All Blog Posts

A Comforting Face

March 6, 2015



When I began my illustration business, I had to scramble for work. I’d always enjoyed creating pen & ink drawings and seemed to have a knack for arranging lines in pleasing patterns to suggest a rich tonality. Pen & ink drawings are often used for logos and mastheads because they reproduce easily and cheaply.


I was excited to receive a call from a nursing organization in need of a pen & ink drawing. I met with a committee of nurses responsible for the commission (all women) and showed them a portfolio of line drawings, which they complimented enthusiastically. They explained that they were looking for an image of a “typical” nurse, warm and caring, but they cautioned me not to put any sort of hat on her. When questioned why there shouldn’t be a nurse’s hat on a nurse, I was informed that nurse’s hats, the type worn in vintage movies, were a holdover from when nuns ran hospitals—a nurse’s hat is actually a modified version of a nun’s habit, and no longer worn.


Back in my studio, I pored through my picture file—a giant cabinet filled with thousands of photographs cut from newspapers and magazines. Clip Art and the Internet would later make these files unnecessary, but back then most illustrators had a large collection of photographic references.


I selected half a dozen friendly middle-aged faces, similar to the faces on the committee, and blended them into a single friendly, caring face. I worked hard to please my clients, and was careful not to place a nurse’s hat on her. When finished, I brought the final piece to the committee for approval. My art was passed around in deafening silence before being dropped in the middle of the conference table. Something was wrong.


One of the ladies picked up my drawing and struggled to find the right words. “The lady in your drawing…she’s not…can’t she be more…?”


Someone else blurted out, “She’s too old!”


“And she isn’t pretty enough!” piped in someone else.


I’d created what I thought was the perfect nurse, but they didn’t share my vision.


I noted their concerns and returned to my drafting table. What to do? I returned to my picture file and pulled out a folder on “sexy” ladies—pictures that proved useful on days when I had nothing productive to do. I covered my drafting table with Playboy centerfolds and Cosmopolitan covers, slowly merging the features of these hot chicks into the face of a “typical” nurse. I wasn’t particularly happy with the result and preferred the original version, but the sexy nurse received an enthusiastic reception when presented to the committee.


“She’s perfect!” I was told.


The client is always right, and I was pleased to have given them what they wanted. To date, I’ve never had a nurse as hot as the one in my illustration, but she does haunt my thoughts from time to time.




When I wrote this piece, I intended to publish the final illustration, but I can’t seem to locate it. Until I do, you’ll have to use your imagination. Instead, here are a few pen & ink caricatures I’ve created over the years.




 Napoleon Bonaparte





Marilyn Monroe






Buffalo Bill




 Sylvester Stallone





Follow my blog with Bloglovin






Stallone is good! Although Buffalo Bill is really funny. So they didn't want realistic? Why didn't they say so in the first place?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on March 6, 2015
hahah they had their own idea of what they looked like! Love your illustrations-especially Buffalo Bill!
By: Kathe W. on March 6, 2015
aren't we all too old when we see 'ourselves?' :)
By: TexWisGirl on March 6, 2015
Nice work!! Yes, the client is always right even when they can't communicate what they want. I often wished for the Vulcan Mind Meld when dealing with such people.
By: Leenie on March 6, 2015
Odd how women's liberation went as far as the no more hat rule, but not as far as looking like a real live human being.
By: Tabor on March 6, 2015
When we were in Taos, NM, we bought a 2' tall buffalo sculpture. The only logical thing to name him was "Bill"--I love yours!!
By: fishducky on March 6, 2015
I really never knew that about their hats. Now that I think of it, I don't remember ever seeing a nurse with a hat. Outside of "General Hospital," of course. Even now, they probably don't wear them on GH anymore.
By: Al Penwasser on March 6, 2015
That top drawing looks just like a cover for Harlequin Romance novels in the 70s! The nurse is pretending to do her job but really has her eye on that oh-so-marriagable doctor in the background!
By: Lexa Cain on March 6, 2015
Of course I am not a guy but I always preferred an older nurse. They had the mothering part down pat and when you are sick you want to be comforted. Interesting about the hats. I liked Sly the best. They eyes are perfect.
By: Akansas Patti on March 6, 2015
Excellent drawings! When a friend of mine was in nursing school years ago, she had to wear the hat -- all the students did, but not instructors or nurses they were learning from.
By: mimi on March 6, 2015
Fantastic caricatures! I can't believe that I haven't noticed that nurses don't wear hats. I don't think I noticed when they did wear hats - or perhaps it was too long ago. Surely they did when I was a kid, at least????
By: Jenny Woolf on March 6, 2015
That's so funny - & sad. I'm glad you were able to give them what they wanted though.
By: The Bug on March 6, 2015
You didn't think you could please a bunch of women first time around did you? Hahaha. Great drawings!
By: Bouncin Barb on March 6, 2015
nice technique. it's been a long time since I worked with pen and ink.
By: Ellen Abbott on March 6, 2015
I've been on boards that have had to choose logos or other designs. Artists have a tough challenge with this work. The boards are not experts when it comes to choosing art.
By: red on March 6, 2015
A hot nurse and "Buffalo" Bill. Your blog is just amazing! LOL Cat
By: on March 6, 2015
I wondered why nurses didn't wear hats anymore. I think the hat was also associated with which nursing school one attended. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on March 6, 2015
Wow! These are really good. I'm impressed by your talent (s)!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on March 6, 2015
I was surprised to find out, in the early 1980s, that different nurses wore different hats. RNs different than LPNs. Which made me scrutinize my caregivers over a 5-day hospital stay, to determine which had more education. Nowadays you mostly have CNAs for the basic patient care, and an RN overseeing them. Not that you can tell from the hats. Now it's usually different colored scrubs.
By: Val on March 7, 2015
I guess your clients wanted to feelthat they were the final image. Love the images.
By: John on March 7, 2015
I was scrolling down slowly and when I saw the top half of Stallone's face I thought, Paul McCartney! Curious.
By: Catalyst on March 7, 2015
Your illustrations are great! And I hope you do find the one of the young and sexy nurse - would love to see it. Personally, I'd prefer an older nurse. She'd have more experience.
By: Pixel Peeper on March 7, 2015
That assignment must have been some time ago. Today there are plenty of male nurses. My wife (retired nurse) still has here coveted nursing cap.
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 7, 2015
I am amazed by people who can draw well. All my sketches look primitive. it's interesting which nurse illustration they chose. R
By: Rick Watson on March 8, 2015
Your pen & ink work is terrific! Great caricatures. Thanks for sharing.
By: Tom Cochrun on March 10, 2015
Proving the point, we all have a completely unrealistic idea of what we really look like to others. Great drawings!
By: LL Cool Joe on March 11, 2015
When I got to "I covered my drafting table with Playboy centerfolds and Cosmopolitan covers, slowly merging the features of these hot chicks into the face of a “typical” nurse.", I almost died laughing! It's amazing what clients demand.
By: Michael Manning on March 11, 2015

Leave a Comment


Return to All Blog Posts Main Page

RSS 2.0   Atom