One of my favorite series of illustrations were the ones that I did for the Rod McLellan Company. Because I did eight illustrations, I have grouped them as two separate posts in chronological order. Each illustration created for a Supersoil package label was unique and keenly designed by the art director, Dave Sanchez. I never did meet Dave in person, and we had excellent rapport over the telephone.
When I first began working with Dave, he was at the agency Sanchez, Lonchar, & Flynn. Later on, he started his own design firm called Red Wagon. A few years after our last Supersoil assignment, Dave sadly informed me that our illustrations were going to be discontinued. “Miracle Gro” had bought out Rod McLellan Co.
Recently I shared my blog with many art directors that I have worked with in the past, including Dave.
Dave sent me an email. He was wondering why the Supersoil illustrations weren’t included. I told him that I was definitely planning to write about our project. This art blog may eventually have 100 posts since I have 30 years worth of stories!
Since our exchange was fun, I am going to share it below:
On Jun 16, 2010, at 5:25 PM, Dave Sanchez wrote:
I scanned your blog, nice work and examples. I was surprised that you included what you were paid over the years. Have you gotten any gripes? I didn’t notice any of the work we did together.
I wish I had work for you; I miss us working together. Have you seen the new Supersoil bags? They’re sh%&!
On Jun 17, 2010, at 9:44 AM, Judy Unger wrote:
That’s sad. I’m laughing because literally there is sh%& in those bags!
I am hopeful as I begin my new career as a writer. I feel grateful that I have this opportunity in my life to explore other creative avenues.
I am also sad that we haven’t worked together. Our wonderful job for Supersoil was such a pleasure. I’ll certainly contact you when I write about it.
On Jun 18, 2010, at 5:49 PM, Judy Unger wrote:
Well, Dave – you gave me the bug.
I’ve decided my next post will be our Supersoil jobs! I will probably do two posts on it, since there were eight illustrations. They are all worthy of sharing.
Am I correct that you’d prefer I not share invoices? Since the company is no longer in business, I don’t think it would upset anyone. I think it is interesting for art students to see usage, price, etc. Anyway, I’ll follow whatever you say.
Since I like puns, here are my ideas for titles:
My “Dirty” Little Secrets – Jobs with Supersoil
I Really Dug These Illustrations
Never Soiling My Reputation
Going to Pot and Loving Grass
Barking and Bark
I’m cracking myself up doing this! I could easily find 100 more! Let me know if you have any title in particular that you like.
On Jun 21, 2010, at 10:05 AM, Dave Sanchez wrote:
I wouldn’t use the first one. Our tag line was: “Supersoil. Anything else is just plain dirt.” So it was the competition that was dirt; ours was SUPER soil.
All the rest are fine with me. If showing invoices helps then go ahead.
Most of the Supersoil illustrations paid $4,500 each, except for the “Naturals” line. Those were $2,700 each.
I think the main theme that is readily observable through my “exhibits,” is the power of preliminary work. All of my photo reference, sketches, photo and marker comps show how much preliminary work is involved in my style of illustrating. That work yielded results with few surprises, and allowed for a tremendous amount of client and art director input.
Over the six years that I created these illustrations, I was also in the process of educating myself on the computer. Eventually, I was able to create all my comps on the computer by the sixth illustration. Prior to using Photoshop, my best avenue for creating a close look at my composition came through physically cutting out the design elements. It was especially necessary with flowers, in order to see the color relationships while creating the composition.
I was a frequent visitor to a local copy store, where I spent a considerable of time and money making color copies of my photo reference. I sized everything with a calculator ahead of time, and using an exacto knife I would cut and glue my comp together. The painting was so much easier to envision for me this way, rather than by looking at my black and white line drawing.
Now that I am able to do everything digitally, it is so much easier. My markers are drying up! I haven’t been into that copy store in a while; they knew me so well. This is another example of how a computer hurt a business.
I think art directors, clients, and reps appreciated when I finally had the computer ability to send color layouts through email. It was immediate and so much cleaner. I guess I’d like to share one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard about my “prior” color comps.
I called Dave to find out which version of my photo comps was selected by the client. He hemmed and hawed and told me that the design was going to be changed into a whole, new direction. I was disappointed since I had worked diligently on at least four new color ideas.
I asked him if they liked any of them. Here was what he said.
“Judy, they thought your photo comps looked like HOSTAGE NOTES.”
I never had my work described like that before!
My first illustration for Supersoil was the “Original Supersoil Potting Mix.” It was confusing that I also illustrated another Potting Mix. I called this illustration my “Orange Potting Soil Project.”
The airbrushed background was quite challenging. I had to frisket off many delicate areas, including small areas between flowers. One of the things I tried to do was incorporate the orange color into the main illustration. I didn’t want the main image to look “cut out” from the background. I added many colors reflecting orange; it especially altered the look of the green foliage. The shadow from the pot was especially frustrating. The perfection required with airbrushing did not allow for much color transition or adjustment. I did utilize some colored pencil to make those adjustments, but was careful not to add any distracting texture.
Although I have a droplet “formula,” I went ahead and allowed for more photorealistic moisture, which was observable on my reference. The “poppy bud” in the center bugged me (it looked like an alien antenna), but I got over it. I’m not thrilled with the dark magenta petunia center at the bottom right either!
When I illustrated the Wonderbloom package, I had to figure out how to create the dirt texture. Eventually, when I illustrated the Garden Guardian package that had even more dirt – I was already an expert! It became an endless exercise of adding stipple with colored pencil and splattering acrylic over the areas that were too dark. In the end, I actually took my exacto knife and started picking out little holes to add texture back in.
I ran out of time on the Wonderbloom illustration when it came to the background at the top. I wasn’t sure what to put, and should have done more exploration to see what would have looked best. In the end, I simply indicated blue that might have been a swimming pool, rather than a sky. I didn’t like how it looked but hoped it would bother me less as time went by. The original, white background looked much better than the “streaky” blue area I created.
My favorite part was the metal trowel. I love reflections and lots of color in them! After illustrating these annual flower varieties, I was very educated as to all kinds of “annual” flowers. I could spot dianthus everywhere I looked. It is still hard for me to see the flowers named “impatiens” without thinking of impatient, however!
I enjoyed the Garden Soil illustration with the winding path very much. I did feel like my perspective was off, and haven’t shared this illustration much because of that. This illustration incorporated many areas of detail, and I especially enjoyed the flowers and vegetables. The basket texture and the stone path were very interesting for me.
Dave’s new agency was named Red Wagon, and this illustration had a red wagon in it. Was that a coincidence?
The Garden Guardian illustration not only had a lot of mulch to illustrate, it also had the interesting textures of a rock and the stones in the foreground. My trusty toothbrush splatter came in handy for these. I had done grass before and acrylic worked well for that. The wood posts were easy to illustrate since I found excellent reference in my neighborhood.
I purchased a few plants to photograph for this illustration, and they are still in my garden as a reminder from this job!
The main thing that I really concentrated on was pulling the flowers and the background together. I enhanced the purple color in the shadows using colored pencils.
One of the things that I found intriguing, was how the concept for this illustration changed quite a bit before I even started the illustration. I followed Dave’s direction, and he shared prior layouts he’d submitted to the client. It was apparent that he had already done a lot of work designing this illustration’s concept. I sure liked the direction it ended up going in compared to his first sketch!