It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I am currently doing some work for the Salem Theatre Company. One of the projects is the development of a graphic image for A.R. Gurney's play LATER LIFE.
The play deals with upscale, wasp-ish characters who have a second chance at a missed romance.
LATER LIFE is set in the early 1990s, on the terrace of a high-rise apartment building overlooking Boston Harbor and takes place on an early September evening. The two main characters are a middle-aged couple named Austin and Ruth who have an opportunity to get re-acquainted at a cocktail party given by a mutual friend (Sally); They had met long ago, in Capri, but Austin had not risked pursuing a romance with Ruth, as he harbors a secret fear that something terrible is going to happen to him. As they meet again, Austin has led a life perpetually "on hold" avoiding risks, but avoiding opportunities as well, and Ruth is stuck in an unhappy marriage. They attempt to rekindle their aborted romance but are interrupted throughout the evening by Sally and assorted guests who wander out onto the terrace.

The director expressed a desire that the feeling of the graphic should be sophisticated, and charming, reminiscent of a New Yorker cover. The focus on the couple, not on the secondary characters, or the setting, and he wanted to convey both the longing of the characters for a second chance, and the tentative manner of Austin. I did a quick thumbnail of the image he was talking about.

I did some research, and assembled some images of balconies, Boston Harbor, Nineties fashion, and middle-aged couples. I also looked at New Yorker covers both online and in a book called Covering The New Yorker: Cutting-Edge Covers From A Literary Institution.

I worked up some simple black and white line drawings containing the basic elements that needed to be present, the couple, a balcony and some indication of the Boston harbor and skyline.

I didn't need to be too literal with the interpretation. You rarely have the actors cast before the image must be completed, so capturing a general feeling is better than specific details, although I did toy with the idea of including images of historic disasters, to convey Austin's underlying fear of impending doom.

Here are the first sketches:

I was trying to capture a mood, mostly through the body language of the two characters.
I was also trying out some type treatments, and orientations. Although vertical works best for most print, poster/flyer combinations, a horizontal orientation seems to work best for the web. I wanted to see if one image could be adapted to both orientations.
Then there was the question of style. There were so many to choose from in the case of the New Yorker, everything from the loose sketchy style of Edward Sorel, the whimsy of Peter de Séve, the crosshatching line of R. Crumb, to the stylized painterly realism of Owen Smith, and everything in-between. I decided that the loose sketchy style of Edward Sorel, who did many New Yorker covers in the mid-nineties, would be best for this particular subject matter. This leads to the second set of sketches.

As you can see I have infused some feeling and style into the sketches, refining the couple's body language and adding some color. I have also added in the typeface (AT Handle Oldstyle)which is very similar in look to the New Yorker font. This is where I am currently in the process. I will post more as I refine the sketches into the finished graphic/illustration.

Well I'm back for the next step. The initial sketch was approved, so I gathered together my photo reference. My wife loves vintage clothing, and happened to have a lovely 90's-era dress that she was kind enough to model for me, and I still own a sportcoat from the 90's, so we dressed up and shot pictures of each other in the basic poses that I was looking for using a digital camera. These two images were taken in our kitchen.

I then used these images, as well as other reference for furniture, rugs, wine glasses, etc. to do the final black and white line drawing.

The next thing to do, was to work out the final colors in a marker sketch.

This is the last step before I transfer the image to illustration board and create the final, final version of the artwork.

1 comment:

  1. Looks very good, When we just see the finished product, we think it was knocked out in one quick session,its reveling to see the possible laborious process to reach a finished product.But you must enjoy it at some level.