Do you know those people who take complicated concepts and translate them into the compact graphics you see in the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and national news magazines such as Time and Newsweek?
We’ve got one of those brainy and creative types living right here in Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow, and for the next several weeks you can see some of these, as well as the cover illustration he did for a book written by Ben Cheever, first-hand at , the shared workspace upstairs at 21 North Broadway in Tarrytown.
Tim Grajek has been an illustrator for thirty years. In college, he did the illustrations for a lab manual written by one of his professors, then Grajek took his Fine Arts degree and began building a career in illustration, design and photography. A native of Detroit, his early work was for the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press.
Eventually he worked his way up to the national publications, including a nine-year stint doing the illustrations for the Washington Post Sunday Briefing Page, and many of those are in the show at W@tercooler. “I did those with same-day turnaround,” Grajek said. “I got a brief description of what the article-in-progress was about, and my illustration had to be done by six p.m. The editor was Steven Pearlstein, who was a weekend painter. He’d pitch a few visual concepts. Sometimes I’d use them, sometimes I might do a composite. Steve and I were collaborators.”
Pearlstein wrote about the financial meltdown before it happened. “People said no one saw it coming but he did,” Grajek said. “Probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done is to work with him. It was real nitty-gritty journalism, with deadlines.”
There are advantages to deadlines. “Sometimes when you have more time, the work might not be as fresh. You can overthink it," Grajek said. "I felt proud to have an input in the culture, to interpret and act almost as a bellwether. The illustrations are almost like a journal, a story of corporate greed and deregulation and ignoring regulations that were there.”
He and his wife, photographer Margaret Fox, lived in Manhattan in the '80s and moved to the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow area when their second child was born. That baby, Gordon, is now about to graduate this December from Rensselaer Polytechnic with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Grajek and Fox’s older child Elena is an artist and was the subject of a
Grajek's technique is usually to draw on paper with a sable brush, scan the image, and do the color in Adobe Photoshop. Or he may work completely in Adobe Illustrator. “One interesting project I did was to apply a wrap image to a bus,” Grajek said. “The art director was subtle about placing the product name and really featured the image. I also illustrated Hoyle’s Rules of Games, a widely distributed book. It’s sort of the Bible of Las Vegas. I got that job when I told them that my name translates (from Polish) to ‘player’,” he recalled with a laugh.
As a kid, Grajek admired Normal Rockwell and Rockwell Kent. He cites other major influences from "Fernand Leger, Diego Rivera--whose work is richly colored and a little curmudgeonly--Picasso and Matisse, and Russian folk art." He continued, "I amalgamate elements from various ethnic styles, which could be African, Ukranian, Native American, etc. A lot of things I do are almost like for a children’s book, but they’re for adults, with special focus on the financial world. I’m attracted to allegory or icon, so it’s a direct communication. I’m interested in imagery of mysticism as well.”
A project done by Grajek in collaboration with Ben Cheever has brought pleasure to many people. He illustrated Cheever's The First Dog, calling it "a labor of love.” It’s the story of Adam and Eve and the first dog, with a cover illustration that’s a charming take-off on the hand of God coming out of the clouds to (almost) touch Adam’s in Michaelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
“Self-publishing gave me the freedom to express my vision,” Grajek said. “Ben was very receptive to my ideas. The medium of the picture book is creatively satisfying. Illustrating and designing one is kind of like producing your own movie. You get to do the casting, scenery, and direct the drama.”
The two met when Cheever was doing a reading of another of his books, Grajek said. “I gave him my card, which was like an accordion, with eight images, and asked if he’d ever thought of doing a children’s book, and he said ‘Yes, I wrote a story several years ago and it’s just sitting around.’ We got started on it right away.”
which, Grajek said, “grew into a multi-media show, featuring Alan Sklar, the narrator of numerous audio-books, and we have a backdrop of projected pages of the book. In the background I play an original score live on guitar. The music has some Hawaiian and Mississippi blues influences.” People of all ages come to the readings, Grajek said, “mostly adults these days.”
In addition to all these accomplishments, Grajek did illustrations for restaurant reviews for New York Law Journal. “One of my favorite topics is food and eating out, and trying to recreate the dishes at home for my family,” he said. “I have a good sense of proportion and I don’t need measures like a teaspoon of this or that.”
What’s in the future for Grajek? “One thing I’m working towards now,” he said, “is magazine photo illustration where you have models, e.g. in a fitness magazine, or a crafts magazine, or 3-D conceptual projects. Examples of this type of illustration are the ones I did with Margaret for Make-a-Wish Foundation, which combine illustrations with photos of subjects against seamless backdrop paper.” You can see some of these on his website.
The exhibition will be at W@tercooler, 21 North Broadway in Tarrytown, for several more weeks. To inquire about seeing it phone 914-332-1400 or check www.watercoolerhub.com/. Make sure you’ve got a good chunk of time when you go, because these pictures can keep you looking for quite a while.