Feb 18, 2009

Drugstore Cowboy

The crown jewel of Washington State.

Some of my fondest memories growing up in Washington State were the annual trips to San Juan Island our family would make. Part of the fun was the two hour ferry boat ride to get there. Our friends owned a resort for many years called "Lonesome Cove Resort" and we'd stay in a beach side cabin and I'd spend the days exploring the many tide pools, throwing rocks off the cliff, fishing for Ling and Rock Cod (Ugly fish BTW), catching small crabs or clamming.

The "Wild Goose" a former WWII mine sweeper.

In the summer of 1977 we once again headed for San Juan Island, I was 11 years old and as the ferry boat was coming into Friday Harbor my dad pointed towards the marina and said "See that big one? That's John Wayne's Yacht." Almost every summer we'd see the "Wild Goose" cruising around the island waters, it was a WWII mine sweeper that the "Duke" had converted.

The ferry docked and our car exited. Before making our way to our friends house we stopped at the local drug store to pick up a few things. Me and my mom went inside to buy a few items then we stood in line to check out.

I heard someone come up behind us so I turned to look and there he was John Wayne. He loomed above me, wearing a captains hat and smiled down at me saying "Hello there." I smiled back and said "Hi." then quickly turned around and tugged at my moms shirt saying "It's John Wayne!"

My mom turned around, and the normal adult movie star groveling pursued for the next several minutes. It was a very brief but very memorable moment for me.

Illustrating an American Icon

The iconic John "Duke" Wayne. (Click Image to View Larger)

So when I was approached to work on this iconic illustration on behalf of Wayne Enterprises I was so eager to do it I actually told the agency I'd do it for free. (Talk about groveling) Thankfully the agency didn't take me up on my offer.

That initial excitement was closely followed by fear. You know those doubting thoughts that creep in when you approach a project that intimidates you. My mind kept asking "What if my illustration sucks?" I then imagined John Wayne looking at what ever I came up with and saying in his classic drawl "Son, that drawing looks like a horses ass!"

But then I remembered a cool John Wayne quote I had read years before.

"Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."

Good advice.

Since we were working with Wayne Enterprises, I suggested it would be best if they could provide me with archive photos I could use for reference. They agreed and I worked from the images provided to create my art. Wayne Enterprises not the agency had final approval of the artwork.

This style involves a lot of drawing and re-drawing, and with each revision I bake the image down, removing unnecessary detail and simplify the shapes to arrive at my final iconic image. The entire process took roughly three months to complete going back and forth with one revision after another.

It could have taken a mere week but such is the process when you deal with a committee. That said, I'm very happy with the final results.

Second branded image.

When it was all said and done I created two branded images for Wayne Enterprises. This art will be made available to those who purchase license agreements to use the John Wayne image.

Raw hide?

The agency that hired me to do this on behalf of Wayne Enterprises was doing so because they were hired to design the new Beef Jerky packaging the Wayne Estates was selling and didn't have any approved artwork they could use to brand it with. I found this usage a bit humorous myself but when it was all said and done (Mainly due to the economy I suspect) Wayne Enterprises pulled the plug on this venture.

In any regard the whole project was a blast, and it brought back a lot of fun memories for me personally. I am so thankful for all the cool projects I get to work on. Giddy up!


Geoff Thibeau said...

I've stayed on Whidbey for a week or so for my cousin's wedding. It's gorgeous up there. We took a canoe trip around a corner of the island (not more than 1-2 miles, I'd imagine) and I literally saw two seals, a bald eagle, crab (I want to say king, but it probably wasn't), and various other fish.

I'm assuming San Juan is nearby.

No John Wayne for my trip though. :P

Vonster said...


San Juan is the same way. We ran into a pod of whales while fishing one time. It was kind of scary since we were only in a 12 ft. aluminum boat at the time but it was front row seats to nature for sure.


Teddi said...

That's so cool, dude. Glad you had the opportunity to do it. (Although too bad they yanked the jerky off the venture list.)

My family and I visited the birthplace of John Wayne in Iowa last fall, and it was eye-opening. I've enjoyed John Wayne movies, but never considered myself a huge fan. After seeing a bit of his story in that place, I walked away much impressed with the impact the man had.

Anonymous said...

Yeah.. that's what I want... John Wayne Jerky.. Too much like the dead skin from John Wayne's corpse. Good idea to pull the plug. Yuck. Cool design thought.

girlingear said...

Von, this is awesome artwork, and I love the story as well. I love the San Juans; we were up there last year with my mom & dad on their 31' sailboat. What a blast. Also, thanks for coming to Boise to speak at the AIGA event. My husband and I really enjoyed your talk and thanks for the Keyboard Characters! I have them at work for all to see. You are a great inspiration and a great teacher.

girlingear said...

Von, great artwork! Love the San Juans; we were up there last year with my mom and dad on their 31' sailboat. Thanks also for coming to speak at the Boise AIGA event; my husband and I really enjoyed your talk. Thanks for the Keyboard Characters too... I have them at work and everyone loves them. You're an inspiration and a great teacher. Thanks, Stacie