What’s on the menu to­day…?

ImagineFX - - Peter De Sève -

Peter re­veals through his process for com­ing up with a cover for ven­er­a­ble ti­tle The New Yorker

“My work of­ten be­gins with a vis­ual di­chotomy of some kind. In this case, my ini­tial doo­dle had some­thing to do with car­ni­vores at a ve­gan restau­rant, the kind of place you can eas­ily find in a Brook­lyn neigh­bour­hood like mine. My wife, Ran­dall, has been a veg­e­tar­ian since she was 12 and though I tried be­ing one for al­most eight years. I re­alised it just wasn’t for me. That mo­ment, when I first be­gan to re­think my diet, is what this cover is all about.

Once I landed on the lion with a salad watch­ing more de­li­cious op­tions walk by, I be­gan to re­fine the draw­ing. Orig­i­nally, I had an anaemic-look­ing lion, but soon de­cided on a health­ier ver­sion. Af­ter that, I con­cen­trated on his ex­pres­sion. It’s amaz­ing how the tilt of a head, the place­ment of an eye­brow or even the height of an eye­lid can to­tally change the tone of a draw­ing. In the end, I wanted the viewer to hear the lion think to him­self, “Hmmm.”

I don’t gen­er­ally go over­board with ref­er­ences. I al­ways do my rough sketches out of my head, so I’m not too con­strained by the facts. Still, there are lit­tle touches one can dis­cover by look­ing at pho­tos of a place he or she is de­pict­ing – the lit­tle flower in the ma­son jar on the ta­ble and the ex­posed brick wall all tele­graph the kind of earthy, crunchy-gra­nola vibe a place like this projects. It also didn’t hurt to take a closer look at what a lion’s face is re­ally about. It’s easy to con­vince your­self you know how to draw a thing, but that can lead to an over-re­liance on car­toony clichés. I like my ex­ag­ger­a­tion to be based on re­al­ity, at least a lit­tle bit, to help me put an idea over the top.”

Brook­lyn town­house, where, sec­ond cup of cof­fee in hand, he sits down at his draw­ing board and waits for “ex­quis­ite, heartrend­ing im­ages to spill from my pen. Hours later, with­out hav­ing looked up from my work even once, I turn out the light and go back up­stairs to re­join my fam­ily… None of this has ever hap­pened, of course.”

a gaunt­let of dis­trac­tions

His home stu­dio “is a won­der­ful place,” which is part of the prob­lem. Book­shelves over­flow all around the room. Art from friends and he­roes hang on the walls. “Just cross­ing the room is like run­ning a gaunt­let of dis­trac­tions. I of­ten find my­self star­ing at a book or a pic­ture, won­der­ing what the hell I was meant to do in the first place.”

Ideas typ­i­cally come to him away from the draw­ing board, dur­ing those dis­tracted times, when he’s doo­dling in his sketch­book or out run­ning. He di­vides his time be­tween the two fields, char­ac­ter de­sign and ed­i­to­rial il­lus­tra­tion. In both, his aims are sim­i­lar: to cre­ate a char­ac­ter or an image that’s just one or step or two away from re­al­ity, some­thing that’s plays of a big­ger nar­ra­tive, a big­ger idea, some­thing that drives the pic­tures to­wards its ul­ti­mate punch­line.

“Al­most all of my big­gest he­roes, past and present, are artists whose work is some­what grounded in re­al­ity,” Peter says, “with a gen­eral re­spect for anatomy and per­spec­tive, while still dis­re­gard­ing them for the sake of telling a story. Or a joke.

“In my Rat Race pic­ture, for in­stance, I make dead sure that the first thing you ab­sorb is a lone com­muter stand­ing on an empty plat­form wait­ing for a train. I don’t want you to see the rat below him do­ing ex­actly the same thing un­til the sec­ond beat. I com­posed the piece so the man is dead cen­tre; you have no choice but to go there first.”

Peter ends with this key ad­vice: “Just like telling a joke or a story: your setup is just as im­por­tant as your punch­line.”

I loved to draw things that would amuse my­self and other peo­ple. That’s kind of the job of an il­lus­tra­tor

A New Leaf Peter likes works built around a “vis­ual di­chotomy”, such as a lion in a ve­gan restau­rant. He then de­vel­ops the char­ac­ter, cap­tur­ing de­tails like fa­cial ex­pres­sions. Con­strained by facts Peter doesn’t use many ref­er­ences for his work. Early sketches are done in his head, where he can’t be “con­strained by the facts.” Spot­ting mis­takes Peter has cre­ated around 50 cov­ers the iconic The New Yorker mag­a­zine, but finds it dif­fi­cult to look at old work. He al­ways sees the things he didn’t get quite right.

The Lit­tle Prince char­ac­ter de­signs One of Peter’s ear­li­est in­flu­ences was Frank Frazetta. He loves his “ex­ag­ger­ated re­al­ism” and used sim­i­lar tech­niques in his work on The Lit­tle Prince. study on a sofa Even when shown in a quiet mo­ment, Peter’s char­ac­ters still ex­hibit life in their ex­pres­sions and body lan­guage.

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