Brush with Fame: Tom Waits


As soon as Tom Waits entered my bookstore I assumed he was a shoplifter. Now, even if I couldn’t recognize a Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated musical genius when I see one, his impeccably distressed jeans and coiffed soul patch should have tipped me off that this guy had a more lucrative career than petty thievery.

But being an anxious, sheltered suburban boy, I couldn’t see past the tectonic features and fedora. All I saw was Wharf Thug #2 from The Eye-Gouging Angels or some other pre-code gangster film. All I saw was trouble.

I took it upon myself to track trouble through the store. But he never veered far from the art section, and its huge volumes were unlikely candidates to be snuck down someone’s pants. After 20 misdemeanorless minutes passed, I began thinking maybe this guy wasn’t a shoplifter after all.

But my anxiety still desperately felt for a foothold. I recalled among the art section’s Monets and Matiesses was The Last Day of Summer, a book of photographs featuring French beachgoers. These included a discomfiting amount of nude preteens.

His proximity to the book was fuel enough for my worry. How could I have been so blind? This guy wasn’t a shoplifter. He was a pedophile. I suddenly cared less about what he might sneak into his pants, and more about what he might sneak out.

But another 20 minutes passed, pedophilia-free, and he finally brought his purchases to the counter. I swiped his card and thought just how relieved I’d be when he left. Sure, he didn’t commit any crimes today. But I just knew he was someone to watch out for, someone with a record.

And when I glanced at the credit slip he handed back, my suspicions were confirmed. “Thomas A. Waits,” it read. He did have a record, plenty of them: Bone Machine, The Heart of Saturday Night, Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs.

“Uh, hey, you’re not THE Tom Waits, are you?” I asked my shoplifting pedophile.

“ME? Nah nah nah,” he replied, waving his hands like he was trying to wipe away his unmistakable, chain-smoking bullfrog voice that shattered the possibilities of sound for generations of music lovers.

I stood there blinking as he fulfilled my wish and left.


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Swap Team

LucyMouse2LucyMouse1I paint small, y'all. It's a helpful skill if you want to work on a project in a coffee shop, or conserve paper, or ensure you'll never have a profitable gallery show. But if I'm a micro artist, Lucy Eldridge is nano. She can paint a battleship the size of a penny. A stock of brandy you can fit in a bottle cap. A cat you can inhale. All while still exuding a mammoth amount of charm, energy and originality.

I came across Lucy's work a couple of years ago on the illustration website Pikaland and was so inspired by what I saw I sent her a super gushy fan email. Tons of emails and @ tweets later, I'm happy to count her as a friend and my personal DJ (homegirl also knows a thing or two about good music).

But I'm still a gushy fan, so I leapt at the chance to do an art swap with her a couple months back. I sent Lucy the anxious mice above, and in return got this foxy cab caller and skateboarding dinosaur.LucyFoxLucyDino

I love them so.


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Golden Cram

MagpieBlogLike the main character of Homer Henry Hudson's Curio Museum, Magpies are famous for their hording habits, especially shiny stuff. So when James at the picture book review site Magpie That asked me to contribute to his collection of corvids, he struck gold. Four square inches and twenty-two objects later, I had me a miniature Midas Magpie.

And carpal tunnel syndrome.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 12.30.28 PM


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A bad drawing

Spread9ASketch The above is a sketch I did for my upcoming picture book, As Yet Untitled Wildly Successful Pig Vehicle. It depicts the untitular pig reading upside-down atop a statue of a proletarian accountant (it makes sense in context) (sort of).

Keen viewers will notice the building behind the statue's left arm has been left unfinished. And with good reason: I gave up on it. Why? Because this drawing is what we refer to in the illustration business as "irredeemably bad."

Here's the same scene again, with the bad removed:


So what's the difference? Why is the bottom illustration more engaging that the top?

Lots of reasons: cooler-looking buildings, the first statue has that dumb tie, etc. But the most important reason, especially for a picture book, is that the original illustration has no obvious subject. The statue, pig, and buildings are all vying for the viewers' attention. So what was needed was a better composition to direct the eyes to the subject of the illustration.

Creating a composition with a clear subject can be done using color (putting a warm-colored subject on a cool-colored background, or vice versa), tone (putting a dark subject on a light background, or vice versa), by arranging the elements of the piece to frame or point to the subject, or some combination of the three.

Subtle artists will nuance the image elements so the viewers won't even know they're being guided. On the other hand, I basically made the statue into a giant arrow pointing at the pig.


And in case you didn't get it, the building below the pig also points in his direction. Nearly every element points towards the tiny pig. LOOK AT THE PIG, GUYS.

Of course, there's many examples of great illustrations that straight-up flaunt compositional clarity and still end up looking dope. But this is how I work. And this is why I work slo-o-owly.


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