Jenny first emailed me early in 2017 after she had seen some of my illustrations shared on Facebook by some of my favorite people on the planet, photo-geniuses Ben & Erin Chrisman (www.chrismanstudios.com). She inquired about a commission and had "a pretty specific idea in mind." Specific = good. I like specific. So over the course of the following emails, we discussed a scene wherein her 1 year old would be conducting an orchestra of animals. Some of the specifics:
"I would love it to be at Carnegie Hall (where we go often and where his dad played)."
"It would be great if they were playing Mahler's Symphony #5 (one of our first dates and his favorite symphony) which has specific orchestra layout and instrumentation."
"Finally, I have only some specifications on the which animals play what, and the rest would be free form."
With the specifics laid out in broad strokes, the next step was my attempt at researching the piece and proposing this seating chart. (Being a band geek growing up proved somewhat helpful.)
But I was wrong. Like way off. So Jenny walked me through how it should look and I was then able to use a YouTube video of a concert performance to fine tune the seating. And then once that was all figured out, we needed to make a decision on the perspective. Do we go head on? Aerial shot from upper right? Upper left? Should we be looking from backstage or from balcony? If from backstage, we get a frontal view of the baby/conductor. But we'll only see the backs of most animals. And if we go from the audience POV, then the baby's back will be facing us. Agh!
Don't worry. We figured it out. And once that was all squared away, the next step was... drawing chairs. Lots of chairs.
Then filling those chairs with animals, creatures and arming them with their appropriate instruments. And making sure to remember simple rules like every instrument in the front row has to be part of a pair.
Then came ink. Lots of ink.
I'm not sure why there is a longneck violin floating above the orchestra, but I will assume I was just sketching out a violin to make sure I remembered what a violin looks like.
This is a good place to mention several of the animals (like the gator playing bass drum, the little whale playing the glockenspiel and the fox on the tympany are all much loved stuffed animals of our baby conductor.
And finally the paint.
Click on any to see full size images. That should have been obvious.
Sometimes projects are rushed. Sometimes they are dragged out. In this case, there was no rushing involved. Jenny was INCREDIBLY patient and that resulted in some substantial additions. The longer I work on something, the more I can play around with ideas, try things out, let ideas develop etc. The most notable example here is the whale on the triangle. It wasn't until the 11th hour that the upper left portion of the picture was filled out with that big feller. Surely you wouldn't miss him if you never saw him, but if I remove him from the frame now, the piece looks incomplete.
Worth noting: When working on pieces like this, soundtrack is essential. Over the many many hours I spent drawing/painting this, I listened almost exclusively to 1) The Tim Ferriss Show, 2) the Moana soundtrack, and 3) Hamilton.
This project was so much fun - and getting to meet and know Jenny was an added super perk! I think I say it every time I post something new so forgive any redundancy but I just love the fact that I get to work with adults who are working really hard to not act like adults. Getting excited over giant whales playing the triangle, pissed off looking pigs, and hidden Rudolf's is the world I live in and there's nothing better than getting to work on things like this with people who appreciate the same ridiculousness. Jenny, thank you so much for your creativity, your patience and your beautiful family. Such a joy to do this with and for you!
This story begins the way many of my stories do; with an email from someone with a fun/kooky idea. This one was a little different than usual in that it had a general direction with almost no specifics at all. Clark wrote, "We asked him what he would like his room to be like and his response was "Monkeys in Space". You can run with that idea. Lol."
Over the following weeks, we emailed back and forth about the size of the project, and whether it'd be one large piece or a diptych or something else unusual. Then we came up with the idea of doing a rotating image that could be displayed two different ways. Mounted in a custom frame, it would allow for rotating the image to get two different scenes.
So off we went.
The concept would be this: two different groups of monkeys arriving on different sides of a (flat) planet. On one side, a group of monkeys sharing their bananas and working together to build a civilization on a new planet. Rockets, architecture, chess, music... progress! On the other side, we would find a society of hoarders, thieves and ruffians all behaving out of pure short-sighted self-interest. Their rockets would be poorly assembled and crashing. Their architecture, shoddy and crumbling.
Over the course of four months, we went from a big blank page to the following insanity. Everything was done with pigma micron pens (0.25mm, black) and watercolor paints. Pencil drafting was done for layout, but lots of the details weren't planned out before the ink.
This was a personal milestone, as it is by far the largest and most detailed piece I've completed to date. It was an absolute joy to do, but that doesn't mean it came free of frustrations. Like anything else, there were moments of frustration. There were times when I thought it would never actually be done. And there were SO many times that I was afraid that something was going to go awry - an ink spill, water damage, a food spill, etc.
But hey, we made it! And Clark was awesome enough to invite me over to personally deliver the completed project to Elliot to explain it to him and to see his reaction. It was pretty awesome, to say the least. Enjoy the photos below.
I was away on vacation this past week which meant my commissions were all put on hold. I don't travel with large projects and currently, all my projects are... well, large. That being said, I always travel with notebooks, pens, paint and brushes. And playing around without the stress of a project gives me a little more freedom to explore. This past week was a fun and laid back exploration with color while at the beach. Blending colors, working on gradients, and not always staying in the lines yielded a bunch of good stuff. Here are a few sketches...
If you read my blahg post from last year called "Hamsterdam," you might recall that a friend of mine commissioned a drawing of a specific block in Amsterdam overrun by pigs. Well that brother recently commissioned me to do something for his friends and self. John-Erik ("Hamsterdam" recipient) emails me and says, "My group of friends elect one new member to 'The Best of Us All' each year and those who are elected 'B.O.U.A.' participate in the election process in future years. I'd like to do something special for the group."
We text. We talk. We spitball. Should we do a Mount Rushmore idea with the newest member's face being chiseled into the mountain?Not a bad idea. We sit on it for a while. In the interim, J-E sends me a VERY thorough email which includes names, photos, and personality traits/character stories about each of the friends to be included. In addition to the friends elected as "Best of Us All," there are also a number of other friends to be included but not necessarily featured.
Then weeks later I get an email from J-E that says, "The idea of a portrait gallery is almost too good. What do you think about that?" This coincided particularly well with the fact that the B.O.U.A. had just elected their first female member and she happened to be a staunch Hillary supporter. It was decided that we would steal elements of the "I'm With Her" campaign to celebrate Katie Ray's election into the B.O.U.A.
This resulted in a lot more ridiculous conversation about what that would look like and for about 10 minutes, two men in their 30's talked about monkeys hanging from chandeliers, dogs peeing on plants and ridiculous puns (see: I'm With Fur).
I kept J-E looped in throughout the process, making sure to get the details just right. It was a great combination of specific direction along with room for artistic license. J-E consistently said, "I defer to the artist."
Here's a little bit of the process, along with the finished product. This was an absolute blast to work on and I wish the Rest of Them All luck in future elections!
Lastly, thanks to John-Erik for having this idea and contributing so much to the vision while still also trusting in me and the process.
CLICK ANY IMAGE TO VIEW IN FULL SCREEN