Robert Rodriguez fineartprintsca

The art and interests of Robert Rodriguez

Month: May, 2017

2017 TALES OF THE COCKTAIL POSTER: TIMES TWO!

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Each year for the previous 8 years, I have been invited to do the official poster for Tales of the Cocktail.  It is a liquor industry event held in New Orleans, in July every summer.  Over the years, it has grown in size tremendously.  Fifteen years ago, when it started, I believe there were about 32 people in attendance.  Now that number is closer to 24,000 attendees.  That translates into an approximately 16 million dollar impact on the local economy.

In 2017, since it is the 15th anniversary for Tales of the Cocktail, and it is the 200th anniversary for El Floridita (Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar in Havana, Cuba), we decided to do a poster to celebrate the occasion.  Tales of the Cocktail is heading to Havana in October to present a special event at the bar.  Though I was happy with the El Floridita image, I still wanted to do a poster specifically for Tales in New Orleans.  So that lead to my doing two posters.

The El Floridita poster required a large number of images to commemorate their anniversary.  Very tricky thing to design.  In fact, I designed three tight versions and numerous rough sketches before I was satisfied.  I even had one version about halfway finished at one point, and decided to scrap it and move on.  In the end, I had to delete all the images of famous movie stars who visited whenever they were in Havana, and focus on Hemingway, but I did keep everything else that was required.  It became a combination of vintage Cuban cigar box labels, and old postcard art, like the ones that would have said, “Greetings from Havana”.

After I finished the El Floridita poster, I focused more on the theme for this year’s event, which was “Craft Your Future”.  The official cocktail this year is the martini.  That evolved into a painting of a blacksmith crafting a martini on his anvil, with a 1930’s vision of the future in the buildings behind him.  At first it looked like he was about to smash the martini, but after adding the sparks, and the gold rim on the glass, I don’t think that is a concern any longer.  He is forging his future, and in total control of his craft.

Doing the Tales of the Cocktail is one of the most interesting projects I do every year, because I am in complete control, and don’t have to deliver it until I am satisfied with the end results.  And other than giving me the theme and the official cocktail, Ann Tuennerman, the founder and director of Tales of the Cocktail, pretty much gives me the freedom to create.

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THE UNICORN SONATA

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(A friend scanned some of the images from the book and emailed them off to me.  And some I got off the internet.  Sorry things aren’t better quality.)

Peter S. Beagle wrote a novel in 1968 called The Last Unicorn.  It was ranked one of the all-time best fantasy novels, and in 1982 it was made into an animated film as well.  Due to popular demand, he wrote The Unicorn Sonata about 1996 and I was asked to illustrate the book and the cover art.  We started with a phone conversation so I could learn about the world that Peter had created.  He had very definite ideas of what Unicorns were not, but I had a little harder time figuring out what they actually were.  I remember that they were not goats and not horses, but a little of both.  Very delicate horses maybe?

I was fascinated by Peter Beagle.  He called himself the black sheep of his family.  His uncles were Moses, Raphael and Issac Soyer, three noted painters of the Social Realist school.  I thought it was funny because when I mentioned I was doing the book, everyone knew The Last Unicorn and said it was one of their favorite books.  But when I told a lot of people who his uncles were, they didn’t recognize the names.  I always liked Raphael Soyer’s work in particular, but I guess no one ever made an animated movie from his paintings, so he didn’t have the name recognition.  Anyway, Peter S. Beagle, hardly a blacksheep.

It has been a long time since I read The Unicorn Sonata, so my memory is a little hazy, but it concerns a thirteen year old girl from L.A. who follows some enchanting music across an invisible border by the mailbox on the corner, into Shi’rah, a land that is inhabited by satyrs, unicorns, phoenixes and other mystical creatures.  Eventually she brings her grandmother across with her to help save the Unicorns and their music.

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There were a total of eleven illustrations plus the cover art.  I remember being inspired by old medieval tapestries with some of the pieces.  The project paid decently, so I was able to spend a fair amount of time on each piece, and I did some in oils and some in acrylics.  It was one of the last projects I did traditionally, before I switched to digital art.  I still show the cover art in my illustration portfolio.

I remember that the art director had always planned the title to go right in the center.  We had been talking about the cover as a border design, so that was where my thinking was focused, and what I was doing for them.  I did three designs for borders, and they all were pretty decent.  But two hours before FedEx arrived, I realized I wasn’t completely happy, and maybe I could do a cover design that just had the title dropped in over the artwork.  I quickly did a rough layout, basically I visualized it exactly the way I finished it, right from the start.  But it was odd, I presented three very tight comps of borders, and one very loose pencil sketch of the cover as it was eventually done, with a note explaining what I had in mind. It was so nice that they could interpret my scribbles and give me permission to finish that version.  So often when a client has something specific in mind, like a border design in this case, they can’t open themselves up to a different direction.  But the whole project went like that.  I made notes of the scenes that I felt would call for illustrations, and they did as well.  I think we agreed on almost every illustration.
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In the end, I don’t believe Peter Beagle was completely in love with my illustrations, but the art director was.  I can’t find his name, but if I do, I will post it later with an apology.
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I NEVER WON A GRAMMY AWARD. SAD.

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But two years out of art school, I did become one of the eight finalists for the best album cover art for 1972!  That was pretty cool, but even then I knew it wasn’t exactly because my art work was so amazing.  Those were the years of the concept album covers.  And mine was one of those.  Ernie Cefalu, one of the owners of Pacific Eye & Ear, an album design studio, asked me to do the cover for a band called Five Dollar Shoes.

I don’t mean to be too modest, but I really don’t even know if Ernie asked for me.  I was working for Peter Palombi at the time, and Peter was probably busy, so he passed it over to me.  Drew Struzan was the staff artist at PE&E, and I remember when I went over to pick up the project, Drew was sitting there working on his “Sabbath bloody Sabbath” cover for Black Sabbath.  I suppose that was why they passed the Shoes album over to our studio.  Besides, Five Dollar Shoes only had that one album, and not many people ever heard of them before or after.  They were a little bit Glam, and this wasn’t a very important album.  But Ernie had this idea to make the album like a tin of vintage shoe polish, to tie in with the band’s name.  We were going to make it round, but I think it was Grand Funk Railroad who had a round album that same year, so Ernie decided on a square format with rounded corners.

The front cover was the lid of the shoe polish tin, you open it up and you see the inside of the lid, and the actual polish with spit on it for lubrication.  Pull the sleeve out and you see the shoe polish almost gone, and the back cover is the bottom of the tin.  And once Ernie gave me the concept, he left me completely alone.  Great art director.  I did the whole thing, logo design, illustration…it was such an exciting project.

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Also a shock to get the nomination.  When the notice came in the mail, I thought it was a prank.   Nobody told me what to do, except I got four tickets to the awards ceremony.  My roommate, Bob Krogle and I, rented a limo and took our girlfriends.  We sat at a table with Bruce Botnick who I didn’t know, but he and his wife were very encouraging to me.  He was a record producer for the Doors, Love, and many other bands and albums.  I felt like he was much older, but I just looked him up and he was only two years older than me.  Anyway, no one told me what to do if I won.  I didn’t know if I was supposed to go up on stage and say anything.  So it was sort of a relief to not win, I would have been terrified.

Almost better than the nomination (oh yeah, just being recognized is an honor in itself, I almost forgot to say that) was that I became a member of the recording academy and got to vote for album covers every year after that.  I also got to order record albums for $1.50 every month or so.  I have a fantastic collection of albums because I would order records by people I never even heard of, just because their names sounded interesting.  At $1.50, you can’t go too far wrong.  I gave a lot of album presents on Christmas and birthdays.

A year later, Ernie asked me to do the cover for George Carlin: Occupation Foole.  Drew had done a beautiful prismacolor sketch for it of Carlin wearing a court jester’s hat, and I painted his design in a Leyendecker style.  But Carlin said that his comedy was using his whole body, so they wound up using photography of him in silly poses.  I had Drew’s sketch in my scrap file for years, but I think someone swiped it.  That sketch was probably worth $20,000 or so nowadays!  Ernie was selling the Five Dollar Shoes artwork for $80,000 or more a few years ago.

Sorry the Five Dollar Shoes scans are so poor.  I only found them online, and this is the best I could do.

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WHAT’S NEXT….UNICORNS?

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Well, I guess so.

I actually did a whole book of unicorn paintings, for The Unicorn Sonata by Peter S. Beagle, but this is the only image from the book that I can find right now.  If I can find any more of the illustrations, I will publish them on a later blog.  Peter Beagle was the author of The Last Unicorn.

This was a very interesting project, and I always loved the cover, even with the title plopped into the center.  The rest of the illustrations were generally successful, some more than others.  But I will explain in more detail if I can find some other examples of the work.

ARE CLOWN PAINTINGS AUTOMATICALLY CREEPY?

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Coulrophobia is the official psychological term given to the irrational fear of clowns.  When did clowns become scary?  I believe there was a time, before 1950 maybe, when clowns were funny and lovable.  But since then, they have acquired a bad reputation.  I bet they scare more little kids than any shopping mall Santa Claus ever did.

And if clowns are frightening, clown paintings are even more so.  They always creep me out.  Red Skelton clown paintings, John Wayne Gacy clown paintings, outsider art clown paintings…all of ‘em.  Diane Keaton even published a book of clown paintings that were swapmeet purchases.  Picasso did a lot clown paintings, and he might be one of the few that I can accept.

So why have I done so many of them myself?  I saw a movie once where Italian clowns were performing on a gaslight stage, and the colors were so beautiful, that inspired me.  And of course Cappiello, the poster artist often used clowns in his work.  Maybe clowns are okay as long as they aren’t painted realistically?  Like maybe there is something automatically out of whack with painting an unrealistic character in a realistic way.

But the classical clowns from the Italian Commedia dell’arte are wonderful characters in traditional costumes that have been handed down from the late 1500’s.  There was a lot of interconnection with the French, so the names of the characters are sometimes more familiar in French, like Harlequin, Scaramouche, Pierrot, Columbine.  And these classical clowns are the ones I love to do.

Of course I have no such excuse for illustrating mimes.  What’s next, Unicorns?

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