Last month i completed the above illustration for The New York Times Travel section, about discounted safari vacation packages. Seemed simple and straight forward enough, i was super happy with the final, and actually arranged to trade the mandrill to a friend of mine for a piece of his own artwork to be decided at a later date. This assignment however, marked the first time i ever had to significantly alter an illustration based on poor photo reference research. It's been about 2 years since i've taught at an art school but were i in the classroom presently, this would be today's lesson. Here we go, do as i say, not as i did:
The brief for the piece was pretty simple: Safaris are being discounted more heavily than usual due to the depressed economy, and while still expensive, they are certainly significantly less so than they've been in a long while. The client's direction was essentially animals and discounts. Done. Above is the original sketch... i've used tigers A LOT in my illustrations in recent years (i've been trying to cut back) but this seemed as good a place as any to trot one out without it seeming like forced illustrator bullsh*t circumstances ("doesn't this guy do anything but paint tigers? c'mon...") as well as expand my usual cast of non-human players for possible allegorical usage later. A quick editorial tweak of the "language" in the piece and the below final ensued.
The problems begin here. A failure to glean from the article that it concerned only African safari tours allowed for the inclusion of the tiger, as my father, the son of a prominent veterinary pathologist succinctly pointed out much to my shame, "There are NO tigers in Africa," a sentiment echoed with increasing snark and indignation in the comments section of the piece on the Times' website (to be fair, i was in the throes of a sinister sinus infection and suffice it to say, "medicated"). Additionally, some intrepid commenters took issue with the bird, which, while there's no way i'll even pretend to describe it's specific phylum, was definitely culled from a Google image search for "safari bird." Ugh. A toucan it is not, but sometimes there's no accounting for taste, artistic license and so on. The last thing i wanted to do was embarrass a favorite and loyal client though, so the switcheroo from tiger to lion and "toucan" (ugh) to mandrill was made. A printed explanation later and all was well, minus my own embarrassment. Earlier sketches made with the mandrill in more provocative poses such that scrutinous viewers and safari enthusiasts would have absolutely no problem identifying the animal via its specifically tinted posterior have been consigned to my sketchbook and studio visits.
Moral of story, kids: read the damn article carefully, especially when under the influence of Thera-Flu. And make sure your photo reference corroborates - even if you're going waaaaaaay out on some weirdo limb, better to ground at least a toe or 2 in fact, especially when you're drawing for the world's largest news organization.
A happier ending: this week i made the below drawing for the Times Op-Ed section, applying some allegorical animal grist (vulture) to a modern Goya-worthy disaster (Arizona). Buried in the comments is praise for the draftsmanship in the illustration, which you'd correctly guess i seldom ever receive. Redemption? Sure, but at the end of the day it's just another lunatic buzzard screaming from a top a picked-clean bison skeleton in the Arizona desert.
Thanks for reading!