There’s always that one kid in college who claims to be smarter after a few drinks. In fact, I’ve heard some writers say that a glass of wine or two really gets the creative juices flowing. One person who can attest to this theory as a talented adult with his own business? Stephen Burdick, principal of Stephen Burdick Design and the illustrative mastermind behind Steve’s Drink ‘n Draw blog. HOW caught up with Mr. Burdick, who gave us some insights on drinking, drawing, traveling and importance of a great pen.
How did you first get started in graphic design and illustration?
SB: I’ve kept a sketchbook for as long as I can remember. Two good lifetime habits I picked up in art school: Keep a sketchbook and read a newspaper. I’ve always liked quick figure drawing. I majored in Graphic Design as Mass College of Art, and put a life drawing class on the schedule each semester. It was a great way to break away from the concentration and problem solving involved with typography, advertising strategy, watching slides in art history class and color theory lectures. I like combining illustration in my work, and I think I’ve gotten stronger in confidence and consistency over time.
I’ll celebrate 20 years of self-employment next year. In 1994, after having worked in design studios and ad agencies, I started my own freelance activities working out of a friend’s architecture studio. As I attracted more clients, I moved into a shared space with a marketing freelancer friend in ’96. I got married and bought a rowhouse in downtown Boston with a shop space on the first floor, and I’ve been there since 2001. I’ve had assistants and interns over the years. There’s no better way to learn new technology than to have a recent graduate in the office.
How did the Drink ‘n Draw blog get started?
SB: The Collaboration for Health and the Environment (CHE) is a group of medical and environmental professionals and activists. I design their publications, books and interactive publications. They promote healthy aging, which means they explore relationships between environmental and social conditions and developing children’s bodies, as well as the conditions that can affect healthy aging of older folks. Last summer, I was involved with their conference on Healthy Aging and the Environment Across Generations at the New York Academy of Medicine. The event attracted a cross-section of doctors, scientists, environmental and intergenerational activists, and included creative people to make it much more than a PowerPoint presentation. Artists, dancers and musicians performed and involved the audience between speakers for a very lively couple of days. My role was to live sketch-blog the two-day conference.
It was a real stretch for me. During each presentation, I drew a quick study of the speaker and noted the content of their talk, took a photo of the sketch with my phone and relayed it to the social media team at the back of the hall, who uploaded it to a virtual conference space. The audience was invited to add their comments, photos and highlights to the online discussion. It added a new layer to help comprehend and tie together some varied ideas at the event.
I don’t consider myself a caricaturist, so I practiced weeks before the event, watching the evening news and creating quick impressions of the interviewees and noting the crux of the discussion. I like working from ‘Democracy Now’ with Amy Goodman. There’s little video editing, long segments allow time to create a quick portrait and notes. One advantage of working live at a conference is that there are no critics, no time for re-dos. Most were appreciative that I captured the essence of the discussion, sausage fingers and all, but the experience really jump started my sketch-and-post working process.
That lead to the ‘Drink and Draw’ blog concept: Sometimes I post a photo of a beverage for my Facebook fans when we’re out around town. Last winter, before a trip to Argentina, a friend requested I continue to post my virtual happy hour. I was usually drawing while hanging in the Buenos Aires cafes and tango bars, so I started including the sketchbook page in the frame. ‘Steve’s Drink and Draw’ was born. I continued the practice on a trip to Spain, trips to the Southwest U.S., train trips to see family in New York, and here in Boston. I think I’m more prolific when traveling, where I don’t have the distraction of pesky office deadlines.
How do you pick your beverages? Are they always of the alcoholic persuasion?
SB: Do we need an intervention? I try to vary the beverages. And they’re not always alcoholic. My salute to ‘business cat’ includes a glass of milk. My ‘Friday-so-it’s-fish sketch’ features a water bottle. But the ‘tamale construction instructions’ has a requisite margarita. I try not to over-think the setup. But it’s fun to vary to scene. I thought for the ‘Gourmet of Chefs’ collection it would be fun to ‘pair’ each chef with a fine wine selection. But who’s got time for that? When the blog gets a sponsor, I’ll hire a stylist and a sommelier.
Any drinks to recommend? I discovered a recipe for White Sangria this summer. It’s called ‘Clería’ and includes white wine, brandy, elderberry liquor and various sliced fruits and juices. It’s summer in Southern Spain in a glass. We have a favorite bartender here that introduced us to the ‘Honey Badger’ (e.g., ‘honey badger don’t care’), a deliciously dangerous celebration of gin, elderberry liquor and lavender honey, shaken and served in a martini glass, that should not be repeated.
Where do you find inspiration for your drawings?
SB: I find inspiration when I’m out in the world just observing people. There’s inspiration in the tilt of heads in conversation, a gesture holding a glass of wine or hands busy making tortillas or rolling gnocchi. Or how a dancing couple relates to each other. I like drawing faces and hands because they’re a bit of a challenge (hands can quickly become a bunch of bananas!). When we went to Madrid, Spain, We were intent to see Picasso’s painting, ‘Guernica.’ His oversized statement on the horrors of the Spanish civil war filled a large gallery wall, surrounded by smaller rough sketches. (Many of the hands in the rough drafts looked like stuffed sausages. It was encouraging.) The intensity and confidence in his line work is inspiring, and a great way to start off a trip sketchbook.
When I was in Argentina, I found some willing models. The hostel we stayed offered tango classes on the weekend. I set up on the terrace and did quick studies of couples moving together (drink: Quilmes beer). Quite a challenge, with amusing results, and the group liked having me there, enjoyed seeing drawings of themselves and their friends.
Many of your designs are travel inspired. How did that come about?
SB: One of my first clients was Holbrook Travel out of Gainesville, FL. They offer natural history tours—birding in Panama, turtle tagging in Costa Rica. I worked on the design for trip planners, catalogs and promotion. Part of the payment for my work was credit to go on their trips—and the travel bug bit me. I used the credit to visit Costa Rica, the Galapagos Islands and other locations, and I quickly filled my sketchbooks. I was able to use the art from those trips in the following year’s campaign. I also mailed out small-run booklets of my trip sketches to promote my work to art directors and enter contests. Some of my submissions to illustration contests have won awards and publicity.
My favorites include the “Mexi-Sketch’ book from Mexico City, the ‘German Excursion’ from Berlin, a ‘Galapagos Sketchbook’ and the ‘Buenos Aires Valentine’ booklets. With the growth of online media, (compared to the time and expense of printing, binding and mailing), it made sense to post them in my online gallery and alert fans and potential art buyers to the link. I found that uploading the images as I create them is a fun way to engage with friends and fans.
What tools do you swear by when illustrating?
SB: My favorite pen: Pilot Precise V7 (not the V5—too fine!) It’s a rolling ball gel pen. Smooth! Runner up: Staedtler’s Triplus Fineliner, a fine point felt tip.
If you don’t think you’re up to the drink and draw challenge, maybe drawing for drinks might be more your style. If so, you need to register for the Beverage Packaging Design Bootcamp. It’s the perfect course for tackling a new creative skill in the New Year.