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Healthcare, The Supreme Court, And The Incredible Shrinking Crystal Ball

April 18, 2012

Behind every successful illustration stands a humble rough sketch. Or two. Or ten. Here’s
a look at a case where a client knew what they wanted– or thought they did. I did a series of sketches that helped bring the concept into focus.

The United States Supreme Court is currently deliberating on The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare. At issue: the law’s individual mandate which requires individuals who are not covered by either an employer or government plan to buy their own health insurance, or be forced to pay a penalty. Is such a mandate constitutional? There are other controversial provisions in the law, but
the individual mandate is the main point of contention at the moment.

Healthcare Finance Magazine asked me to do an illustration on the subject. They asked specifically for “a crystal ball with the Supreme Court Building inside.” They wanted the words Health Reform on the base of the crystal ball, and “one person looking in, trying (unsuccessfully) to glean some knowledge as to which way the court will rule.”

Here’s the final:

doctor physician looking nervously at crystal ball which has "Health Reform" written on its base and showing the United States Supreme Court Building where judges are deciding whether Obama's new healthcare law and mandate known as Obamacare is constitutional

And here’s a close-up of the ball with the Supreme Court Building inside:illustration detail showing crystal ball with "Health Reform" written on its base and inside showing the United States Supreme Court Building and crystal is cloudy because no one knows whether supreme court justices will rule Obamacare and healthcare individual mandate unconstitutional

In my initial rough sketches, I made the crystal ball quite large. I thought that would make it easier for readers to see and recognize the Supreme Court Building, and understand what the illustration was trying to say. Here I have the usual stereotype of a fortune teller trying to see what’s happening:

rough sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing swami type fortune teller straining to see into cloudy crystal ball

Here I changed the fortune teller to a doctor in a lab coat, and had him holding the crystal in his hands. The crystal has no base, so I had the words Health Reform floating inside. rough sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing doctor physician guy trying to see into cloudy crystal ball

This one’s more of a long shot. The crystal is still very large, but you can see the entire person who is trying to peer inside.rough sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing man trying to see into cloudy crystal ball

Same as #3, but now we have a comical, highly nervous little person with his nose pressed against the glass.rough sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing nervous little man straining to see into cloudy crystal ball

Got a little silly here…rough sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing guy kneeling on top of cloudy crystal ball trying to see inside it

Finally a different perspective, with a big face trying to see in from behind the crystal.rough sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing nervous man's big face behind cloudy crystal ball as he tries to peer inside it

I always invite clients to “mix and match” elements from the different sketches. Here’s the feedback I received in this case:

We’d like to work with #3, but use the guy from #2. We like the idea of #3, but would
like to see a less cartoonish version. Also, could you add a little definition to the Supreme Court building? Lastly, we want the guy to be looking into the crystal ball but would rather not have him actually leaning on it, so let’s have him take a step back and be looking in with the perplexed expression on his face.

Here’s my revision based on the above feedback. I just pasted in a photo of the Supreme Court Building, then added some clouds on a separate layer in Photoshop.

revised sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing nervous doctor in lab coat standing and looking at very large crystal ball

The client liked the revision, but expressed concern about the building not being defined clearly enough. I had planned to enhance the image, giving it an illustrated look, when I did the final. However, this was a first-time client, and they needed some reassurance. I went ahead and “Photoshopped” the building. Here’s the new version. I’ll show how I achieved this effect in a followup post.

revised sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing nervous doctor in lab coat standing and looking at very large crystal ball with United States Supreme Court Building sharpened and better defined using Photoshop

Then they asked if I could put the crystal ball on a table:revised sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing nervous doctor in lab coat and crystal ball is smaller and resting on a table

Could I make the ball a little smaller?revised sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing nervous doctor in lab coat and crystal ball reduced in size

How about even smaller?revised sketch for Healthcare Finance News illustration about Supreme Court deciding whether new healthcare law is constitutional and showing nervous doctor in lab coat and crystal ball made even smaller

Finally, they asked if I could move the guy in a little closer– which makes sense, since the building was getting harder and harder to see! Here’s the final again:doctor physician looking nervously at crystal ball which has "Health Reform" written on its base and showing the United States Supreme Court Building where judges are deciding whether Obama's new healthcare law and mandate known as Obamacare is constitutional

What do you think? Did you like the way things turned out? Ever been to a fortune teller or seen a “real” crystal ball? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2012 4:16 PM

    It is a lot work before you get to the finished product, but worth all the editing, very nice work!

    • April 19, 2012 8:25 AM

      Thanks, Jayne. It can be a long and winding road for some illos, but as you say, all’s well that ends well. Plus I almost always learn something along the way! : )

  2. April 18, 2012 4:18 PM

    You nailed it, as always. Thanks for the glimpse inside the literal workings of your creative mind! Love to see the step-by-step way you create, must be the analytic in me:-)

    • April 19, 2012 8:29 AM

      “… the literal workings of your creative mind…” You know, I like that! It sounds so much better than “hacking around, hoping it all turns out right somehow”!!

      Thanks, Tracey! Can’t think of anyone I’d rather be analyzed by. Here, let me just lie down on this couch… zzzzzzzzzzzz… : )

  3. April 18, 2012 7:38 PM

    We have the mandate in Massachusetts, thanks to Romney. Universal health care is needed, but the mandate is unconstitutional. MassHealth, the so called universal care system, regularly denies poor people. so then they’re expected to pay 500 buckeroos per month, or they get their refund taken away. It’s outrageous. First everyone needs to be covered for free, THEN it can be mandatory.

    Whew! Thanks for letting me vent! ;)

    I like the first one, it’s easy to understand. It also looks slick and professional. Have you seen Tom Toles’ cartoons? They are messy black and white sketches, but somehow he manages to pull it off. His stuff is side-splitting funny as well. That’s really tough to do.

    • April 19, 2012 8:38 AM

      Is it over?? Is she thru venting?? I’ll just crawl out from under the bed now… : )

      Tom Toles. I think he channels some cave painter from prehistoric times. But I must admit, he and I do have messy B&W sketches in common… : )

      Thanks, Amelie– you and your vents are always welcome!

  4. April 19, 2012 12:42 AM

    Fascinating to watch the way this progressed. I gotta say, I really liked the way it turned out the best of all the versions (though I was pretty partial to the wackiness of #5.)

    It’s interesting to me how well-defined the client’s vision was. Was it by committee or do they just have one person you worked with?

    I would think the difficulty was making the buldiing crystal clear while still giving it that crystal ball fogginess. Really well done Mark! Sheesh! Even I couldn’t have drawn it any better!

    • April 19, 2012 9:05 AM

      What?? You couldn’t have drawn it any better??? That is definitely the highest praise I’ve ever received!! I still consider you the Master, however… : )

      Interesting question about the client’s vision. I worked with a single individual, but that person had to run the sketches by several other people and get their input. So yes, what emerged was ultimately a committee’s vision. But that’s the norm for an illustration assignment, at least in my own experience.

      You’re right: it was tricky working out just the right amount of fog in the crystal! Fortunately, I’ve always been good at foggy thinking… : (

      Always a delight to see you here– thanks, Linda!

  5. April 19, 2012 3:46 PM

    We got the illustration before reading the brief or the post. Even us non-American, non-TV watchers knew what was going on there: excellent work has no borders! Of course following the development process through your inimitable style of teaching is always fun. Looking forward to the Photoshop follow-up tutorial.

    • April 19, 2012 8:39 PM

      Aw, you chaps are the best. You’ve got me walkin’ on air here– which is great, because it’s saving a lot of wear and tear on my socks! : )

      Thanks for a lovely comment and your wonderful support.

  6. April 19, 2012 8:57 PM

    Ahahahaha! I love this article. I love to see how you did your work step by step. Yes, I like the way things turned out.

    I love your number 4,5,6 sketch…they made me laugh, really comical :D.

    Your final result really sent the message. Great job, Mark! :)

    • April 19, 2012 9:00 PM

      Oh by the way I’ve never been to a fortune teller and never seen ‘the real’ crystal ball as well :D

      • April 20, 2012 7:24 PM

        I can say exactly the same. However, I have opened a few fortune cookies in my time. I think they’re just as reliable– and a lot cheaper!! : )

      • April 20, 2012 7:28 PM

        hahahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahaa…that sounds better, LOL

    • April 20, 2012 7:22 PM

      Ah! It’s wonderful how I can hear your laughter ringing all the way across the ocean– you have a very powerful laugh!! : )

      Many thanks, Inge. So happy you enjoyed the post, and thanks for your good cheer and always being so supportive! : )

  7. April 20, 2012 2:08 PM

    I prefer #6… it is more applicable with the subject “Heath Reform”… like is there really a health reform here? how it would be improved? My God, I go nuts with all the people demands about their health benefits? hehehe Never mind my point of view, but in fairness you did an excellent job! When are you gonna send me my part of the fee… hehehe.. just kidding :)

    But I wish to see your own version of this “Health Reform subject”.. like drop their idea about a crystal ball and the Supreme Court, etc… I trust that you have better idea than what they have in mind… :)

    Thank you Mark! You’re just so brilliant… second to me… hahaha Enjoy your weekend!

    • April 21, 2012 5:14 PM

      Only a person of great insight and intelligence could have written this comment– that’s my expert opinion… : )

      You’re right: the expression of the guy in #6 could very well be saying: can there be such a thing as healthcare reform when nobody wants to pay for it and the government can’t afford it either?? Now that’s a good question!

      Yes, I should draw up my own idea about healthcare reform. Someone is sure to offer me a lot of money for it. But of course since I’m your apprentice, I’d have to give 90% of it to you. No wonder I have to buy discount toothpaste that’s past the expiration date… : (

      Many thanks for sharing some of your great brilliance with us!! : )

      • April 21, 2012 5:45 PM

        You’re welcome Mark as always and please I would love to see your sketch from you own idea about healthcare reform… would you like to see mine too? nah! hahaha…it’s your job, i will just go and drill more teeth and sculpt them each into a Supreme Court Bulding… LOL

      • April 22, 2012 11:40 AM

        Teeth sculpted into mini replicas of the Supreme Court Building–! That image made me laugh uproariously and bang my gavel– which was a mistake, because now my computer mouse is dead… : (

        If someone smiles at me and I see a mouth full of Supreme Court Buildings, I’ll know they have been to the Lemons R Us Dental Clinic!! : )

  8. April 21, 2012 5:07 PM

    I do like the way it turned out, but most of all I like seeing the evolution of your creations. What you post is similar to a mini-tutorial just not as detailed. IMHO that makes each post valuable x 2.

    P.S. I cotton to #2 ;)

    • April 22, 2012 11:36 AM

      Ah, what a lovely comment– thank you, TT.

      Yes, a full-blown tutorial can be pretty overwhelming if one is not trying learn some specific technical skill. Glad to know these assignment overviews are a bit more accessible. OK– twice as accessible! : )

      Thanks again, and I was fond of #2 myself– I think it had definite possibilities. : )

  9. April 21, 2012 10:05 PM

    I like the overall effect of the final product except that the crystal ball should have been bigger. Health care is very important and so even if crystal ball looks bigger than normal, it’s meant to carve a subconscious important message in the reader.

    By the way, depending on the province, an individual does pay to the government, not to private health insurance payments. In British Columbia I was happy to pay only $53.00CAN every 4 months, whether or not I used health care services. But eventualy at different times, I had several doctor’s visits, blood tests, even a ear, nose throat specialists and ear testing for 2hrs. at a teaching hospital….at no extra charge.

    Canada’s health care system is quite different from the U.S. It shocks me that there are cyclists who choose/cannot afford to pay health insurance in the U.S. I could never take that type of risk.

    So would the uninsured individual in this proposed legislation, have to pay to the government or to private insurers this payment?

    • April 22, 2012 1:32 PM

      Hi Jean, always nice to see you here, and many thanks for your very informative comment.

      I agree: I think a larger-sized crystal ball would have achieved a better focus on the story’s main themes: the law and the court’s deliberations.

      The individual mandate would require a person to buy insurance from a private health insurer. Some states plan to set up state-run “cooperatives.” so some individuals might be able to buy insurance as part of a larger pool of buyers.

  10. April 23, 2012 4:02 PM

    Whoa…very cool!!!
    I love seeing how these things progress!! I giggled A LOT at #5 and #6 … they’re super in every way!
    The lab coat guy was a good call, I think. And the way you PS’d the Supreme Court building worked great.
    FABULOUS!!!!!

    Re crystal balls in general: Yes, I once went into a “Fortune Teller’s” tent at a fair. Meh. Not that exciting. The best thing about the experience was trying to figure out what accent the lady was attempting to use. It was a lethargic mix of Transylvanian (think Dracula) and Swedish (think Ingrid Bergman), The incense was yummy, though. :)

    thank you soooooooooooo much for sharing this with us. Your work is WONDERFUL and to glimpse the process is an amazing thing!

    • April 23, 2012 8:18 PM

      I went to a fortune teller the other day. She told me I’d be getting a very flattering and supportive comment. Doggone if she didn’t call that one exactly!! : )

      Well, thank’ee so mucho, I dun need no steenking crystal to tell me yer a true friend, sahib… : )

      Going to a fortune teller at a fair sounds great, can’t think how I’ve missed that opp. I have a younger brother who told fortunes for the family as a kid. Every so often he’d put on a red-striped bathrobe, wrap a towel around his coconut, and appear with his trusty 8-Ball (Wham-o??). After making his predictions, he’d return to the netherworld by climbing into a laundry hamper. Strange, the form these inter-dimensional portals can take… : )

      Thanks for your lovely comment, may a million Reeses Pieces rain down on your parade!! ::puts up umbrella, turns up raincoat collar, jumps off dock::

  11. April 25, 2012 12:16 PM

    WoW! I love ALL of them. Too hard to choose just one. They are all great!
    I did some graphic design work once and the client drove me nuts. She made a million changes and even forgot the changes she made which brough us back to the original….tuff cookie.

    • April 26, 2012 8:55 PM

      What?? You loved all of them?? Gosh! Why I haven’t blushed this furiously since I was the only contestant in a beauty contest and I came in second… : (

      Yes, responding to client feedback can be a challenge. It took me a long time to understand that everyone wants to say they helped. Of course when one comes full circle back to the original design, it’s time to get out the meat cleaver… : P

      Just kidding. I think… Thanks for your very kind and supportive comment!! : )

  12. April 21, 2012 4:55 PM

    This made me laugh so hard, all the fillings fell out of my teeth. There’s quite a pile of sawdust here… : (

    Thank you, dear Dolly, I’m very proud to be your under assistant apprentice trainee… : )

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