Thomas was charged with the colossal task of developing debate images based solely upon one line of text: the debate motion language itself. So we asked Thomas: however did he manage to navigate these nuanced, multifaceted and complex issues?
Q: Thomas, what was your process like to develop this series of imagery?
A: I was given only the debate topic titles to work with, which is actually the way that I prefer to work, because it allows me to draw from my own impressions of the topic and do whatever further research I deem to be useful to me. It's very similar to most of the editorial projects I am commissioned for by magazines and newspapers, where I'm often only given an article title or brief synopsis as a prompt, so I'm well versed in this kind of scenario.
My first step was to draw from the words in the motion language itself, as well as the images they represent, and start to document every visual concept that crosses my brain, good or bad, to just get it down on paper and free up my mind for even more ideas. The conceptual process for me often involves a combination of wordplay, visual metaphors, idea mashups, and many hours of lying on my back to marinate in the topic at hand.
The better ideas usually rise to the top of the pile pretty quickly, and I know I'm onto something when I actually feel a physical sensation of sorts, a kind of mental "high" or "buzz", because I really geek out on the conceptual part of any project and get super excited when I've found something that both fits a topic well and brings something clever or poignant of its own to add.
Unlike some of my editorial assignments that involve extremely short deadlines, I was allowed much more time for these illustrations. Thanks to this, I was free to try and outdo myself when I thought I had some good ideas by coming up with even better ones.
Once I had the concepts narrowed down to a few of my favorites for each topic, I threw together some quick and dirty digital collages in Photoshop to present to Clea Connor Chang (Director of Marketing and Production and acting Art Director for this project). She discussed the ideas with her team, they chose which direction to go, and I was off and running for the final illustrations.
Q: Which is your favorite illustration of the series?
A: I'm going to cheat and pick two favorites, for different reasons.
One of my favorites is The Wizard of Oz themed illustration for the topic, "For a Better Future, Live in a Red State". This idea came to me almost immediately and seemed like a great fit for this debate, but I had a personal stake in it as well. Growing up, The Wizard of Oz was my mother's favorite movie, and so I have always wanted to work it into a conceptual illustration somehow. I had my fingers crossed that Clea and her team would like this idea as much as I did, and sure enough that was the direction we went.
My other favorite is the chicken with a bag on its head for "Don't Eat Anything with a Face". I just love the simple yet iconic imagery in this one, and think it's an intriguing illustration both alongside the topic and on its own.
Q: Which was the most difficult topic to develop, and why?
A: The aforementioned topic "Don't Eat Anything with a Face" was actually the most challenging for me, and required much more time and effort in the conceptual phase.
What I knew for sure I didn't want to do was take the obvious route of constructing a face with different types of food. I also wanted to steer clear of anything too graphic involving cuts of meat, slaughterhouses, and the like.
In the end, after dozens of ideas that didn't hit the mark, I stumbled upon this concept of a chicken with a bag on its head, and loved it right away. It felt like the perfect answer to a witty and humorous title like "Don't Eat Anything with a Face" in that it depersonalizes the animal in a clever and effective way.