Cartoons from the Zeitgeist

Over the last year or so my son Tom and I have been collaborating on a big batch of gag cartoons – Tom wrote the ideas in New York City, between working at NYU and doing frequent standup in clubs and bars, and sent them over to me here in Bucks County, where I drew them up when I had time. I’m happy to announce that we’ve finally assembled them into a book titled Zeitgeist Meetup, and we’ll be signing copies at The Mercantile, 444 N. Main Street, Doylestown, on Sunday, December 11 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Tom’s humor has a young, New York-type viewpoint, with some ideas coming from his everyday experiences in the city doing improv comedy, some reflecting his standup style of wordplay and visual puns, and a few short-story cartoons like “Bushwick Self-Defense,” “The In-Convenience Store,” and “The Kool Aid Spectrum.” Our book riffs on lots of topics that are in the ‘zeitgeist’ right now— from food trucks to Bigfoot to crickets to Elvis – all just for fun. We want people to laugh!

Tom has been involved in comedy for over 15 years, leading an improv comedy group when he attended Holicong Middle School and CB East, continuing through college at American University and comedy clubs around Washington DC, and now in NYC.

I’ll also mention that two of my latest New Yorker magazine cartoons have been chosen to be in the “2023 New Yorker Day-to-Day Calendar,” which I’ll have there at the Mercantile on display, and I’ll have some of my humorous holiday greeting cards for sale too, so I hope you can come and say hello!

There is plenty of convenient parking at the Mercantile since it’s right in the Doylestown Shopping Center, in the space where BonTon used to be. The Mercantile is a collaborative store that showcases creative small businesses, so there is a ton of great gift items to browse after you’ve chatted with Tom and me – they have beautiful housewares, accessories, vintage items, baked goods, furniture, jewelry, gifts for men and adorable stuffed animals for kids. There are even places to sit down and have a snack when you’re tired of shopping – you can’t beat that!

Zeitgeist Meetup sells for $12.95, and if you can’t make it on December 11 but you want a copy, just let me know. And if you went to CB East with Tom or were in his improv group, please just stop by to say hi, we’d love to see you!

Hat Shop in Turn-of-the-Century Doylestown

My illustration can be seen at the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Bucks Fever Art Exhibition which opens Thursday, November 10 from 5 to 7 pm at the Mercantile in Doylestown, PA.

There’s a building in the middle of Doylestown, at the corner of Main St. and Shewell Ave., that’s been scaffolded for months – it’s being renovated into lavish condos, with a craft brewery on the bottom floor. But if you’d walked down Main Street in 1900 you’d have noted the latest women’s fashions in the elegant semi-circular second floor window of that same building, because that floor was home to Mrs.Ivins’ millinery shop.

The Doylestown Historical Society asked me to envision a typical day in Mrs. Ivins’ shop, with hats, customers and that lovely Victorian arched window. I had a wonderful time researching and creating this scene and I’m pleased to say that my original illustration will be in the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce Bucks Fever Art Exhibit, which opens to the public tomorrow, Thursday, November 10 with a reception from 5 to 7 pm at the Mercantile in the Doylestown Shopping Center.

Kurt Spence of the DHS sent me excellent photo references, courtesy of the Doylestown Historical Society, to begin sketching for the scene. Some were photos of the outside of the building from the turn of the century, some of ladies’ dress and hat fashions, and some from the interiors of Victorian hat shops.

I boiled down my process of creating this historical scene to three steps: research, distillation, and reintroducing selected detail. The research came in studying these photos, pictures from costume books I have, and information on the internet. I started sketching by creating the empty shop room with little detail, just to get the space correct. I sketched some figures separately, to drop into the scene. This was par0r of the ‘distillation’ – simplifying the elements to get a clear composition

Here is the room with the figures dropped in –

At this point I showed the sketch to Kurt, who, as a retired contractor, knows a lot about architecture and buildings, and he gave me suggestions which I was happy to revise. I next did a tonal sketch next to help with simplifying the light and dark areas. This would be a fairly complex drawing when finished, so thinking tonally helped organize shapes so the viewer could ‘read’ the picture more easily.

The DHS asked for this picture to be in color, but of course all the photo reference I had from the urn of the century was black/white, so I had to look at painters of the era to get a feel for the colors. I found this lovely piece of an interior by William Merritt Chase, painted in 1895. I liked the teal, rose and muted yellows and creams, and saw those colors repeated in other paintings of the era, and felt I’d found a good palette.

I did a rough color sketch, using colored pencils over a scan of my line sketch –

At this point I could start adding ‘selective detail’ – detail that would give the flavor of the era but not confuse the viewer’s eye too much. I could add pattern – the Victorians loved patterns of course – to the the carpet and the wallpaper, as long as it was low contrast. I added the bold wallpaper border near the ceiling because there was not much going on in the top third of the scene, and used my chosen teal, rose and yellow in that border.

I wanted to make this scene tied specifically to my hometown, so out the window one can see the Civil War Monument and the Intelligencer building, two landmarks that can be seen from this corner in Doylestown.

After this stage I transferred the drawing to illustration board, outlined using prisma pencil, and painted it in using acrylic paint washes. The finished piece –

The public is welcome to attend the Central Bucks Chamber show to see my piece and many other works of art. The opening reception is Thursday Nov. 10 from 5 to 7 pm at the Mercantile in Doylestown, with light refreshments and music on tap. The exhibit continues until November 20.

Drawing Biblical figures

I organized another Art+Faith Life Drawing session through my church and this time we had two wonderful models, husband and wife, who posed in our makeshift Biblical costumes so artists could imagine and draw scenes from our shared religious heritage, bringing our faith into our art.

We started with warm-up sketches of 5 to 10 minutes in length. I sketched on charcoal paper with prisma pencil..

Our models took a poignant pose of Mary Magdalen receiving counsel from Jesus. I drew this longer pose in pencil on charcoal paper –

While the models often posed together in a scene, time restrictions made it hard for me to get developed drawings of two figures, so I concentrated more on one or the other. Here is our model posing with ‘tablets’ as Moses below. It was really striking to see him standing in front of us – there is a grace in the draping of ancient clothing styles that does make you stop and contemplate: the gravity of their lives so long ago, the convictions they held that carried them through devastation. Drawing these faithful figures has an effect that goes beyond simple rendering.

My favorite from the day – an Evangelist.

My Illustration for a Business Birthday E-Card

I drew this car parade birthday illustration for Furia Rubel Communications last year. They originated the idea and needed me to make it into an image for them to send out with their best wishes to their clients. I think it’s a great way to make a touchpoint with each client – a beneficial marketing strategy – and remind their clients of the whole team of people working for their interests. I have often drawn the FRC team for projects in the past.

I started with a pencil sketch of the whole train of cars and caricatures of each FRC member.

When that was ok’d I printed out a copy and did a rough color sketch with markers and colored pencils. The great thing about sending out ecards is, there is no more expense in doing full color over black and white. On computer screens, color is free!

I decided to colorize this illustration using digital color, so the colors would match those in the FRC logo and other hues on their website. I drew each carload in black line, then filled it in with digital color.

After drawing and colorizing each piece of the picture this way I assembled them onto one page and added the banner, balloons and honking horns.

Another advantage of assembling this piece digitally is that if employees change from year to year, I can adjust the picture accordingly. And in fact, this year I was asked to add new team members and remove some who have moved on; so with some tweaks Furia Rubel will have an updated ecard showing their full team for 2022.

Portrait of a Charming Little Home in Vermont

A friend commissioned me to paint her daughter’s adorable first home, as a gift and celebration of this milestone. I waited for a while so they could send me some photos of full trees and flowers blooming around the house – Vermont’s spring comes quite a bit later than it does here!

I started with a pencil sketch. My client also sent photos of her daughter’s cat, so I pencilled him in on the front porch.

After some more recent photos were sent I was able to add newly-planted flowers to the color sketch.

And after approval from my client I transferred the drawing to illustration board and painted it using a combination of prisma pencils and acrylic paint washes.

My Pirates of Penzance Artwork in Australia

I’m always delighted to get requests from outside the US for my artwork.

I’ve had Gilbert & Sullivan companies in the UK request my G&S illustrations for their production posters, a woman in France purchased my ‘fox playing the cello’ notecards for her cello-playing daughter, and a music school in Switzerland used my sketch of a flutist for a concert program.

Last week I received an email from the Kelvin Grove Wind Orchestra in Brisbane, Australia – my first request from the southern hemisphere! They have a concert next month and will perform music to lift people’s spirits, so they’ve chosen some from the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance. They asked if they could project my artwork from the Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s production on a screen while the orchestra plays.

It’s gratifying to know my art will be seen by audiences in Australia! My illustration is below – and if you want to enjoy the magnificent buoyancy that’s the hallmark of Gilbert & Sullivan music, listen to the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields play the Pirates overture here.

Graphic Musical Design for Doylestown Symphonic Winds

The Doylestown Symphonic Winds is a wonderful conglomeration of terrific musicians who perform annually to benefit a music scholarship for talented young musicians. I go to their concert every year and love the music – so much brass!

I’ve done a number of posters for them, and this year their conductor Gina Lenox asked for something graphic. There isn’t anything much more graphic and easily recognizable than silhouettes of various horns, drums and pipes, so I had fun playing with instruments, blocks of color and hearts in this one. I felt a nice contrast would be to hand-letter the title in brush and ink.

I highly recommend this concert, they do a mix of traditional and contemporary composers but it’s always punchy music with a lot of personality – just like the brass section!

Drawing Women of the Bible

I organized another Art+Faith Life Drawing session through my church and this time our model was a lovely friend of mine, tall and with waist-length hair; and instead of Madonna and Child poses we decided she could pose as Mary at the time of the Resurrection or other women of the New Testament. Another artist in our group borrowed some beautifully-made costumes from a Nativity pageant, and along with some props, veils and scarves we put together some wonderful depictions of women of the Bible to bring into our art.

We started with warm-up sketches of about 5 minutes in length. I sketched on charcoal paper with chalk and conté crayon.

I didn’t get too far with this one below but I think I have the basic pose, just have to develop it more. This is prisma pencil on charcoal paper. I think this drawing could be Mary waiting to go with the other two women to the tomb on Easter morning.

The last two are twenty minute poses I drew on toned grey sketch paper, with burnt sienna and white prisma pencils. I added some local color with other pencils and chalks. The top woman with the jar could be the ‘woman at the well’ that Jesus met, and the bottom one, since we dressed her with several accessories, could be a wealthy woman – perhaps Pilate’s wife, contemplating her message to Pilate to “have nothing to do with this righteous man.”

Many years have passed since I drew figures daily in art school; until these drawing sessions I had forgotten how personal and cathartic it is to draw from a model in the moment. It inspires exploration, harkens back to stories long remembered, and turns accidental strokes into almost prophetic discoveries. I’m looking forward to our next Biblical model.

My Poster Art for Gilbert & Sullivan’s ‘The Gondoliers’ in June

Every year I design the poster for the Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s musical comedy, and I’m excited that this year’s show will be one I’ve long enjoyed, The Gondoliers. It has the same wonderful songs and orchestrations as their other shows but with an Italianate flair, which makes the singing even more lyrical. The Gondoliers will be performed with the wonderful Bucks County Gilbert& Sullivan Orchestra accompanying, on June 17, 18 and 19 in Doylestown.

I started with some pencil sketches – at first I thought I’d put the major characters in the gondola and the minor ones running around a canal bridge in the background, but it seemed the minor figures would be too small – they are all great characters, after all.

So I tried packing everyone into the gondola! That worked fine, since the show is kind of a screwball comedy

In looking at reference photos of Venice, the buildings along the Grand Canal seem to glow in the sunlight at times, so I indicated in this rough color sketch how I’d paint them in loosely for the background. The gondola’s shadow in the water would give a lot of room for the necessary text of the poster.

I traced my drawing onto illustration board and painted the gondola & characters first –

And then painted in the sky, water and buildings, and dropped in the text.