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UMagazinology inbox

Some recently published well-wrought pieces deserve your attention. Melanie Wang, a senior at Harvard, penned “Learning Space,” for Harvard Magazine‘s recurring column “The Undergraduate.” She begins in promising fashion:

I maintain that the foremost reward for returning to Harvard as a senior is to walk through campus knowing where the trashcans are. Forget theses and job searches and the social petri dish. It’s the small victories that are strongest. Being able to absentmindedly deposit an apple core or a muffin wrapper during the half-jog to morning lecture—this is a peculiar, important kind of wisdom.

 Then she follows through with a wry, seasoned essay that is unflaggingly charming. I have flipped it into the UMag flipmag.

warholAnother nicely turned personal essay arrived in Monmouth University Magazine. It’s by Jon Warhol and yes, he’s one of those Warhols—Andy’s great-nephew. Young Jon has a bemused take on his famous relation and what it means to have him in the family tree.

“Are you really related?” Yes. “Have you ever met him?” No. He died in 1987; I was born in 1991.

“Do you have any of his paintings?” No.

“You kinda look like him.” If you say so.

“That’s cool that you are related.” I guess.

My name is Jon Warhol, and the American pop art icon Andy Warhol is my great-uncle. For most of my life I didn’t have an understanding of Andy’s importance, or the origins of the Warhol family. It wasn’t until recently when I sat down with my father John and my uncle Mark that I felt an appreciation for the family name and history. To better understand Andy, and Warhols in general, you must first know the name’s origin and where our people come from.

“Warhols are unnatural. We’re not a natural thing,” my father John says.

My uncle Mark explains, “Warhol is a catch-all phrase meaning an argumentative quarrelsome person.”

wpicover-2If you’ve been following the Kickstarter funding and development of Neil Young’s Pono digital music player—ah c’mon, I can’t be the only one here who’s in mourning over Apple discontinuing the iPod classic—you will want to read Kate Silver’s “Righteous Fidelity” in the summer issue of WPI Journal from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. [The link takes you to the epub edition of the magazine. One of the drawbacks of alumni magazines posted online this way is I can’t place the stories in the flipmag.]

Speaking of that Flipboard publication, there are a few more new pieces:

— “Streams and Echoes,” Tim Page’s nice profile of composer Chou Wen-chung in the fall issue of Columbia Magazine.

— “Inside the Monkey Cage,” pertaining to political scientist John Sides, in GW Magazine from George Washington University.

— Finally, from the University of Texas’ Alcalde, there’s “Through the Unthinkable.”

And with that, ladies and gentleman, it’s past 5 pm on a Friday evening and there’s a gimlet out there with my name on it. I’ll be back soon with a post about the merits of deliberate mistakes and the value of antagonism. I know something about the latter.


Guest blogger Claude Skelton on editorial illustration

My long-time friend and Baltimore colleague Claude Skelton has written some of the most-read blog posts in UMagazinology‘s brief lifespan. Today he offers some thoughts on illustration.

A good illustration can do what a photograph can’t. For communicating difficult and abstract concepts, drawn art says more with a single image than a collection of photographs can. Illustration can be technical, serious, quirky, or silly, depending on the tone of the piece. A really good conceptual illustrator can interpret a story in ways that surprise and delight, and in the best cases, introduce a whole new spin. Take a look at these Bloomberg Businessweek covers, for example. Could a photograph demand as much immediate attention or communicate so effectively? Not likely. [Throughout the post, you can click on the images to view them larger.]

Bloomberg Businessweek cover credits: Bernanke: David Parkins (after Milton Glaser); King of Vegas Real Estate Scams: Barry Falls; Coke in Africa: Nick White; Crisis in Japan: Noma Barr; creative director: Richard Turley.

So how do you find and work with illustrators to get innovative, thoughtful results? First, familiarize yourself with the talent that’s out there. Look for great work. Don’t limit yourself to local or regional illustrators (another advantage of illustration is that artists don’t need to be on location; almost all work electronically). Use the best, most professional illustrators you can afford. Amateur or mediocre illustration reflects badly on your magazine and ultimately on your institution. Look at sites such as drawger.com, illoz.com, picturemechanics.com, or theispot.com, all of which can connect you to individual artists or artist’s reps. Another approach is to notice illustrations that grab your attention in publications you read; start a reference file with names and samples as you find art that impresses you.

As you plan a story lineup, consider illustration as part of the mix. If you’re profiling a professor or an alum, the natural default solution is to commission a photograph. An illustrated portrait, like this drawing of a disabled war veteran from Dartmouth Magazine, can add style and substance to an otherwise run-of-the-mill profile. If the work or activity of the profiled person is more to the point, illustrating that idea or topic is an effective approach. The full page image below, from Cambridge Alumni Magazine, illustrates a complex essay by a neuroscientist on movement and the brain—a far more intriguing and informative solution than a portrait of the author.

Illustration and text combine in a pop-inspired spread (above) by Design Army, Washington DC, from Kogod Now, the American University Kogod School of Business’ magazine. The article, on targeted food marketing to minority populations, is original, eye-catching, and unexpected in the context of a business school publication.

When you’re ready to choose an illustrator, think about the tone and emotion you want the story to communicate and find illustrators whose styles best fit what’s in your mind. You’ll need to be confident of the illustrator’s track record and ability to translate an idea into art. And you’ll need to sell a working concept, knowing that the illustrator will be bringing additional thinking and visual interpretation to the table.

This is a very subjective process and should never be attempted by committee. It’s a matter of trust—between publisher and editor, between editor and creative director, between creative director and artist. If approval from “above” is necessary before hiring an illustrator, you’ll be forced to justify your choice with nothing more than your idea and samples from the artist’s portfolio. It could be hard for an administrator to visualize the outcome, therefore the need for trust.

Art directors: it’s usually best to communicate a general concept and supply a draft of the story to illustrators, then wait and see what they come up with before making suggestions or over-directing. It’s your job to inspire creativity, not solve the problem. Trust your illustrator to find a solution that fits the assignment and suits his or her style. It rarely works to force a pre-conceived vision on an artist; be open to surprise and innovation and you’ll almost always get the best results.

A word on stock illustration: it is a less expensive alternative, but generally too generic to properly illustrate a feature story. Spots can liven up a news or class notes section, and stock can be a good substitute for those bland head shots that show up in faculty or alumni profiles—better to illustrate what they do (with symbol or icon) rather than what they look like (do readers care?). If stock isn’t available, original illustration can be cost effective for simple spots, drawing attention to complex, text-heavy pages (see news spread from Auburn Magazine, above).

Illustrated covers can be both challenging and satisfying. You have two big challenges: Finding the right artist for the job, and getting approval of concept, style, and budget. Then it’s working with the illustrator through sketches, revised sketches, more approvals, adjusted deadlines, and the holding of breath before the final artwork arrives. It’s the rare (and lucky) editorial staff or art director that has enough autonomy to move ahead through this process with no roadblocks. It’s the not knowing until it’s finished that can make you uneasy. What if it’s a disaster? What if readers are offended and cancel subscriptions? What if it’s just not quite what you had in mind? What if you hate it? These are the questions and fears that might keep you from taking a risk in the first place. But when that finished, original art finally appears, and your cover sings, it’s so worth it.

To illustrate my point, a few covers that sing (all very different tunes):

UMag inbox

This week’s edition of the inbox has three new issues:

Illustration by Justin Gabbard

The May/June edition of The Pennsylvania Gazette has an essay by Sara Shahriari, “Under the Hill of Riches,” that has the best deck I’ve read in a while: “Llama sacrifice, desperation, and tourism in Bolivia’s mines.” Go ahead, turn the page after coming across that. The Gazette also has full-page, four-color ads from BMW, Ford, Northern Ireland (!), Mercedes-Benz, Mass Mutual, and The Balvenie single malt, plus 18—18!!—letters to the editor. Not that we’re jealous or anything. John Prendergast is editor.

Columbia College Today for May/June weighs in at 80 pages, 12 of them devoted to the feature well, and 38 to class notes. To get 38 pages of class notes, Johns Hopkins Magazine would have to start buying them from other publications. Editor is Alex Sachare.

Last up, the Spring ’10 Arts & Sciences from Johns Hopkins, edited by Angela Paik Schaeffer. My favorite story in the feature well is Mike Field’s “Touching the Past,” a profile of Earle Havens, curator of early books and manuscripts at Hopkins’ Sheridan Libraries.