Greg Newbold: Illustrating Jack Ma for The New York Times

Jack Ma Propaganda Final-sm

Greg Newbold lives and works in Salt Lake City, Utah and is one of the most accomplished and prolific illustrators in the Church. You can find his work in magazines, newspapers, children’s books, and in private art collections. He has received awards from  The Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, and many others. Newbold agreed to let us publish this post from his excellent blog describing an engagement he did with The New York Times to illustrate Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.

Newbold: I got a call from Minh Uong, art director for The New York Times. I had worked with him a long time ago when he was with the Village Voice, but somehow we had not had another opportunity to work together for the past several years. As we caught up on things he offered me a project that I could not pass up. I mean, can you really pass on a front page business section feature illustration in The New York Times? I certainly couldn’t. The article was to be an in depth look at Chinese internet tycoon Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group. I have to admit, I knew absolutely nothing about Jack Ma before taking on this project, but a little time on the internet solved that problem. Ma’s network of online businesses include China’s version of Ebay, Amazon, and PayPal among other offerings. Since Alibaba’s founding in 1999, Ma has become a billionaire and one of China’s most powerful businessmen. He turned out to be a very interesting character with a unique face and personality that I was determined to capture. I watched several interviews with him as well as looked at countless photos to analyze his features.

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Newbold: The concept that Minh and I discussed for the art was to show Ma as the leader of this new global marketplace but with a lighthearted nod to the Mao era Chinese propaganda posters. I loved the imagery in some of those old posters depicting the heroic worker. I decided to use the color and feel of those old posters but avoid having things feel overbearing and communist. Since I had a relatively square format to work within and I knew I wanted Jack Ma to be front and center, I designed two options to present and then gave those two options a different treatment visually.

Jack Ma Rough Sketches-sm

Newbold: One version would be painted in my usual full color style and the other would be a more graphic version similar in feel to some of the old propaganda posters I had seen that were more like ink drawings with blocks of color. Minh told me that it was a tough choice between the two different aesthetic options but they ultimately wanted to go with the full color painted option. In a final touch, the flags in the background would bear the logos of the various Alibaba group companies as well.Jack Ma EvolutionNewbold: One of the editors also felt that he needed to look less like a worker and more like a businessman, so I added the suit jacket and tie. I was also asked to smooth out the jacket a little by making it a more tailored and less rumpled. I smoothed out a few of the wrinkles in the sleeves and jumped in to the finish rendering.

Jack Ma Detail

Newbold: I really wanted to give this one the aged feel of an old poster that had been folded and worn, so the last step was to add some distressing and folds that I created on a separate piece of paper and added over the top of the finished piece. That last bit of grunge and folded paper I think pushed it from good to really good. I am thrilled with how it turned out.

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Visit Greg Newbold’s blog, Life Needs Art.