Good Grief

We’ve all heard the line before—never submit a sketch unless you are okay with the client picking that as the one to take to finish. I‘ve found this to be painfully true a few times, but here is a quick anecdote that proves the theory out on a positive note.

A little while ago I was assigned a spot illustration by Cathy Gontarek, the superb art director of the Penn Gazette. The article was called Talking to the Bereaved 101, which provided a laundry list of do’s and don’ts on how to approach a delicate topic without offending or belittling the grief of a loved one. The writer tackled the subject with wit and honesty, and I set out to make a bit of an understated piece that spoke to the sensitivity of the writer.

Cathy is an art directors who I’m always excited to work with. She always gives me interesting assignments, trusts my process, and offers useful suggestions. I wasn’t sure exactly why she thought I was a great fit for this piece, but I set to sketching some solutions knowing there would be good work at he other end of the pencil.

I gave Cathy three quick sketches, each capturing the mood of the writer confronting or dealing with these uncomfortable situations.


Of course in a sketchbook there are all kinds of drawings happening at any moment. Warmups, side roads, notes and other bits find their way onto the page. In this case I had written down some of the things people were saying: “Everything happens for a reason,” “Try not to cry”, etc.

At the same time, I was drawing little birds for the main thumbnails, and did a couple birds actually saying the words as a little joke to myself. I sent the little doodle along with the sketches, thinking Cathy would enjoy the bit of humor while choosing one of the other conceptual approaches.


You can see where this is going, right? Cathy’s response:

Kevin! I almost missed the doodle! I love it! I want the doodle!!!
Thanks, Cathy

So, there you have it. Sometimes its helpful to include the extra little bit that helps frame your mood or idea of the piece, even if it’s not quite polished. Let your AD know where your head is at, and allow the collaboration to help shape the finish. Below is the finished piece. Thanks for reading!