Best illustrations of 2021

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ALta logIllustrators are charged with challenging missions: rendering fictional characters, recreating historical events or capturing the summary in the pages of the magazine. To mark the end of 2021, Alta asked several of our illustrators to explain their inspirations and artistic process in creating these captivating images.


ANITA KUNZ

ANITA KUNZ, “SONGS FOR THE DYING

anita kunz

ANITA KUNZ

“I just turned 65, actually think about mortality a lot. I just lost a wonderful friend to cancer. I think about what I would like when I’m in transition. I won’t know, sure before the time comes, but having certainly been an artist my whole life, the arts should play a big part, and I like the idea of ​​a beautiful song that carries me on my journey.


crater lake, murders

Marc Smith

MARK SMITH, “SEARCH OF A LIFETIME”SERIES OF FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

mark smith

Marc Smith

“For these images, I slightly modified my creation process; I started out with a more narrative mindset and started to think more conceptually, or abstractly, later. The blood spatter element in these images came after the initial compositions had already been worked out, but I really liked the impact it gave them, and it seemed to capture the essence of the story. instantly readable. Hopefully bringing blood to the fore was also a reminder that, as fascinating as historic crime may be from an outsider’s perspective, it was a story about the kind of evil you can’t reason.


illustration of the last lady of california, victor juhasz

Victor juhasz

VICTOR JUHASZ, “THE LAST LADY OF CALIFORNIA”SERIES OF THREE ILLUSTRATIONS

victor juhasz

Victor juhasz

“I walked out of the story feeling like the main character was someone to whom life just ‘happened.’ She was a ghost in a way, blending into any context or setting. what circumstance she was in. It seemed more appropriate to create images that expressed that sense of disappearance, resulting in its transformation into the coastal landscape itself. “


cover, spring 2021

CHRIS SICKELS / RED NOSE STUDIO

CHRIS SICKELS / RED NOSE STUDIO, “THE NEXT WEST”SERIES OF FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS

Chris Sikels, red nose studio

Brian Steege

“We really had a hard time with the coverage figuring out how to encapsulate the scope of this problem. It’s not just one theme; it has such a wide range of content when it comes to authors and innovators. It really sprung from the idea of ​​the Xerces Blue Butterfly, which is extinct, and the program to try to bring it back. It seemed like a pretty magical moment to me in what I read of the issue.


bear blanket

Michael schwab

MICHAEL SCHWAB, “IN SEARCH OF THE SECRET WEST”COVER ILLUSTRATION

michael schwab

Michael schwab

“The idea for this cover illustration actually came from Alta Journalthe creative director of John Goecke. My animal portraits are generally very heroic and dramatic, like the California Book Club logo). It was fun to create a more playful portrait of the California bear. John and I work well together.


california guide map

DOUBLE MAT

MATT TWOMBLY, “A CALIFORNIA GUIDE” ROADMAP

mat deuxmbly

DOUBLE MAT

“For the maps, we took inspiration from the WPA guides from the 1930s, merging modern cartographic practices with classic style.”


Larry Mcmurtry

Steve carroll

STEVE CARROLL, “THE PASTURES OF THE EMPTY PAGE»TWO ILLUSTRATION SERIES

steve carroll

Steve carroll

“What comes to my mind right before I start drawing portraits is: get the likeness; whatever you do, get the likeness! However, the trick is not to try too hard – just relax a bit and watch, watch, and watch. Then, as if by magic, he is captured. I tend to exaggerate the features to emphasize the likeness and hopefully bring out his personality. The creative process can be a bumpy journey, filled with countless little decisions, but it’s always exciting and rewarding.


Ambrose Bierce

Jean Mattos

JEAN MATTOS, “AN OCCURRENCE IN SIERRA MOJADA”SERIES OF THREE ILLUSTRATIONS

Jean Mattos

Jean Mattos

“The first step is to read the text and get a feel for the tone of the work. Then I pull out my sketchbook and sort of wander around randomly. (By the way, I have all the sketchbooks dating back to 18 years; I have never lost any.) There is a long tradition for memento mori “in Western art, and Bierce’s obsession with death made it an obvious choice. I have a friend who has a human skull. I made small, loose sketches regardless of the quality or expression of the lines. I like to draw cards. My internship in high school was to draw maps for the Stanislaus County Planning Department. A great experience in two ways, one being that it showed me in my early teens that I had to gravitate towards the art world and away from bureaucracies. “


mat mahurin, denis johnson, john freeman

Matt Mahurin

MATT MAHURIN, “FALL”TWO ILLUSTRATION SERIES

mat mahurin

Matt Mahurin

“The missions of Alta Journal always offer a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with deeply poetic and daring writers. John Goecke chooses items that inspire me and challenge me to explore new creative possibilities.


dave hickey illustration

THOMAS EHRETSMANN

THOMAS EHRETSMANN, “NOT EVERYBODY SHOULD BE CRITICAL

Thomas ehretsmann

THOMAS EHRETSMANN

“For me, creating an illustration means putting together scattered information and filtering it through my mind to create a meaningful image. For the portrait of Dave Hickey, I started working on a series of pencil sketches from a few words Alta Journal gave me – “art critic”, “full-page color portrait”, “Hickey wearing a picture frame” – and a set of reference photos. It can be a dry process until you find the one visual detail that will bring your image to life – here, the frame shadow on Hickey’s forehead. Once the final sketch was approved, painting this portrait was pure pleasure.


Jim harrison

Joe ciardiello

JOE CIARDIELLO, “JIM HARRISON’S LATEST POEMS”ACCOMPANYING ILLUSTRATIONS

joe ciardiello

Joe ciardiello

Alta Creative Director John Goecke asked me to draw a portrait of Jim Harrison and select three of the seven poems to illustrate. I hadn’t read Harrison but I knew his fantastic face very well, having drawn it before. Her writing is quite visual, and as I read the poems the images came to me almost immediately. “


strong benson

James ransome

JAMES RANSOME, “BIDDY MASON AND HANNAH EMBERS WAS HERE

James ransom

David P. Broda

“The article ‘Biddy Mason and Hannah Were Here’ asked me to think about how I could visually show the layers of time in a single two-dimensional illustration. My first sketches were traditional montages, with a big head and smaller elements surrounding it. But the writer has often referred to the fact that periods of history overlap with other historical moments. With the idea of ​​building an illustration like a layered cake, I knew then that I had the direction in which to take this piece, with each section building chronologically on the next. “•


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