Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Beasts of Burden



Finally, another New Yorker cover.
This piece was a long time in gestation since submitting the first sketch many months ago. Francoise [Mouly] and I agreed that there was something to my initial idea but it wasn't quite there yet and would need refinement. Looking back on the original thumbnail, it's easy to see that it was in dire need of some serious editing.

Below is a little bit of the process I went through on my way to the finish:



My very first impulse was to show many kids on their way to school, each with a different variety of pack animal. Ultimately, I realized that I was letting my desire to draw oxen, camels and mules get in the way of telling a simple joke.
I began to throw things out.



Next, I did this sketch which felt right to me, both conceptually and compositionally, but for some reason, never elicited the response I wanted from my test viewers ie: anyone unlucky enough to be strolling past my studio. By the way, I find this random sampling of test subjects is the most reliable. Don't expect to get an unbiased, totally objective reaction from your artists chums. They know too much.



I made two major changes in the next version: First, after Randall's suggestion of making the school kid a girl, I decided to draw my 10 year old, Paulina. Second, I realized thanks to another random survey, that the child needed to look burdened and thereby communicate the essence of the idea a bit more immediately. Once done, everything fell into place and I started to get the reactions I was looking for.





I must be frank and confess to not being entirely happy with the final piece. I am almost always disappointed when I see a drawing reproduced for the first time and this was no exception. In that dreamy period between shipping the artwork and going to the newsstand, much delusional, mental re-painting happens and the final printed piece rarely measures up. Why does it always take having something published to finally see it clearly?
If my time machine were working, I would go back and keep the paint and brush work a bit fresher and finesse the composition and perspective. I think my palette was not quite as organized as it should have been and so I'd edit my local colors a bit more. I would probably show some stress in the strap connecting the girl and the donkey and might spend some more time making the main figure look more like my daughter. However, I will add that I instinctively resist going for a specific likeness on these covers so as not to confuse the viewer into thinking he should be recognizing an individual personality.


Having so many things bug me in a piece is usually enough to send me hurtling into a deep depression, but for some reason I'm not too troubled by it this time. I have some other cover ideas in the bank at The New Yorker and I'm confident that there are at least a couple that could yield something worthwhile.

I'm looking forward to nailing the next one.

30 comments:

  1. I really love it!! Nice one!! :D

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  2. Wow! I love peaks behind the curtain. Thanks for your candid reveal.
    It is a great cover regardless and I'm looking forward to the next one too!

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  3. a great story behind a great image, Peter. Thank you for sharing... really inspiring :)

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  4. именно так всё и есть:) Моя дочь ходит в школу нагруженная по максимуму.А это только второй класс школы.

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  5. Peter, nice little insight, thanks.
    I know what you mean about the time machine thing. I get it all the time, particularly when my work has been sculpted by someone else. I have to come to terms with the fact as originators, we can only do so much before we have to let go.

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  6. hi peter, its so impressive to look out your different skecthes to the final piece, i like a lot the very first impulse ...i think ,but to throw out the others details for focus on the main joke was a good and hard decision...i can imagine the struggle you had to choose for get what you really lookin for.
    The final piece is really beautifull ,but i prefer the 1rst sketch ^^

    best

    jp

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  7. i think it looks great! (and I love how you said "mental re-painting".. so true)

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  8. Tlhis is a really great cover! I like the contrast between the girl with her beast of burden and the unburdened, carefree kids in the background, across the street. And I LOVE the colours!

    I'm definitely going to look for it in the bookstore this afternoon when I go into downtown Seattle.

    And thank you for your thought processes - they are always so interesting.

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  9. By seeing your desire to draw animals, I can't wait to see your own version of Noah's Ark ;-)

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  10. Magnifique Peter !!! L'idée est géniale !!! J'aimais beaucoup aussi le sketch avec l'éléphant !!!

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  11. Not that I wish you a deep depression but I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets like that at the end of a job.
    Great cover Peter!

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  12. Very cool. Yeah, I hear you about sweating stuff and that time between sending and getting it in print... but this cover is awesome, you are being too nitpicky. But that's a good thing in my book, especially for an artist. Cant wait to get it in the mail!

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  13. My initial reaction, great cover. The artist always wants to tighten the reins. You inspire me.

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  14. Thanks for all the backstory —this is a treasure!

    I agree that having the child burdened by her pack was a coup —a huge improvement. I think including another pack animal of your choosing in the background would have been great too. If you love to draw oxen, you should draw them. Art is a very personal thing and your enthusiasm for your subject matter always carries over and is felt by your audience.

    Thanks so much for giving so much!

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  16. Yeah well I think you hammered this one just fine...and again it's very comforting to see an artist who produces this high caliber of art anguish over it!

    Thanks for all your brilliant posts!!!

    BTW have you convinced Carter to start a blog as well...you're our only hope :)

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  17. So my friend, simple amazing and awesome this new New Yorker cover painted with watercolor, right? Congratulations!!!!

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  18. Love the final piece, Peter, as well as the process. Seems we could all use a little editing from time to time. Great stuff!

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  19. This is awesome Peter! Love that you're sharing your process, so cool to see!

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  20. Peter,

    Looks like you are now using a computer to work over the prelimiary sketches. Is that correct? Are you using a tablet or another tool? How is that working for you? I assume the final is still transfered to watercolor paper and done by hand? It's just perfect for all the kids going back to school loaded down with tons of "stuff". Thanks for sharing!
    Nicole

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  21. I only caught a glimpse of a corner the cover when my wife brought in the mail and I was excited knowing it was one of yours. I think it's great. I've spent maybe too much time studying it and even more learned more from your breakdown. I noticed one inconsistency, the placement of the pedestals at the foot of the stairs. Do you not look for such detail in background? Is it more or less sketched in?

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  22. Peter - art is not about perfection. It is about communication of complex ideas. You nailed this one very nicely.

    From my modeling work, "All models are wrong, some are useful."

    You have been very useful. TY

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  23. Peter, I'm a crusty old retired well driller who doesn't make a practice out of judging art. You are the exception. Your September cover has amplified the reality of our dwindling middle class in a way that I can not explain. Yours will be the first magazine cover I have every saved...

    Rich Renouf - Mount Shasta CA

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  24. Oh my gosh you have just totally made my day...maybe my life! Wow. I am exceptionally happy that you posted the process of your work. Thank you so much! To be quite honest I'm surprised I haven't heard of you till today (since I am an illustration major) and already I love your work. Thank you!!!

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  25. Amazing as always! And it is always helpful to look at an artist's thought reflected in the development of his work, so we are all thankful that you shared it :)

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  26. Thank you for sharing
    This fabulous work with us
    Good creations

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  27. Love the characterisation of the girl! Fantastic design!! ^_^

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