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.