Utne Reader Illustrated: Travis Lampe

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In this continuing series, Utne Reader Art Director Stephanie Glaros explains the process behind an Utne Reader illustration.

In “On Being Fat and Running” the author chooses to forget his inhibitions and go out into the world and run, despite being flabby and out of shape. When I first read the article I saw the visual potential in the scene where the author finally stops worrying about how he might appear to others and begins to enjoy the freedom of running.

When thinking about an artist to hire, Travis Lampe came to mind because I’d seen examples in his work of rotund characters that are humorous, but not ridiculous, and I thought his color palette would fit the carefree mood. In my initial email to him, I said I was looking for an illustration of a “happy, joyful, free, fat guy jogging.” He accepted the commission, and I sent him the story.

The first round of sketches he sent were really fun (above), and reflect Travis’ love of anthropomorphism. My favorite was the one that depicts the runner as an elephant, but Editor-in-Chief David Schimke and I felt that portraying overweight people as elephants might not be the way to go for the magazine. So I asked Travis to refine sketch B for us by having “only the sun cheering him on (keep the clouds and rainbow, just don’t make them characters).
And keep the stopwatch.” He sent me a revised sketch, which was perfect (right), except I asked him to change the AC/DC logo to Van Halen in the final art, because we had a recent illustration with a guy in an AC/DC t-shirt. The final illustration (top left) had exactly the fun, free energy I was looking for, and was one of my favorite illustrations in the issue.

Since its inception in 1984, Utne Reader has relied on talented artists to create original images for stories that express powerful emotions, brilliant new ideas, and humorous storytelling. Browsing through back issues of Utne Reader is like a tour of “Who’s Who” in the illustration world. Artists Gary Baseman, Brad Holland, Anita Kunz, Bill Plympton, and Seymour Chwast have graced our pages over the years, to name just a few.

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