Interview with Illustrator Robert Crawford

For IBM, Squirrel with Acorn Filled Cheeks
Illustrations are versatile; they can do things photography can’t do. They are not photography-bound by the stories they depict or the products they promote. And, that is one of the things that Robert Crawford likes about being an illustrator. Crawford is considered one of the best illustrators working today. In a recent exhibition of his work at the Onishi Gallery in New York City, a reviewer talked about illustrators that cross the barriers between commercial and fine art.  “Few illustrators have successfully crossed the line that divides “commercial” art and “fine” art in the public eye, most prominent among whom have been N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, and Andy Warhol. This exhibition presents five contemporary illustrators whose artwork provokes viewers to reconsider the boundaries of fine art in the face of remarkable visual creations.” Crawford took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about illustrative art and how he has developed over a career that spans decades, but perhaps more importantly, spans a client list that reads like a Fortune 500 list combined with the creative elite. Whether it’s a cover for a magazine, or an ad for IBM, he can do it all.  
“I have always wanted to be an illustrator. As a child, looking through magazines, I was drawn to illustrations by some of the best including Roger Hane, Bob Peak, and Bernie Fuchs. Hane, whose illustration of Bernstein is on one of his album covers, moved me in ways that made me sure I wanted to illustrate.” Then he obsessively started writing to them, asking them about their work and connecting to them. “They were my movie stars.”

It’s not surprising that Robert Crawford has been such a success. His ability to attack each illustration from the buyer’s needs and direction, while adding his artistic bent, means that every illustration stands on its own in a way that few illustrators hope to accomplish. “It’s like being an actor,” Crawford explains. “An actor is hired because of the way he portrays a character. An actor acts the role he is given, and when the next movie comes along, he leaves that role behind and becomes the new character. When someone hires me, they do so because of my artistic style. Each illustration should represent that which they have contracted to have done which has no relationship to the work I’ve done for someone else, but it still has my style. Nothing is ever a repeat. That means I have a rich and exciting career.”

Robert Crawford believes in finding the back story for his illustrations. A collector of his work died in the Towers on 9/11. His mother asked Robert to do a portrait for the 10th anniversary of his death. He took what he knew and felt during conversations they had had and did the portrait without following the image he was sent. She marveled at the result telling Crawford that he had captured the spirit of her son in a way no image had. 

Ok, time to brag just a bit. Crawford’s paintings have graced the cover of some of the most prestigious magazines; Fortune, Business Week, The Atlantic and U.S. News and World Report have all seen his work on their covers as well as some of the best selling books published by Random House, Penguin, Avon to name a few. 

His awards include Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, Graphis and Print. His work has been shown all over the world from Japan to Germany, the Americas to the United Nations. And, whether it’s doing six paintings for Volkswagon’s 50th Anniversary Book, or having his work hanging in the permanent collections of major corporations and collections, he still approaches each painting individually with a desire to capture the moment or the message in an illustration. 

Take a look at some of his more recent work below. 

Celestial Seasonings, Organic Fair Trade Estate Tea; Earl Grey
LL Bean Holiday Cover 2008
LL Bean Cover 2010

Three from a series of ads for New Holland
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