Mini Mashers

Oh dear, time does fly.

Back in my feckless youth I had a design studio in the happening SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. I took on any project that came my way, both design and illustration. An advertising agency I’d been working with got a packaging design job from Remco, the toymaker. Professional wrestling had become popular—celebrities like Cyndi Lauper went to matches—so Remco thought little plastic models of popular wrestlers would sell.

Originally named Mini Maulers, later Mashers, they came in blister-packs of 4 and 8 or boxes of 12. I got to create all the artwork on the packages, including caricatures of the featured wrestlers. Here’s the best part: they asked me to dream up an origin story and tell it in a comic strip. So I came up with a lab-experiment-gone-wrong story and supplied the tagline: “Whatever you do, don’t let them out!”

Apparently I had no idea you could blend gouache back then.

PSInside—a must-read!

The January issue of PSInside arrived—including a well-written article by my pal Fred Carlson about the illustration business in this economy.

The president’s poster design contest

President Obama would like to promote a new jobs bill.  Shepard Fairey‘s posters were a big part of the president’s 2008 campaign so this time around Obama for America is running a contest for best poster design.  There are no cash prizes.  The designer must surrender all rights to his design to Obama for America.

Many designers are upset about this contest.

So here’s my two cents.  I think this contest isn’t good for designers or illustrators.  You may say, ‘So what?  If you don’t want to enter the contest then don’t.’  The problem is that the perceived value of a designer’s time & skill is diminished whenever any one of us participates in a contest like this one.  The administrators figure that these contestants place so little value on their time & skill that they’ll be willing to work for free and then let someone else profit from their work.

An artist will spend his entire career negotiating for bigger fees with each new project.  When we say it’s okay to devalue an artist’s time and talent to zero it becomes really difficult to convince the next client that those commodities are worth anything at all. It’s easy to see why a plumber or mechanic charges what he does.  Because art is subjective it’s often not so easy to see how we arrive at our fees.

This is just my opinion.  You may want to read the guidelines for art competitions the Graphic Artists’ Guild came up with.

Painting the opening spread

And here is the painting—from The Really Awful Musicians—in progress.



My studio in the National Transit Building is over 100 years old with lots of oak woodwork and a well-worn door that looks like it should be to the office of a private eye.

Having more or less caught up with my deadlines, I took a little time to finally put my name and studio number on the window.  I chose some old typefaces that looked appropriate—from some type catalogues that I have and from internet sources.  I created the words on my computer and printed them out big enough to fill the space on the door.

Then I taped the printout to a piece of black Contact paper and cut the letters out with a razor blade.  I taped the entire mess to the window and carefully peeled the backing off each letter.  I left the printout taped to the window so I could stick the letter back where it’s supposed to be—like a puzzle piece.

Now the door’s ready for some dame to walk through it asking me to find her missing sister…

I’m looking for an intern—

—who lives in Venango County, Pa & is interested in picturebook illustration. It will be 2-3 hours/day, Mon-Thur for 6 weeks. You help me paint and I’ll help you develop your portfolio.  You can e-mail me at

More ART!


Some really big letters

When you come up the stairs to the second floor of the National Transit Building (where us artists are) you’re greeted with gorgeous woodwork and beige walls.  It looks office-building-ish.

And so we’re letting everyone know in a big, big way that they’ve stepped into an art environment.  The walls got a coat of lavender paint last Saturday from Ally, Maureen, Suzette, Linda & Anyssa.  Christina is holding the chalk line thinghy, which she used to snap out a big grid on the wall. We’ve chosen an old wood font from the 19th century because it goes with the building and has mostly straight lines—easy to tape.  We’ve only got ‘A’ & ‘R’ up so far.  To come soon: ‘T!’


Some character sketches

It’s been a busy place around here.  I’m painting 2 books and my bookshelf/storage cabinet project is finally finished. April & May were full of many fun visits to elementary schools and a couple of literacy conferences. Luckily I have an intern this summer, so we’re able to handle more work than I can accomplish by myself.

As well as stapling, tracing and blocking in paintings, Christina scanned in some old character sketches that were lying around and needed to be filed.

These are from Humphrey, Albert & the Flying Machine.  The story takes place within the classic Sleeping Beauty tale.  To accentuate that 100 years have passed (while the entire castle sleeps) Briar Rose wears a renaissance costume at the beginning of the story and wears an 18th century wedding dress at the end—and yes, that’s more like 300 years difference in costume styles.  Humphrey, Albert, and Dad are dressed in renaissance era and Daniel is 18th century.

Busy, busy, busy

Sorry I’ve been lax with the blog posts lately.  It’s been a hopping season for school visits as well as my usual book projects.  On top of all that I’ve been trying to organize my spectacularly disorganized studio by installing some bookshelves and a cabinet.

I ordered 4 bookshelf units from Woodland Mills.  They send you the pieces and you put them together.  These are made of pine with a beaded-board back.  I’d like all my new built-in furniture to look like the beautiful old oak paneling here in the National Transit Building, so I’m painting the pine to match.  After primer I paint 2 coats of gold-orange-brown, wait til it dries, then paint a glaze of dark brown and drag a graining tool through it (this is latex glazing medium with burnt umber acrylic paint mixed in).  The last photo shows 2 book shelves I painted next to real oak on the left.

In the middle between the bookshelves will be a deep cabinet to hold all my art and project envelopes.   A friend of mine is custom-building that and will deliver it tomorrow if it’s not raining!