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New Yorker Covers by Bob Staake

 

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The Wind-Up
October 23, 2006

When it comes to working with The New Yorker, nothing is better than when Françoise sends an email asking she contributing artists to submit covers on Mother's Day or winter reading or Fall sports. You always seem to be flying by the seat of your pants when you're staring at a blank piece of paper not knowing if what YOU want to do as a cover on is something the magazine will have the slightest interest in publishing. With a mere 50 covers a year, an artist lucky enough to be submitting to The New Yorker simply isn't going to get a lot of opportunities to see more than one, two or three of his ideas make it to print (unless you're the incomparable Barry Blitt and then you get maybe 6 covers a year!). So when Françoise says she wants World Series ideas, you pull out your pencil. It was also becoming apparent to me that when it came to covers, David Remnick had the ultimate and final word -- and I had read that he was a big baseball fan, more specifically, a big Yankees fan. In the Fall of 2006, the Yankees seemed poised to make it to the Series, but that certainly wasn't definite. In fact, at that stage of the game -- in early October -- things are still very much in flux, so it's difficult to do any World Series-oriented idea that deals with specifics because, come tomorrow night, those specifics will likely have changed. My best bet seemed to be with coming up with an idea that was pretty generic -- even decorative -- that played on the tradition of baseball and the World Series but didn't get too narrow. I kept thinking of those amazing Vanity Fair covers of the 1930s and 1940s by Miguel Covarrubias and Paolo Garretto and how they never apologized for taking the strictly decorative approach when that was required of their image. I had this image in my head of a wiry, twisting, almost knotted-up pitcher on the mound, so I sketched up a simple pencil drawing -- not entirely sure how I would execute the thing in full color if The New Yorker actually wanted it as a cover. In the sketch I allude to the Yankees (note the classic pinstripes), but the pitcher is decidedly generic -- so if The New Yorker went with the cover, I'd render the pitcher as a Yankee, but if they failed to make it to the Series, we could simply blacken out the 'NY' logo on the cap. Françoise emailed saying this would be the cover and she asked me to have it ready in a few days. Now, when people say you should be 'careful what you wish for' -- that can certainly be the case in illustration. because often you will find yourself sketching out an idea that's a piece of cake to execute with the stub of a pencil, but when it comes to creating a digital color version, you realize you have no clue how you're going to pull off a fairly complex visual effect -- in this case a twisty, turny, in-and-outy coil of a shape that's part arms, part legs, part torso. What I did was go back to my childhood -- and I pulled out a pair of scissors. I printed the pencil sketch, cut the twisty character out, taped the silhouette to a black piece of construction paper and then scanned it. When I imported the silhouette into Photoshop 3.0, I added pinstripes, details and shadows and the whole piece had a sort of pleasing organic component tied up neatly within a 100% digital execution. I delivered the art to The New Yorker via email, but then another problem surfaced; the Yankees were starting to lose. Indeed, it was doubtful they'd be in the Series, so Fançoise called to tell me they'd likely have to go in another direction. Hey, it happens. I even suggested that we change the colors of the uniform and it would still work, but that idea wasn't flying too well with her. The ONLY thing that "might" save it would be if the New York Mets made it to the Series, and if that was going to happen, we'd have to swap out the pinstripes, uniform colors and hat logo within minutes of going to press. Ultimately, a last minute decision was made by The New Yorker to publish the cover with a Met rather than a Yankee, thought it was their imagining department -- not me -- who added the Mets logo to the helmet, altered the uniform colors and (rather roughly) extricated the pinstripes (which explains how they can still be perceived as ghosted, white lines on the art). The orange background coloring? That was my doing, as I originally completed three versions of the original Yankees cover with backdrops of violet, green and red/orange.

Sometimes a guy just can't decide.


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