Star Tribune Illustration

April 4th, 2008 | Posted in Freelancing

As promised, here is the newspaper illustration I did last week for the Minneapolis Star Tribune:


It’s the cover of a special baseball season preview section that ran on Sunday. The giant players are (left to right) Jim Thome, C.C. Sabathia and Miguel Cabrera. This is a JPEG of the illustration in situ on the digital layout, sent to me by the art director.

Printing on newsprint is tricky. The paper is porous and soaks up the inks. There is a certain amount of “spread” to the ink as well, creating a fuzziness to the image. The colors need to be garish to compensate for the newsprint, which naturally dampens and desaturates color. Contrasts and blacks usually need punching up as well. The printed version looked pretty good, but the black ink printed surprisingly dark and heavy. I will have to lighten up on the thickness of my ink lines and probably back off on the contrast a bit as well as lighten the density of the lines the next time around. I only had a vague idea of where the text would be placed, or I would have balanced the image better with objects on the ground to break up the big, green spaces to the left and right of the foreground figure’s legs. It was a quick and fun job, and I hope to do more like that for the Strib.

It occurred to me after I did it that, with a Sunday circulation of almost 700,000 copies, this might be the most highly seen illustration I’ve ever done. MAD‘s circulation is about 200,000, and I’ve never done work for any major mainstream magazines like Time or Newsweek. I’m not sure of the circulation of magazines like National Geographic for Kids or any of the Scholastic magazines.


  1. kmcnutt says:

    “Special to the Star Tribune” – that’s got to be pretty cool. I like it ’cause they’re showcasing a local star.

    And it’s for baseball. I bet you’d be able to trade autographed versions with some Twins players if you wanted. That would be groovier yet.

  2. Philbert says:

    Beautiful work, Tom (as usual.) Boy, I feel your pain as far as art for newspapers. It’s all I do and I still haven’t figured it out. If the copy you saw looked “pretty good” then that’s great. There is such a great variance in the application of ink on a press run that it’s impossible to get it “just right.” My paper has a circulation about 670,000 less than the Strib and I can tell you the first 10% of the run will be washed out, the next 10% will be soaked, the middle will be pretty good until it goes out of registration and God help you if any of your black isn’t 100% K. It also depends on which press crew is on duty, they all ahve their own “look.”
    Now, if you’re lucky, and your piece is on a section front that utilized a heavier, brite-white stock it can look pretty good. If you happen to be opposite a heavy black, or garish car ad, then hopefully you’ll be able to make out faint images of your art under the smudges.
    Hey, its all a part of the wonderful world of newspapers! But, your piece was terrific… and I am so glad we’ve finally got baseball (Go Dodgers!)

  3. I’ve seen some of the work that art directors pick for magazines like Time and Newsweek lately. Your work beats most of them. (And just for the record) I put your work up in the ranks of Mort Drucker and Jack Davis. Although no one can replace them and there are a lot of talented artists out there working, your work just seems to capture some of the feeling that their art has. That’s just my two cents.

  4. Tom says:

    Wow… that is the highest of praise. Thanks!!

  5. Mark Hill says:

    Looks terrific, Tom. I like how you handled the skin color, which is always a gamble on newspaper work. As you said, it’s tough to know how any color will come out…and when you’re dealing with people of multiple races or skin tones, you worry about it looking weird and then possibly even offending someone of that race–(crazy as it sounds).

    Phil is absolutely right about the ink saturation varying greatly throughout a press run, especially on a big circulation paper. I do things for the Denver papers, (and sometimes others, like the Chicago Tribune, LA Times), and I can almost guarantee having to look through several copies to get one that has the ink right. I wonder to myself if some readers look at the extra dark or light parts of a run and think, “Geez, even I could do better with a stubby worn-down set of 8 Crayola crayons.”

    Nicely done.

  6. Matt. says:

    You drew them in different uniforms this time… 😉


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