editorial

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

umbrella-protest

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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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