Time Out New York: Hot Seat - I created the weekly "Hot Seat" portraits for Time Out New York magazine over five and a half years. It was an enormous challenge, both artistically and professionally, to be able to turn out a piece each week, every week. I feel like my skills improved tremendously by always having to solve that week's artistic challenge. Some weeks I was very inspired, either by the subject or the idea I've come up with, other weeks, not so much.

The ones pictured here are Aaron McGruder, John Malkovich, Rob Lowe, Neil Gaiman, and Lost's Jorge Garcia, and are some of my favorites. I wanted McGruder, who does the Boondocks comic strip, to look cool and classy, so I left all the detail off his shirt but added a nice textured background.

I did the same effect for John Malkovich, but went with all blues in very harsh lighting, to give off his natural intensity and other-ness. It might still be my favorite TONY piece of all time.

Rob Lowe was going to be interviewed for a Christmas TV special he was in. I knew I wanted something tied to that, but didn't want any red or greens, or Xmas trees or holly. Once I hit upon all-blues in a snowy, wintery setting, the whole thing came together in my mind instantly. I had originally intended to add some detail to the trees, but when I saw them like this, all simple and abstract, I knew it was perfect and didn't add a thing. Despite being what I think is one of my best, the Lowe interview never came off so the piece was never run. But I like it too much to not include it here.

The Neil Gaiman portrait was one of those weeks where I got the germ of the idea--to put the author in an otherwordly, fantasy-type setting, like those frequently seen in his books--and I really went to town with it, fiddling with it and adding little details until I had it just right. It remains one of my all-time favorites, out of the hundreds(!) of Hot Seat portraits I did for the magazine.

The final one on this page, of Lost's Jorge Garcia, is also one of my favorites because I was really happy how the background came out, combined with the portrait, making for a very complete image.

If you want to see more of the Hot Seats I've done, just go to the Time Out New York page!

"Rob is a well-loved fixture of Time Out New York. Week after week, he delivers compelling images on tight deadlines. I can always depend on him to come through with quality work no matter how short the notice. Hot Seat would totally suck without him!" - Beth Levendis, Time Out New York

Margaret Cho: Revolution - After watching her concert film, I'm The One That I Want, I contacted Margaret Cho's organization, mentioning to her that I was a fan, and that I had done a portrait of her for MBA Jungle Magazine and that I had watched her movie while working on it, which was enormously fun. I was soon contacted by Margaret's manager, Karen, saying they saw my portrait, really loved it, and would I be interested in doing the illustration for a t-shirt idea they had? How much time do you think it took me to answer?

Karen had told me their idea was a goof on the famous Che Guevara image. So portraying Margaret, somewhat of an inspiration and spokesperson for the Gay and Asian communities, as some kind of guerilla leader made perfect sense.

After several attempts, we boiled the illustration down to a simple black image on a red shirt (bottom right). While the original versions did have more detail and color, using this very simple graphic to me made the shirt seem more like the Che Guevara image it was supposed to emulate in the first place--wearing this shirt tells people you're part of the Cho Revolution!

Soon after, they asked me to design the tour poster as well, not just provide the artwork. I jumped at the chance to put together a one-sheet that I felt would have a cohesive look, since I would be handling all phases of production.

I wanted to continue the idea I started--that this would look like a recruitment poster to join the Cho Army. I wrote out the word "Revolution" in marker, holding it in my fist, like a kid holding his first crayon. I scribbled the word "Revolution" over and over again, not concerning myself with how neat the letters looked--I knew if I tried too hard, it would look stiff and forced. After several tries, I settled on the one I liked, scanned it in, and put it together with the rest of the poster (I later added the "Margaret Cho Live" using the same approach).

The piece eventually was used in every form of merchandising and advertising for the tour--print magazine/newspaper ads, internet animated banners, backstage passes, promotional stickers, and it was even projected onto the screen before each show! Before Margaret came to Philadephia for the April 24 show, I was contacted by the Courier-Post newspaper, and was briefly interviewed regarding my work for Margaret. I got my own little column within the article, with the piece pictured, as well.

The piece was again repurposed as the cover for an audio-CD of the show, and the final stage of this project was the design for the DVD sleeve of the Revolution concert movie. My artwork is featured on the DVD menu, as well, and can be seen a bunch of times in movie itself! Where's my SAG card?

"I LOVE the illustration you did for Margaret Cho. Not only is the T-shirt selling off the site but, everyone associated with the new tour wants to figure out a way to use the illustration for the poster. We asked you to do an illustration of Margaret that suggests the famous image of Che Guevara. To say you nailed it is an understatement. Thanks so much for your great work. We will owe a portion of Margaret's success in the upcoming year to your artistry." - Karen Taussig, Cho/Taussing Productions

Vibe magazine May 2007- It's very rewarding when I continue to get calls from art directors who have changed their places of employ, and that's the case here. A former a.d. I worked with at MBA Jungle magazine had since moved over to Vibe magazine, and he called me to do a portrait of musician/producer Timbaland (top).

He didn't have any instructions other than it be a really cool portrait to accompany any article about some CD of his. I've been experimenting lately with more varied color combinations and I really liked the purple/orange combo to give a funky, in-the-middle-of-the-night kinda feel. Not being funky myself, I was sort of flying blind, but I thought it came out pretty well, and Vibe agreed.

Unfortunately, there was some problem with the article, so the piece got scrapped and got replaced with an article on musician/actor Redman, so I had to do all the same things except with some else as the subject.

I decided not to mix the purple and orange on the face, since this time it looked odd to me. Since there was a lot less of the lightest tone on Redman, just having that little bit of orange looked really odd so I ditched it.

After taking another look at the piece, when there was just a head and arm in the darkness, I decided I wanted to add some sort of texture to the shirt, so I just drew a whole bunch of squiggly lines which had that kind of yes, funky, feel that I had wanted from the beginning. I faded them a bit to help the face and arm pop out, and I think I'm just as happy--if not more--with this one as I am the Timbaland one. The Vibe a.d. liked it just as much, as well. So that was set to go.

Then, at at the last minute, the Timbaland thing fell back into place, so it ran, and it's the Redman one that got scrapped. See what goes into making a magazine?

Vibe magazine - June 2007 - This was a huge, eight-illustration project I did for Vibe magazine's June 2007 issue. This time, the a.d. asked me to do something a little more ambitious--eight illustrations that would be the center point for a collage of events happening in a particular city.

I think my favorites are the portraits of "Pitbull" (#5) and T.I. (#7), since I really like all the bright whites and clean, open space they have. Having so many to do I really got to try as many different things as possible and see what worked and what didn't.

Doing stuff for Vibe is always a lot of fun because they have very few limitations on how these portraits should look--I can use any crazy combination of colors I'd like, and for this project in particular I was able to make them all slightly different--different colors, different angles, some close-up, some far away--it was a blast.

Vibe magazine - July 2007 - Right after finshing the above project, Vibe asked me to do this piece for the following issue. They wanted a slightly poster-ish feeling for this portrait of musician/producer DJ Drama, and I was free to integrate their column heading ("Volume: Mastering the...") into the piece, which was cool.

I put a half-tone pattern in the background(hard to make out here) to give it that slightly cheaply-printed, basic-color feel to it. I had to reduce DJ a bit to fit in the text, and it took a couple of versions to nail it down. But the final one I came up with really pleased me, and I think it's probably the best piece I've done for Vibe so far.


Forbes 10.16.06 "Google" - I'm always happy to do another piece for Forbes. They're fun and easy to work for, and they're always enthusiastic with what I come up with. This assignment was pretty straightforward--four portraits of some of the top guys at Google. The headshots would be printed very small--only about 1" high each--so I knew I wanted to keep the colors fairly monochromatic.

I figured they'd look really cool when put all together and at such a small scale and after I did the first one to show the magazine, they agreed. The other three came off without a hitch and they all appeared in the 10/16/2006 issue of the magazine.

2.13.06 "The Midas List" - Another assignment from Forbes magazine! Like the Business of Hockey piece, all my illustrations were put together in a multi-page pull-out article.

This was a list of big-time tech dealmakers, and like any of the many similar jobs I've done, the main challenge is to make what can be fairly dull photo reference into exciting, visually dynamic portraits.

I did these all at the same size, since the magazine didn't know at the time how the layout would be done. But the varying sizes give the pieces even more punch, making what could be a fairly dry text piece into something with real punch. Looking forward to doing more work for Forbes!

To see other assignments I've for Forbes, please check out the Magazines and Sports pages.


Popular Science - These are my favorite examples from a series of portraits I did for Popular Science magazine. They asked me if I was interested in doing their "Headlines From the Future" column, profiling someone working in a field that will affect us---in the future!!

The first was Carlo Montemagno, whose been working on "muscle bots", which will be used to repair tiny punctures on a Mars-bound spaceship, who'll use sugar converted by sunlight into fuel. How friggin' cool is this?

The final pieces are printed very small, only about 1.6" high, so I didn't have a lot of room to get fancy with the background. I made a nice, visually-pleasing oval shape, giving (to me) a vague, science-y feel of a bunch of tiny robots marching lockstep, doing their duty. I liked it, PopSci liked it, we moved on to the next issue.

In early '06 the Headlines From the Future column ended as a monthly feature. PopSci was one of my first big-time regular gigs and it was always a thrill to be able to go to nearly any newsstand or bookstore and know there's at least one magazine with my work in it. The subjects, while fairly routine visually, were always interesting in the work they were doing (nano technology, advances in voting, deep space exploration), and I'm glad I got a little more exposure to that world through my association with the magazine. PopSci was also the first magazine to do a profile of me as a contributor (bottom), which was way cool.

To see other illustrations I did for Popular Science, check out the Magazines page!


POZ magazine - I've done a number of projects for POZ magazine, a publication about people living (and even thriving) with HIV. First is a series of portraits for "Think Positive", a special supplement to the magazine. The portraits were used on the cover and throughout the inside pages.

Next to that are three examples of another article called "10 Black Leaders", about leaders in the black community on HIV awareness.


Liam Sullivan - Kelly "omg shoes" - This was a logo I designed for the comedian Liam Sullivan, who has a character he sometimes portrays named Kelly, who stars in a music/comedy video called "Shoes." Liam is represented by some of the same people who rep Margaret Cho, so they had previously worked with me and were happy with the work I did(they told me the t-shirt I did is still Margaret's best-selling shirt, even though she's done multiple tours since then).

Liam had a definite idea of what he wanted, and it was just a matter of refining what he sent me, finding a good font for the "omg shoes" tagline, where to place it, etc. Fortunately, it all came together very quickly--Liam and the reps liked everything I did and it was just a matter of selecting fonts, and even that didn't take too long.

So now that Liam has it, it's going to be on t-shirts and maybe even his upcoming CD, which will be a real blast to see!

(rollover to see the alternate "Kelly" version)


A Bob For All Seasons - I like to check in with Bob every couple of years. With the release of his first new album in five years, Modern Times (#1 on the Billboard chart, thank you very much), it seemed like a good time to try another Bob portrait.

Since he's never tried very hard to make himself look pretty, I felt free to highlight every wrinkle and crese in his face. I even added some outlines around each block of color, which I thought gave the piece a nice effect. And while he does have that trademark Dylan scowl, the colors are nice and soft and match his baby blues. Even with one eye, you feel like he's seeing right through you (in a nice way).

When I look back at these (the other ones are Bob from 1995 and 2004), I'm really happy with how much better they're getting--more complex, more colorful (duh), more evocative.

Someday, someday, I really need to get hired by Bob's organization to do something official for him. Until then...


2001 Grammy Awards - I bought Brad Pasiley's CD, Who Needs Pictures, to get a sense of what kind of country music this guy was making; and it sounded to me that Brad was squarely in the classic, Grand Ole Opry tradition (in fact, Brad was later "inducted" into the Opry), and I wanted to give off that simple, down-home, old-fashioned kind of feel. To that end I also did the piece with cut-paper, not digitally, to give it more of that homemade feel.

By putting him in the thick circle, I was sort of "presenting" him to the audience, since he was up for a Grammy as Best New Artist, I thought it was fair to assume most people hadn't heard of him. I partly took the idea from old issues of Justice League of America, where the various heroes taking part in that issue's adventure got little head shots on the opening page of the story.

This page is from that year's Grammy Program Book, and the piece also appeared on the Grammy website created for the event.


2002 Latin Grammy Awards - Having seen my work in the 2001 Grammy Awards Program Book, I was tapped to do an illustration for the 2002 Latin Grammy Awards. Again, I was given someone who I had not heard of before.

I liked both of my intial ideas--to do a close-up, or to a profile of Carlos Vives in an always dynamic pose--playing a guitar. I decided to combine them, mixing my black and white and full-color approaches. I spent quite a while figuring out where the head shot would properly orbit the full-body one. I decided the picture should go off in two directions, that way he was bound to be facing the direction of the page's text (that would be added later, without my input) no matter how it was laid out.

I was thoroughly happy with how it came out, as were the Grammy people--and hopefully, if he's seen it, Carlos Vives himself.

"Rob did a tremendous job of bringing Carlos Vives to life for our Latin Grammy program. His illustration captured the feeling of Vives' music as well as his compelling presence and image." - David Konjoyan, Publications Director, The Recording Academy

Lou Rawls 1931-2006 - Ok, typically, Lou Rawls would not be someone you'd think to find an illustrated tribute to on this site. But...

When I was a little kid up until my late teen years, my parents and I would take a vacation every August to the Poconos. We rented the same cabin every year, and we grew to feel like it was ours. I celebrated every birthday up until about my 19th there, and I retain nothing but warm memories of those trips. The drive itself took about four hours, and even though I had my face buried in a pile o' comics (ibid) I set aside just for the trip, I did catch whatever music was on the radio at the time. And that radio was AM.

My parents' taste ran more towards an older generation's music than most kids my age. So instead of growing up hearing the Stones, Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd, I heard Englebert Humperdinck, Tom Jones...and Lou Rawls. Mr.Rawls' biggest hit "You'll Never a Find Another Love Like Mine" was a massive one, and I must have heard it a million times during that two-week radio blitz every August.

So, years passed of course, and I forgot all about it. For one reason or another, I'd hear the song in some context or something, and tell myself that I liked that one song of his ironically--"oh, it's so square it's cool" or some crap like that. But as I got a little older and stopped caring (as much) what other people thought of my tastes, I came to realize, no, I actually just like the song. It's a good--no, great song. And Mr.Rawls made it work with his smooth, gentle, yet powerful voice. While I never became a fan or anything, I belatedly developed a respect for the man and his work.

So when he passed away, I felt genuinely sad to hear it. Not only was he a great talent, but he spent a lot of time and money supporting the Negro College Fund, as well as other charities. He used his celebrity to help other people, and what more could anyone ask?

So I wanted to do something to pay tribute to the man, and I immediately came up with the concept--a loose, free-form poster-ish ad for Lou in concert, stylistically from his heydey of the mid 60s to the late 70s. I do most of my work in very pre-set shapes (as you can see from almost every other piece on this site), but I wanted to have this be even looser and funky. I did the portrait early on and then waited, always keeping the file on the dock of my Mac, waiting until inspiration hit. It finally did, and a few hours of very enjoyable trial and error later, I had it all together. Tracy, looking over my shoulder, said "that looks nice" which is usually the moment I know I've come up with something good.

I didn't like obscuring any of my spiffy design with the "Sold Out" banner, but I thought Lou deserved one last packed house.

MBA Jungle magazine -I did a number of different pieces for MBA Jungle magazine over 2002-2003; here are four full-pafe feature illustrations I did during that time, plus some celebrity portraits that were part of a regular column.

The pieces on the right were both done for the March-April 2003 all-music issue; the first was an interview with techo-artist Moby. The second was more conceptual--it was an article on how to "save" the music industry. The top left was for an interview with Lanny Davis, and the bottom left was one of a semi-regular feature I illustrated called "Recruiter Recon", where Jungle would interview a recruiter from a major U.S. company.

In the bottom row are three examples of the pieces I did for the "Celebrity Stock Pick" column. In each issue, a different celebrity would pick a stock, then the magazine would follow its performance and comapre them to other celebrity picks. Pictured are three of my best: Ashton Kutcher, Kirsten Dunst, and Margaret Cho.

I had a great relationship with Jungle, and my art director (at that time), Matt Guemple, was always fun to work with; open to my suggestions yet never afraid to ask for more.

"Rob is good-natured and has an unusual willingness to understand that some things need to accommodate type. These things coupled with a true effort to be creative and his sincere desire to "make me happy" made him not only a regular contributor, but invaluable to me. He would always work fast and help me out of tight spots and was always willing to work to meet my budgets, a real all-around life saver. In fact he was nothing short of a joy to work with." - Matthew Guemple, Art Director, MBA Jungle magazine

Salada Tea - In 2002, I was contacted through a NYC ad agency to produce an illustration to go on boxes of Salada Tea. Apparently there have been some shake-ups in the tea business, and Salada had wanted to reaffirm to their customer base that they were solid, reliable, the Thing You Knew You Liked. So they wanted to add a portrait of their founder to the front of the box, peering out across Coffee and Tea aisles all over America.

There was only one known picture of their founder, P.C.Larkin, and it looked like what you think--very formal, stiff, sepia-toned photo. Wanting him to look a tad less stern, I played with the face for a while until he looked proud; proud of the product that he created.

A few months later, the new boxes hit the shelves in supermarkets across the country. So the next time you're in the Coffee and Tea aisle of your supermarket (wearing your Margaret Cho t-shirt, of course), go pick up a box!


"Batman" - I was at a loose end one day and just wanted to work on something simple and fun. I'm not sure where I got the idea to do a Adam West-as-Batman piece, but I quickly grew enamored of the idea of seeing if I could make the TV show Batman actually look cool.

I had originally put in full-color skin tones, but I saw that it looked much better in black and white, so I stuck to that. Using heavy blacks and just having the blues as highlights gave it a really sharp, sleek look I thought. I had this whole thing put together in less than two hours, and I was just thrilled with it!

Never being able to leave something alone, I then thought why not do a series of Batman TV show portraits? I whipped up a Penguin piece, which didn't turn out as well. There wasn't anything wrong with it, exactly--it was just sorta dull. Then I moved onto a Joker which, 3/4ths of the way through, I realized was a disaster, so I stopped. Sometimes I need to be happy with what I've accomplished, so just the really good Batman piece will ever see the light of day here!

Update: When moving onto my next site update, I pick and choose what pieces from the last update get put into the permanent galleries and which disappear forever. I had intended to leave this one off--not that I'm not proud of it, but I have to leave off some stuff, especially since I had so much new work last time.

But during a correspondence I had with Alan Brennert; novelist, TV writer, and comic-book writer (one of my all-time favorite comic-book writers, in fact), he said this about this piece: "That Adam West Batman really does improve on the original!"

That's good enough for me.


"Wanted: Selina Kyle" - Like a lot of artists who also love comics, I can't help but try my hand at real life-style shots of various superhero characters. Most of the time they don't come out that well, so once I finish them they pretty much disappear.

But occasionally I get something like this, a portrait of Catwoman I did based on a woman walking the NY Comic Con a few weeks ago. When I saw her, I was stunned at the attention to detail of the costume, and the fact that a living, breathing human woman could fit herself into such a tiny, form-fitting suit.

I really liked the strident, proud pose she took, which exactly fits the personality of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. So as I was trying to think of a background to go with the portrait, I hit upon the idea of Selina posing in front of a wanted poster of herself, striking the same exact pose. It seemed like a very Catwoman-ish thing to do.

(You can't really see them because they're obscured by her, but the list of charges the GCPD says Catwoman is wanted for are: Robbery, Breaking and Entering, Trafficking in Stolen Goods, Possession of Stolen Goods, Impersonating a Police Officer, Carrying A Concealed Weapon (Grappling Hook), Tieing Up A Police Officer, plus 16 Other Charges)


X - The Man With the X-Ray Eyes - Golden Age of Hollywood-era actor Ray Milland starred in this 1963 Roger Corman film, about a man who, and I quote:"could see through clothes, flesh, and walls!" Why would you want to see through flesh? Clothes, sure, but...

Anyway, the approach to this piece popped into my head almost immediately. The sort of spooky, off-kilter X, colored to match his eyes--eyes that can see through clothes, flesh, and walls!

e:namtab29@comcast.netp: 856.261.2265 • all material © 2012 Rob Kelly