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Public Art

March 1, 2017

I recently happened across one of my children, not a flesh and blood child—of which I have only one—but an artistic child of which I have many. It brought back memories; I was proud of this assignment when I landed it in the 90s; at $2000 my biggest assignment to date.


I’d only been a full-time illustrator for a couple of months and had been pounding the pavement in downtown Portland, prowling advertising agencies and municipal offices looking for illustration assignments. My timing was good when I walked into the offices of Portland’s MAX Light Rail.


Portland had just entered into a deal with the Federal government to share cost of building a light rail rapid transit system. If you’ve ever visited Portland, you know the city is surrounded by forest-covered mountains stretching nearly into the center of the city. Tunnels needed to be drilled through thick rock to accommodate the trains. I was asked to submit designs for fun cartoon characters to be placed on signs to amuse people stuck in traffic during drilling and construction.


I was a painter/illustrator, not a cartoonist, and I struggled to appear enthusiastic, but my heart sank when I learned more about the assignment.


The head of the project explained the concept; he wanted me to create—Doons.


Doons?” I said, hoping for more of an explanation.


“Yes—Doons, because road construction will involve us “Do’n This and Do’n That! And these are cartoons, after all.”


What the F#@K? To this day I find it a stupid concept, but assignments weren’t plentiful at the start of my career and $2000 was a lot of money. Stupid or not, I intended to give this assignment my best effort.


I was tasked with creating a dozen cartoon characters based on equipment used to drill

tunnels—animated backhoes, tractors, drills and earth movers—machines doing this and that…. My work was accepted and I rejoiced when the check arrived in my mailbox.


These so-called Doons stretched for miles on Sunset Highway#26 in the Portland Metropolitan area. When CJ was ten we happened to drive past one of my signs and he pointed at it excitedly, saying, “Dad, that’s your first public art.”


He relished pointing them out whenever we drove past, until the light rail was completed and the signs were removed.


You can imagine my surprise the other day when I drove past a sign and spotted one of my silly Doons being used on a carpool sign. I hadn’t thought about them in years. I’m not proud of this cartoon, but it was, as CJ said, my first public art. It wouldn’t be my last.






Not my finest creative moment.



All artists have work they aren’t proud of and I’m no exception. Have you ever done something creative you weren’t proud of?




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That is a very cool memory. So glad you have such a good heritage. Now when I see stuff like that I will remember the artist behind it.
By: Tabor on March 1, 2017
It paid the bills! And made your son really happy to see them. I think all artists have scores of things they've produced but aren't really proud of.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on March 1, 2017
It's good cartooning, i can see how it would catch people's attention.
By: messymimi on March 1, 2017
Nothing comes to mind- I'll bet folks got a kick out of your "doons" ! and $2000 was a very good incentive!
By: Kathe W. on March 1, 2017
I think it's rather adorable...
By: The Broad on March 1, 2017
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - I like it, myself. Have I ever created something I wasn't proud of? Yes. Different people have different tastes, though. Other people liked my stuff, and other people like your stuff! I think it's cool they're still being used.
By: jenny_o on March 1, 2017
Not a bad cartoon for someone who is not a cartoonist!!
By: fishducky on March 1, 2017
I commend the city of Portland for continuing to reap the benefits of their original $2000 investment!
By: Val on March 1, 2017
Hey, I am thinking it was a good thing, you were getting a job, they obviously got what they were after, and unless you tell them, it doesn't have your name in blinking lights on it, so you are ahead of the game! As far as mine, the only thing creative, was a Ginormous bright pink slouchy hat, I hated it, but a ski bunny type fell in love with it... I was so terribly glad that she just enjoyed it without giving me credit. Let's just say, it would have embarrassed a Rastafarian! Cat
By: Cat on March 1, 2017
I find your design very well done and with a good level of creativity behind it. Then, again, I have yet to meet a designer or illustrator who is 100% happy with their work. :-)
By: A Cuban In London on March 1, 2017
Well gosh, I like it and think it was cool of the city to post those to amuse people stuck in construction back ups. Also think it is cool they are recycling one of them. Don't suppose they owe you more for the extra use? Just a thought.
By: Arkansas Patti on March 1, 2017
I wonder if I saw that when I went to Portland?
By: Patrick Dilloway on March 1, 2017
Maybe not your finest ... but would cheer me up a bit if I was stuck in traffic.
By: Tom Sightings on March 1, 2017
Thi was different. I had to look at it carefully and I saw more than just a cartoon. It may have been your first but it's still interesting.
By: red Kline on March 1, 2017
Oh, let me count them!
By: Catalyst on March 1, 2017
I'd be proud to get pad for anything creative!
By: cranky on March 1, 2017
This is hilarious. I love that it showed up on these signs.
By: Mitchell is Moving on March 2, 2017
Actually, I think this is cute and funny. We can be our own worst critic. I have created pieces or cards that I thought were downright ugly and a couple I ripped up. I knew that was the time to walk away and come back to it when I was in a better headspace
By: Birgit on March 2, 2017
It's cute and amusing. I think that's very cool to have a sign (in more ways than one) of your art and progess as an artist. Your style is very different now, but your current style might not have worked for the assignment at the time.
By: Robyn Engel on March 2, 2017
Very cool ! Your creative mind never fails you... bravo!
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 2, 2017
I think it's really cute!
By: The Bug on March 7, 2017

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