Monday, December 29, 2008

Drawing In Church- 12/21 + 12/28

I did this one over the course of two services... and my daughter Anneli was born in-between, so that affected the content as you might notice.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Do Over

In the day-to-day operations of an illustration studio, there is rarely (if ever) an opportunity to re-execute a piece of final art. I've often thought this is one of the real joys of illustration- there is no time for second guessing and the ever pressing deadline reduces over-thinking your choices. But, the book I am working on right now, called John Brown- His Fight For Freedom has given me a chance to revaluate this conclusion.

A few years back, when the book looked dead in the water and before the amazing folks at Abrams picked it up, I wanted to draw two of my favorite images from the sketch dummy. Mostly so the work I put in wouldn't get lost forever...

Here is one of those images, as drawn in March 2006. It later appeared in the show "Dear Old Kansas" at Signs of Life Gallery in Lawrence, Kansas. At the time when I finished it, I really thought it was one of the best images I had made in many years.

But, it turned out the book was not dead. Finally, two and a half years later, that image was slated for pg 14-15, and needed some changes. The editors thought it was best to tone down his anger from 'seething rage' to 'passionate conviction.' Also, actually showing the sword used to commit the murders at Pottawatomie was too strong an image for children.

Also, I had to address the problem that no one seemed to like this drawing.

You see, I had entered the image into a truckload of shows in the uncommissioned category, expecting a landslide of acceptance letters. It did not do very well. My conclusion, after looking at the image many months later, was that the basic communication had broken down. What I mean is that the idea that John Brown was an angry tornado was not immediately clear. The enjoyment of investigating this image was interrupted by the trouble of working too hard to solve the complex space. There were two issues: shape and value. Let me demonstrate.

First, the classic tornado shape was broken and too wide at the top. His upper torso hid the edges of the funnel and the scroll that wrapped around obstructed the form. I would have to make it more narrow at the top and remove the scroll.

Secondly, and more importantly, the value difference between the scroll and the sky are too similar. The net result being that the scroll creates an ambiguous figure/field relationship. Said differently, it appears that the sky can be seen through the middle of the tornado, interrupting it's shape recognition.

The new version that will appear in the book is much clearer and therefore a much stronger image. Many problems in image making cannot be solved ahead of time, with cognitive analysis. The way I learn is much, much easier. You put the pen to the paper, and make a bunch of mistakes.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Drawing In Church- 12/7

The children made ornaments and decorated a Jesse Tree during church today.
I wanted to decorate one too.

Want to step into the time machine? Here is a painting I did during my undergraduate years, on the same theme. For a time, I hoped to become the Chris Van Allsburg of drybrush acrylics. It didn't work out.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Drawing In Church- 11/30

"Not only did Jesus break out of prison, but on the way out, he stole the keys."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Drawing In Church- 11/23

I've been without a sketchbook in the pew for the last few weeks, giving my wrist a break during the current John Brown marathon. But, I cannot resist Trinity Sunday, the last sunday before Advent. How do you visualize the trinity (without falling into the heresy of modalism)? Kurt suggested the idea of water, in its three states; or a lit candle, composed of heat, light and flame. Holy Mystery!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Silver Medal!

Good news from New York today. The Society of Illustrators 51st Annual show has selected my Insurance Disasters drawing from USAA Magazine for a Silver Medal in the sequential category. The show will be opening in January at the SI gallery in New York.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Paint for Print: OPENING!

This Thursday a really interesting group show with my work will be opening at Columbia College in Chicago called Paint for Print: Contemporary Illustration, Traditional Media. I'll be speaking about my work and the future of illustration at 10:30 on Thursday, along with several other creative directors and artist representatives.

Check out their blog for some cool photos of the exhibition installation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cooking Dirty

Jacket art for a so-called 'kitchen memoir' from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. The stories this guy tells about what takes place during the making of your Denny's Grand Slam breakfast are exactly as horrific as one expects.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Holiday Film

Illustration is, technically, not illustration without text. In the case of this assignment, my text consisted of two words: Holiday Film.

The New York Times gave me this problem: Make a picture about a preview of the upcoming movie season that says nothing specifically about any of the films, nor speaks to one particular holiday. I sent them two sketches, and they went with the giant popcorn tub. Though I do love the idea of reindeer at a winter Drive-In. (Look for that on our family christmas card.) The final art... it should be in next Sunday's paper.

PRINT- Regional Design Annual

From the way-back machine: My PASTE "Can Rock&Roll Save the World?" cover will be featured in the Print Magazine Regional Design Annual this December. Thanks to art director Jose Reyes for his excellent work... and for entering the piece!

Friday, October 17, 2008

John Brown- Fall Update

Part of my absence from regular blog entries over the last three months has been due to my current labor of love, the children's book- John Brown: The Oath of Freedom.

In celebration of the 149th anniversary of Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry (tomorrow actually), here's a preview of two interior spreads. Now, back to work- today I'm drawing Frederick Douglass!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

...Will Shortz Calling

The New York Times contacted me with a fun challenge: design an icon for a new Crossword Blog, launching this month on their website.

This is a small sample of the sketches I did for the final icon. It was a process where I learned a lot about the various habits of the crossword obsessed. One example would be the proverbial Crossword Moment, reflected in some of the conjuring concepts. We settled on a kind of coat of arms. The final icon reflects one of the fundamental crossword litmus tests: Pen or Pencil?

Teapots Vs. Advertising Mascots

This monstrosity, a print ad for the british station iTV1, was my entire weekend. Apparently, in England the advertising runs in a single block every hour, called the "tea break." So, you can watch the silly adverts or go make tea, and internal conflict ensues.  My production skills are not the fastest in the world, and they were tested getting this art done on time, 3 days for the final art. I'm sleepy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Drawing In Church- 9/23

I've been posting less while I've been on 'book leave' - trying to finish all my art for the John Brown book, "The Oath of Freedom." I'm going to put some more previews up next week. For now, here is a recent one from the pew. 

Thursday, September 25, 2008

AC/DC & Why I Like Art Directors

SPIN called me to do the drawing that accompanied the album review of AC/DC's new album Black Ice. The lead single from the album, which they have three and a half stars, is called  Rock N' Roll Train. The content of the image was right there in the titles and I gleefully went to work on a sketch.

While I was working on it, I was frustrated with the way the elements were working and couldn't exactly articulate why. Fortunately, the art directors at SPIN asked me to revisit it, considering how I might make it more dynamic. They also said that the way the smoke was drawn reduced the clarity of the image. As a professional image maker, it is hard to hear criticism from others that should have been totally obvious in the first place. But they were right. The train was totally unaffected by gravity and the smoke was in the way. So, I redrew the whole sketch.

The revision is completely superior to the original drawing.  The smoke frames the band and the sky now works as a much more active negative shape...basic 2D design principles. I'm so glad the Art Director, Liz Macfarlane, didn't approve the first one, despite my interior grumbling. I revised the Angus likeness and created the final.

Liz felt that the yellow had the effect of de-emphasizing the band. So, we settled on the solution of desaturating the background. Overall, the final effect is a clearer visual hierarchy and tighter color palate.

No illustrator wants to be 'meddled with' during their process, but I must admit in many cases like this one, my work was made better- perhaps a lot better. The design field is incredibly collaborative, and there are benefits if you are willing to submit to the idea that others might be able to judge your work better than yourself.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Visual Essay: The Riverfront

My students are working on their first Visual Essay, a format pioneered by great illustrator/journalists like Robert Weaver among many others. Their location is the St. Louis riverfront, which at the moment is flooded and full of interesting sights. We took our first trip down there today. A few drawings from my sketchbook...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sambo Sketchbook

Over the weekend, I attended a symposium on 'Little Black Sambo', a racial charged 19th/20th century storybook series. The keynote speaker was legendary illustrator Jerry Pinkney.
Some 'notes'

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The Washington University school paper, The Record, did a nice story and interview with me in their Candenza section yesterday, in connection with the release of the Abe Lincoln book. I'm making buttons for the opening as we speak. Another good review:

"In 1816, seven-year-old Abe and his friend Austin go down to see Knob Creek, swollen and turbulent after heavy rains, and decide to use a log to cross it. When Abe falls into the water, Austin saves his life and Abe promises that he’ll never forget it. Even when he’s the president of a war-torn country, Abe fondly remembers his old friend. That’s the short version of the story, but this unusual and often amusing picture book offers much more than an illustrated reminiscence. Hopkinson sets a folksy tone at the beginning, saying that she liked this old tale so much that she’s asked her friend John “to help out by drawing some pictures.” The accompanying maplike ink-and-watercolor artwork shows the landscape of the Kentucky setting along with several elements of the narrative, even as the hand and brush of the illustrator get caught in the act of creating the scene. Hopkinson’s comments to herself, her audience, and her friend (the artist) will increase children’s awareness of the choices that go into telling a tale, even a supposedly true tale, and illustrating it. On the closing pages, the restatement of the moral is funny as well as thought provoking. Rewarding on many levels, this high-spirited picture book is an engaging example of metafiction for the younger set." — Carolyn Phelan

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Drawing In Church- 8/31

Forgot Time

A colleague at school saw this one in print, which reminded me that I didn't post it last week. A travel article about Orlando for Time Magazine. My first one for the US only version of Time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Meeting Sketchbook 8/27-8/28

The beginning of school brings many things- new clothes, sharpened pencils and of course, staff meetings. A few pages of notes-

Sunday, August 24, 2008

EVENT: Book Signing!

On Friday, September 12th at 6pm, I'll be having a BOOK RELEASE PARTY at Subterranean Books in the beautiful Delmar Loop of St. Louis. Please stop by, say hello, and buy a box of books. (What a thoughtful Christmas gift!) If you won't be able to make it to the signing, but would like to support an amazing local bookstore, buy it from Subterranean...  contact them here.

UPDATE: A great new review of the book from School Library Journal.

“What you can know for sure is that this is a book you should add to your shelves.”

HOPKINSON, Deborah. Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend). illus. by John Hendrix. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks. Sept. 2008. Tr $16.99.

K-Gr 3–Hopkinson has created a lively, participatory tale that will surely stand out among the many titles published to honor the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. With a conspiratorial wink at the audience, an omniscient narrator invites readers to watch seven-year-old Abe and his real-life friend Austin Gollaher succumb to the “dare you” lure of a roaring creek and a perilous crossing on a fallen log (an author’s note details the genesis of the story). Imagine where we as a nation might be if unsung-hero Austin hadn’t been there to rescue impetuous Abraham from his tumble into those tumultuous waters. In dialogic asides and exclamations, the author addresses the illustrator and brings him (or, rather, his pencil-wielding hand) onstage to collaborate and correct, and also speaks to readers, inviting involvement and evoking response. Hendrix’s illustrations have a naive and rustic flavor that’s in perfect harmony with the gravelly, homespun narrator’s voice (keen-eyed readers will find a rendering of the storyteller in the endpaper art). Energetic spreads give a big, broad, horizontal view of the green Kentucky valley setting with its rambling curves, rolling mountains, and rushing waters, and a very effective impression of how long that creek-crossing must have seemed…maybe. “For that’s the thing about history,” Hopkinson says, “if you weren’t there, you can’t know for sure.” What you can know for sure is that this is a book you should add to your shelves.–Kathy Krasniewicz, Perrot Library, Old Greenwich, CT

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Summer Books

Thanks to a bedtime routine with my son that gave me an hour of reading time each night, I read a bunch of great books this summer. Now, my wife reads like a teletype machine (that is to say, really fast) but I'm a total book slug. Here is a tiny list of books I've read over the last three months. Did you read anything great on the beach or in the hammock this summer? I'm starting Andrea's favorite book today, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Drawing In Church- 8/10

My former muse, pastor Michael Gordon, who has left the midwest for the deep south, returned to St. Louis for a wedding and preached for ol' times sake. As usual, he didn't disappoint. Also, starting a new sketchbook. I'm not sold on the horizontal format just yet, and the paper is a bit different. I'll give it another week or two.

Monday, August 04, 2008

More Abe Lincoln News

My first kids book, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, comes out next month, and you can already pre-order it from Amazon.

A few weeks back, I got my first look at the final product, and if I do say so myself, it looks pretty great. I'll be having a book release party and book signing at Subterranean Books in St. Louis this September. More info on that to come soon.

UPDATE: A bigger image of the cover is below. Plus, we just found out we got a great review in the Horn Book Magazine:

Abe Lincoln, a storyteller of great repute, would be hard-pressed to beat Hopkinson’s considerable skills in recounting this incident from childhood, in which Lincoln’s friend Austin Gollaher saved him from drowning in the rushing waters of Kentucky’s Knob Creek. Hopkinson speaks directly to readers, saying of her tale: “I like it so well, I’ve asked my friend John to help out by drawing some pictures.” Even though this slice of historical fiction is set “on the other side of yesterday, before computers or cars, in the year 1816,” metafictive elements (Hopkinson’s personal comments; Hendrix’s illustrations that often appear in situ on the drawing board, with pen or pencil still on the page) provide immediacy. Best of all, Hopkinson addresses the unknowns in history when she recounts how Austin saves young Abe. “He pulls Abe out by his shirttail. Or maybe he uses a sycamore branch—or a fishing pole. We’ll let John decide which sketch to paint. For that’s the thing about history—if you weren’t there, you can’t know for sure.” Add that thought to a rousing telling, and here’s a story worth waiting one hundred and ninety-two years for. b.c.

Friday, July 25, 2008


A hand-drawn masthead I designed for the brand new culture magazine Curator, from The International Arts Movement, IAM. The image in the 'O' will change every month.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

John Brown - Preview

I've been hard at work this summer completing final art for my children's book about John Brown. I wanted to post a recent image I enjoyed. This depicting John's relationship with Harriet Tubman, one of his greatest friends and allies. Due to her bravery and leadership, he called her "The General."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Drawing In Church- 7/13 + 7/20

This one is from the last two weeks... just added some color this morning.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Insights: Commarts

Communication Arts has an interview with me about my process and working philosophy (stifle your laughter, andrea). It is featured on the home page today, and will move to the Insights section later in the week. My church drawings even got tagged for the headline. Take a look, but once you do, the mystery will be gone.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday Op-Ed- In Color!

As most of you know, The New York Times Op-Ed page is close to my heart. I still love getting the call from them. But, best case for every illustrator is when we get to draw AND design the page. The Op-Ed page has a great history of illustrator/art director collaboration. For this article on streetsweepers, I proposed the idea of putting a grey tone behind the entire page, with the sweeper pushing the text around, and scrubbing the page back to 'bright' grey. Once again, many thanks to Brian Rea for one more time round the block. His name is up there on the list of greats at the NY Times.

Nice post about the drawing here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

3x3 Annual

Two drawings, one from Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek and one from my Drawing-in-Church stuff, got into the new 3x3 Illustration Annual. Though technically not illustration, its very exciting to see my sketchbook drawings getting some ink.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Drawings from ICON 2008

Just returned to the studio from the fabulous Illustration Conference. A few pages from the sketchbook. Lectures and presentations from Pixar story artists, Gary Panter, Blue Cube Studios (of 'Cat Butt Air Freshener' fame) and Starbucks Visual Development Guru Stanley Hainsworth.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


An article for Newsweek about cultural literacy. The article covers a range of current issues on the ideological map. So to speak.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


A first drawing for the RiverFront Times, my hometown alternative weekly. Heman Park Pool is screening Jaws. Bring your floaties.
Perfect summertime drawing material.