the Angels. (No chance.) With the team colors, it seemed an opportunity to draw the fans and players connected to the quintessential LA architectural feature- the overpass. Thanks to Derek Simmons for the great gig.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


I'm revealing my dark secret- all my work is actually paint-by-number! I discovered a vast catalog of unused P-B-# illustration at a rummage sale and have fabricated an entire career out of my lucky find!

Actually, this is the upcoming cover of Hemispheres, the United Airlines in-flight magazine. I did one for them a few months back (giant panda with cute sailboats, etc.) The topic was awesome, the revitalization of New Orleans. But, I had to put the tendency to draw disasters in my back pocket. You may not be aware of this, but in-flight magazines are mandated to be incredibly perky.

My favorite two ideas above.
The first a play on 'Re-NEW ORLEANS' (probably a trite play on words by now) with colorful parade behind French Quarter porch row. The second a paint-by-number, with the uncolored part being destroyed by the hurricane and the colored in part being restored back to glory. I thought this was a nice nod to the events of August 2005, without being too gloomy. But, even that amount of gloom was too much. So, I revised the sketch to show the band coloring the town with their music (or something.)

A shot of the pile of reference I had to track down. One hard task: create a true sense of an environment you really aren't able to see first hand. For something as iconic as the French Quarter, you really have to know what you are drawing.

It was something of at trick to get the image to appear like it was being colored in when the way I work involves black lines (not blobs of color shapes like a traditional P-B-#). I was really concerned it wasn't working about halfway through the inking... then started using more black and it popped out. Without all the solid blacks, the blue lines just looked like they were turning into black.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Booklist Profile

The nice people at the library journal, Bookpage, decided to do a feature on me in the October issue, in connection with the John Brown book. It is an illustrated Q&A they send to illustrators to have fun with- always the same questions each issue. Hope you learn something new- most of you will not.

Friday, September 25, 2009

CA Story -Up Close

I've had many people asking to read the Communication Arts story- so I wanted to post it here. Though it is online at the Communication Arts website, you have to be a subscriber to read it. The four spreads are here along with the story written by Tiffany Meyers, a delightful freelance reporter from Chicago.

Highlights include: Fourth paragraph shout out to my favorite quasi-hipster coffee shop, Meshuggah, in the St. Louis Loop- former art director of the New York Times, Brian Rea, saying I have too much drawing ability and a closing paragraph that is way too good to be an actual quotation.


John Hendrix
By Tiffany Meyers

It’s a good thing that, when John Hendrix said he’s “a passionate believer in Jesus,” it was over the phone. Otherwise, he’d have seen the rude double-take happening on the other end. Hendrix is 33. He’s articulate, unreasonably talented and an SVA grad—all fairly strong indicators of someone with ironic sensibilities.
But now, it’s clear that the fire-and-brimstone drawings scattered about his blog, are not ironic. Rendered “pew side” during church sermons, they’re Hendrix’s sincere attempts to make sense of, say, false idols, God’s glory and the Pentecost.

Hendrix, who describes himself as “very much a guy with a sketchbook,” feels most at home as an artist when drawing. It shows. The church sketches are freer and weirder (in the good way) than anything you’d expect from church. They’re also much funnier. Whatever serious stuff he’s working through in his head, he’s also clearly having fun with the surreal tropes of Biblical scripture. There are robots. Nearsighted rabbits. And dry bones, rising from the dead.

Later, in a St. Louis coffee shop named, hilariously, Meshuggah, Hendrix talks openly about being a young, evangelical Christian illustrator in a secular world. In his T-shirt layers (short-sleeve over long), Hendrix fits in at Meshuggah, where Washington University hipsters and—educated guess—Lit Crit majors drape themselves across varied pieces of furniture.

Critical of the inclination for some Christian artists to relegate themselves to the “Christian art ghetto,” Hendrix never went in for the idea that he had to choose between making art for the secular world and being a Christian. And he’s committed to debunking the notion that Christians can’t also live a life of intellectual rigor and reason.

In fact, Hendrix grew up professionally in a stronghold of intellectual rigor and reason, when his 2003 grad-school internship at the New York Times’ Op-Ed page turned into a post as assistant art director. Working under art directors Steven Guarnaccia and Brian Rea until 2005, when he was offered a Washington University teaching job, Hendrix had the terrifying pleasure of talking shop with the likes of Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd and David Macauley (pleasure) and occasionally requesting different ideas on The Times’ behalf (terror).

Hendrix also illustrated letters on occasion, working on tight deadlines. “It really was the Xtreme Sports of illustration,” says Hendrix, who loved working with the intense, politically fraught subject matter. “I wanted to be a part of that page in a newsy way. I wanted that responsibility.”

Today, Hendrix’s editorial work has appeared in Time, Entertainment Weekly, Sports Illustrated, WIRED, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, earning recognition from American Illustration, Society of Illustrators and Communication Arts, among others. Hendrix is also something of the go-to guy for calamity illustrations.

Annually, “The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists” estimates how close we are to the end. In Hendrix’s 2007 illustration, the world—ravaged by flood—hurtles toward obliteration. You’ll recognize the central figure—a Satanic, horned bird with freaky blue talons—from the medieval hellscape of “Garden of Earthly Delights.”

Hendrix’s “Doomsday” gets its party atmosphere from action-packed, miniaturized vignettes scattered throughout: Melting icecaps, concerned penguins, evil scientists, genetically mutated octopi. If this is Armageddon, it’s Armageddon on a sugar high—as if you’ve binged on the horribly fun, make-it-stop-no-don’t candy of a Roald Dahl book.

“With John, you get this overabundance of drawing ability,” says Rea, who was sad to see Hendrix go in 2005, even as he encouraged him to take the next step. “And he draws those vignettes with an overabundance of detail—without ever losing sense of the whole. Within all those elements, there’s tremendous storytelling. For an illustrator to be able do all that, is unique. It’s the kind of thing you see in some of the greats.”

As a young artist, Hendrix resisted his overabundant drawing ability, since Serious Art happened with a paintbrush. But life kept nudging him back. While reviewing Hendrix’s tightly rendered, dry brush paintings at a college art fair, Jon Swindell, a University of Kansas (KU) professor, asked about the sketches and comic books hiding in the back of his book.

Hendrix thought he’d been found out: Oh, those aren’t meant to be there. They’re just nothing.

But Swindell recognized an illustrator in Hendrix, who lit up at the professor’s description of illustration, starting at KU in 1994. Not that he ditched the dry brushwork; he graduated with a dual degree in design and illustration, and a pile of paintings. “I was trying to make them important. That was my first mistake.”

By the time he got to grad school, Hendrix was working overtime to ignore an uncomfortable feeling he had about the important paintings. But when SVA instructor David Sandlin noticed Hendrix working on a piece in red and blue pen, he told his student to stop. He was done.

“What makes John’s drawings great is that you can see the artist’s thought process,” says Sandlin, who remembers Hendrix explaining ardently that this was just the under-drawing for a painting. “They’re full of his off-the-cuff, improvised sense of humor. I thought he was losing some of that in the paintings.”

Eventually, Sandlin convinced his student to put the brush down and back slowly away from the drawing. For his thesis on disasters large and small, he depicted a zeppelin, crashing in to a water tower. When American Illustration accepted it—a mere drawing—scales fell. “It blew my mind. I realized, OK, the stuff I love to do and the stuff I’m doing aren’t the same.”

In April 2009, the tenure-tracked Washington University professor sits in his attic studio, reviewing a stack of color proofs for John Brown: His Fight for Freedom (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2009), which he wrote and illustrated. And he’s feeling like life is good in the land of books. With his ultra-thin, “recipe for insanity” pens, over which he uses fluid acrylics, the illustrations are full of rich detail and Hendrix’s signature, hand-drawn type. But from start to end, he sustains the same, free immediacy of drawing.

Hendrix got hooked on books when he illustrated Deborah Hopkinson’s Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek (Random/Schwartz & Wade Books, 2008). Already, he’s illustrating another: Marisa Moss’s story of spy Sarah Emma Edmonds, who dressed as a male soldier during the Civil War (Abrams Books, 2010).

His adventures with Brown started at a 2003 portfolio review, when a Scholastic art director saw a Brown drawing from Hendrix’s thesis. She suggested a book. Hendrix didn’t take it too seriously, but then she called: Did he have anything to show yet?

Absolutely, Hendrix lied, which was not very Christian of him. But he cranked out a dummy book, landing a deal with Scholastic in a matter of weeks. When Scholastic later decided that Brown was too controversial, Hendrix approached Abrams with success.

Brown wanted his 1859 raid at Harper’s Ferry to broadcast the message that the fight to abolish slavery was on. But it failed, and Brown was hung at the gallows. Since then, he’s polarized Americans. Many support a theory that Brown was a fanatic who killed in the name of God. Others, including Hendrix, believe he was a freedom fighter who, however imperfect, awakened a complacent nation to slavery’s brutality.

That’s a lot of gray area for a children’s book, even if you share Hendrix’s conviction that kids can handle ambiguity. In order to tell the whole, violent truth while protecting his readers, he wrote the story with factual remove, leaving the bloodshed and broadswords out of the illustrations altogether.

But this is John Hendrix, drawer of horned birds. So in early iterations, his apocalyptical leanings tried to sneak in. At one point, Abrams suggested that Hendrix’s depiction of Brown on the cover was slightly too: “Saturn about to eat his children.”

So Hendrix did what any self-respecting child of the mid-’70s would do and researched Superman imagery, fusing his gestures with those he found in Moses imagery. On the final cover, Brown is mission-driven and mentally stable.

Had Hendrix plucked from history one of the myriad heroes we pretty much all agree on, he’d have made things way easier. But he stuck with his flawed protagonist, even when his first publisher wouldn’t, in part because he identifies with Brown.

Hendrix’s faith doesn’t come up in professional contexts, so it’s not like anyone’s calling him a fanatic. But the fact of his evangelical Christianity does make him vulnerable to people’s knee-jerk assumptions and, well, double takes. “We come from a similar faith background,” says Hendrix of Brown. “I think that people use his passionate faith to cast him as a madman.”

And then, there’s the fact that Hendrix never met a complicated topic he didn’t want to discuss or draw. When he jokes about doing a “controversial figures in history” book series, it’s only sort of a joke. For Hendrix, the disorder of ambiguity is far more interesting than squeaky-clean absolutes.

“As an artist, I just don’t see any other choice but to describe all the uncomfortable, ambiguous and messy things in the world, as well as the things that are good and beautiful. I think that’s why we make art. It helps us sort these things out.” CA

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Snowmen in Sneakers

When you get a call from Runner's World, you know that you'll be drawing someone or something running. For a story about staying conditioned during the holidays, I thought an bipedal snowman might do the trick. Note the lazy, slovenly snowmen in the background who have given in to temptation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Over heard while in non-hipster coffee shop

Actual order in front of me:

"Double grande, little-more-than-half-caf Dolche, skim, sugar free, no whip latte. "

Then she had to repeat it twice before they got the whole thing. Must happen all the time.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sled-Dog Flood

Last week, I got an enjoyable assignment for Mother Jones- a piece about the sudden devastating flood that hit Eagle, Alaska when a glacier unexpectedly broke up. Though the article is about the dangers people face who are on the front lines of global warming, the art director hoped for a kind of illustration that I rarely get enjoy- the adventure story! Illustration used to be full of drawings that were related to fiction and non-fiction adventure tales, so the chance to illustrate a moment from a very harrowing tale of disaster and rescue was a welcome challenge.

I did thumbnails and ended up with a bunch of solutions that felt right, but similar to other 'flood' related drawings I have done. This was my first tight sketch.

Before I sent this, which felt right but was familiar, I remember thinking, "How could I solve this in the hardest way possible?" So, I did a quick idea that was seen from below the flood itself- a big challenge in just the construction of the image itself. Tim Luddy, the art director really liked that one and I was excited to have the best one picked for the final art.

I did a color study and got some good reference for the final drawing- like actual sled dogs and the precise model of the helicopter mentioned in the story. You'll notice I had to photoshop the ladder out of the final drawing, the editor caught that in the story it lands on the roof of the house, so they didn't need a ladder.

We were working on a map for the article as well, so here we have final art for the full page illustration and the final map. Always fun to work on something that feels new and strange- thanks to Tim Luddy for the great project.