Category Archive: Uncategorized

Rupa & The April Fishes poster

My friend, singer/songstress Rupa Marya asked me to do a poster for a great project last month. She and her band, the April Fishes, were doing a tour around the entire Bay Area on their bikes, culminating in a show at the Independent here in SF. We did two versions, one for the tour and one for the Independent show.

I’ve done a lot of illustrations of people on bikes in my time, and one thing I can say is that it never gets easier! It’s a very tricky thing, all the gears and pedals and weird angles that never seem right. But this poster was a lot of fun. And I’ll be doing another shortly for the upcoming Bicycle Music Festival!

Both posters are for sale in my shop! Bay Rising Tour poster & Rupa & the April Fishes at the Independent.

If you haven’t heard Rupa’s music, check it out! Free download a track from her new album here!

New Young Adult Book Covers

At home, I have a shelf of books with covers I have designed. It’s been steadily growing over the years!

I got to add to my shelf last week, when I got a couple sweet packages in the mail: two books for which I had done the cover art several months ago. The finished product at last!

Dust City is a book that I can heartily recommend. It’s a wonderful modern fairy tale, about a young wolf with a bad reputation (his dad, it turns out, is the Big Bad Wolf himself). It’s set in a gritty urban environment where all the precious “fairy dust” is controlled by an evil multinational conglomerate, making for some very dark fairy tales indeed.

Here are some of the sketches:

And here’s the final art:

The other book is called Sign of the Beaver. It’s a classic, winner of the Newberry Award in the 1980s, and it’s a lovely story of a young boy fending for himself in the Maine wilderness, with the help of a Native American family who teach him the basics of survival. I loved it, and it was a real privilege to illustrate.



I don’t always like the books I illustrate. But in this case, both these books are wonderful, and I’m happy to recommend them. Pick them up for any young adults in your life, or get one for yourself if you happen to be a young adult who never grew up!

The packages kept coming this week. I got a couple of bottles of wine with a label I contributed to. This was designed by my friend Alicia Buelow, featuring a figure that I illustrated with Alicia’s art direction. My first wine label! (It’s a small producer, so it might be hard to track down.)

To Kill a Mockingbird

Last year, I got a call from Sterling Press — the publishing arm of Barnes & Noble with whom I did a cover for Alice in Wonderland a while back. They wanted to know if I had ever read a book called To Kill a Mockingbird. I had. Would I be interested in doing a cover?

That was an easy question to answer. I have loved this book since I first read it in the 7th or 8th grade. In fact, I believe this was one of the first books that really showed me what a great book can do. Re-reading it a few years ago, I remembered how this book made me feel transported to another time and place, and how it helped me grapple with really difficult questions about morality and injustice. It’s a powerful story, told with such simple, elegant language. I hope it remains on the bookshelves of kids and adults for a long time.

The great thing is that this edition is designed to do just that. It’s a gorgeous (if I do say so myself) leatherbound edition, the kind of thing that is designed to endure a long time, and survive the rough handling of generations of curious youngsters.

I even got to design endpapers for this book! How’s that for class?

As with most book covers, this one took a lot of back and forth between myself and the publisher. We had to get all those little details right, from Scout’s ponytail to the type to the Southern courthouse featured on the back cover. The biggest surprise in this process was the fact that Harper Lee herself was involved! Yes, she is alive, and though she is careful to stay out of the public eye, she collaborated with Barnes & Noble on this edition, to the degree that she looked over my sketches and gave surprisingly detailed notes. As you might suspect, they were sharp and insightful, with suggestions on how to ensure that Scout looked as if she were actually tipping up on her toes to view the gifts hidden in the knot of that old tree.

I’ve done quite a few book covers now, but this cover is by far the one that means the most to me. It sounds a little silly to say it, but it really is quite an honor to have a commission like this one, working on such a great book, with feedback from such a great author, and for a publisher that is willing to put out such a quality product. The best part: this will be a book I can give to my nieces and nephew and other youngsters I know, in the hopes that they will one day find some of the magic that I enjoyed when I first read it.

You can order copies on the Barnes & Noble website, or stop in to your local B&N and buy a copy there.

PS: A number of people, hearing that I had done a new cover for this book, wrote me over the past few months to congratulate me. It seems that this cover, a classic re-issue of an old cover, has been in stores, and I dont’ blame people for thinking this beautiful, eerie silhouette cover art might be mine. Alas, it is not, although this may have been one of the reasons that Barnes & Noble wanted to have me for their version. I hope my version has some of the flair of this classic!

Ferry Building Poster!

If you’re down at San Francisco’s Ferry Building this week, you’ll find yourself nicely saturated with my art. I did the poster again this year, and it’s lovely how they’ve plastered the entire place with the image I created.

The Ferry Building folks say they have a hard time holding on to the posters — people keep stealing them! That’s got to be the best kind of compliment. Of course, you can get one free by peeling back the tape, or you can always buy one from me! I’ve got a bunch for sale.

(I’ve got both the 2010 and the 2011, which are identical except for the dates.)

California Design & Illustration Show at Los Medanos Art Gallery

I helped curate a show with some amazing artists that opens this Thursday! The show is called “California Design & Illustration,” and it features my work as well as three other artists — here’s the invite that Mati and I created for the show:

Check out some of the photos from the installation!

My incredible talented wife Mati McDonough is the star attraction (IMHO). In addition to some recent paintings, she installed a whole wall of her inspiration — replicating the beautiful creative chaos of her working space.

Our good friend Lisa Congdon is in the show as well — she installed a series of her beautiful animal paintings that are a wonder to behold:

In addition to us three, we also included Jason Munn of the Small Stakes, who is one of our favorite artists working today. Jason’s rock posters combine incredible design savvy with conceptual brilliance. I really want to own this Dr. Strangelove piece, but think it is sold out!

I displayed a bunch of my own poster and book work:

My poster work and books!

But to really make the show special, Mati volunteered me to design a mural for the show. It took two days and three of us working to do it, but it came out great!

Los Medanos Art Gallery is on the campus of Los Medanos Community College, way out in Pittsburg (at the end of the BART line). Here’s the info in case you’d like to make the trek to join us!

Opening: Thursday, February 3, 2011 · 5:30pm – 7:30pm
Through March 3, 2011

Los Medanos Art Gallery
2700 East Leland Road (map)
Pittsburg, CA

Long Lost Voodoo Project

In 2009, I did a neat job: repackaging a series of Voodoo dolls for a company called Running Press. They wanted a spooky, two-color redesign for the boxes and dolls, and it was lots of fun to create.

I mocked all four of them up with my color printer, and here’s how they would have looked:

The cool part was that each box had a special die cut window to display the voodoo doll:

The new packages never appeared on the company’s website, so I never got around to blogging them. The other day I came across the files as I archived some old work, and I gave them a call to check in. Turns out the new designs were never produced! They paid me, so I guess I shouldn’t mind. But it is sort of sad never to see your work come to fruition. That must be one of the pitfalls of being a commercial artist — relying on others to print, produce and sell your work for you. You can do your job, but that’s no guarantee they’ll do theirs!

On the other hand, I now have a nifty portfolio piece to share! Anybody want to some voodoo packaging?

Winterfest Poster

I’ve done the poster for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Winterfest party a few years in a row. It’s a fundraiser/party/art auction with great people, great beer, and great art.

It’s always really important to get a wintery feel for the poster. Here’s the sketch I started with:

The SFBC gave this the green light right away, with the caveat that they preferred a modern font, since we had done a more retro-look in a previous year. This reminded me that I have always loved the hand-drawn type from my favorite film of all time, Dr. Strangelove, created by the film’s designer, Pablo Ferro. Here’s an example:

There is a nice computer typeface inspired by this lettering, but when I posted a link to this font on my Facebook page, my friend Alastair Johnston made an interesting comment. Why not draw the type yourself? Who needs a computer font for this effect?

So for this poster, I hand drew the type, inspired by Ferro’s Strangelove font, but with my own added elements — a few choice curlyques and such — and I think it came out much better than it would have otherwise!

I also created the artwork for the pint glass that will be available. Pay $20, get a pint glass and all the beer you can drink.

And then, since I felt I hadn’t done enough work already for Winterfest, I also created a painting that will be part of the art auction:

It’s called “Return of the Scorcher,” which of course is the name of a fantastic documentary by Ted White. This film, about the rise of global bicycling culture was made in the late eighties or early nineties, and featured a brief story about bicyclists in China who pile up at intersections until they have enough bikes to achieve a “critical mass,” and thus gain right of way. This little anecdote gave the name to a social bike ride that was at that time brand new, and has now been going strong in San Francisco and hundreds of other cities around the world for 18 years!

Drop by Winterfest tonight — get a beer, and maybe bid on some fantastic art!

Avett Brothers Poster

The Art Director with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra called a while back to ask if I wanted to do a poster. She had a few shows coming up, among them the B-52s and the Avett Brothers.

Tough choice! The B-52s are certainly more famous, and in fact their single Rock Lobster was the first record I bought with my own money, back in 1979! But in truth there wasn’t much question in my mind. I love the Avett Brothers and have been listening to them obsessively for quite a while. I love their mix of bluegrass, punk and Beatlesesque harmonies. I love their lyrics. I love the fact that the two main guys are in fact brothers. I love seeing them live!

Here’s a clip of the band that gives an idea of just how great they really are:

This was one of those lucky jobs where I came up with the perfect idea immediately. Here’s the sketch I drew in my sketchbook the same day I got the call:

The inspiration, of course, is the myth of Romulus and Remus, the infant brothers raised by wolves who went on to found the city of Rome. When Mati and I were in Italy we saw this imagery everywhere:

Below is some more of my inspiration, a photo I snapped in a church in Italy, under the nose of an angry and watchful security guard:

Here’s how the poster came out! It’s a 13×19 offset litho print. The best part: it’s for sale in my shop!

Cory Doctorow on Stock Photography in the Digital World

My friend Cory Doctorow gave a speech in DC recently on the subject of copyright and democracy. The whole talk is great, and well worth listening to — I won’t bore you by trying to encapsulate it here. But during the question and answer period, Cory answered a couple questions, one about how he plans to make a living selling books when they’re all digital, and one about how the stock photography industry might respond to the Internet and the challenge it presents to their business model. Have a listen to his answers:

I thought his response was great, and might be useful to illustrators too. I talk to a lot of illustrators and artists about how the Internet is changing our industry. Our business model relies on our power to sell licenses to make copies of our work — only now, just about everyone has a machine designed to make copies, linked into a global network of other machines with the same ability. Copying isn’t as hard as it once was, so selling that right to copy isn’t as easy either. How should we respond?

As Cory points out, we could sue people. Or we could try to invent some technology that would make copying more difficult. Both approaches have been tried by the recording industry, with horrific results that were bad for fans, bad for the industry, and did nothing to get artists paid. And the so-called “3 strikes” provisions cropping up around the world — policies that would cut people off from the Internet after 3 alleged infringements — are even worse, a draconian solution that would undermine the basis of a free and open democratic society.

I like that Cory doesn’t propose an easy answer to this problem. But he does suggest that it won’t come by burying our heads in the sand, pretending that new technology hasn’t already shifted the terrain and re-written the rules. I think the solution won’t come from lawyers or corporations or governments. It will come from people who can use the power of their imaginations to envision solutions others can’t see. And that’s why I think illustrators have an important role to play. We solves problems and think creatively as a normal part of our working lives. It’s time we turned our talent towards a solution that earns us money without damaging our society.


Sometimes when I’m eating tacos at one of the world-famous Mexican taquerias here in the Mission, it occurs to me that someone could make a lot of money if they could just figure out how to export this amazing cuisine to another city. Say, New York. Or Berlin. How about Munich?

Funny, because a few months ago I got a call from some a design agency called Worldstudio, who were working on just such a project. They were looking for a complete look for their Mexican restaurant in Munich, and was I interested? Um, yeah!

Here’s what we came up with for the logo. I did the logo, the type, and the trippy border (which has little eyes that stare back at you if you look at it long enough):

Here’s an alternate layout:

And here’s how it looks on their business cards!

Milagros are those little icons you see in Mexico, sometimes made out of bits of tin — little devotional folk charms. A leg, an arm, a heart. So naturally I also had to design a series of milagros that could be used around the restaurant.

Oh, and here’s one of the rejected logos & type treatments! Hm, now that I look at this one, I’m kind of liking it better…

They’re also doing shirts, chef outfits, salsa and bags with the art!

It was a super fun project! And there might be more — I’m still waiting to hear if I get to design the lampshades and floor tiles for the restaurant. Can’t wait to stop into the restaurant one day and see my art plastered everywhere!