Here’s another piece from my cartoonist buddy, Randy Enos –the fastest illustrator in the world.
For many, many years my working hours were from about 10:00 in the morning until 4:00 the next morning, with breaks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was in the late 50’s into the late 90’s … then things slowed down a bit.
In the early years, I would often travel to New York to deliver jobs and to pick up work. Sometimes the regular work I would pick up from The New York Times and N.B.C. in particular, were jobs that were “overnight jobs”. I would rush home, do the jobs until 4:00 in the morning, sleep and wake up about 10 or 11 then go on the train to deliver them. I loved working at night. I would play movies that I would rent, while I was working. Sometimes, I would be so intensely working on the job that I wouldn’t even look up to see a single scene, I would just listen to the sound. I rented so many movies (and got additional free ones from the library) that I became a favored customer at several video stores and would get invited to their private office parties. I was renting 2 or 3 movies, EVERY day. I preferred listening to movies rather than music.
I never missed a deadline but had some harrowing moments sometimes in the middle of the night thinking that I wasn’t going to make it. My solution for that was to create a little schedule for myself. I had picked a complicated medium to work in because I’m not the brightest bulb on the tree. I invented this linocut-collage thing which included printing a carved lino block on many different colored papers (Pantone papers) in many different colored inks (water soluble Speedball) and then cutting portions of each print and pasting it all together… a hard to describe complicated procedure which netted me a unique style of my own which was unlike anybody else’s (no other illustrator would be stupid enough to go through a process like this into the wee hours of the morning). SO, here’s the kind of schedule I would quickly write out to assuage my fears of not being able to finish before the morning’s train time.
Only with my more complex and “scary” jobs would I make out a schedule like this. The ones that I thought I’d never be able to do in one night.
9 pm to 10 pm… make a sketch for the illustration.
10 pm to 11 pm… transfer the sketch to my lino block.
11 pm to 2 am… cut the block (or blocks, because I would often have more than one illustration to work on at a time).
2 am to 2:30 am… rest break (watch some of the movie).
2:30 am to 3: 30 am… ink the block (or blocks) and print on colored papers.
3:30 am to 5:00 am… dry the prints (in my little studio microwave) and cut them out with X-acto knife and paste up the illustration.
5:00 am to 7:00 am… do any retouching that would be necessary etc.. Put a flap on it and stick it into an envelope.
When I could see that there was ample time to go through all my processes, right in front of me, the panic would subside as long as I kept to the schedule.
As I said, a lot of the time I would have more than one illustration to work on at a time. Six seemed to be my magic number. I always seemed to have six jobs on the board to do. As soon as one would be checked off, another had replaced it. Also, when I looked at a magazine or newspaper stand, I could, almost always, count at least six publications that I was in at any given time. In my 63 years, I’ve worked for every American magazine except The New Yorker. I even did an illustration for People and they don’t even carry illustrations. Have you ever seen one in there?
I never did any advertising work (unless you count the very “editorial” nature of my NBC illustrations), but, rather, I was in the low paying but much freer and more interesting world of editorial illustration (books, magazines and newspapers). And the money was all over the place from doing a small spot illustration for the back pages of Time magazine for $1000 to elaborate double-page spreads for The National Lampoon or Progressive magazine for $150 – $200. I never thought about the money (my wife says that’s a major problem with me) and put just as much energy and time into the low paying jobs as I did for the higher paying ones –sometimes more. And, I never turned a job down because, unlike other illustrators, I didn’t care about playing tennis or golf or going on vacations. I only cared about making pictures. On beautiful hot and sunny days, I was only happy if I was in my basement studio with some juicy jobs to work on.
In those days, I used to bill myself as “The World’s Fastest Illustrator”!
Time magazine had the habit of giving out rush jobs and sending a driver out to Westport to pick it up. That could be harrowing. I once got one of those jobs. No time for a sketch to be approved or anything. I worked out what I was going to do with the art director over the phone. Then he would say, “Okay Randy, the driver is setting out now to pick it up!” Then I would quickly draw my illustration onto my block and start cutting away at it, all the time with the vision in my mind’s eye of the driver on the Merritt Parkway heading toward me. Fortunately, it would take him almost an hour.
Okay, here’s the fastest job I ever did. My next door neighbor was the editor of Fairfield County Magazine. She called me from work and said that she had a quick job for me. She had some photos of lawn furniture and wanted me to just draw on them with pen and ink and make the chairs and tables into cartoon characters. She said she’d drop off the photos on the way home that night. Later, she came to my door with an envelope with the photos. I took them and rushed over to my drawing board as she left and quickly drew arms and legs and heads on the photos and went out the door and gave them to her as she was putting her key into her front door. Time elapsed… under a minute!
Some of the fastest illustrations I had to do were for The Wall Street Journal, which I like to call The Wall Street Gerbil. Back in the black and white days before there were any color illustrations in the newspapers (I did the first color illustration for them later on) we used to FAX the originals, Believe it or not!
On the other hand, I had a client who never had a deadline. Let me repeat that… NO DEADLINE… ever. It was the Boy Scout magazine, Boy’s Life.
The art director, Joe Connolly would call me up and ask me if I could do the job and that he would be sending me the text. It would always be one major full-page illustration and three smaller ones for each story. At the end of our conversations, he would say, “And, as always, Randy, there’s no deadline!” Boy’s Life was one of my highest paying clients but the stories had practically no content with which to work. They were void of any substance. I defy any average illustrator to get even one idea for an illustration never mind three! It’s a good thing I wasn’t an average illustrator because I did them for many years. Joe would just hand out and stockpile up the illustrated stories until he needed them for an issue. And he used top illustrators so I was in good company.
On one occasion, I slipped his manuscript under a pile of other stuff because I knew there was no immediate rush and went on to other projects. It stayed there for a WHOLE YEAR!!! Joe called me up and I suddenly remembered the long lost manuscript that I had forgotten about. I stammered, “Oh jeez, Joe, I forgot about the story … I’ll get to it right away!” He said, “No no no, there’s no deadline, I’m just calling you with another job!” You don’t find clients like that very often.
I used to do a lot of work for McGraw-Hill magazines. Some of it was tedious, mundane sort of things. One massive job I had, involved me putting down lots of Prestype lettering. God, what a nightmare! The lettering would crack or pull off or go down crooked and I struggled for hours and hours doing that tedious rush job. I stayed up without sleep for TWO nights and was going on to my third night (the job was due the next morning) when I just pooped out. I couldn’t go on any longer… I needed to sleep. I just gave up at one point and said, “I can’t do it, I’ve got to sleep” and promptly passed out. I awoke in the morning and went into panic mode. It was minutes before train time. I rushed into my studio to find the job sitting there… completely finished!! My wife had been watching what I had been doing and while I slept, she finished the job beautifully.
I knew there was a reason I married her beside the fact that she was a cutie-pie!
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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: