Going Digital by Robert Neubecker

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In the last few months I’ve been all digital.  For much of my career I used pen and ink and watercolor, later brush & ink- the rougher the better, with color added digitally- with a mouse!  Winsor & Newton stopped making the 994 series brushes I used a few years ago and I never did find a replacement that I really liked. I scoured the country online and by phone and bought up every 994 that I could find. Eventially, the laquer in the ink breaks them down and they wear out…
     I was tallking to Leo Espinosa one day and he showed me a variety of digital brushes- Kyle Webster’s for starters, and I started using them and exploring what can be done by altering their characteristics and combining effects.
   As always, everything I do starts with problem solving, so the idea behind the image is most important to me with technique supporting the idea simply and directly.
  That’s my editorial approach. Of course, doing a picture book, if the story calls for full blown watercolors, throw the computer out the window and get out the paints.
Usually, It’s somewhere in between.

This was a back Cover for Live Happy Magazine, a new venture that you'll find in Whole Foods and like stores. I subscribed. We do enough death and disaster.

This was a back Cover for Live Happy Magazine, a new venture that you'll find in Whole Foods and like stores. I subscribed. We do enough death and disaster.

Death & Disaster department: Urgent books to read this year about the various crises threatening the vary existence of humankind, etc. For Chicago Tribune Book Review.

Death & Disaster department: Urgent books to read this year about the various crises threatening the vary existence of humankind, etc. For Chicago Tribune Book Review.

This is a combination of brush and digital- the sketch was done with a brush in my sketchbook, and sometimes it's just impossible to capture the energy of the sketch in the final. So, with photoshop, one can just draw on top, leaving the best parts. 'Yelling is the New Hitting", Wall Street Journal.

This is a combination of brush and digital- the sketch was done with a brush in my sketchbook, and sometimes it's just impossible to capture the energy of the sketch in the final. So, with photoshop, one can just draw on top, leaving the best parts. 'Yelling is the New Hitting", Wall Street Journal.

Here's Vlad. I don't often do caricatures or portraits, but people commission them anyway and Putin's easy. When I worked for Time, I'd just cut out a photo of a head and stick in on a crudely drawn body, the rougher the better. Always thought that was hilarious. This was for Jenny Livengood, art director, National Journal.

Here's Vlad. I don't often do caricatures or portraits, but people commission them anyway and Putin's easy. When I worked for Time, I'd just cut out a photo of a head and stick in on a crudely drawn body, the rougher the better. Always thought that was hilarious. This was for Jenny Livengood, art director, National Journal.

This was for Slate, and it was a piece about the difficulty of dating when one has a past history of mental illness.

This was for Slate, and it was a piece about the difficulty of dating when one has a past history of mental illness.

Also Slate, if you've been there, you know this drill.

Also Slate, if you've been there, you know this drill.

This is for David Syrek, Chicago Tribune. I gave him two options, one with a color background, and one with white. I used to feel awkward about this, but if both options work, choice is good. He knows the printing and the colors on the page. Let the art director direct.

This is for David Syrek, Chicago Tribune. I gave him two options, one with a color background, and one with white. I used to feel awkward about this, but if both options work, choice is good. He knows the printing and the colors on the page. Let the art director direct.

Slate. Because it's online, I'm going simpler and bolder with Slate, almost icons. This is about the futuristic toilets they have in Japan. When I do presentations for my kids books, I show this (and others) to the children as my day job. They howl.

Slate. Because it's online, I'm going simpler and bolder with Slate, almost icons. This is about the futuristic toilets they have in Japan. When I do presentations for my kids books, I show this (and others) to the children as my day job. They howl.

This was a piece for UU World Magazine, for the Unitarian Church. Great people. It's about how all women feel threatened by unwanted advances from men, and how hard it is to tell a harmless nuisance from someone really dangerous.

This was a piece for UU World Magazine, for the Unitarian Church. Great people. It's about how all women feel threatened by unwanted advances from men, and how hard it is to tell a harmless nuisance from someone really dangerous.

Barron's. One of those deadly pieces on changes in mutual fund management. I get these all the time. Challenging.

Barron's. One of those deadly pieces on changes in mutual fund management. I get these all the time. Challenging.

Here's a tear from the NYT Business section. I do this column every week. Playing with the digital brushes, I'm flirting with more of a sixties look. I've looked at Ben Shahn and other mid 20th century illustrators for their use of bold line and bright color. It's been really fun.

Here's a tear from the NYT Business section. I do this column every week. Playing with the digital brushes, I'm flirting with more of a sixties look. I've looked at Ben Shahn and other mid 20th century illustrators for their use of bold line and bright color. It's been really fun.

This is from the Times, using dollar collage again, but hopefully in a fresh fun way. I included this because I liked the line quality.

This is from the Times, using dollar collage again, but hopefully in a fresh fun way. I included this because I liked the line quality.

Older drawing, done of my wife as a birth announcement with the old 994 brush. I do miss it sometimes, especially it's freshness. Digital is slower and more deliberate. To a certain extent, technique determines style, so new ways of drawing are opening up as I explore this new toolbox.  Thanks, RN

Older drawing, done of my wife as a birth announcement with the old 994 brush. I do miss it sometimes, especially it's freshness. Digital is slower and more deliberate. To a certain extent, technique determines style, so new ways of drawing are opening up as I explore this new toolbox.

Thanks, RN

Slate by Robert Neubecker

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Slate was founded by Bill Gates at Microsoft in the mid nineties. Gates wanted to prove that a first rate newsmagazine could exist solely on the Internet with no print equivalent.

    His first step was to hire Michael Kinsley as our editor- in- chief. Mike had been editor of The New Republic and is best known for his run on CNN’s crossfire opposite Pat Buchanan. Mike assembled an outstanding staff from The New Republic, the Washington Post and jeez, half the Harvard alumni that I’d have to do actual research to list. The following tale is how I remember it unfolding in the spring and summer of 1996:  

Patricia Bradbury was the art director who started it all so I’ll just quote her:

“In 1995 I was hired by Microsoft to go to work on MSN, the fledgling online news service. I'd gotten Newsweek Online up and running, so I was hired to work as a contractor on MSN. After close to 9 years at Newsweek, and 20 years in NYC, I was ready for a change, to head back to Seattle where my family still lived, and lots of friends still lived, and to work on something entirely different.
    I was working in my office, and one day this guy moved in across the hall from me who looked very familiar, but I wasn't quite sure who he was. After some phone calls to Mickey Kaus, I found out it was indeed the famous Michael Kinsley, and that he was starting an online magazine for Microsoft. I immediately went in to ask Michael if I could work on it with him. I proposed that I help get the thing going, along with some other Microsoft art directors and designers. They had me gather a group of illustrators to choose from, and knowing how great and how fast your work was, I pitched you, Mark Stamaty, and Philip Burke as prime illustrators for Slate. I don't remember why Philip didn't get a contract, but I was really happy that you and Mark got to work on Slate. I was a believer, but I really wanted them to not be idiots, and to do it right. They did.”

     Meanwhile, I,  (Neubecker) was working in watercolor and pen, but I’d been experimenting with bare bones brush and ink drawings as a personal project. Living in lower Manhattan, I hung around with some of the political artists from COLAB like Becky Howland and Kiki Smith. I got interested in exploring the relationship between political cartooning, illustration, and political art. I started by stripping drawing down to it’s most basic elements, using fat, ruined brushes on watercolor paper and then illustrating a single concept or idea. I collected overheard phrases, song lyrics and headlines and drew them, then hung them together in big batches.  I showed some of these in the East Village with Gracie Mansion.

    Patricia bought a few of these drawings and, when they were developing a look for Slate, showed them to Mike and the Slate editors. The idea was to use simple black and white drawings that could download quickly on the old, slow, dial up modems. I had newspaper experience, and had worked extensively with Patricia when she was design director at Newsweek, so she knew that I could produce on short deadlines. So far so good. But, then the Microsoft people suggested, why couldn’t we just hire a high school kid who could draw, pay him peanuts, and come up with our own cartoons? (ain’t that cute?)

   Patricia went to bat for me then and all summer long. First, I said, go ahead and get the kid. I’ll work for two weeks, and if you like the kid better, hire him and you don’t have to pay me. The kid disappeared. She then hired Mark Alan Stammaty and myself as Slate’s first illustrators, in the spring of 96.

I’ll quote Patricia again: “The great thing was that finally I got Microsoft and MK to agree that the kid just wasn't up to it, and that they did need someone like you and Mark to help give Slate the look it needed to have to be taken seriously.” And I’ll add; wow, they coulda’ had Burke too?

    The next hurdle was the contract. It was about what you’d expect from Microsoft, without the stock options. I based my fees on The Wall Street Journal because there were no comparables at the time. I worked all summer without a contract or a paycheck while Patricia patiently, persistently moved the contract from WFH to the normal one time usage, artist copyright, that is the ethical norm. I got a Microsoft shirt in June and the big joke around the studio was that that was my pay… but I believed completely in the project and was willing to show up on faith that Patricia would work it out. And she did. We ended up with a contract for two drawings a week, and I’ve done it ever since, wow, fourteen years and counting.

   I worked with Ian Adelman on the day to day illustrations for a few years. I did the drawings big, xeroxed them, and faxed them. We liked the graininess. Ian went out on his own and was replaced by Kathleen Kincaid as AD and Lori Johnson as assistant. Over this period, the technology improved, and I began scanning and e-mailing artwork. I put in for a raise and Kathleen said, “Sure, but can you work in color?” well, of course. The website continued to improve with technology, becoming more interactive with live links all over the cover. This really junked it up, to my horror, but I’ve gotten used to it now. In the old days it had a very elegant, spare cover…, that I’ll try to find a screen grab of if I can only find a zip drive…

  Microsoft sold Slate to the Washington Post in 2005 and the offices moved to New York. I miss the thoughtful retreats that Microsoft used to throw for the staff at Cascade Mountain resorts… It was great meeting everyone that I have worked with- something illustrators rarely do today. I was pretty tongue tied around Mike Kinsley but I’m used to reporters and I nearly drowned our Supreme Court correspondent, Dalia Lithwick , on the rafting trip. She went after me with a super soaker and I retaliated with a bilge pump. On another retreat, I was driving a rental car with contributors Robert Wright, Emily Yoffe, her husband John of the Washington Post and their seven year old daughter. The conversation was so interesting that I missed the turn to the mountains, drove on for hours, and ended up in Canada.

   It is such a pleasure to work with these people. Mike stepped down in 2002 when Jacob Weisberg took over as editor. Jake is best known (among us low brows) as the originator of the “Bushism” series ofW.’s linguistic atrocities. It runs many volumes.

   Slate has continued to evolve, adding Nina Frankel and Charlie Powell to the regular illustrators, and Rob Donnelly doing animation. Other illustrators contribute as well.

   One of the big questions we all have as illustrators are where will we be in ten years? I see more and more illustration being used on the web. There was an explosion of illustration being used online in ’99 and ’00 before the tech bubble burst. This is gradually coming back and with the advent of the I-Pad and similar devices I expect this to open up more. Long columns of grey type is always boring- even in the New Yorker, bless them. Photos all look alike after a while. I have two web illustration jobs on now, series of drawings.  One of the nicest jobs I did last year was a web animation I did for a pharma company. I teamed up with Rob Donnally from Slate who made the drawings move. I expect to see much more of that as time goes on. And print, like radio, I don’t think will ever go away. They say video killed the radio star. Tell that to Howard Stern.

Texaco makes it an institutional policy to discriminate against people of color. This is 1997 or so...

Texaco makes it an institutional policy to discriminate against people of color. This is 1997 or so...

Environment

Environment

The usual bullshit....1996


The usual bullshit....1996

September 2001


September 2001

I'm not sure what this was for....


I'm not sure what this was for....

Laid off-


Laid off-

Killing abortion doctors... 2002

Killing abortion doctors... 2002

Another election

Another election

Getting into New York private pre school...2004 or so...

Getting into New York private pre school...2004 or so...

Like it says. I donated this image to a transsexual support organization in Germany to use as their logo....early 2000's


Like it says. I donated this image to a transsexual support organization in Germany to use as their logo....early 2000's

This was after a fvorite Andre Francios drawing, 1965


This was after a fvorite Andre Francios drawing, 1965

Here's some recent stuff...

Here's some recent stuff...

Today!

Today!

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Emily Yoffe as "The Human Guinea Pig" volunteers to be a practice patient for clueless medical students...2007


Emily Yoffe as "The Human Guinea Pig" volunteers to be a practice patient for clueless medical students...2007

Sideways Story by Robert Neubecker

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     I've won a lot of awards for the Sideways poster, AI, Society of Illustrators, and the Key Award- poster design's Oscar- for best comedy poster. There's a story behind the making of this. The funniest part is that they used one of my sketches for the final art. I had no idea until I saw it. When the job came in from Stephanie Allen at Fox Searchlight, I was delighted, of course, and determined to land this one for illustrators everywhere. It's been a long time since we've seen illustrated movie posters like this -  I am referring to the simple graphic posters of the late 50's and sixties by people like Tommy Ungerer and Saul Bass. So I did dozens of sketches. The director, Alexander Payne, had seen a cover that I'd done for the L.A. Times Magazine about alienation in Southern California and wanted to capture the same feeling of anger and malaise. It did help that I had Paul Giomatti as the star.I did a half assed likeness of Paul just so they got the idea, and then did every combination of two drunks, two women, and booze that I could think of- in the three or four days I had. I heard nothing for two weeks- then I got the call that the poster was done. I tried to argue, but Stephanie said it's printed...  so I said send it over. Anyway, turns out that they liked the freshness of the sketch. I would have tightened up the likenesses- but it's always a battle in drawing to maintain that perfect balance between energy and accuracy. I have had art directors just use the sketch before, to great effect.  

 Christian Struzen, my designer, turned the bottle on it's side, added the green texture, and of course did the type. Sideways came out in the fall of 2004. I've done three other movie posters since, one for the movie "Cyrus" with Marisa Tomei and John C. Reiley, one with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and one with Halle Berry. The suits went with photos.

 

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The winning sketch.

The winning sketch.

This is the L.A. Times Magazine cover that inspired the producers of Sideways to commission the poster.

This is the L.A. Times Magazine cover that inspired the producers of Sideways to commission the poster.