Did you notice? Earlier this year we added a new element to the Flyer -- the "Cheat Sheet" -- a skewed look at the week's top events. To add a bit of flash to the section, we hired a nice fellow named Greg Cravens to illustrate one of the news topics each week. Since the only credit he gets each week is an 8-point byline, we'd like to introduce you to the man who is asked to convey, oh, such things as the Tennessee Waltz in a postage-stamp-sized drawing. Sometimes with just a few hours' notice too.
"I like a nice challenge," says Cravens, from his Midtown studio, which he shares with "a wife, two kids, dog, and mortgage." Born in Jackson, Tennessee, 40 years ago, Cravens came to Memphis in 1983 to earn a degree from the University of Memphis. After graduation, he began airbrushing and screen-printing T-shirts in a Mall of Memphis shop called Adwear. "We would put whatever design you wanted on a shirt," he says. "But they let me freelance with the art department equipment after hours, and when I was making as much money freelancing as with the screenprinting stuff, I quit."
That was in 1991, and Cravens has stayed busy ever since.
"Whoever picks up the phone and calls," he says, "they are my boss now." He has done work for just about every advertising agency in town, created a comic strip called The Buckets, which ran for several years in The Commercial Appeal, and draws the "Guru" cartoon for the kid's publication Jabberblabber.
Although he is trained in media ranging from oil painting to watercolors, practically all of his work these days is done on a computer. "I used to do whatever was required, but the computer has replaced so many of my tools," Cravens says. "You can get out your oils and do a Norman Rockwell-type thing, but then the client will say, 'We need it digitally because you'll have to e-mail it to us.'"
For the Flyer's "Cheat Sheet," we usually come up with a general topic, call Cravens the night before it's due, and just let him fly, so to speak. "That's the best way to do it," he says. "If you say, 'Here's your subject matter, go with it,' then I'm free to come up with a communicative image."
Actually, each week Cravens provides us with three or four different images, and we pick one that we like. "I used to do four sketches in four completely different styles," he says. "Then the style settled down to a technique that looks like layered woodcuts -- like all the colors have been cut out of separate woodblocks and laid on top of one another.
"I have fun doing four of these and trying to guess which one the Flyer will pick. And I'm almost always wrong!"
For this year-end issue, we took a poll around the office and picked the top five Greg Cravens "Cheat Sheet" illustrations. Something tells us he would have picked other ones.