Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays from illustrator Steven Salerno

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Especially to all my clients, and anyone else who happens to stumble upon my illustration blog... have a terrific holiday season!  Let's all make 2011 a healthy and happy and prosperous new year.  -Steve   

Monday, December 6, 2010

Planes, Trains, and Especially Automobiles

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Who loves their cars and car culture more than southern Californians? No one... and Westways (the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California) has been around for over 100 years to prove it. In 1928 the magazine first began commissioning California artists to create striking paintings for their magazine covers. -click this link to read about the unique history of their art covers.  

And in my particular case today, as an illustrator working on the opposite coast, the next best thing to getting a cover art commission from Westways, is working with the magazine's art director Eric Van Eyke on the their Drive Smart and Travel Smart columns nearly every month, creating fun little spot illustrations covering a wide range of topics involving cars and travel. From tips on buying a new car to finding the best weekend getaway, to traveling abroad, and everything inbetween. 

Eric has been working in the design/publishing industry for over 16 years. The last 11 of those years have been at the Auto Club of Southern California as Art Director and Creative Director for Westways, the member publication. 

"Steven's artwork is always first class. I can provide only a manuscript and get back quality concepts time after time. When I do provide concepts, he is able to take those ideas to the next level and put his own spin on it. It's always a pleasure collaborating with Steven, his sensitivity to deadlines and quality of work are always of the highest caliber." -Eric Van Eyke 

-and I didn't even have to pay Eric a penny to say such nice things about my illustration work! 

I have been working with art directors for nearly thirty years, and the indicators that you are working with a very good one is that they are organized, succinct in their communications, and they trust you to do your thing, but also understand your style and point of view so well that if you might sometimes struggle a bit to get a handle during the sketch stage, they can suggest an idea or angle, and it fits well with your thinking anyway. In other words they help get the best out of you because they understand your approach. Eric easily has all these qualities so working with him always feels seamless. 

Gee, maybe with all these assignments involving cars it will finally prompt me to actually buy a car for my life here in Manhattan! (don't anyone hold their breath!)

Posted here are just a handful of the spot illustrations I have created for Westways over the past couple years...
visit to view all his illustration portfolios

visit to view all his illustration portfolios

visit to view all his illustration portfolios

visit to view all his illustration portfolios

visit to view all his illustration portfolios

visit to view all his illustration portfolios

visit to view all his illustration portfolios

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pequot Library Children's Picture Book Festival

This weekend I attended the Pequot Library's first Picture Book Festival (in Southport, Connecticut) as one of the 14 invited children's picture book authors and illustrators, there to autograph books, and entertain the parents and children with readings and presentations. 

Steven Salerno signs his latest book, Pantaloon. It's the remake of the 1951 Golden Books classic, this version with all new illustrations by Steven. (Publisher: Random House Children's Books 2010)

Steven Salerno talking about his book Harry Hungry! (Publisher: Harcourt 2009)

author/illustrator Tad Hills signing his book
author Jennifer Berne signing her book
author/illustrator Brian Floca signs his book Moonshot
author/illustrator Tad Hills signing his books
author/illustrator Melissa Sweet
14 Award-winning Authors & Illustrators including the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, Winners of the National Book Award, the Caldecott Honor Medal, the E.B. White Award, and more!

The participating authors and illustrators were:
Keith Bendis
Peter Brown
Brian Floca
Calef Brown
Tad Hills
Jennifer Berne
Mary Ann Hoberman
Patricia Hubbell
David Johnson
Barbara McClintock
Marc Tyler Nobleman
Bob Shea
Steven Salerno
Melissa Sweet

Susan Hood, the event organizer, had invited me to participate. We first worked together a handful of years ago when she was an editor at Nickelodeon's NICK JR magazine. As you can see from the above feature title pulled from the event program, there were some prominent artists and writers highlighting the roster of talent. I personally like the picture books of Calef Brown, so it was nice to be able to finally meet him and talk a bit. The sale of the autographed books, as well as some original picture book artworks, were to benefit the Pequot Library. 

From the Fairfield Patch:
Pequot Library's Children's Picture Book Festival on Sunday was a meeting of a mutual admiration society, as celebrated authors and illustrators met some of their most devoted fans in person. Fourteen bright stars in the firmament of children's contemporary picture books descended on the library about 11 a.m. They came to read their stories, draw, autograph their books, share their poetry, answer questions and stimulate the imaginations of dozens of young readers and soon-to-be-readers.To the 4- and 5-year old set, they might have been rock stars. 
You can read the full article from the Fairfield Patch here...    

Monday, November 8, 2010

Character designs for animation project... (maybe)

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See all my portfolio samples at
This project is currently being pitched to an animation company's corporate client. So, for the moment I will hold off on naming names... 

An NYC animation company recently stumbled across my illustration web site and one of the directors really liked my samples shown in the "simply done" section of my site... He called to explain they were creating a presentation to a client for the possibility of obtaining the project of several short animated segments involving the client's product/services promotions, and they needed a specific "look." The director thought my illustration style fit the look they needed. Based on his direction, and on a very short deadline, I provided several "key frame" illustration scenes involving a main character and many peripheral characters.... Posted here are a handful of the specific character types I created. These are considered sketches, though the final images will also be just simple black line and one wash of color as well... so these sketches look quite close to what the "final" art will look like. These sketches were created using just a black marker and black gouache with brush, then scanned and the color added digitally in Photoshop

So, now it is just wait and see if the client hires the animation company to produce the animated segments, and in turn I will be additionally engaged by the animation company to fine tune the character designs, involvement in the story boarding phase, and to create key action scene images etc...  I am busy with other children's book projects, but this potential animation character design project seems like a fun one, so if it becomes a reality, it would be fun to take some time to away from my current projects to work on it with the producer and the animation company.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The New Tinker Bell (sort of...)

If you have read any of my earlier posts, you know that I enjoy doodling in general, but sometimes I get on tangents where I doodle characters as if I'm designing new creatures for a sci-fi film project, all just for my own entertainment. Click here to visit the new portfolio section on my illustration web site named other world sketches... which is a showcase for some of the "alien'" characters I have created. 

Usually I doodle while on the phone or watching TV. (I think doing something else at the same time you doodle helps to make the images freer and less inhibited, therefore more imaginative... a kind of brain auto-pilot mode.) Using a ball point pen (so no erasing or correcting can slow you down or halt the momentum) I just make a line, usually of some aspect of a face, like the ridge of a nose, or the profile line suggesting a head, and then just wing it, allowing each progressive mark suggesting the next move. But within the first handful of lines, one cannot help to have an opinion about what just materialized on the paper, so then you begin consciously directing and shaping the image with a loose goal in mind.

In the case of this image I drew her face, and few long stands flowing back from the side of her head, and it suggested a "fairy" to me.... so I purposely pushed the image, making her a kind of fairy-nymph, part woman, part insect... maybe the counterpart to Tinker Bell, but on another planet. I placed the character on a leaf for scale, suggesting she is just a handful of inches tall, and made her appear as if she is mysteriously levitating a small egg-like orb in front of her. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

What Do Witches Wear?

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Well... one must assume witches also want to look their very best when attending a Halloween Ball. So, a witch will fork over the big bucks and wear something special, no doubt from her favorite Halloween designer: Diane von Frankenberg, Alexander McScream, Calvin Crime, or maybe Jean Paul Guillotine.

This little painting of a witch I did a while ago was a sample image for a children's book project that never saw the light of day. It  was done in inks, gouache and pastel. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Even Clowns Get Depressed... who knew?

I recently launched my updated web site look, and in so doing dropped some older sample images out and added in some never seen before samples.

The image posted above is of a book cover design employing my simple ink drawing of a depressed circus clown sitting on the edge of the Big Top circus ring. It really is nothing more than a minimal pen doodle with a couple dots of pink watercolor on the cheeks. (I cannot find the info on which publishing client it was originally created for) I remember it was a final stage comp using my art, but the project was terminated because it was decided in the final hour that the title was not going to be published... So, I am sure the author of circus blues became quite blue, too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recession Drawings #34 & #35 (...And the Beating Goes On)

Hmmmm...Did VP Joe Biden say: "The Summer of Recovery" a short while back? Was he talking about this summer? Maybe he meant to say: "The Summer of Drudgery?" or possibly, "A Bummer of a Recovery?"

I was just wondering, because things are slow all over and getting slower... housing sales and prices continue to drop. Construction is down. New jobs are not materializing, salaries are stagnant, etc... Some summer. Gee, maybe the "Fall of Fabulousness" is next!

So, I came up with the doodle of the globe as a snail, barely chugging along through the summer of recovery. Also an image of a red chair with a shadow of four legs, but the chair has one leg missing. -a loose concept suggesting stability is not what it used to be, and we are trying to perceive that things are as they used to be before. In other words, 4 is the new 3. Click here to see some previous "recession" doodles. And here...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Web Site Has a New Look -check out

from "vector/characters" portfolio
from "the good life" portfolio section
view of the home page
detail from site background and logo

If you have not been to my main illustration web site, in a while, take a look... you'll notice a big change. It seems every four years I really want to make a significant renovation to my sites, and I usually do, developing the design myself and hiring a designer/programmer to implement the site. This time it took about six years though before I got around to it!

And it was not a renovation but a complete change: I switched over to a design/hosting company,, and this time I did not create a new site design per se, but worked within a customization of one of their multitude of template variations.This site conveniently has an internal editing administration feature so I can simple drag & drop in new items, take old images out, rename portfolios, modify image descriptions and menu words, etc... all in a blink. Very convenient for a non-code writing guy who is simply too busy making images all the time. (I had used to develop my golf art prints web site, -which is how I came to decide to also use them for my illustration web site as well. 

This new site design is very simple, less bells & whistles compared to my previous all-flash site... but it gets the job done of simply displaying my illustration samples quite nicely.

Quick, What Color is the Elephant? (answer below)

A: The elephant is blue. 

A while ago I had completed another project for Mudpuppy, the terrific-stuff-for-kids web site, for everything from books to puzzles, games, and more. The project I worked with them on was a First Puzzle item, and then this most recent project was Flash Cards for helping tots learn colors and shapes.

I finally received my complimentary shipment of the designed, boxed product... and as usual with Mudpuppy, it looks great. See an earlier post about this same project here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mathlete or Maestro? Pick Your (Brain) Side!

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Recently I worked with art director Chuck Beard of Pittsburgh Magazine on a spread image for an article about which side a person's core personality is wired, the right-side or left-side of the brain. This specific article is a guide to the various majors offered by colleges and universities ...and where these areas of study fall within the brain-side spectrum.

With this illustration I moved a bit away from my usual whimsy-based style... mostly because of the manner I rendered the large head in the image, which is more traditionally structured in an academic sense, plus because of the photographic-based little icons seen within the brain halves. Mixing photographic elements within my illustration is a tact I never use, but it seemed called for here because of the quasi-serious nature of the article, so I just went with it. I posted the basic image without the icons (bottom) and the full version with the icons and other graphic elements I created in position, which is how the art director used it in his page design (top).

The image was created with black (and white) gouache and brush on a gray paper, then all the color and various little graphic elements were created in Photoshop in layers. All the icons with the brain are object photo vignettes also enhanced within Photoshop.

I guess for all those who are left AND right brained equally combined in one personality, they would have to enter through the mouth in this illustration!

Move Over Mr. Clean

See all my portfolio samples at                                                                                   
I have completed a couple of projects for a certain client, who was also testing out the possibility of a new business venture, and hired me to play around with a new logo concept for it.

The character I created was, of course, derived from the name of the animal in the company name, OX... so it was just a matter of executing it in a graphic manner that seemed to match the tone that was expressed to me by the client. I was looking to be very simple yet provide enough detail in the line expression to give the character some life and animation. In fact, the logo will animate if the project sees the light of day... shaking his horns, stomping the ground with his hooves and snorting steam!

Since there is not yet any font treatment associated with the new business logo, for the purposes of placing my art, I also created the dummy type treatment seen here, so the art could begin to mesh with the logo in total... though my vision of the font's look is just temporary.

This image was created in Adobe Illustrator (vector-based) and just a matter of drawing the black line defining the ox character, then filling in a simple color wash. It seems the client liked the red version, but I prefer the blue version as I feel it better relates to the "steam" aspect within the service.
Who knows, maybe someday we'll all see this tough little ox being promoted on TV.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Want a BIG apartment in Manhattan? (bring your Brinks truck)

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I created a large 1/2 page illustration for the cover page of the New York Times Sunday Real Estate section (6/27/10 issue date) ... depicting a baby in a buggy, and along the side of the buggy is a blueprint floor plan of a large 4 bedroom apartment. 

(see top image of the printed newspaper page. Below that is the final illustration art as submitted to the art director.... and the bottom image is a shot of the piece in progress on my drawing table. The line drawing of the baby and the buggy and the little characters at the bottom were done with brush and black gouache on watercolor paper. The interior blue color of the buggy was also gouache and painted separately, then layered in with Photoshop. The background light blue building shapes were also created in Photoshop, as well and the white lines of the apartment diagram on the side of the buggy.) 

The article comments on the fact that in recent years there's been a surge of 3 to 7 bedroom apartments making their way into the domain marketplace, to keep up with the growing demand for large apartments from the people with children and who no longer want to relocate to the suburbs once their family size calls for more space. I gave the baby a pleased countenance, no doubt from having a very big apartment to romp around in... Maybe I should have also placed a silver spoon in the baby's mouth, as 3 to 7 bedroom apartments range from $2.5 million to $7 million (and up!) Can you say, "Holy Foyer, Batman!?"

I had worked with the Real Estate section art director, Carol Dietz, years ago, but in a different section of the newspaper... I am so glad she called me for this fun assignment. I had not worked for the NYTimes in quite awhile, so it's "good to be back"...

I first began creating drawings for The New York Times back in 1980 (yes, before fax machines, before personal computers, before e-mail...) back in the days when the art director paraphrased the assignment's article to you over the phone so you could get started on the sketch stage. Then you actually went to their office at the (old) Times Building in Times Square on West 45th Street, was screened through security, and first showed your sketch to the art director who then disappeared for a while to show the sketch to the editors... Then the same process was repeated again when you came back a day or two later delivering the completed final art, and handing it over so they could make a photostat of it and paste a B&W print of the art onto the layout mechanical... yes, with glue! When I look back on it, I now realize why I could eat countless cheeseburgers and pizza and never gain an ounce over 135 lbs.... because I was running all over the city delivering sketches and final art every day of the week!

In 1980 I was a skinny kid just out of art school one year, a graduate of Parsons School of Design in NYC, where I had studied under J.C. Suares. J.C. (who had previously been the NYTimes Op Ed page art director and was currently the AD at New York Magazine) gave me my first illustration assignments at New York Magazine the week after I graduated from design school. He then also introduced me to Jerelle Kraus who was the reigning AD of the Op Ed page. She liked my work and I somehow managed to regularly contribute drawings to the Op Ed page and Letters to the Editor page from 1980 through about 1985. A couple years ago in 2008, Jerelle released her book, "All the Art That's Fit to Print, And Some That Wasn't" recounting her many years as the Op Ed page art director, including all the run-ins with the editors, as well as showcasing many of the artists who contributed to the page... including the likes of Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers, Brad Holland, etc... and me! (see my previous post on Jerelle's book) 

During those early years and in subsequent years I created drawings for the Op Ed page, but also created illustrations appearing in many of the NY Times other sections, too. The Book Review, Business page, Sunday Magazine, etc... but by the end of the 1990's I was only doing maybe one illustration a year for the NYTimes. From about 2000 through 2007 my major newspaper client was The Wall Street Journal, as I was the regular illustrator for their Finicky Traveler column. 

For the past few years I have been busy with my usual projects in advertising, children's books, magazines, packaging, and some animation character imaging for the web, etc... but have not really had a consistent gig with a major newspaper... so this recent New York Times Sunday Real Estate project hopefully will begin a renewed contact with the newspaper again! I am looking forward to the possibility.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Eccentric is the New Normal -PANTALOON is back!

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Posted above is one of the illustrated scenes from my latest children's book, PANTALOON, just released by Random publishing house in April of this year. (see earlier posts about this picture book by clicking here and here) 

This is the full view of the actual gouache painting (Winsor & Newton designer gouache on Arches 260 lb hot press paper)... in the final printed book the image is cropped slightly as the image bleeds off the page spread on all sides. Pantaloon, the main character of the story, is an obsessed, antsy, quirky, poodle bent on becoming a baker's assistant just so he can get close to all the pastries and sweets he adores. In this scene he's in the tub, wearing all his favorite hats, lamenting on his failed attempts at becoming the baker's new assistant. Pantaloon is a Kathryn Jackson story, and first published in 1951 as a Simon & Schuster Little Golden Book classic, with wonderful illustrations by Leonard Weisgard. 

The remake of the 2010 book called for all new illustrations, and I had the terrific honor of being able to give my stylistic visual spin on the story ... Look for it in the bookstores!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Product Packaging Portraits

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A while ago (last year?) I worked on a fun annual report project with BCN Communications in Chicago, with art director Rob Mileham. It was a preliminary test stage for their client Pepsico's Annual Report. The agency was exploring different options for the visual images to be used... and I was chosen for the illustrative approach. 

My task was creating still life graphics of some of the well known consumer products under the Pepsico umbrella of companies. The art images were taking the tact of a "hand-drawn" look with a bit of a purposeful naive feel to them (compared to the usual photographic approach). I created still life vignettes of Quaker Oats Oatmeal, Gatorade, Tropicana Orange Juice, Lays Potato Chips, and Pepsi Zero. Each image was created in Adobe Illustrator. The essence was to capture the recognizable container shape and product colors with a bit of flair...  

I had fun with these images...I always do when drawing food images, but it's too bad that my illustration approach was ultimately not selected for the final stage use for the client's annual report. This happens many times in advertising... wherein the agency will present the client a photographic approach, and a couple different illustrative approaches before deciding on the final "look" to go with. Sure, you get paid for the preliminary stage work, but it's an empty exercise, because the satisfaction is having the work seen in print, which also brings new assignments your way. Hey, you can't win them all! 

My favorite one?... the Gatorade bottle!

Monday, June 7, 2010

How Sweet it Is -The Bakery Square project

See full portfolio of illustration samples on my web site at 

I recently completed a project with Larry Fredette, Creative Director of Fredette & Associates in Pittsburgh on the advertising and other print promotions for a new commercial real estate development project named BAKERY SQUARE, near the corner of Fifth and Penn Avenues, transforming the former Nabisco factory into a mixed-use center that is quickly filling up with retailers and big-name corporations and institutions. The developer is Walnut Capital of Pittsburgh.

Posted here is the magazine print ad I recently completed employing the character of a baker as the visual anchor and tie-in with the site name. The baker is mixing the four catchy theme words of the ad copy, WORK, SHOP, PLAY, STAY. 

I also created a long horizontal graphic which was installed as a temporary "barrier art mural" at the site location... in fact this image was enlarged to a size of approximately 150 feet long by 20 feet high, the equivalent of about 2 stories high and nearly a city block long! See the architectural drawing depicting the side view of the massive renovated Nabisco factory and how my long outdoor graphic is positioned along the street level. The other images posted are details of this giant graphic image which has four themed panels engaging the four theme words: work, shop, play, stay.

I created the magazine ad image in Photoshop, but the long horizontal image was created in Adobe Illustrator (vector based imaging) at a proportional 20" tall x 150" wide, - which enabled it to then be scaled up by the design team to its final giant size without any loss of crisp edges and detail. At the bottom are the lamp post banners which were created pulling elements from the barrier mural art, and re-formatting them to fit the vertical composition. 

If you are in Pittsburgh, visit the site and send me some pix!