Had a last minute gig to do a cover for the Pittsburgh City Paper this past weekend. As usual, I jumped on it. Lisa (the CP's art director) is a pleasure to work with and she always throws me something interesting. This is the image I handed in -- a timely, holiday piece -- and, beside it, a photo of the actual cover (out today, with minor modifications to the layout). If you can't possibly think of any better way to spend your next five minutes, you can read through my process below.
I had only the weekend to get this done, so I was thrilled that Lisa had already mocked up her idea for what she wanted. Basically, a composition based on the traditional nativity scene, but modernized to include Occupy Protesters on Pittsburgh's Mellon Green. I wondered, briefly, if appropriating someone's revered religious iconography to make a political statement could potentially cause controversy. But when has that ever happened? On to the sketch!
This was my initial sketch and it went through without a snag. I got big points for adding in the protest sign (to replace the usual shepherd's staff) and the hoodie (to replace the normal veil). My band-aid had to get editorial approval (we certainly didn't want offended riot cops to come and knock our heads in), but in the end, it stayed. A victory for the people! I was asked only to add some hay on the ground (it appears in the poem beside the illustration and it evokes the manger scene more literally).
After polishing up the pencils a bit, I just inked the whole thing in Photoshop, aiming for a brushed-ink, comic style. The hay was coming on way too strong, though, so I decided to change up the color a bit so it wouldn't compete with the other elements in the image. At this point I decided I needed to mock up a masthead so I could make sure the illustration fit within the final cover dimensions. So...
Here's how it looked after laying down a very simple night sky and some basic grass. Then I just started coloring the figures. I was trying for a natural, watercolor feel. I started with the rat because he was the most fun, but after working on it a little while that little Guy Fawkes baby really found a place in my heart. Now I want a baby Guy Fawkes.
Here I painted in the hay, darkened the sky a bit with a soft, cloud-like brush and added some stars. I had to re-create the Mellon logo as a stand-in for the iconic Christmas star and couldn't help wondering, the whole time, why is this the logo for Mellon? Not my problem. So I just kept going.
At the eleventh hour, actual controversy erupted: Did the nail at the bottom of the protest sign make it look like "WE ARE THE 9.9%"? To be fair, the 9.9 percent in this country are a legitimate group whose voice needs to be heard. They are, simply, the 9.9% at the near-top of the scale who make more than everyone else, but embarrassingly less than the top 1%. Only a Christmas miracle could help them. Alas, it didn't come. We decided to nix the bottom nail on the sign to clear up any confusion. My apologies to all the billionaires who read this blog. I gave it my best shot. -v