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graphic design
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abstract artist illustration art
freelance illustrator

Ron Oden

Art, Illustration and Visual Information

Illustrations:

Transcending words

I created many of the illustrations you see here for news stories during 10 years of service working in the newsroom of the Reno Gazette-Journal, a Gannett Corporation newspaper. Through that period, I produced hundreds of illustrations for every section of the publication. As Graphics Editor, my work at the Reno Gazette-Journal was a privilege, and one of the greatest opportunities of my entire career for many substantive reasons.

Having had the experience of running my own art design studios both in Los Angeles and then San Diego, and working as an illustrator-designer for a advertising agency in Reno afterward, I was already an experienced illustrator before joining the Reno Gazette-Journal. But my work at the RGJ was special and different because it challenged my creative abilities like no other job I had previously held. At the same time, it provided me a venue to project my talent and ideas, and to showcase my work to the local community.

The overused but accurate saying “a picture says a thousand words” at one time must have been literally owned by the newspaper industry. News “hole,” as it used to be termed, or news space was always costly and limited. Newspapers needed to find creative ways to lure readership and communicate more in less space, hence the introduction of illustrations and graphics which was ushered into the world of news lead by the most innovative newspaper of all time, the Gannett Corporation’s USA Today. First published September 15, 1982, USA Today was the nation’s first published full color newspaper. USA Today set a completely new standard for the print-news industry while virtually inventing the concept of news graphics, info-graphics and soon after, photo-illustrations. My work in news was all of this.

But years after USA Today came on the scene, many behind-the-curve section editors still approached news artists and Graphics Editors like myself with requests to prepare graphics and illustrations to simply break up gray space for their page layouts. They were completely clueless, and unaware that the better practice and purpose for news graphics is to merge words and pictures together for a stronger, more powerful communication. To their detriment, they still thought of news graphics as a sort of visual icing on cake, unaware of the opportunity to practice stronger journalism. I well remember that this was a problem for many newspapers country-wide, a self-inflicted creative and informational paralysis which hurt print-news subscriptions, and ultimately circulation numbers.

Creating illustrations for news stories requires printing them out and reading them comprehensively; sometimes reading them over and over again. It involves mulling words and meanings together until “static mental images” are derived from the story which tell what the story is about. The primary purpose for an illustration to accompany the story in the first place is to make the meaning of the story crystal clear to the reader, or as Merriam Webster online tells us, to give us an example or instance that helps make something clear. Once the visual concept is determined, it is immediately sketched to paper, in order to retain the idea and it’s details for future development.

Sometime concepts come easy and in mere moments after a story is read; while other times they come slowly and take hours or days and with great effort. However, in a newsroom, rarely is there days to develop a concept; to have that much time would be a true luxury. In fact, most news art is turned around in just a few hours from concept to finish, which is why I have cited the creation of news art as being the most difficult kinds of work in my entire career as an artist.

Aside from news art I have included other sample images from projects I have worked in a variety of industries and business venues. If you have a question about any of these, please reach me through my contact page.