The Next Big Thing for Illustrators? Think Small.

With more and more content available in the palm of our hands, there’s a change happening to the “full-page” illustration. It’s still filling the page — it’s just that the size of the page is shrinking — and fast.

As newspapers find their way online and magazines reformat to work on tablets and mobile phones, the need for dynamic images and illustrations will only increase — even as prices decrease. This hasn’t been welcoming news for the millions of artists who create those thought-provoking illustrations that visualize the story in a way no other medium can quite match. But while some creatives lament the loss of the large format magazine or broadsheet, it could well be that the digital age offers creatives a much better payoff — the ability to get on more screens and create a following.

A full-page newspaper illustration used to pay great money, but large-circulation metros really only delivered state or regional coverage. A great smartly-rendered illustration concept for an online entity can reach millions if the article is well-received — and even more people if the illustration is something that catches people’s eye, mind, or funny bone.

That means we illustrators will have to put more time into our concepts and make them “visually concise” or clever, and easy to “get” at first glance. This is something we’ve always done — now we must consider the screen size when we can — and take a few things into account when we’re drawing.

» Not all screens are made equal. Lots of creatives work on a Mac, but most of the folks reading online are reading on PCs or even on Android devices. Create a simple color palate and style — then stick to it for an illustration that will really establish your style and “tone”.

» Keep file sizes small. The smaller your files, the better chance you won’t have an intern shrinking it down on the other size and taking away clarity. PNGs and JPEGs can be your best friends.

» Think about illustrations in series or as parts of collections. If they like the style, they’ll keep coming back and you can start getting your illustration footprint online.

» Lastly, as soon as something gets published or used online, make sure to post the work on your Artbox pages or blog (and link to the article). This way, people can come across your work in different ways and you really start to use the web as it’s intended.

By planning your work for smaller, tighter reading/viewing experiences, you’ll start the process of making it big with small illustrations on the web.

Congratulations to Suzan Scott member Suzan Scott’s painting, ‘the early hours no. 1,’ has been included in the Annual Juried Members Exhibit of the New Britain Museum of American Art. 


Balancing Talent, Skill, Respect — and Kindness. asked artist Kathleen Sullivan Isacson, who often collaborates on pieces with husband, Joe Isacson, to share her thoughts on the deeply personal joys and challenges of creating artwork — and a life — together with the one you love.  

When it works, collaboration is like the plot of a good novel: the outcome is always inevitable, yet unexpected.

Whenever I work with other people creatively—which is often—I think it’s best to lean on each person’s strengths. For example, if you’re collaborating with an engineer, let her make the decisions on the mechanics of the project. Give her the specifications, and basically get out of the way. Don’t micromanage your partner’s genius. Give each other space to make decisions, but check in and make sure you’re both on the same track.

It also helps to create with a common goal. For our current series, my husband and I wanted to create art that would be ideal for ‘first time collectors’ and designer boutiques. This meant our project vision made many of our practical decisions for us. Joe, who has bought and managed home goods for years in a retail environment, designed a shadowbox format of identically sized boxes that, when finished,  would each be completely unique, yet modular. We wanted this series to be beautiful, thought-provoking and yet practical. Therefore, they are designed to be sturdy, easily shipped and to look good in a group as well as alone.  We thought the pieces should be attainable in price and ‘man-friendly’—that is, something designers could consider for their male clients. Therefore, these pieces are small, stackable and far from frou-frou. That way it isn’t so much about whose idea wins, but what makes the most sense for the project.

Luckily for us in the Isacson household, our skills complement each other well. Joe is great at creating 3-D work and design. I specialize mostly in 2-D representational paintings and drawings. We lean on his design sense and my rendering skills to achieve the best of both worlds. When working together, it can help to have one person take the lead, then hand the project off, baton style. For this series, Joe has been creating the 3-D assemblage of test tubes, bones and the like first, then gives it to me for that spark of inspiration. From there, I paint/draw figures, patterns and objects on wood to create psychologically intriguing scenes.

The nice thing about this work is people who know us can see both of our styles in it. Balance is important for high-level collaboration, otherwise it’s mostly one person’s work and the other becomes an editor of sorts, which is good too, but you won’t get that amazing discovery of a new artistic voice. It’s the difference between a single melody and a chorus in full harmony.

True collaboration is an elusive process that, despite knowing what each person brings to the table, provides astonishing results. Working creatively alone is mysterious enough, but working with others makes the process one of pure alchemy; it’s seems impossible, but the results are pure gold.

It helps to ask permission to give feedback and find out if the other person is ready first. Even with my solo work, sometimes I tell Joe I’m not ready for that yet. I remember one time I was 99% done with a large painting and he walked through the room as I put my brush to the canvas. “Don’t blow it,” was all he said, but I couldn’t work on the painting for a few days after that—it froze me up. Likewise, on one of his recent 3-D pieces, I’ve waited for what might be the right time to tell him that if he wasn’t careful, his work-in-progress was destined to look like a spice rack.

When we struggle with collaborating it’s a bit of a tug of war, but when we put our egos aside, it’s more of a dance. Marriage is that way too, and like marriage, it’s something you never stop working at if you want to get it right.

Overall, working together brings us closer and forces us to be honest in ways that we might be tempted to avoid. It also helps us be gentler with each other too; it can be easy to forget how essential it is to deliver the truth with kindness.”

See the collaborative efforts of  Kathleen and Joe as well as their individual fine art pieces at®.

Portraits are People

Lauren Zarambo, fine artist and watercolorist extraordinare, tells the story behind this portrait — and the way a painting can create powerful bonds among artist, subject and purchaser of the work.

‘The Chefʼ, aka ʻThe Cookʼ, is a portrait of Frank Arcuri, actor, poet, highly creative chef who brought panache and delight to the macrobiotic cooking trend taking hold in New Orleans in the 1980ʻs. My jazz bassist husband, James Singleton, and I met Frank at his cooking class on making macro All Souls Corn Bread with Green Onion Butter and Underwater Sea Vegetable Strudel. We became fast friends. I was studying at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts and needed models. Frank was a willing subject formerly having modeled for painter Phillip Pearlstein. And so, I painted two life size portraits of Frank at his Bywater apartment before he moved to New York to join the staff of Annemarie Colbinʼs Natural Gourmet Institute where he was featured on NBCʼs Today Show.

Many months after Frank left New Orleans these paintings were exhibited at the Academyʼs gallery and at the opening I sold this painting. I received a call from Frank the next day asking ʻSo, howʼs my painting?ʼ. Outraged to hear it had sold, I calmed him with an offer to paint a copy. With the purchaserʼs blessing I painted a duplicate and shipped it to NYC to Frankʼs delight. Frank moved out to Sag Harbor to cook for some lucky clients later to sadly die of aids in 1993. The copy lives somewhere in the Hamptons and the original in New Orleansʼ French Quarter.

There was a synchronistic thread that connected Frank to his portrait on the day it sold. We had never spoke previously about his purchasing or owning the painting most likely due to his financial constraints. In the Academy show the painting sold at the opening with interest from a number of parties. The paintingʼs power came not only from the life size composition and quality of the painting but the unknown story behind it. For Frank, it was his portrait but for the purchaser, who made an investment in art, the painting was to enhance the environment of his dining room and act as a catalyst for his imagination.

View more of Lauren Zarambo’s work on her website at

Fearlessness and Focused Honesty

Artist Mark Turgeon describes how his fine art training and philosophy spills over into his commerical work — most recently as a sign-painter for some of New York City’s most stylish eateries.

“Being an artist certainly helps in the work I do on commission. I approach all of the work I do with the same attitude, whether it is making one of my paintings, or doing graphic work for a business, or cutting bread at Buvette Mon-Fri, with focused honesty. Knowing about art history is a no-brainer, incorporating it and forgetting about it.

My objective is always to make something beautiful whatever the topic, obstacle or objective may be. My clients certainly appreciate my personal work, knowing my background and consistent committment to art, but it is not particularly important. For me, it is all the same energy and love that I put into all of my work. Maybe the clients are reassured seeing the long path I’ve remained on, maybe not.

You are only good as the last thing you’ve done. I rely on knowledge and fearlessness of invention for all of my works, and I am lucky that is what is expected of me. To me, artists are always promoting something — an idea, a state of mind, a place. Painting is like sign painting. When an artist can’t discuss something of their work, that’s when I’m skeptical. The painting called “tout de suite, merde” of Man Ray and Duchamp playing “chess” with peonies is about many things, one of which is something about what artists can do — rearrange beauty. If an artist is lucky, the depth of content, idea, comes through whether literally or abstractly, leaving things a little more beautiful and forwarding than before. A painting. Signage on glass. A colored wall. A banner. Etc. Etc. …”

See Mark Turgeon’s vast and prolific body of work on his website,

Collaboration Leads to a Courtroom in Cuba

Janet Hamlin, illustrator and artist, has been developing a specialty in courtroom sketching. She has been the primary sketch artist covering the military court hearings at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Janet talks about her own experience in which a collaborative relationship with an art director has been valuable to the evolution of both their careers.

“Let me take a quick break while the military representative gets ready to begin his questioning, and tell you a quick story on how a freelance artist from Nyack ended up drawing in the middle of a courtroom in Cuba.

Nearly 20 years ago, I was in my studio and got a call from an art director at Weekly Reader, the school kids’ news magazine. He asked if I was interested in doing some illustrations on teen smoking for his magazine. As any freelancer knows, I was.

We spoke on the phone for a bit and worked out his idea, with me adding my own. That’s a very satisfying thing to do — collaborate on an idea and make it into something even better than with what you started, and with this art director that was always the case.

I did the work and he told me he was quite pleased, which began a lonq-term relationship as illustrator and art director. He moved from the kids’ magazine to a major newspaper, where he introduced me and my work to the art directors there, leading to even more work and collaboration. And as things go, we got to be friendly, then friends, all the while continuing to work together and learning from each other.

He moved on again, this time to an international organization as art director, where our relationship as colleagues opened up an even larger audience to my work. Then he asked me for more than just my work — he asked if I would come and work with him. I wasn’t sure. I really enjoyed working with him on things, but I also loved my freelance lifestyle. He said he “could work with that,” and so I started my role as a staff artist for an international news agency.

We decided to do something different, offering illustrations and renderings combined with data and story-telling, as well as staff training on how to do what I do. He agreed to teach me how to render on a computer and together we brought my work into the digital age. As an artist, I was now leaner and faster, which allowed me more time for concepts and creating. It was exciting to work with other artists and be part of such a creative teaching environment. I should say that I flourished in that environment, and the other artists did, too.

Then he offered me another challenge, one that I had never considered doing before, and had no idea how much I would grow to love — courtroom sketching. The trial was a 25-year-old murder and I sketched every day for a month working on spacial rendering, quick sketching techniques. The art director helped me use the skills I had honed for so long as an illustrator, and think more like a storyteller and journalist.

After the US government established a prison and courtroom in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the was a need for a courtroom artist to show people a bit of what was going in the camera-less proceedings. I have spent days and weeks here chronicling history, all thanks to the art director who saw that ability in me and pushed it.

He eventually left to take on a rebranding project for the non-profit that manages an international tourist destination, and I can see his touch as I walk through Central Park in New York. I eventually left too — to spend more time in my studio. He, and many of the other artists I worked with, tell me they love seeing my work on television, online, and in newspapers.

I recently had lunch with my art director friend, meeting him on the East Side where he’s taken on a new challenge — combining art and storytelling in the healthcare industry. We shared some stories and ideas and then he told me he wanted to work on something new with me. More collaboration. More learning. More pushing myself into new areas.

I can’t wait to see what we do next!”

See more of Janet Hamlin’s artwork.

In this video posted on Youtube by AlJazeeraEnglish, Janet talks about her experience at Gitmo.

Star Struck member Cloe Poisson  tells the story of a professional encounter with a living American icon — one of her personal childhood idols.

One of the best parts of being a photojournalist is the occasional opportunity to photograph someone famous – an actor, an author, an artist, a politician.  It’s always a challenge to walk in and not be awestruck by their fame. The first thought that comes to mind is that many of these subjects have been photographed by some equally famous photographers. And there is usually a time constraint, sometimes as little as five minutes to shoot in a less-than-ideal setting.  You have to approach each assignment with an open mind, hope you can stretch the session by a few minutes, and pray for inspiration.

Of course there’s the fan factor – when you meet someone who looms large in your book of living idols.  Such was the case when I was assigned to photograph the late, great children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak at his Ridgefield, Connecticut home.  Luckily, when I arrived, the reporter was already there, conducting his interview, so I was able to take a few minutes to look around and scout out a spot to take Sendak’s photo. I took a few photos while he was being interviewed, then asked him to pose by a chair where soft window light was spilling in. I was hoping to find something in the environment to hint at his most famous work, “Where the Wild Things Are,” when I spotted a stuffed “wild thing” head sitting atop a bookcase in the background. As Sendak relaxed on the arm of the chair, propped by his cane, his German shepherd came and curled up on the rug at his feet, adding another visual element.  Frank, the writer, continued asking questions during the photo session, distracting Sendak from being photographed.  After a few frames, as our subject continued to be peppered with questions, Sendak broke into a broad smile as he responded. I knew I had my moment.

View more of Cloe Poisson’s work at her profile.

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