Archive for the 'New York Times' Category

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My first ever visit to the previous offices of the New York Times on 43rd street began with a pigeon emptying its bowels on my head.

I was early for a portfolio review with Brian Rea, the then art director of the Op/Ed page, and rather than bum rush him first thing in the morning, I elected to hang out and wait until the time of our scheduled meeting had arrived just as a regular person might. I stood across the street flipping through the paper, filing away the minutes, when several gumball-sized globs of what looked like tainted vanilla yogurt dropped unceremoniously onto the newspaper I was reading and shortly thereafter, on to my head. It wasn’t yogurt. It was terribly upsetting.

Whether it’s interpreted as a sign of good fortune or not, a bird crapping on anyone’s head is inevitably going to give way to some fruitless ‘why me?’ fashioned navel gazing. I recall that portentous episode with the bird a fair amount whenever I try to pinpoint the precise moments when I began taking active steps towards doing the kind of design and illustration work that I’m fortunate to be doing now. I thought about it when I saw my first ever op/ed image printed in the Sunday paper. I think about it whenever I find myself burning the wick after hours on a book project. I definitely thought about it this past September when the current Sunday Review AD Aviva Michaelov called me not for another assignment, but to offer me the opportunity to become the newest art director of the Times’ Op/Ed page. And to be sure, that looming pigeon was on my mind when I accepted.

I’m only a few weeks into the gig as of this writing and there is still much to absorb. As is the terminal case with Op/Ed, my pace at the job started at a decent sprint and has since accelerated. As a consequence, a handful of similar sounding questions have popped up repeatedly without having a moment or three to give halfway decent answers. Below are all the questions and answers that I’ve done a lousy job of fielding in the past few weeks:

Q: Is Aviva leaving?
A: No. She’s doing the opposite. Going forward, Aviva’s art directing focus is the Sunday Review. My focus is the Op/Ed page with periodic dips into the Sunday Review. The talented Alexandra Zsigmond is the assistant art director for both sections. We all sit in a row divided by shallow walls and trade notes throughout the day. It’s like Three Amigos except at a newspaper.

Q: Can I email you my portfolio?
A: For heaven’s sake, yes. Please do. Anyone who’s interested and enthusiastic about contributing to the page shouldn’t keep it to themselves. Email can be directed here: Matthew.Dorfman@nytimes.com. I may not be able to send out a timely response, but I’m never not looking at work. Be persistent and reach out.

Q: Can I come by the office show you my portfolio in person?
A: Again, yes please. The days are crazy, but let’s set up a time. Email me & we’ll lock something down.

Q: Will you still be taking on freelance projects?
A: Yep, albeit selectively. As long as it’s not for a competing publication and/or requiring a concept-to-final execution in 48 hours or less.

Q: What did you do immediately after that pigeon crapped on your head?
A: I was, um, lucky. I used whatever stray napkins I had in my bag as well as the newspaper itself to scrape as much of the detritus out of my hair as possible. Afterwards, I rushed into the building and quietly begged a security guard to point me to the closest men’s room to clean off. He took substantial pity on me and never once snickered.

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In doing a casual 360 around my desk every day and getting to know my editors throughout my initiation, I can safely claim that the tales I’d been told for years about the job’s intensity, fast turnaround, quick thinking and swift pace are wholly intact. Events happen, stories shift and messages get tweaked throughout the day and regardless of the news’ inherent chaos, there needs to be art on the page at the end of every day that remains thoughtful and compelling and coherent no matter what. Fortunately for me, in the short time that I’ve been on the flip side of the desk, I’ve already been the beneficiary of some fairly stunning pieces of art that people have generously accepted to do in the Times’ notoriously short window of time. Here’s a quick sampling below.

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Having zero expectations on my first day, I was handed piece about consumer spending versus private investment. I called Tim Goodman on a hope and a prayer that he’d be available. He was and subsequently, he nailed it:

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Later that week, I was given a piece by Richard Thompson Ford about how the current application of civil rights law is actually undermining equality. First-time op/ed contributor Joe Spix turned in a beautifully succinct piece of art:

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The following week, we were running a perspective on the Ukraine by surrealist author Andrey Kurkov. I’m still not sure how it happened, but Carson Ellis was actually available and she delivered beautifully:

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Fulfilling a long standing order for us both, Oliver Munday provided art to accompany a call to end bonuses attached to banks which had been bailed out, as well as a perfect opportunity to attack the page layout to truly drive the idea home:

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Another excellent designer new to the page, Alex Merto turned in this illustration about the racial tensions simmering amidst the riots of Occupy Oakland:

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Below, Mark Pernice turned in this beauty of a piece accompanying a written warning that Silvio Berlusconi’s vestige will linger in Italian politics long after he’s resigned and gone.

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Another first timer to the page, John J. Custer gave us his take on campaign finance reform and to what degree the fate of the presidency is up for sale.

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Up until a few weeks ago, getting a call to work on a Times Op/Ed illustration was simultaneously the most exciting and harrowing invitation I could receive in the course of a given week. It’s a jarring thing to receive a call from an art director asking you to drop whatever you’re doing in order to deliver a finished piece of art (which you haven’t yet begun) to a major newspaper before the end of the day. I’m mindful of this every time I’ve called someone on the phone in the past four weeks. Arriving at solutions with the speed required for op/ed contributors is a fundamentally challenging thing. However, the experience and practice that it yields is invaluable for any kind of visual storyteller. By embracing the boundaries of the assignment, you can likely surprise yourself by thinking, refining and executing ideas with more focus, liveliness and venom which can sometimes escape when working with a more generous lead time.

Speaking for myself, working on these assignments over the years has had a substantial hand in informing my own process of generating, editing and executing ideas. Of particular significance, I notice that when I’m approached for a project these days, my heart no longer explodes into a full-tilt sprint whenever I answer the phone, which is good. For any interested students, recent grads or working artists interested in contributing to the page who haven’t yet done so, I would encourage you to get in touch. The Op/Ed page traffics in of-the-moment ideas and opinions daily, and if as an illustrator, designer or visual storyteller of any kind, you have a compulsion to create work which contributes dialogue and relevance to the here and the now, we should probably talk.

Big, Fat, Juicy, (Incomplete) Update

Long time, no post. The past few months have had me mired (albeit willingly) in an ark sized boatload of new projects—the deadlines of which have conveniently stacked up upon one another in a seemingly unending row. I’ve been a longtime adherent to the belief that opportunity never presents itself at a moment of convenience and the past few months proved themselves hell-bent on reinforcing that. So, in order to avoid running the risk of this blog being mistaken for a recently abandoned tenement, here’s a spattering of what’s been happening:

1. NEW SITE (!)
First things first. It only took three years of procrastination followed by a two month crash course in Indexhibit, but I finally have a new site. The URL is the same, but the work contained therein is actually, truly, (well, mostly) current. This task had been on my design bucket list for way too long, so the fact that the majority of the heavy lifting is done is a huge personal coup. As a self proclaimed style sheet/CSS Luddite, Indexhibit is not the simplest program to wrangle my head around, however its genius lies in its protean flexibility which practically forces you to learn some basic web building principles, so (hopefully), fine tuning it going forward won’t be quite as laborious as it was for my previous one. Check it.

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2. Joe Klein & TIME

Earlier this year I was fortunate to begin working with art director Andreé Kahlmorgan at TIME Magazine illustrating bi-monthly columns for Joe Klein, a journalist who’s tenacity and quality of output has proven multiple times over that he’s not so much of a slouch. Mr. Klein’s political column for TIME, more often than not, examines current events from the perspective of a single active participant or group in the event he’s covering. To illustrate that effectively (as well as with a modicum of consistency), the illustration is approached as a conceptual portrait each week, pulling current head shots with Andreé of the players in question and providing narrative context. The turnaround time is roughly equivalent to that of an op/ed. The Obama image above was done for a springtime Klein piece about the increasingly negative and hostile portrayals of Obama that his growing detractors are using in media campaigns. More Klein pieces follow below:

Klein writing as Benjamin Netanyahu and his fly-on-the-wall perspective of the Arab Spring.

Klein on Obama’s and Paul Ryan’s fractured healthcare negotiations.

On the government’s financial mismanagement of great-in-theory programs like Head Start.

On government’s current capability for compromise in the wake of the debt ceiling debacle.

On Mitt Romney’s current second place position in GOP presidential race behind Rick Perry.

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3. Frank Bruni for the NYT Sunday Review

Upon the simultaneous retiring of the NY Times’ Week In Review and the birth of their Sunday Review, I’ve also begun trading off with Chris Brand illustrating Frank Bruni’s regular Sunday column since the section got up and running in July. Bruni, like Joe Klein, tackles current politics as well, but he applies a measured, rational wit to his outrage which allows him to deconstruct his themes in a humorous way which, in turn, gives Aviva and I some room to aim for some humor in the illustrations. The piece above accompanied one of his earliest pieces for the Sunday Review in which he opined to have children and spouses of candidates removed from the campaign platform and candidates’ list of talking points. Other recent illos for Bruni’s column follow below and Aviva Michaelov art directed all of them:

This portrait of Casey Anthony, aided with the significant help of a xerox machine, was paired with his post mortem analysis of her trial.

This one went along with an article which used the instance of an Arizona state senator sneaking a small gun into a courthouse as a springboard to address the curious state of current U.S. gun legislation.

This one explored all the ways in which Michele Bachmann is virtual catnip for media pundits. Also, her migraines. Before sending this one in, I showed it around to a handful of designers and three recoiled from it, complaining that the illustration was giving them a headache. Mission accomplished.

This was a tough one. This piece went along with Bruni’s exploration of a political candidate’s false humility—often echoing a declaration of “answering a call” to public service as opposed to simply coming clean and candidly owning their interest in money and power and control. Aviva and Joon Mo Kang helped this one along.

For an article about how ‘smart’ a politician is counts for only so much for his/her effectiveness as a politician.

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4. Overshadowed for the Washington Post

Again, for the national press. This one was an illustration for the Washington Post’s Outlook section for their cover piece concerning how the 9/11 attacks on New York perpetually overshadow the 9/11 attacks of Washington. Prior to running this, there was much discussion at the paper as to whether the ‘a-ha’ moment that the viewer gets when looking at the image arrives too late, however Kristin Lenz was an outrageously supportive advocate for this treatment and it made it through the editorial review roundly unscathed. Looking at a mini on-screen version doesn’t help to sell the point too much, so here’s a close up to bludgeon the point home:

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5. BOOKS

If I’m being truthful (and I am), these two covers above and below were completed well before this summer, but since all the titles I’ve worked on since April aren’t camera ready just yet, here are the two that just recently came out.

Instant Replay, above was done for Mr. John Gall under the Anchor Sports imprint. Being personally indifferent about football as I am, this project began with a lot of inwardly directed chortling and later gave way to a personal revelation (albeit a minor one). That revelation being that while I find watching football to be something of a chore, reading about it is awesome. Or alternately, this book is just incredibly honest, thoughtful and good. For the fellow uninitiated, right guard Jerry Kramer essentially accounts in his diary what turns out to be the Green Bay Packers’ historic 1967 season culminating with the legendary “Ice Bowl”. The book is blissfully out of touch with the modern NFL insomuch as the events portrayed are relatively scandal free and that discussion of paychecks, (small ones, incidentally) are secondary to the collective desire to perform well and win. In football circles (read: everyone except me and 27 other U.S. born citizens), the book is regarded as a bit of a playbook classic. Reading it, it’s easy to understand why that is.

Lastly, this one by Douglas Rushkoff concerns the positive and negative ways in which the internet affects both human behavior and human happiness. If one were planning to double-fist books like this, this one would make for an excellent dance partner. Done for the fine people at Soft Skull Press.

And that’s it for now. Much more on the way. Everything above represents a sliver of my summer, so I need to get outside for a minute before the weather turns cold.

Comparisons-in-Chief

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Art direction by Kelly Doe

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A new cover piece for the Week In Review is above, questioning the utility of comparing Barack Obama to any number of previous presidents. Going clockwise from the top left we have:

1. JFK

2. George H.W. Bush

3. Jimmy Carter in his library

4. LBJ

5. Some guy named Abe

6. Barry himself.

When I began, this looked like variations on a freakish, chimera-like monster—which is not to say that the final version didn’t turn out that way either—however Kelly served as an invaluable coach encouraging me to scale back and minimize the ancillary details in order to preserve the image’s natural chaos without obscuring its primary intent.

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(Early rough drafts)

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…and another one.

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Art direction by Josh Cochran

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Another Op/Ed for this week—this one on the balancing act between raising taxes and generating government revenue.

For a person who spends an (un)healthy amount of time behind a desk, it feels as though I’ve spent the past few weeks running very, very fast.
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Times Roundup

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Art direction by Nicholas Blechman
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Two for the Times were done this past week. The first (above) for the Book Review is an illustration paired with a critical account of the new tome about the history of Goldman Sachs and how they have miraculously, (or more accurately), suspiciously survived and emerged still resilient through the current economic crisis.

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Art direction by Aviva Michaelov

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This second one was done for an op/ed calling upon Obama to honor members of the military and government who have stood up to policies permitting torture. The authors posit that since Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet, having both tacitly approved of enhanced interrogation techniques, have both been awarded honors by the previous president and that Obama should stand to honor the opposing voices. Aviva provided me the rare luxury of sending me the article a short while before midnight the evening before the illustration was due, so I had all night to pull my hair out trying to figure out how to solve the problem. The extra time, in this case, truly was a gift.

Also, for those who are deathly curious: ‘Lux Veritatis’ = ‘Light of Truth.’
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Spidey’s Second Act

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Art direction by Kelly Doe

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At this point, it’s difficult to feel anything but pity for the creative forces behind the Spider-Man musical. My relative ambivalence towards Bono, U2 and musicals aside, wrangling a struggling creative endeavor with so many working parts, with so much money already spent, while under near constant public scrutiny looks like a  perfectly awful experience. Solving problems of any kind is an often ugly-looking, graceless process by virtue of the fact that failure is an essential component needed to help discover the thing that does actually, truly work. Having the privacy to indulge in those failures is just as essential if, unlike Bono, you’re an ordinary human being for whom concentration requires effort.

The Spider-Man musical has had no such luxury as of late. Since the poorly reviewed previews have begun, they’ve had the added task of doing public damage control to combat the already negative perceptions of their show which hasn’t yet properly opened. The latest maneuver of which was dismissing Julie Taymor, their original, hand-picked director, in order to publicly demonstrate that steps are being taken to refine and improve the show.

Writing for the NYT Week In Review this weekend, Patrick Healy links Taymor’s firing with other openly political gestures such as the firing of a campaign manager in mid-presidential campaign as both John Kerry and Hillary Clinton did during their failed presidential bids in 2004 and 2008. I worked with Kelly Doe on the illustration accompanying the article.

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Unlike the beleaguered musical, I had the luxuries of working on this image in relative peace, in my home, in the dead of night without interruption or anyone tapping me on the shoulder to tell me what they thought of my preliminary sketches. This was key as the final image was arrived at after all kinds of failure photographing buttons at night without decent light and grasping blindly for visual cues for an article which, at that point, had not yet been fully written. Not only that, but it had to happen quickly, so I only had to live with the hovering specter of failure for about 24 hours. All of the other trials (and errors) are below.

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