Girls at War book cover.
Samson and Delilah opera poster.
Madama Butterfly poster.
Communication Arts most popular cover.
Poster for Edel’s Cuban retrospective, Nature Boy.
Campaign Spotlight: Edel Rodríguez
Two cultures inform the work of this prolific artist
Born in the Cuban countryside in 1971, Edel Rodríguez lived in El Gabriel until the age of nine when he and his family embarked on a voyage as part of the Mariel Boatlift in 1980 that brought over 125,000 Cubans fleeing Castro’s rule to Southern Florida. A U.S. photojournalist onboard documented their journey and immortalized it in the pages of Time. An interesting fact considering that from 1994 to 2008, Edel was Time’s art director for Canada and Latin America.
From that dramatic start, Edel is still making history. He has forged an award-winning illustration career exploring often hot button topics in politics and popular culture. He grew up in Miami, but turned down a full scholarship in Miami to give New York a go, where he received a B.F.A. in painting from Pratt Institute in 1994 and an M.F.A. from Hunter College in 1998. He and his wife Jennifer and their two daughters live in a landmark Victorian in idyllic Mt. Tabor, New Jersey, only an hour’s train ride to Penn Station, NYC. The beautifully restored home with its gracious backyard, pool and gazebo graced by a giant poplar tree is as far removed from the Cuba of his childhood as a place could be. Rodriguez operates between his two worlds, bringing insights from his tenure in America and a down to earth practical nature from his years in Cuba. He returned there recently, for the opening of his career retrospective Nature Boy, Edel Rodríguez en La Habana at the Casa de las Américas in Havana. It was the first time he brought his wife and daughters to Cuba, to visit family and the friends that he has stayed in close touch with all these years. He wrote a sensitive and informed editorial (“Reform in Cuba: It’s Not About You”) for the Washington Spectator about the government’s plan to ease the embargo on Cuba.
His bold, dynamic shapes and sensual palette is inspired by the poster tradition of Latin America and his favorite artist, Picasso. He wears his heart on his sleeve with his enigmatic and painfully honest takes on trending topics, most recently on the subject of sexism in Silicon Valley for Newsweek magazine: A cover that drew criticism for its solution, although that argument seems a bit disingenuous considering the topic.
A humble guy, Edel is almost always smiling. And watch out when he hits the dance floor. Like his friend and colleague José Ortega, he is a mean salsa dancer.
Edel’s cover of Che Guevara sporting a Nike logo and Apple headphones in the May/June 2006 issue of Communication Arts has to date been the magazine’s most popular (it accompanied a feature I wrote about him and his work). He had already scored another CA cover for the 2004 Illustration Annual, a rare occurrence.
Rodríguez’s work has regularly appeared in the CA, American Illustration, SPD, and The Society of Illustrators Annuals. He is also the recipient of both a Gold and a Silver Medal for editorial illustration from the Society of Illustrators. He has illustrated two children's books, Mama does the Mambo and Float Like a Butterfly, a story about Cassius Clay. Edel illustrated the Cha-Cha-Cha for the stamp series Let's Dance: Bailemos!, for the United States Postal Service, published in 2005.
He works in a variety of artistic mediums, including on occasion Café Bustelo coffee grounds. From bold theatre posters to book covers, children’s book illustrations, and art exhibitions, Edel brings his cultural insights and experiences to bear on each project for an impressive client list that includes a who’s-who of the publishing world and beyond.
For further information, and to see more of Edel’s work, visit edelr.com or edelrodriguez.com.
Q: What motivated you to begin drawing and making art? Were you one of those children who could always be found sketching?
A: I was always creative as a child, making my own kites and toys, and drawing things I saw around town or on television. In elementary school I began to get attention and awards for my work and I think that encouraged me to pursue it further. I always loved my art class and went to my first talented art program once I was in sixth grade. I would take a bus to a separate school one day a week and would meet up with many talented kids in class. I think all of this encouraged my initial interest in art. It’s why I’m such a supporter of art in public school. My parents were new immigrants; both of them were very busy working hard and didn’t have the time or knowledge to guide me in this field. My art teachers encouraged me and made such a difference in my life.
Q: What did you take from Cuba, in the sense of cultural influences, when you relocated to Miami at age 9?
A: We brought our culture with us—music, dance, food. Miami was an extension of Havana. We kept having dance parties, the family would sing country style songs and so on. Art wise, I brought memories of colors, people, characters, and graphics. But the most important thing I brought was a work ethic. I grew up in a town of hard working farmers and sugar cane laborers. From the time I was very young I remember thinking that I had to do something with my opportunities. That what my parents went through to get me to the U.S. had to be for a reason. Whenever work got tough, I just thought of the friends I left behind who were working long days in sugar cane fields and farms. That helped put things in perspective.
Q: Who or what were your influences in your new environment?
A: Everything in pop culture became an influence, band logos, movie posters, album art, and architecture around Miami. I thought seriously about becoming an architect but changed my mind after having an internship at an architecture firm in high school. In school and on field trips I learned more about painters and sculptors and their work became an influence.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Just about everything really. From current events, to music lyrics, friends and family, photographs I take, books, and museum shows. All of these things come together in my mind. My ideas are a blend of everything from my life coming together.
Q: How did you develop your color palette?
A: I’ve always used color very directly. I’ve been interested in color relationships since college. I had a wonderful teacher, Mary Buckley, that pointed out a lot of things in my work that I had overlooked. She encouraged me to use color in its purest form. That, combined with my interest in Cuba, probably had an effect on how I work. Color in Cuba is very important—on houses, cars, and clothing. Many of the color choices there are based on what people can get, so it creates unique combinations. I was at my family’s house one time and told them I loved the color they had painted the house, it was a unique reddish grey. They said they only had a little of several colors and mixed them all together so they could have enough to paint the whole house. My use of bright red at first was a comment on Communism: Taking something that was oppressive to us and owning it, using it for my own purposes, a form of fighting back. Colors have stories in Cuba, and I think I’ve continued some of that in my work.
Q: What is your preferred medium?
A: Right now I like acrylic on paper, canvas or board. The way I work is very quick, and acrylic responds to that. I can lay colors on top of one another very intuitively.
Q: What is your sketchbook process?
A: I usually keep two kinds of sketchbooks. One is an idea book. I put things in there very quickly, as soon as they appear in my mind. I don’t even think about the look of it, just random scraps of paper, Post-it notes, photo scraps. This is a book I look to when I’m working on larger paintings. Another sketchbook is a travel book. I work on more fully drawn compositions in that one. For regular assignments I sketch on sheets of copy paper.
Q: What is your favorite type of assignment?
A: I like working on large poster campaigns and book and magazine covers. I mostly enjoy working with gutsy art directors that trust me and want to make statements with the work.
Q: What is your process for an editorial illustration?
A: I sketch very quick and random ideas on sheets of paper. Then I bring them together and create a number of more refined ideas and sketches to show the art director. Once we’ve figured out a direction, I go ahead and finish the art in a day or two.
Q: Like many people, I enjoyed your recent posts on Facebook about your trip to Cuba for your career retrospective exhibition Nature Boy. What was the art scene like in Havana?
A: The arts in Havana are pretty dynamic. There are museums, institutions and galleries that have regular openings and exhibits going on. There’s a young generation of artists and designers that are pushing to make their work relevant to the outside world. It’s one of the highlights of visiting Havana.
Q: Were you surprised that your Newsweek cover illustrating sexism was controversial? It seems to have resonated with women who work in Silicon Valley.
A: I was surprised at first, because I felt it illustrated the problem very directly. There were people that were offended by it but many that thought it was right on target. I got many letters of support from women that work in Silicon Valley and those were wonderful to read. Many people understood what I was trying to portray and that I was attempting to bring attention to the topic of sexual harassment. I wish all magazine covers made that much of an impact on people and started so many important discussions.
Q: Can you describe your studio environment?
A: I have a writing corner, a computer section, and many spaces and surfaces on which to paint on. The studio is about 500 square feet with high ceilings and skylights for natural light so it’s a pretty ideal environment. I designed it and had it built about 13 years ago.
Q: What do you think of the present state of illustration?
A: Like everything in our current technology driven culture, it’s in flux. I like that everyone’s work can be easily seen online and there’s more sharing and knowledge about the process and what we do. I like that people who are not in the arts can see and understand what illustrators do, what our contributions are. Technology has also caused problems, like easier access to stock art, stock photography, and work that is not of high quality. These kinds of things keep fees static, which is not good for everyone in the long run.
Q: What part of the world do you plan to visit next?
A: I haven’t been in Asia much so I’d like to explore that more. I was in Bali once and really enjoyed it, would love to go back. There are many countries in Latin America I’d like to visit as well. I’ll be going back to Turkey for a lecture and exhibit this fall.
Jennifer Hewitson, Freedom Flight, poster.
Illustration from The Brothers Grimm (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995) ©1995 by Uri Shulevitz.
Richard Downs, Date Night with the Pharoahs, 3 plate monotype, 19 x 23.5 inch image area on 223 x 28 inch sheet, oil on Japanese paper, ©2014.
Exhibitions of note nationwide.
Dialogues: Poster Art of the Soviet Union
March 13 through April 13
1508 C Street, Room AH 314
(Gallery is open Monday–Thursday 1–4 pm)
San Diego City College
Commemorating the opening of new San Diego City College Art Gallery, a rare collection of over 40 Soviet posters will be shown alongside works of contemporary artists and illustrators.
In 1989 the Soviet government offered an opportunity to U.S. Citizens—a chance to view contemporary Soviet life through the loan of 75 posters. They were displayed at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art and dealt with political themes, social issues and the arts in the period from Perestroika and Glasnost to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The original show was organized by members of AIGA San Diego chapter and supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. The show went on to other U.S. locations as part of a traveling exhibition sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
Dialogues: Poster Art of the Soviet Union was created and organized by the faculty and students of the San Diego City College graphic design program. Thanks to Ron Miriello, the owner of the poster collection for sharing these treasures with our community. Soviet historical posters are featured alongside new works created by contemporary artists, designers and illustrators for Dialogues including Sean Adams, Michael Beirut, Stefan Bucher, Jessica Hische, Don Hollis, Rafael López, Joel Nakamura and Michael Osborne, among others. Like their historical counterparts the contemporary works feature political, social and arts themes but include a visual or conceptual reference to Soviet culture.
Tall Tales, Short Tales, and Tales from Around the World: The Art of Uri Shulevitz
March 14 through June 14, 2015
The Eric Carle Museum
of Picture Book Art
125 West Bay Road
Tall Tales, Short Tales, and Tales from Around the World: The Art of Uri Shulevitz, is a retrospective in celebration of the artist’s 80th year. Organized by Chief Curator Nick Clark, the exhibition will comprise approximately 90 works surveying Shulevitz’s career as a picture-book artist and will include a selection of his independent art. Shulevitz garnered the Caldecott medal for his Fool of the World and The Flying Ship in 1969 and won Caldecott honors in 1979, 1999, and 2009—most recently for his How I Learned Geography, a poignant memoir of the trials of his early life and how a map fueled his curiosity and imagination. Working in a wide variety of media, the artist demonstrates remarkable versatility, as he interprets an equally wide range of literature. An illustrated catalogue with an essay by Clark will accompany the exhibition.
Support for this exhibition has been generously provided by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
A Collection of paintings by Jean De Botton (French 1898 – 1970), Olena Zvyagintseva, Richard Downs
Through April 10, 2015
425 Peachtree Hills Avenue #24
A California based artist who was born in Pasadena, Downs straddles both the worlds of fine art and editorial illustration. He has been featured in several volumes of American Illustration and has received acclaim both as an illustrator and as a designer. Down’s fine art follows several directions and cements his reputation of being an inventive and adventurous artist. He works in braided steel to create sculpture, which, while three-dimensional, plays with both space and shadows to create complex simultaneous combinations of two dimensions (caused by a play of shadows on surrounding surfaces) and the 3-D visual play of wire and void. While these works are impressively abstract, they are also playful and full of individuality and personality. Downs is also a masterful printer, creating large-scale monoprints and duoprints on Japanese paper. He often references classical themes while introducing contemporary elements.
LALUZAPALOOZA 2015 | 29th Annual Group Show
Through March 19
La Luz De Jesus Gallery
4633 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention La Luz De Jesus Gallery’s annual juried group exhibition, LALUZAPALOOZA. This gigantic, no-theme show features works from some of the freshest artists working today. Last year they sorted through 16,000 submissions from commercial illustrators, graphic designers, tattooists, students, street taggers, animators and working gallery artists.
Past shows have featured as many as 330 pieces and as few as 100, making this they claim “the most exclusive selection of tastefully, jam-packed, salon-style exhibited works in Post-Pop.” There will be some familiar names from their ever-growing roster of feature artists, but an overwhelming percentage of the work this year, as always, will come from a brand new batch of previously undiscovered, emerging talent. The list is too long to include but I’ve got my eyes on Christine Wu, Craig LaRotonda, and Pol Turgeon as three of the standouts included in this show.
A brief review of notable titles and inspiring monographs.
Art Before Breakfast, A Zillion Ways to be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are by Danny Gregory
159 pages, hardbound, published by Chronicle Books, $19.95.
Chances are good that every artistic person will from time to time hit a creative wall. Creativity guru Danny Gregory has prepared for that eventuality, and then some. The subtitle says it all: A Zillion Ways to Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are. While I’m pretty sure there aren’t really a zillion ideas here, there are many that can quick start the brain. Ostensibly written for everyone, Gregory’s fast drawing exercises, practical instruction on materials and techniques may be better suited to those illustrators just starting out, or it could prove to be useful in demonstrating to others just exactly what it is you do for a living.
The Urban Sketching Handbook, Architecture and Cityscapes by Gabriel Campanario
112 pages, softbound with elastic fastener, published by Quarry Books, $17.99.
This small tome makes a wonderful travel companion; slim enough to slip into a carry on bag or a coat pocket, all one needs is a good pen or pencil and an interesting building or city view to start urban sketching. With a range of inspiring examples and lots of practical tips and artistic challenges, the book sets out to fully engage the artist with the myriad views we are offered in our daily lives. Whether you take this to Paris to sketch parks and cafés or you walk to your neighborhood coffee house, you will be inspired, challenged, and perhaps will even learn something new. The author Gabriel Campanario is a staff artist at the Seattle Times and the founder of UrbanSketchers.org, an online community and nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the art of on-location sketching. He has included work by many talented colleagues, who also offer their own art tips for sketching on the go.
A few hot breaks to check out while surfing the net.
www.magcloud.com/ — Designer/illustrator Lori Siebert has a new enterprise, Labor of Love, a unique concept magazine that examines in depth the lives of creative individuals. Beyond their art, see where they live and work, what inspires them, and much more. Illustrator Joel Nakamura is among the first profile subjects.
www.pikaland.com — They claim to have been “connecting the dots between creativity, illustration & entrepreneurship since 2008.”
www.crownpoint.com — San Francisco’s Crown Point Press offers a newsletter, a virtual bookstore with printmaking products for sale, and archives of work dating back to the 1960s.
www.societyillustrators.org — The Society of Illustrators will host the MoCCA Arts Festival April 11-12 at Center 548 on West 22nd Street in the heart of the Chelsea gallery district. The Festival will encompass three floors of exhibits, on site programming, a gallery of original art showcasing the work of special guests, and a rooftop café, alongside satellite events occurring at venues across the city in the days leading up to the fest.
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“How to Communicate with Illustrators.” There is nothing more basic than communication. Simple, direct facts that can lead one to make informed decisions about who to work for, what the assignment really means, you name it. Having worked for many years as the managing editor of a magazine with the word “Communication” in the title, it is where it all starts. Like the writer below, I have noticed that in recent correspondence often vital facts, or sustaining information is left out, requiring repeated emails, each parsing out one more bit of information leading to even further requests and a time drain. When you list a number of questions that need responses and only one is answered, it’s frustrating. The following advice is valuable, practical, and necessary. Read up people!
Kyle T. Webster is an illustrator and designer who has collaborated with The New Yorker, The New York Times, TIME, Entertainment Weekly, Scholastic, Nike, IDEO, and many other distinguished clients. He has created top 50 iPhone games, served on the ICON board of directors, and designed hundreds of logos. In the last two years, he has gained international recognition as the creator of premium Photoshop Brushes for professional illustrators, with over 100,000 customers.
The following is reprinted with permission from Kyle’s Tumblr. To learn more about Kyle and to see his work, visit kyleTwebster.com and kylebrush.com.
How to Communicate with Illustrators
How to Email an Illustrator
My friends, colleagues and I have recently noticed that communication with illustrators is falling apart. We lament this new trend often. While there are still many art directors in the field who efficiently and effectively communicate with their artists, there are seemingly just as many who are entering the profession without having been instructed in how to properly assign work or manage projects. I do not blame these individuals—not one bit. I blame the educators who failed to send them out into the world with good communication skills. Or perhaps I blame the lack of on-the-job training at publications, where art directors are hired and fired at increasingly rapid rates. Whatever the reason, the problem persists.
Therefore, here is a guideline that will lead to improved communication, fewer revisions, better artwork, and fewer headaches for all involved.
1. Your first email to an illustrator should not read: “Hey, are you available for an assignment?”
This kind of email is a waste of everybody’s time, because all of the important information is missing: size and number of illustrations, context, timeline, and budget. In order to reduce the back-and-forth between the individual assigning the art, and the illustrator, simply take a moment to include the important information in the initial email request. For example: "Hello, John— we are publishing a story about the ongoing conflict between hedgehogs and walruses. We will need a cover, a full page, and two spot illustrations. The deadline for sketches is March 1st, and the finals will be due March 8th. Our budget is $3750. Are you available / interested in working with us on this assignment? Please let me know by 5pm today. Thank you.”
With one email, you have now given the artist all of the info needed for him/her to decide whether or not to accept the job. This used to be the standard introductory email for all assignments. I’m not sure what happened, but I, and many illustrators I know, rarely get emails like this any more. Let’s fix that.
2. Please do not expect illustrators to read minds.
Details are very important. When sending emails about your job, give as many relevant details as possible to an artist, if the assigned artwork has specific requirements. Illustrators are very capable of drawing anything you need, but we cannot guess what that might be if we are not told up front. For example, if you tell an illustrator to draw “a car on a street,” then the illustrator will assume the make and model of the car are not important. S/he will also assume the street can be any kind of street. Therefore, it is not fair to the artist to reject the final art because you expected a vintage Porsche on the Autobahn. Please be sure to communicate all required elements of the art in your earliest correspondence with your artist, and it will be smooth sailing for all.
Sometimes, very little direction is preferred, if the assignment calls for a lot of artistic freedom and interpretation. But, let us not confuse this with a lack of relevant information. For instance, the recent recipient of the Richard Gangel Art Director Award, SooJin Buzelli, is famous for giving her artists a lot of freedom. But let us note that when she assigns work, she actually has spent a good deal of time figuring out a way to distill a complex article down to its essential message or theme. She then sends this one or two sentence summary to a carefully selected illustrator, providing that individual with a perfect launchpad from which to create a unique visual solution. Concise and efficient.
3. Please write back. Please.
This is just common courtesy. I often get asked if I am available for an illustration and I then respond in the affirmative with some questions about the assignment or the budget or some other detail. Then, no reply ever comes. A week later, I will see another artist blog about completing the very same assignment that was initially emailed to me. While I understand that everybody is very busy, and emails are flying around at the speed of light, I urge you to please remember that it is unprofessional and quite rude to simply leave an artist hanging. We often will put other things on hold or rework our weekly schedule to accommodate a project that we think is moving forward. A simple email to let us know that you will be working with somebody else, the job is cancelled, the issue is on hold, etc. is all we need to move on and stay on top of our other jobs. Thank you.
A new section devoted to illustration-centric products
I love the idea of a journal book with a range of colored papers to reflect different ideas or projects. With its colorful exposed binding you’ll never lose this one on your desk or drawing table. 400 pages allow lots of room to explore your creativity. (Available after April 7, 2015), $14.95 from Chronicle Books, www.chroniclebooks.com.
The Sendak Fellowship LLC nominating and judging committee announced that the recipients of the 2015 Sendak Fellowship are Richard Egielski, Marc McChesney, Doug Salati, and Stephen Savage. The fellowship consists of a four-week residency for illustrators scheduled from July 6–31. The fellowship was inaugurated in 2010 by Maurice Sendak, the goal of which, in Sendak’s words, was to “create work that is not vapid, stupid, or sexy, but original. Work that excites and incites.”
If you have received an award, published a book or have other exciting career news, please email email@example.com.
Rex Ray, seen above in his studio.
Norman Bridwell (Photo by AP)
Rex Ray, beloved San Francisco Bay Area designer and illustrator, died February 9, after a long battle with cancer. He designed over 100 posters for Bill Graham Presents and counted Apple, Dreamworks, Sony Music, Warner Brothers, City Lights, and many more among clients for his vibrant collage pop aesthetic.
Norman Bridwell (born February 15, 1928) author/illustrator best known for the Clifford the Big Red Dog series of children’s books passed away last December.
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