Category Archive: Uncategorized

Blame Sally Poster Gets More Love

The poster design that my wife Mati McDonough and I did last year for our friends in the band Blame Sally just keeps getting awards. Earlier in the year the poster was featured in the Society of Illustrators 52 show and annual. Now it’s garnered another honor: it is in the 3×3 Professional Show for 2010!

(If you’ve never seen 3×3 magazine, you should check it out. When it comes in the mail we rush to open it, fight over who gets to read it first, and linger over every page. It really is a beautifully designed, loving homage to contemporary illustration that is a must for any artist or designer.)

The t-shirt version printed on gorgeous Alternative Apparel shirts won best swag from the Independent Music Awards in 2009:

You can get your own copy of the silkscreen poster from us here, and you can pick up the shirt from Blame Sally here.

Mati and I don’t put our artistic heads together that often, but when we do we get an awesome product. (I guess that’s one reason the marriage works, right?)

Way to Go: Travel Guide Section for Washington Post

It’s been years since I’ve done anything travel related, but travel is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I got my start as an illustrator and designer working for the world’s most beloved travel guide publisher, Lonely Planet, where I worked from 1992 to 1998.

So I was really pleased when the Washington Post called recently, not to ask my opinion on world events but to see if I had time to do an illustration for their annual Way to Go travel guide. The best part? They wanted to put my typographic skills to use! That always makes me happy.

The sketch was easy, and actually it was mostly done before I was even off the phone. The hard part was getting the color right. I did several versions, each slightly different. Here are the first few:

In the end, we came full circle and kept most of the original color version. Here’s how it looked on the page:

The Way to Go guide had five articles, and I did a spot for each one:

It’s been a while since I’ve done work for a newspaper, and I’d forgotten how much fun a quick and dirty illo on a tight deadline can be. Thanks to the Washington Post for the opportunity!

Spooky Young Adult Jacket Cover!

My good friend LisaRuth once paid me a high compliment. She said that my paintings struck her as inspired by European folk tales like the Brothers Grimm, but reinterpreted so that the kids are no longer the hapless victims. That really made my day. I hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms, but it’s a really nice insight. The kids in my paintings are often facing a frightening reality, but they shouldn’t seem scared or intimidated.

Well, a few months back I got a great assignment. Penguin’s young adult novel division called with a new book based on the Brothers Grimm. The book, A Tale Dark & Grimm, is a modern retelling in which Hansel & Gretel are far from hapless. In fact, they wreak some havoc on the abusive adults they encounter. The book is dark, funny, and gruesome in parts. Perfect for young adults! (It’ll be available in November.)

Here are a couple sketches:

And here’s how the front cover came out:

But the really cool thing is what we did with the wraparound dust jacket for the hardcover. (Click to enlarge) This sort of thing is tricky, because it has to work as a whole, but each panel has to work independently as well.

Inside, I created the title page and spot illustrations for each chapter. Here’s a sampling!

You know what’s cool? Some kids, somewhere in the world, will love this book. And they’ll spend a lot of time pouring over the illustrations, looking for clues, etching the images in their minds, just as I did with illustrated books when I was a kid. Maybe some of them will even grow up to be illustrators!

Me and the Ferocious Few

I don’t do that many rock posters these days, but when I saw the Ferocious Few (myspace, facebook) play a few months back, I knew I had to do a project for them. They’re a band composed of just two guys that generate an enormous amount of noise, and it’s just the kind of noise I like: loud, melodic and intense.

The Ferocious Few now have an album coming out, and this Wednesday is their album release party at Cafe Du Nord. This was as good a time as any to do that poster for them, so I did! It will be available at the show (and later next week in my online shop).

I did a few rounds on this project. First, I was going to do one of my cats. Here’s the first version of the poster:

But as I listened to the album while I worked on it you can stream it in its entirety here I realized I was missing something. This record is just edgy and crusty and intense, with a hint of sadness lingering in there somewhere. Also, a couple of the songs mention the devil.

All this reminded me of an old painting I did of Satan as a forlorn loser in a Charlie Brown shirt. (This painting never sold, and it just kicks around the studio because Mati doesn’t want it in the house. Maybe you’d like to buy it?)


I don’t know why I never thought of it, but this painting was a rock poster just waiting to happen. The rough texture of the painting and the moody but intense colors seemed to fit with the band’s sound. It took me some time with the image in photoshop in order to simplify it enough to silkscreen in 3 colors, but in the end it came out pretty great!


I got my friend Conor Ottenweller at Forthrite Printing in Oakland to print it for me. Conor’s a great printer who really cares about his craft, and I highly recommend him!

The show is Wednesday, May 5 at Cafe Du Nord on Market Street in San Francisco. The cover is just $5, but if you are a dirt cheap bastard (or are just saving your pennies so you can buy some a copy of the poster at the show) you can RSVP here and get in free.

Illustrating Book Jackets

I confess that I am the sort of person who judges books by their covers. When I walk into a bookstore, I usually spend about ten minutes just browsing the covers of the books that are spread out on the nearest table. I’m not interested in the content, I don’t care about the story. All I want at that moment is to look at is the image, the type choices, the paper and printing. Nothing against authors. I just like the look and feel of paper books.

Happily, I’ve been designing a few books covers myself lately. I have one title still in process for Penguin that I can’t show you yet, and another for the small local publisher Red Wheel Weiser on the way. But here are a few covers that I have in printed form I keep these on a special section of my bookshelf devoted to books I have designed. I did the front, back and spine for each of these, along with tons of feedback and encouragement from art directors.

This is the cover I did for Barnes & Noble’s classic books division, timed to coincide with the new Alice film. It’s printed with white, black and gold ink on raspberry colored leather. I love the feel of this, but I have some ambivalence about the end product maybe we did too many revisions.

The nice thing about this project was reading the text in preparation. It’s a brilliantly funny memoir about a bad relationship and messy breakup, set here in San Francisco, with much of the action taking place in bars and locales that I know well. But even better was the fact that the author, Linda Robertson, was so happy with the piece that she had my name written into her contract for future books as the cover designer. Can’t wait for the next book!

This one I blogged previously, but for the sake of the completeness of this post, I’m including it. Did this for MacMillan, and I have to say that for a kid’s book, it’s pretty scary.

I’ve done a series of covers for the yearly collection of stories by San Francisco public school students put out by the fantastic non-profit Streetside Stories. This one is my favorite.

For most of these covers, I did the front cover as well as the spine and the back cover. I really think those elements are integral to the whole, and I’d rather do that work than have another designer put their gloss on my work. This one is for the local anarchist publisher, AK Press. I own so many of their books, so it’s nice that at least one of them has my work on the cover.

Last but not least is the cover I did for my friend and frequent collaborator on political projects, Chris Carlsson. This book, which you can download for free or buy here, is a novel in the utopian tradition set here in San Francisco. My favorite thing about the book is that, while you’re reading it, you begin to see little hints of the utopia Chris is describing that seem to exist right now, in our current city. Which seems to be part of the point. If we can get a few things right, why not the whole enchilada? Why not dream big?

I’ll post the new two new cover projects as soon as I have the actual books in hand!

Messin’ with Type!

One of the reason I love doing posters and book covers is to have the opportunity to do something fun with type. Each letter has its own character, its own essence, and it’s fun to try to craft something new that still captures the essence of the letter. But just as important as the letter forms is the shape of the word, and how that shape and style relates to the meaning the word or name represents.

What started me thinking about doing a blog post on my type work was a job I got recently doing just the type for an ad. The assignment was to make the words look like a bunch of spilled water being soaked up by this sponge. It took a lot of back and forth with the art directors, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.

Of course, I’m usually doing type for posters. Sometimes, I start with an existing typeface, and I’ll embellish and distort it as I see fit. That’s how I did this type for the poster I did for the Pixies: I started with the word set in a circus font called Captain Howdy (a dorky name, I know, but what do you expect from a circus font?), and I just re-drew it and embellished it till it looked right.

But more often I draw the type freehand. I have a few different “modes” of doing type. One is a sort of spooky serifed typeface, where I use the serifs (the horizontal caps you have in a face like Times or Garamond) almost as decorative elements that taper and spindle off in different directions. (It should be clear how much of a debt I owe to the type designs of the filmmaker Tim Burton, who must be the most multi-talented man on the planet.)

Here’s another in this halloween-ish style, which was part of a poster I did for Rupa and the April Fishes (this is the type for the opening band):

I also have a loopier, more fluid type design that I like to do, that is less spooky and halloweenish. Here’s what I did for the Stern Grove festival — this type appeared on the poster and was also separated out for banners and signs and things at the event.

I used this style of type for the cover of the 7×7 magazine that I did last June:

And for the logo for the fantastic band the Sippy Cups, a children’s psychedelic rock band that I do a lot of art for. (If you go to their site, check out the nice way they “flashified” the logo in the corner of their splash page!)

I’ve got more type projects coming up, so I’ll post those when they’re ready!

Some Recent Work!

It’s been so long since I’ve blogged anything new that I now have a backlog of items I haven’t posted. So I’ll start with the most recent, which is the piece I did for the California State Lottery’s Free Music series:

So often I don’t ever get to see my illustration work out doing it’s job in public. But the other day, on my way down 24th Street in the Mission, I came across the lottery posters plastered all over the place:

I’ve had posters of my work wheatpasted around town before, but it’s usually political posters that we’ve put up illegally. Kind of strange to see my work posted legally and in full compliance with all laws and permits!

Back in June, I completed the artwork for the first in a series of young adult novels from MacMillan in the UK, called “The Last Ghost: A Belladonna Johnson Adventure.

I’m really happy with the result, and the decision by designer Rachel Vale to reverse the image on the back, making the spine of the book the trunk of the tree. It’s really satisfying to work with talented art directors!

The image is simple, but as with so many of these types of images, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. Here are just a few of the many color sketches I produced for this job — as you can see, we tried a bunch of different approaches before settling on the girl in the tree.

Also in June, I did the cover for San Francisco’s 7×7 Magazine. I love getting a call to do a magazine cover, but when it’s your own city, and the issue is the Best of the City issue — well, that’s just extra flattering. Here’s what some of the earlier versions looked like:

One thing that was a treat for me was that the art director chose to print this using Pantone colors rather than CMYK, so I got to choose two Pantones I love, and we ran the turquoise at different screens to get different shades. If you can find a printed copy of the magazine, you can see what difference to the color it makes!

I’ll be posting more regularly in coming weeks and months!


Anarchist Bookfair Poster Set benefit for Tristan Anderson

My friend Tristan Anderson has been critically wounded at a protest in the West Bank. I don’t know all the details, but apparently the injury is from a teargas projectile fired by Israeli soldiers. The injury is very serious, and Tristan is going to need help from his community in the coming months.

To help raise money for Tristan’s recovery, I’ve put together 20 complete sets of the 6 posters I have done for the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair over the years. Posters are all offset litho, all 11×17 except for the 2004 poster which is 12×18, all are mint condition and signed by the artist.

Anarchist Bookfair Poster Set: Benefit for Tristan Anderson

Your $100 will go directly to a fund for Tristan. I don’t have information on the name of the fund at the moment, but I will post that just as soon as I have it.

My thoughts go out to Tristan and his family. He is one of the most positive, engaged and energetic activists I know, and I hope he can make a speedy recovery.

An ordinary day in Oltrarno

We’ve settled in to a semi-regular existence in Florence, with a rented apartment in Oltrarno, the so-called “working class” district that reminds us a lot of the Mission back home. The crowds and the tourist attractions are several blocks away, across the river Arno, so we have all these tiny cobble-stoned streets and cheap wine bars to ourselves. It’s a pretty sweet life!

This sort of travel suits us better than moving from town to town every day. We can save money on living quarters, and cook at home every once in a while. Still, the truth of the matter is that the moment you stop moving, time speeds back up. It’s easy to lose a day as the rhythms of everyday life take over. That’s pretty much what happened to us today.

Our plan had been to enjoy a leisurely morning (as usual) and hop on a train at noon to visit our new friend Shanna’s place in Pontadera. We met Shanna here in Italy, but she is a former San Franciscan that we met through good friends Kim & Jason and Megan. A few days back we stayed with her, and when she mentioned that the olive harvest was coming up, we jumped at the chance to return.

If you conjure up your vision of the fantasy Italian countryside home — maybe an old farmhouse in the countryside converted by loving hands into a perfect Italian villa — that’s pretty much where Shanna lives. Her family owns the place and has been fixing it up for decades now. Shanna lives there with her husband and adorable 15-month old daughter. A pretty idyllic existence!

Well, getting back there seemed easy enough. The train leaves every few minutes, and takes about an hour. We hopped in a cab, and thought we were on our way. But when we arrived, we learned the Italian word for “strike”: Sciopero. No trains for Pisa today.

Still, this didn’t stop us from foolishly buying a ticket in the hopes that somehow it would work.

Staying in Florence wouldn’t be that bad. We’ve been trying to make it to the legendary Fra Angelico frescos that grace the former living quarters of Florentine monks at the Church of San Marco. So we hopped in another cab (for another 8 euros), and arrived at San Marco only to find that the church is closed on the 2nd Monday of every month.

Well, by this time we were ready to head back to our lovely Oltrarno district to drop off our bags. Having just wasted 20 Euros on cab fair and 12 Euros on a useless train ticket, we thought we’d walk. Ever tried to walk down narrow, cobblestoned sidewalks with a rolling suitcase? It’s no fun. We grabbed a third cab home for another 8 Euros.

What do you do when your travel plans fall through? Laundry. As it happens, there is a laundromat just down the street from our home. Naturally, we forgot about the Italian habit of closing for lunch from 1-3, so we had to sit an hour in a cafe. And now we are in the laundromat, watching our clothes go around and around.

We need a break! I think we’ll take ourselves out for a nice dinner in the Santa Croce neighborhood we’ve been meaning to visit, using recommendations from Kate & Sean. We’ll get a botiglia di vino, do both a primo and secondo piatti, and stop by a gelateria on the way home. That’ll be the end to a nice day.

Cab fare = 26 Euros
Cafe = 4 Euros
Laundry = 9.50 Euros
Wasted Train ticket= 12 Euros
An ordinary day in this beautiful city = Priceless

Flip Your Lid artwork

The most consistent criticism I hear from people about Burning Man goes like this: Why do all this great stuff out in the desert? Why not bring it home to the city?

The Black Rock Arts Foundation was founded to do just that, and they’ve been doing a great job. They brought the David Best temple to Octavia Blvd, and they’ve installed art by Burning Man artists in other cities as well.

In fact, the only thing about Black Rock Arts that I don’t like is the acronym: BRAF. Looks and sounds too much like BARF.

Anyway, the BRAF people asked me to do an art piece for their upcoming Flip Your Lid party. It’s a fundraiser with a ticket price that rivals Burning Man itself, but there are cheaper options — and all the money goes to support the arts in San Francisco and beyond. The big donors get a poster version of the art I created, printed by Digital Pond.

I won’t be able to attend, since Mati’s in a group show that is opening that night. But if you like the poster and you want a copy, let me know. I may have a limited number for friends.