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Golf, Performing Seals & How Cell Phones Are Shrinking Magazine Covers

March 30, 2012

I recently did a cover illustration for GottaGoGolf, an online golf magazine for women. The illustration was to support the feature article: it’s a great time to join a country club, or ask for extra perks if you’re already a member. Why? Clubs are hurting for members during these tough economic times, and they’re ready to deal.

It’s exciting to get a cover assignment, and I had visions of doing something elaborate. But I had to simplify the design considerably, for an unexpected reason– more on that below. Here’s the finished cover.

Click on the image below to view the issue. There are multiple viewing options. It’s a lovely magazine, well-written, first class production values. If you’re a woman golfer, it’s definitely worth a look. Subscription is free. (I’m not being compensated in any way to promote the magazine.)

cover illustration for women's online golf magazine, showing woman golf with money negotiating for good membership deal with country club represented by a seal who's eager to please and do tricks in order to make a deal

One of my ideas was to have a woman golfer standing next to giant teed-up golf balls.
C.C. membership perks would be shown as logos on the balls, the “grass” would be paper money. Implied: look at all the extras your money can buy right now. Here’s
the rough sketch:
rough sketch for woman's golf magazine cover showing oversized golf balls on tees, with country club membership benefits represented by different logos on the golf balls

Or how about a country club so desperate for members, that it sets up a lemonade stand in the middle of a fairway? Buy a glass and get a membership at no extra charge…rough sketch for women's golf magazine showing country club membership recruiters aggressively pursuing new members by setting up a lemonade stand in middle of golf course fairway

What about an enterprising membership recruiter who enlists gophers in his marketing efforts? They all pop up and tout membership benefits to the golfers playing through:rough sketch for cover of women's golf magazine showing gophers and woodchucks and country club membership recruiter popping up out of holes on golf course with signs trying to recruit new country club members

These ideas got some applause, but alas, they were unworkable. Why? GottaGoGolf is a digital-only magazine. It notifies subscribers electronically when a new issue is available. Many subscribers receive this message on their cell phones. They will view the magazine cover on their phone’s display screen. For the cover to be legible at all, the graphics have to be very simple.

I thought of magazines like Time and Reader’s Digest. Nowadays, their covers feature a single image with minimal detail. Are cell phones responsible for The Incredible Shrinking Magazine Cover Image? I haven’t actually read anything to that effect, but I suspect that may be the case. So the next time you’re asked to illustrate a magazine cover, be sure to ask if it has to legible when viewed on a cell phone.

I returned to the drawing board and developed some simpler concepts– like prospective members being in such a strong position as buyers, that they can make their local country club jump through hoops:

rough sketch for very simple women's golf magazine cover showing woman golfer make country club jump through hoops for her, and give her extra benefits for becoming a country club member

Or they can rub a magic lamp with paper money and conjure up a country club genii ready to grant their every wish:rough sketch for very simple women's golf magazine cover showing woman golfer rubbing magic lamp with dollar bill, producing genii who's willing to grant her any wishes she asks for if she'll become a country club member

Here’s the original sketch for the very obliging performing seal. His anatomy definitely needed some work! He also needed to assume a more vertical position so the text on his costume could be more easily read.rough sketch for very simple women's golf magazine cover showing woman golfer waving money to get seal to perform tricks and give her whatever benefits she wants if she will join the country club

Here’s the final:detail image of cover illustration for women's online golf magazine, showing woman golf with money negotiating for good membership deal with country club represented by a seal who's eager to please and do tricks in order to make a deal

What do you think? Ever had a gopher try to talk you into joining a country club? Are cell phones “dumbing down” magazine covers? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2012 9:29 AM

    You created some really great ideas Mark. I’m surprised though that they didn’t mention the graphics had to be viewed digitally or be very simple (unless they did?).

    It is a shame though to have to simplify the works because of technology. Guess with everything and people mainly running on technology the graphics do have to be limited so it is easy on the eye. But sometimes it can turn out to be a good thing, as with your final concept.

    It is interesting how you moved the process from using things involved with golf to something completely different. It certainly adds humour to it : )

    And as for the gophers, I have never had the fortune of one talking me into anything, but I would attempt to take it home instead ^__^


    • March 30, 2012 5:17 PM

      Thank you, dear Fox!

      It was only after the first set of roughs, that the subject of phone viewing came up. Years ago, it would have bothered me: Why didn’t you tell me that to begin with???? etc. I’ve come to understand that more often than not, certain details only emerge as one goes along– it’s par for the course (hey– a golf pun!!) in illustration. In this case, my client may have assumed that the cell phone factor was familiar to me, that I’d run into in before. Now, in future, I’ll be able to act the part of sage old illustrator and ask clients: “Now what about cell phone viewing– is that something we need to consider?” And they’ll cry: “He’s a genius!!– he thinks of everything!!” : )

      FWIW: Working within restrictions is common in commercial illustration– it’s an aspect that doesn’t get much publicity.

      And don’t take any gophers home unless they’re dressed in a Sailor Moon outfit!!! : )


  2. March 30, 2012 11:55 AM

    I love following along on your thought process with coming up with something like this. I can only imagine how hard it would be to get that concept. I would imagine it’s kind of good to have some limitations like having to keep it simple enough to fit on a cell phone. I love what you did! I never thought about it before but I suppose this would be a good time to join a country club!

    Ha! And I think the day somebody wants me to design the cover of a magazine will be the day I buy that $7500 no make that $6000 glass of lemonade! πŸ™‚


    • March 31, 2012 11:23 AM

      Yes indeed, limitations help a lot. For example, I only have white underwear– makes it easy to decide on the day’s undergarment concept. Otherwise, I’d be standing in front of the dresser all day, fretting and scratching my head… : )

      Don’t sell yourself short. (Hm… wasn’t I just talking about shorts?) You may well be asked to design a cover someday. I always love the doodles you include with some of your outrageous posts. Definitely shows a strong design sensibility… : )

      Many thanks for your cheery and supportive, uh, support!


      • March 31, 2012 3:58 PM

        You are a wise man, Mark, why waste valuable synapses choosing colors? I keep telling my husband to buy all the same colored socks, will he listen? He’s wasted valuable years of his life searching for matches . . . if he had only listened to me he’d only be 27 years old right now.


  3. March 30, 2012 3:32 PM

    I’m not a fan of viewing anything on my phone other than a text. And believe me I use it for all sorts of things. But not a fan of viewing on one. But you did remind me, I need new clubs:-)


    • March 30, 2012 5:46 PM

      Ha! I’m with you. The idea of looking at a mag cover on the phone– even a very simple one– is enough to make my peepers ache. Pass the papyrus, please!! : )

      Get out and buy those clubs and hit a bucket– it won’t be long now! Cheers, Tracey!! : )


  4. March 30, 2012 6:56 PM

    I just can’t leave a comment…. I am speechless πŸ™‚


  5. April 2, 2012 9:41 AM

    I like the end result. All drafts were good, but you make an excellent point about the amt of information that you want to put, vs what will be readable. I actually do not read much on my iPhone, because of the size. I keep some old issues of SI at my office which I just looked at, and you are correct; most of the issues have just a simple headline with a closeup photo. All the space is used in that ‘less is more’ idea.


    • April 3, 2012 4:30 PM

      Many thanks for your kind and helpful comment. Sounds like design simplicity for the sake of cell phone readability is, indeed, a trend. I think of the sprawling nature of some of the old New Yorker and Saturday Evening Post covers, and their ability to tell a story, and I’m saddened to think we’re losing that. One must bow to new realities, however, and adjust one’s approach to design accordingly. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all plays out.

      Thanks again, I sincerely appreciate your stopping by! : )


  6. April 2, 2012 3:14 PM

    Love the gopher one – the cheesy grin on the CC type is classic! Your illustrations have such joyous energy that even simplified for a cell phone they carry a big impact.


    • April 3, 2012 4:34 PM

      Speaking of joy, your very gracious comment certainly brought me a lot of same– thank you!!

      Well, it’s hard to miss with a gopher and a cheesy, high-cholesterol grin. What kind of guy would conjure up such stuff?? No, no, we mustn’t dwell on that… : )

      Thanks so much for your jolly support! : )


  7. April 2, 2012 4:50 PM

    It’s interesting to know your step by step work and how you finally ended up with the final picture! It’s not an easy job to do. πŸ™‚


    • April 3, 2012 4:37 PM

      I sometimes wonder how I ended up with the final image myself– good thing I’ve got this blog so I can see how I did it! : P

      Many thanks for your cheery support, Inge! : )


  8. April 3, 2012 10:20 AM

    I love your witty humor and creative illustrations! It’s an interesting post on cell phones and magazine covers as well….I never knew that! How quirky…but anywho~ your illustrations are eye catching and simply lovely!


    • April 3, 2012 4:41 PM

      Thank you, dear Jane! When such lovely compliments rain down on me, I run around joyfully and jump in every puddle!! : P

      A shower of grateful thanks for your exceedingly kind support! : )


  9. robpixaday permalink
    April 15, 2012 12:22 PM

    LOVE the final and earlier versions!

    But wow…I never thought about the phone/tablet shrinkage effect in terms of publications (no “smartphone” or tablet, here).

    Recently I downloaded Xcode to see if I could teach myself how to program apps for phones (BWAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and it wasn’t until I saw the ACTUAL size of the viewing area that I began to realize how goofy webpages can look when they’re the “desktop” size but displayed on itty-bitty screens. Graphics (etc.) need to be considered really carefully, don’t they? And spacing…text ….and colors!

    Thank you for showing this other side to the problem. There are many online publications and apparently size matters!

    CONGRATULATIONS for the cover assignment!! they must be thrilled!


    • April 15, 2012 9:47 PM

      Aw shucks, folks, I’m speechless… I’m channeling Bert Lahr tonight– and I ain’t lion… : P

      Well, I’ve never thought about shrinkage either– which explains why I have so many pairs of high-water pants… : P

      Thanks a heap for the kind words, the BWAHAHAHA, and your wunnaful support!! ::pulls own tail, shakes like jello, falls on face::


  10. April 25, 2012 4:31 AM

    i really want to be a good blogger like you are.. πŸ˜€ wish me luck.. πŸ™‚


    • April 25, 2012 8:59 AM

      What a very charming comment– thank you very much indeed.

      I’ve checked out your blog, and you’re doing very well. Your sincere voice rings out loud and clear. Keep posting, keep smiling, keep up the good work!

      Thanks again for stopping by, you’re always welcome here. : )


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