Baseline Magazine - Travel Course Article


My colleague Elizabeth Resnick who is an educator, author and designer and I co-teach a travel course at MassArt. The course is called Crossing the Pond: Exploring Communication Design in London and Dublin. We take graphic design and illustration students (usually 50/50) to the UK and Ireland for about 17 days for museum and studio visits. These visits the students see lectures from some of the most prolific and world renown designers and illustrators. The focus of the course being; what are the differences and similarities between the U.S. and other countries in their use of design and illustration as well as experiencing life in these two countries.

The last trip we held was in the Spring of 2016 and this Fall, we will begin the process of organizing the next UK trip for the Spring of 2019. For this upcoming trip, we will be centering the trip exclusively in the UK but spending time in three cities. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

In 2014, during the trip after we let the students off to do what they wish one evening, Elizabeth and I met with Hans Dieter Reichert, Publisher of Baseline at a great pub. They're all great pubs in London.

In the magazine, there is an education section and we discussed how are trip can be formulated into a story. After we got through the trip, Elizabeth and I spent a few weeks writing the article and sent it in.

You can download the full article PDF here.

It is a wonderful trip and highly curated experience for the students. We hit the ground running from the very day we land. Often visiting two to three studios a day as well as cultural visits such as the V&A Museum in London, Chester Beatty Gallery in Dublin. We also purchase tickets to plays running at the time so they have cultural experiences outside of only graphic design and illustration and there is always one day in each country that the students can explore the country on their own.

2016 London Dublin Class

2016 London Dublin Class

Highlights for the trips include visiting Pentagram UK and a talk from brilliant designer Harry Pearce; visiting St. Bride's and seeing original sketches for Gill Sans, pages from the Book of the Dead and a complete first book printed in English from the 1400's; visiting Annie Atkins studio in Dublin (she creates the graphics for TV shows and movies such as the Grand Budpest Hotel The Tudors and others and all of the newspapers, signage, etc. for the sets.

Annie Atkins

Annie Atkins

Further, while in Dublin, the students saw lectures from illustrators Steve SimpsonAlan Clarke and Sarah Bowie which were wonderful. After the lectures, the artists had a meet-up with the Irish Illustrators Guild and invited all of the students to a local pub to top off the rest of the evening.

This is only to list a fraction of the itinerary.

I am incredibly proud and honored to work with Elizabeth on this course and hope to expand it in the near future. My goal is to have a course like this run every year.

Again, if you'd like to read the article, You can download the full article PDF here.

Botticelli - Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Botticelli - Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Book) 1478-80

Botticelli - Virgin and Child (Madonna of the Book) 1478-80

I am not a Botticelli expert nor all that incredibly knowledgeable about the Pre and Renaissance art movement - but it's that very work that influenced me early on during my first year at School of Visual Arts. With that, this post will be relatively brief.

The Boston MFA had a wonderful Botticelli exhibit recently. I am a little behind putting this up. The show just closed a week or so ago but hopefully these images will be inspiring. It was the largest show of his work and his predecessors ever in the United States.

Through my instructors and required trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as the History of Art class, I was introduced to this art period and the first things that I was attracted to was the flattened perspectives and the basic color palettes. The colors, while advanced, did seem very 'out of the tube' to me. The work I did throughout college and a little after had its base in this work.

At the time, while I was interested in some of the work, I was more attracted to contemporary illustrators of the time. That was the 120 year old me more interested in what was happening 'now' than 500 years earlier. The influence was there but I didn't pay too much attention to it or really its history at that time.

Visiting this show, I noticed within myself my appreciation of art history and the work has grown. Especially in the craft of the work itself. I think this likely has a lot to do with being an instructor and discussing history and artists from all time periods fairly regularly. I can't say that it will alter my own working methods now, but as most shows are to me, it was incredibly inspiring and all I wanted to do after I left was draw or paint.

Below are some photos and brief notes of things that stood out in the exhibit.

Antonio del Pollaiuolo - St. Michael the Archangel Killing the Dragon, 1465-70

Antonio del Pollaiuolo - St. Michael the Archangel Killing the Dragon, 1465-70

This painting above was particularly interesting to me. Del Pollaluolo's work actually help shift Botticelli's work in that his figures became a bit more athletic in physique that previously.

This work interesting because the subject matter is kick ass but what jumped out to me was the incredible amount of visual tangents in the piece. The first visit to the show, I was with a student and they know that I am one to make sure that the piece doesn't have tangents because it really distracts the viewer. 

I am thinking during this time period, these tangents were created as a compositional element to keep the eye moving around the piece. Maybe we've gotten more advance with tangent use a few hundred years later?

I challenge everyone looking at it to see how many tangents you can find. There are tons!

Still, it's a cool piece of art.

Sandro Botticelli - Madonna of the Loggia, 1467

Sandro Botticelli - Madonna of the Loggia, 1467

This was one of Botticelli's earliest Madonna and Child paintings above. This is a bit surface-y, but I love the frame.

Botticelli - Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist, 1505

Botticelli - Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist, 1505

The foliage and ground in this painting above just blew me away. It is likely one of my favorites in the exhibit. The minute details, composition, color and mood are amazing. He did this one later in life and during the pinnicle of his abilities.

Botticelli - The Nativity, 1482-85

Botticelli - The Nativity, 1482-85

The alter-piece painting below was interesting to see because I was able to see the wood structure it was painted on. It might be somewhat present in this first photo but when looking at the painting, you can really see how the wood curved over time. 

Still, the art is in stellar condition being over 500 years old.

Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints Sebastian, Lawrence, John the Evangelist and Roch (Altarpiece of Montelupo), 1499

Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints Sebastian, Lawrence, John the Evangelist and Roch (Altarpiece of Montelupo), 1499



One of the centerpieces of the exhibit, is Botticelli's study for 'The Birth of Venus'. It is an incredibly tall painting. I had to stand back quite a few feet to take this photo so it doesn't look warped to give you an idea of size.

Beautifully rendered and a sneak peek into what will become one of the best known pieces in the history of art. Unfortunately, The Birth of Venus wasn't at this show.

To finish off this quick post, something jumped out at me going through the show which amused me. It was the blatant similarities of how Botticelli painted feet in his paintings. Even though the paintings were created many years from one another, it seemed like he used one set of feet. Did he trace them? Did he have a master sketch and just flipped the drawing as needed? They appear to be the same elongated feet and toes in every piece.

RISD Presentation

On Tuesday the 25th, I spent the day at Rhode Island School of Design working and talking with students.

My friend Mary Jane Begin invited me to speak to the Illustration Department's Portfolio students. I first spent a few hours in her Portfolio class. I then did a presentation of my work to the entire Senior class.

The students are really quite talented and also very charming. I received a few gifts and had some very lovely conversations. I am sure I will see them out in the world living their dreams as artists.

Thank you everyone for making the day so wonderful!

Visiting the Maine College of Art

I visited the Maine College of Art not to do a lecture this time, but I was invited to review the illustration program. It is a small but incredibly vibrant school. The students are quite dedicated and I loved seeing their work and the program.

Once in a blue moon, I am invited to review an illustration program. It's a lot more busy work and not as satisfying because I don't get to spend as much time with students as I would if I was doing my usual guest speaking thing.

Still, being an educator, it is always interesting to meet other faculty and dig into programs to see what makes them tick and how they operate. Of course, the discussions usually go to curriculum and how to educate to make the best illustrators possible.

I was there for two days and unfortunately, I can't go into detail but it was a wonderful time. The students I did meet and had lunch with were incredibly kind and self-aware. The teachers are also very dedicated at this school. The facilities throughout the school are pretty amazing. If I had no life and unlimited funds, I'd cycle through all the programs just to use the equipment they have.

If you have a family up in Maine, I wouldn't pass up taking a look at the facilities if someone is thinking about attending a small art school in a very small town. For me, it would be too small but for someone used to living in very rural areas, this might be perfect.


I stayed an extra evening to visit the Portland Museum of Art and see the Matisse exhibition. I took a few photos but you can visit the website and see more of the Matisse work available there.

The ease of expression that comes from Matisse's work is amazing and effortless.

A nice surprise while I was there was a show dedicated to whale art called Of Whales in Paint that seem to have a hub with Rockwell Kent. There were quite a few Kent's on exhibit. I stole this photo without being caught because photos aren't allowed in the exhibition. It's rare to see original Rockwell Kent's out in the world so I was delighted. The sharpness, clarity and weight of the pieces are brilliant. More so in real life.

If you ever are thinking about Maine, this was a good time to go. There weren't very many tourists around and the city is manageable.

Gill Sans

This past March, while in London, I visited a wonderful place called St. Bride Library + Foundation. My colleague Elizabeth Resnick and myself brought students to London and Dublin for a course trip. We saw and visited so many studios and museums from the Victoria & Albert Museum to the offices of Pentagram UK. I am not going into detail about the 17 days we had there - that could be pages and pages - but I wanted to focus on St. Bride and one artifact that was amazing to see and touch.

I think most people who have done any design work, at some point, has used or have fallen in love with Gill Sans. While at St. Bride, I had the fortune to see some of the original work that went into creating the typeface.

I wanted to share this amazing find with you so I made sure I wrote them to get some comprehensive information about what we're looking at. Most of which they told me on the spot but I was too busy dragging my jaw around the place.

I know there are many instructors that would love to use these images for their courses - I've already been asked by a few. Please feel free to use these images for your lectures.

What you see above and just below is a wood type specimen printed to show the lower case characters in the Johnston Railway Alphabet. This particular copy was the personal property of Edward Johnston, designer of the typeface. Wood type was generally made in sizes greater than 72 point (one inch) and a reference chart such as this might well have been used as an aid to signwriters. Eric Gill was a pupil of Johnston and the railway alphabet is an obvious influence on the Gill Sans design.

The three photos below are early versions of Eric Gill’s upper case Gill Sans typeface. It is lettered in black indian ink on tracing paper and shows some signs of the geometric construction of the letters. The sketch is identified as a “Titling” face, an extra-large version which filled the full height of the metal body of the typeface, with no space for lower case descenders. The drawing was signed and dated by Gill himself on 6 June 1927. An additional note adds that the characters are for Series 262 (Monotype Gill Sans).

The three photos below are lower case drawings for Gill Sans, signed and dated 20 July 1928 – the year that the face was issued by Monotype. The final digit of the date (written in pencil) is very hard to read – it may be a “7” (in which case this might be the earliest drawing) or possibly an “8”, in which case it may not be. Some of the letterforms in this drawing were modified for the final version of the face (the tail of the “p” and “q” are angled in the drawing, but not in the completed face) which suggests that this may be a very early incarnation and the date may be 1927.

Teacherly Things

I felt like blogging about some teacherly things that I do and some experiences I've had over the last 4-5 months. I don't often blog about this stuff but I felt it necessary to give a nod to so many of my friends and students who have not only had an impact on students but an impact on my life as well. When I started writing this post, it ended up getting out of hand and pages and pages later, I decided to cut it down to three categories and try to keep it simple. So here we go....


During my school year, I try to bring in a guest or two to inspire the students and get them thinking about what is possible as an illustrator. I have a tendency to ask younger working artists to come in. While not a rule, I do this for a couple of reasons. Often, when there are guest speakers brought into schools, they are the 'heavy hitters' (We've had Chris Buzelli, Barron Storey and James Gurney over the last couple of years) who have lots of experience which is amazing for any student but sometimes, I want to reach the students from a different angle. I'd like the students to see and listen to a person that is just a couple of years older than they are and have been having lots of success. I think it helps students relate to them a bit more and get some real-time information about what it means to be struggling right now and how to overcome early self-doubts and failures.

I've had guests JooHee Yoon, Daniel Fishel and in November, I had Becca Stadtlander come in to do lectures and demos for a couple of days. She was absolutely wonderful and very thorough with her presentations and demos. I did a post-lecture interview here on the MassArt blog.

I have my Junior illustration students research and do a slide lecture of their favorite illustrator. In the first six weeks of my class, the first hour of every class, I do a History of Illustration lecture from the 1800's to present day. Since I do this, I assigned to the students to show who their favorite illustrators are and do a presentation themselves. One of my students inspired Becca's visit by doing a presnetation on her. Since I knew Becca personally, I invited her in. Becca only being 26 years old a few years out of school, the students got to see the time and effort she puts into her work, her process and how she keeps her substantial business flowing. She was incredibly inspiring.

These sorts of experiences really stick with someone and remain part of their education and life for the rest of their lives. As a personal example, I remember in quite a lot of detail, Marshall Arisman giving a painting demonstration in the class I had with him back when he was teaching undergrad at SVA around 1991. There was nothing like watching one of my favorite artists, while smoking a cigarette in the SVA amphitheater dip his hands into a coffee can full of turpentine, squirt a load of Van Dyke Brown oil paint into his bare hands and wipe it all over a 30x40" sheet of Strathmore paper and 'sculpt' out one of his famous painted heads.

A couple of years ago, I brought up my buddy and DrawgerVicto Ngai to do her first ever lecture to students. She was fairly successful then but her success had continued to grow so I thought I would bring her up once again in February for a new batch of students. Since that first lecture, she's developed into a wonderful speaker.

Victo creates intense masterpieces and what is brilliant is her openness to discuss her technique and show quite explicitly how she works. This was an extremely special treat to the students but also, they saw other sides of what it is to be an illustrator. The students saw that she is a very smart business person as well. Victo presents herself as extremely self-aware and knows who she is and what she wants and she does it. With her techniques, her business savvy and especially the thoughtfulness of the ideas within her work, its not a surprise she is as successful as she is.

Victo left the students in awe.

Thank yous to all the guests who have come in and have spoken to our students. You really inspire an make a difference. It always brings a smile to my face when I walk around the studios and I see all of the guests postcards and posters lining the students wall space for inspiration.



Getting out of the house once and while and traveling to do lectures myself is necessary for me. I've been very fortunate to be asked to visit various schools around the country for years and usually do one every semester. It is one of my joys in life for a few reasons; I usually get to go somewhere new and have experiences in a place that I would have never had the opportunity to go to. I also get to meet faculty and artists at those schools and talk about illustration and the aches and pains of being an educator. It's is very important for me to see what other illustration departments are doing and what they're successful at and they're usually just as curious.

The best part and the most fun I have in doing lectures is being with the students.

A few days after Victo came to visit in February, I was on a plane to the Kansas City Art Institute. I've never been to the school nor Kansas City before but I understood the BBQ is amazing there. Officially, yes, it is amazing.

This particular visit had a little more weight than normal for me. Apparently, every semester the students collectively choose who they want to come in to visit the school and for this trip, they selected me. I don't think I could have asked for a higher honor.

I had to give the students an assignment about a month before I arrived in KC and judge the 25 Best Pieces and present them in front of the entire department. I even had to pick the Top 3! Yikes! I've been in judging situations many times but this was tough because not only did I have to judge the pieces, I had to show my selections to all of the students and talk about why they were successful or not so successful. Fortunately, there was many great images so it wasn't a horribly sad and painful critique. During the rest of the day I did a 'this is my work' lecture then a little later, we had a 'roundtable' discussion mostly with Seniors to talk about business related things. The students were wonderful, thoughtful and very well spoken.

When I got home, I was deluged with kind thankful emails from many students. They've got some classy students there - the teachers at KCAI must be doing something right.

After restarting an illustration program there for only the last four years, they are really developing a program to be reckoned with. I believe they had 12 students accepted into this years Society Student Scholarship Competition. Congrats to the students and the school and thank you for having me visit. It was a wonderful experience!

As sort of a 'prize', the Top 3 student winners were treated to a fancy dinner with myself and the faculty!

The 3 Winners! From left to right: Kelsey Wroten, Kate Dittman, Johanna Miller

The assignment I have to the students was 'Through Rose Colored Glasses'. They could interpret that in any way they chose. Here is Kelsey's, Kate's and Johanna's solutions and their websites if provided. Look out for these talented women in the future!

Kelsey Wroten - Kate Dittman - Johanna Miller

I think I am very fortunate in my life that I can meet and get to know so many people throughout my travels and experiences all because I'm an artist. All of these things affect my life helping me grow as an artist, teacher and as a person and I am humbled by it all.



And finally...these guys...I love these guys. I have been fortunate at MassArt to have some wonderful Portfolio students this year. They've been working so hard the last couple of semesters to get their work together and many of whom are already getting nods from student competitions and even getting published. I am very proud to know them and see their growth over the last 3 years. Seeing this work and enthusiasm is one of the very reasons why I remain a teacher. I wish all of them well into the future and look forward to seeing their successes.

Show them some love and click through to their sites.

Dave Mahan

Martha Spragge

Julia Stasio

Jason Butera

Zachary Cunningham

James Medeiros

Nghia Nguyen

Shannon Knight

Holly Sullo

Paige Mulhern