Disrupting the Disrupters

Even though I’ve been a New Yorker for over 20 years, The Boston Globe holds a warm place in my heart. Ronn Campisi, Lucy Bartholomay and others at the Globe helped my career break out on a national level when I was a young artist. When AD Lesley Becker called with an assignment, I was more than happy to accept. Lesley had a great article about the disruption theory which is a very popular concept in business. The main idea is established companies are vulnerable to upstarts and helpless to respond before it’s too late.

Boston Globe: Sleeping Giant

The success of the iPhone followed with the demise of  dominant handset makers added to popularity of the disruption theory. The article debunks the idea that disruption of established companies happens on a regular basis. We went though a couple rounds of sketches and the editors liked the idea of waking a sleeping giant. A slightly humorous approach seemed appropriate since it would catch the shock of would-be disrupters confronting reality.

Boston Globe: Waking Giant

Much thanks to Lesley and the Boston Globe for an entertaining assignment.

Here’s the final page:

Boston Globe: Disrupting the Diisrupters

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It’s a big data world


April Montgomery at Computerworld Magazine is one of my favorite art directors and we have worked together for many years. She is one of the more collaborative Art Directors I work for and the project often morphs into something bigger depending on how the sketches work with her design. It often feels like improvisation working with April.

The above illustration was a sample she had seen and by coincidence it was the perfect metaphor for a feature she had about big data. April didn’t have available copy, but asked for ideas which could relate to big data. As the articles came in, many of the ideas made it to finals and the original illustration morphed into a spread. Much thanks to April for the collaboration.

Sometimes it seems like I get paid to have fun.

Here’s the additional spots based upon the main art:





Sketches exploring big data for potential spots:


And here’s a few of the spreads:






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Nautilus issue 28: The Year 2050

nautilus-2050-birds2Website Cover, Table of contents for Nautilus.


nautilus: 2050 treeThe year 2050 for Nautilus.


Nautilus_TOC_YangPrinted Edition, Nautilus.

Nautilus is a favorite client for many illustrators because of their fascinating long form stories and the excellent art direction from Len Small. Whenever Len calls, you know you will be pushed a little beyond your comfort level but the journey will be worth it. He had an assignment which he said was right in my zone: He wanted a curtain and table of contents image for the subject of 2050. Len said the art should not have the usual gadgets or robots depicting the future. He wanted a metaphor which suggested the present but also a world which is both familiar but different.

Len knows me well. This it the kind of conceptual challenge I love. We decided the perfect approach was two forests suggesting different worlds. In a stroke of luck, I was staying in a sleek modern apartment with a beautiful mountain forest during the project. It was the perfect environment for creating the piece.

Much thanks to Len and Nautilus for the inspiring project.

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Master and student

Watching many of my friends create covers for The Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association has been inspiring with a little bit of envy. Art Director Emma Dalby has created an impressive collection of covers and selection of illustrators from around the world. The minimal and tasteful design highlights the art and put pressure on the illustrator to pull off the cover. I had the good fortune of meeting Emma late last year while we both judged the Society of Illustrator competition.

It was a thrill when Emma called with the subject of mentor and student. She wanted something focused more on the relationship and less on the science or academics. Quite a few metaphors came to mind but Emma decided this was the most immediate. The passenger balloon metaphor suggested the idea of unlimited  potential and experience for the student who is lucky enough to find a mentor.

Much thanks to Emma for the assignment and lovely design.



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Your Money for the New York TImes

Fred Norgaard called with an exciting but scary project: he needed 10 illustrations over the weekend for a special section of the New York Times about your money. He provided a color comp pulling images from my site. I love when designers do this because it does help me understand the feel they want and it was clear Fred wanted something which popped off the page. There was definitely panic at the start because Fred pulled some of my strongest images for his comp. Since he wanted a variety of color schemes, it was helpful for planning the color sequence. I decided the dental image needed to have a dark background to provide a hub for the other images. Much to my relief everyone was thrilled with the final result and frankly, the color comp Fred provided was a huge help.

Here’s the final layout:

Your Money for the New York Times

And here was the comp:


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Free your mind

Michelle Furman, art director for American Teacher magazine called requesting a series of illustrations for a feature about reimagining technical education. The article was the challenge to rethink the role of education and realize there was much untapped potential. The theme of breaking out of boundaries became the theme for the illustrations using a butterfly as a metaphor for potential. Michelle specifically asked that the metaphor be carried through the series and it turned out to create a nice flow through the series. Who knew that butterflies would one day be something I enjoyed drawing?





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I believe


My wife is a Hong Konger so I’ve had the chance to visit Hong Kong enough to feel a connection to the city. As you can imagine, the news has been very heartbreaking regarding the protests. Christopher Mok is opening a new gallery in Hong Kong and asked for a piece for an exhibit dedicated to the protests. Naturally I said said yes.

In my book, creating protest imagery is a tricky balance. Many ideas can be too simplistic but you need an immediate image to catch the eye. Demonizing an opponent makes for great visuals, but often seems like a creatively lazy way to communicate. Offering solutions like “peace” lose meaning because it is easy to call for peace but often impossible to achieve peace.

The solution I chose was trying to find a space where an emotional connection could happen. The main emotion a lot of my Hong Kong friends feel at the moment is heartbreak. My approach was hope in the face of impossible odds. As long as there is hope, there is a chance for the landscape to change. The Terracotta army of China was the inspiration for the metaphor of almost impossible obstacles Hong Kong faces. The yellow umbrella has become a symbol for this hope.

Much thanks to Chris for inspiring me to create a piece for a city that is near and dear to the heart.

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Training day for Sphere Magazine (Hong Kong)

Working for Hutchison Whampoa’s Sphere Magazine is a huge undertaking for an illustrator. You are asked to illustrate the cover plus a series of illustrations for 2 to 3 articles. Besides creating a series for an article about cities of the future, I was also asked to create  a series for an article titled, Training Day. Since the article was about training to prepare for any disaster, my inspiration was loosely based on monster movies from Japan. I always loved how everyone ran into action in uniforms and safety helmets when the alarms went off. Since the client had concepts for the illustrations, this was a way to make it work with my style.

Greg Crandall, publisher of Hong Kong Media, is a friend of many years and we were both excited to have a chance to work finally work on a project. It was almost like we were playing make believe at work.




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Ducks in a row

This is how you know SooJin Buzelli is an excellent art director for illustrators: Illustrators are excited about a magazine about financial planning. If someone were to ask me how she managed to pull it off the answer is simple: 1) She is a fan of illustration and knows good work 2) She has convinced both her editors and illustrators that good ideas will be used and 3) they pay a fair budget. It is no surprise illustrators put out their best effort when SooJin calls.

She called with a story about advisors who find many tiny accounts that are forgotten by their owners. They are usually the result of accounts moving to different firms which get lost in the shuffle. SooJin needed to communicate the concept of collecting and finding a way to responsibly manage these tiny accounts. By coincidence it was the last week of preparation for ICON8, and illustration conference in Portland and as a board member I was scrambling around with last minute details. Naturally, the metaphor of “herding cats” or “ducks in a row” came to mind. Soojin liked the frantic approach. Even nicer was turning in the assignment and seeing her next week in Portland.



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The structure of language

Coming from a family of scientists, it’s always exciting to when Scientific American calls and even better when the subject is about language. In my book, language as a subject matter is fertile ground for ideas. Patti Nemoto had a fascinating series of articles. The first article dealt with a study finding bilingual people have more empathy in their native vs second language while the second discussed the structure and rhythms of language. It was fascinating learning about how languages were developed and how humans innately have a common understanding about structure.

Much thanks to Patti and Scientific American for a fun and creatively satisfying project.







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Playing with the big boys.

Got a nice call from Jia Baek, art director for the Wall St Journal for a cover piece about investing like a hedge fund. The idea is the tools are available for small investors like ourselves to unleash our inner George Soros. Since I always joke to friends about “The Yang Global Hedge Fund” this right up my alley. The direction which immediately came to mind was getting inside the head of the big boys analyzing complex data. Jia also sent a comp of the type and space which always helps with imagining the proper approach for the final art. The space screamed for a colorful approach against a white background.

In case you’re wondering how the Yang Global Hedge Fund invests, a financial manager handles it for me. I prefer leaving that stuff to the big boys.

Think like a hedge fund.

Here’s the layout for the top part of the page. The art almost drew itself after seeing the space.

wsj cover for hedge funds

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Star Wars with a handicap.

Golf World’s Art Director Tim Carr and I have worked on different golf publications together over the years. He is one of the few art directors to see my growth both as an artist and golfer. It’s nice to mix the passions of golf and illustration and work with an art director who appreciates both. His most recent assignment was an idea by a columnist for a team competition of older stars vs today stars. Golf is one of the few sports where it’s possible to see a competition between stars from different eras. I did a few fun competition metaphors but we both agreed the dueling metaphor was the most elegant idea.

Tim mentioned how much I’ve grown as a golfer the last time we played. Hope he won’t be too harsh when he sees how much it regressed this year due to lack of practice.


Here’s the sketches. I felt the story would be perfect with a humorous quick to read idea catching competition between generations.


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Numbers that say boo

American Teacher magazine called requesting a fun series of illustrations for a feature about math anxiety. Coming from a family of scientists and mathematicians, our house was surrounded with educational toys for math. My favorite was a scale which had numbers of various sizes which hooked on the scale to balance. For example if you hooked 2 and 4 on one side, you hooked 6 on the other to make the scale work. It was an ingenious way to learn addition.

My approach was simply to imagine the feeling of being overwhelmed with a flood of numbers. It certainly could feel that way for me as a child in school. Much thanks to Michelle Thurman for calling with this fun assignment.

math2 math3 math4


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Every which way

It’s been a very fortunate year for series. Quite a few assignments this year have been for multiple illustrations. My favorite part of doing a series is getting a feel for the project and finding a “voice” which connects the illustrations but still offer enough variation. This series for American Educator magazine was for a feature titled “The Mind Shift in Teacher Evaluation”. It is about a rethinking of the process of teaching and the profound effects the shift has on education. I used arrows as a playful approach to represent this “shift in direction”. Thanks to Michelle Furman, AD for letting me take a fun approach to the feature.







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high anxiety part 1

I was joking to a friend I was smarter before the internet because there was less noise cluttering the brain. Turns out this is a big problem for consumers who want to have healthy eating habits. There is so many conflicting news stories and reports about nutrition and it is made more difficult by deceptive reports about food. Experience Life Magazine had me do a series of illustrations for a feature about being a smarter consumer of information regarding nutrition. Thanks to Lydia Anderson for commissioning such a fun project.




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From here to there (on the third try)

It’s always a treat to work with SooJin Buzelli at Asset International. One would never think a financial client is a place where you can push yourself creatively as an illustrator but this is exactly what happens at Asset International. This illustration was for an article about putting your retirement planning on autopilot. The extreme horizontal format was a format which was difficult in my earlier days but these days I really enjoy playing around with it. This was created for PlanSponsor magazine.


For some reason, it took me a couple of attempts at the final before I was happy with a version which I felt was SooJin-worthy. It was a classic case of an idea looking better in your head than in reality. The first attempt didn’t work for me because it didn’t feel playful enough and the image does suggest an amusement park type of metaphor.


Tried another version adding more colors but it looked fragmented or pasted together.


Started channeling some of the great european illustrators from the 60’s and early 70’s and finally hit on the winner. The final version in print made me very grateful the third time was the charm.



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Always the bridesmaid

Dan Smith from the Wall St Journal called with an assignment about companies getting on board with big data. Seems like they see other companies using big data and they are scrambling to get on board so they won’t be left behind. As a child my biggest worry was being the last to know if the other kids were doing something fun so this was a very easy concept for me to create. Come to think of it, many of my concepts are probably rooted in the dynamics of the playground.



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Passing through

The Chronicle of Higher Education and I go way back and it is rare to have a client for the life of a career. They were my first client and we have worked together ever since. It has been satisfying to watch the Chronicle grow in stature and see their articles selected for many of the aggregate sites I read.

This illustration for Art Director Scott Seymour was for an article about the retreat of  US university education from an international scope at a time when the world is becoming more interconnected. What makes this even more distressing is US universities historically were leaders in an international view on education, especially during the 50’s and 60’s. The idea behind this was playing on the fear of being left behind.


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Going with the flow

Watched a little  football playoffs this weekend and one team’s success was attributed to chemistry between quarterbacks and receivers. They know each other so well the quarterback knows where the receiver will improvise when a play breaks down and the receiver knows where the quarterback likes to throw the ball.  Art Director SooJin Buzelli and I have a similar relationship. It is uncanny how many times she picks the sketch I’m most excited about doing without any prompting. This was an illustration for PlanSponsor about how generation Y is learning how to adjust to the ups and downs they have confronted with the economy.

Generation Y

The sketches were ideas about the ups and downs generation Y has to endure. My gut said sketch 2 was best but any of them could have worked depending on the emphasis of the story. SooJin read my mind and picked sketch 2 but it is not uncommon for us to like the same approach.

soojin sketches

We should really think about taking our mind reading act on the road.

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Joy to the Emerging World

Emerging Markets have been a big theme for the last few years even though many of the “Emerging” countries are much older than the US. This was an illustration for Orlie Kraus for the Weekend Wall Street Journal with a quiz for investors about investing in Emerging Markets.

Layering has been a thing of mine lately and it was fun creating a texture with multiple flags in the background.

Wall Street Journal: What do you know about emerging markets?

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