Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seized: Kidnapping Illustration

"Siezed" illustration by Graham Smith

Seized: Inside the Brutal World of America's Kidnapping Capital

Art Director Peter Storch called with an assignment to illustrate a story for the Phoenix New Times about immigration horror stories occurring throughout the American Southwest - brutal stories about human trafficking by men called "coyotes" and their victims, known as "pollos". 

"A man with wavy, black hair and a pale face can be seen lying on his side, a semi-automatic weapon just inches from his head. A coyote's hand is pushing down the man's head to keep him from moving. The victim's eyes are squeezed tightly shut. For a moment, he opens them — wide — and the horror is unmistakable. The gun still in his face, he squeezes his eyes shut. His lips are moving rapidly (there is no sound on the video). He opens and closes his eyes a second time. The hand that is holding down the victim's head suddenly goes up in the air, and — crack! — a fist slams into the side of the man's head, ripping the skin near his ear. Blood oozes down his temple. The video ends." Monica Alonzo

We both wanted the Phoenix New Times cover illustration to look iconic, bold and dramatic. The story by Monica Alonzo, had not been written yet by the time I got the assignment, but I had to begin sketching right away. A few of the rough pencil sketches can be seen below.

thumbnail sketches

pencil sketch

To develop the pencil sketch and figure out how a snarling coyote looks, I drew the coyote a bit larger than the finished cover would print. I wanted the pencil strokes in the sketch to be large and energetic, to match the brush strokes I intended to use for the final inking. So, I busted out a giant 6b woodless graphite pencil. I could draw vigorously with that and cover a lot of ground at the same time.

Using a #8 brush on Strathmore 90 lb paper,  I inked the coyote twice, slightly differently each time, and layered the colors in Photoshop to achieve movement and depth in the coyotes fur.

Since the story was set to run at the end of July, in Phoenix, Arizona, I decided to make the background color saturated yellow and orange - the color of Phoenix's searing desert heat. I often hinge the colors in an illustration to the season in which they appear.

I finished the illustration off and sent it to Phoenix.

"Siezed" color proof, pencil sketch and original inking - Graham Smith Illustration

"Siezed" by Graham Smith Illustration

A Judge put an injunction on Arizona's controversial new the immigration law, SB 1070, the day before the Coyote Kidnapping story was set to print. The story and cover illustration got bumped to mid August.

During that time, the L.A. Weekly, Denver Westword, the Dallas Observer and a few other magazines decided they may pick the story up too. I just got word from Art Director Andrew Nilsen, that "Siezed" will be picked up by the SF Weekly and printed this week, too.

However, some of the magazines are newsprint, and couldn't print the saturated yellows and oranges that the glossies can. They wanted to know, could I change the background color to meet the printing specs of the added cities?

Together, Art Director Peter Storch and I knocked together a few new color backgrounds and submitted them to the Art Directors at each of the respective magazines for their last minute input.

On print day, the L.A. Weekly ran the black and white version on the cover, and the black version ran on covers in Phoenix, Denver, Dallas and San Francisco. The original version is the orange one, above.

Seized: Phoenix New Times. Design: AD Peter Storch, LA Weekly. Design: AD Jason Jones. Illustration: Graham Smith

SF Weekly Art Director: Andrew Nilsen, illustration: Graham Smith

LA Weekly "Seized" interior illustration: Graham Smith

"Seized": illustration (detail) as printed on newsprint.

This illustration "Seized" an Award. Read more here.
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