Friday, August 21, 2009

1 = 8

Not long ago I discovered a way to magically turn an assignment for one illustration into eight. No miracles involved, no smoke and mirrors, no Photoshop clone tool. All it took was failing to see what, in hindsight, should have been obvious: proposing an illustration that incorporates lots of "found" travel stickers before finding out that the “found” travel stickers I already own wouldn’t do the trick.
The story:
I was hired by a wind energy company to do a series of illustrations to be used, among other things, for advertising and trade show displays. The first image in the series was to illustrate the theme, “Travel is for people, not parts.”

Because many of the parts in question (precision gears, wind towers, etc.) are large and require specialized processes in their manufacturing, they are shipped by sea, going from country to country before the fabrication is completed and the final product delivered. This, the client noted, is costly, time consuming, and not necessarily in the best interest of the American workforce. 

For the art, I suggested the idea of “parts” going on an ocean voyage. My thought was to recall the look and feel of a travel poster. The key to the concept would be travel stickers on the suitcase, suggesting that the parts had traveled to many countries. (Sketch is at left.)

One of the techniques I often employ in my art is to mix painted imagery with found objects. For this illustration, I would use actual machine parts like gears and hardware. And vintage travel stickers. Luckily, I had a collection of them.

Well, the client — with whom, by the way, I have a very friendly relationship — loved the concept, but had some “minor” changes. The gear needed to be more in keeping with an actual wind tower gear, the ship needed be a freighter and not a cruise ship, and lastly, seven specific countries need to be depicted on the travel stickers.

While I thought the first two changes weakened the aesthetics (the gear and hardware) and the overall concept (ocean voyage) somewhat, I understood the client's point. They were not arbitrary changes, and the client's point was well taken, even though my feeling is that artistic license can, and should trump technical accuracy, up to a point.

The third change was the most valid and understandable, but also the stickiest. I didn’t have travel stickers for the seven countries in question (surprise!), and short of getting incredibly lucky on eBay or making a quick sprint around the globe, there was only one way around it: create them. And they couldn’t be mere suggestions of travel stickers; they needed to be detailed since the artwork for the trade show would run so large. No fudging. That meant not only creating seven pieces of art (they were created as roughly full-page illustrations), it meant doing research on the countries, travel sticker design, and typography.

That was fine. In fact, it would be fun. But there was a catch: because various deadlines for the various uses had been discussed at various times by various parties — the client, the PR firm, the design firm, the trade booth fabricator, the trade magazines — the actual deadline for artwork had gotten buried in a blizzard of emails. The trade show was months away. But the ad was due to the printer in three days.

For some reason, this didn’t seem to faze my client, who, to my amazement, was not in a panic.

I, on the other hand, was fazed. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that when there’s no possible way you can meet a deadline, you always somehow meet it anyway (panic has a way of focusing the mind). And like most illustrators I know, I love working under this kind of pressure.

Here are the seven travel sticker illustrations, followed by the final art.

And here is the final art:

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