Cover Artist Gallery: Leif Parsons

An interview with the creator of The Walrus’s April 2010 cover
April 2010

SubjectThe Human Egg Trade” by Alison Motluk
Artist ’s portfolioLeif Parsons

This was not an easy cover to do. With one image we had to sum up a complex story: “The Human Egg Trade,” a piece that explores the grey area that now exists in law and praxis due to the outlawing of payments to human egg donors from the families they assist. Egg donation is a lengthy and uncomfortable procedure; without compensation, there are few reasons why a woman would endure it for anyone but a close friend or dear relative. Nonetheless, a strong demand for eggs exists. Alison Motluk’s article contends that poorly written and poorly implemented legislation has fostered the development of practices that jeopardize donors’ health.

Magazine covers need to function like icons or simple signs — the potential newsstand buyer needs to grasp the topic being presented within a second, perhaps two. How do you sum up such complicated subject matter in a single flash?

Leif’s final image is concise: an infant with a discreet price tag. It’s intended to draw attention (“Oh, a cute baby”), and then sting you with the discontinuity (this baby is for sale). It’s a deliberate provocation.

Brian Morgan: How did you first approach this assignment? Did it differ from your typical process of generating ideas?

Leif Parsons: This was a somewhat unusual assignment for me in that the subject matter was delicate and did not lend itself to my usual attempts at making a clever, whimsical, or funny twist. I often lie in bed or on the sofa, quietly trying to think of a slant that illuminates the content in a new and interesting way. If I can’t think of anything, I just give it some time and keep it in the back of my mind. Eventually, something clicks.

The idea that I was initially excited about and presented was an image of a stork sneaking around in a shadowy alley — a mixing of friendly and cute baby images with the eerie feeling and content of crime noir.

Brian Morgan: In general terms, how do you create your work? At what point do you commit to pixels?

Leif Parsons: As mentioned, I lie around with a pad of paper in silence until I have an idea that I like. It is only then when I try to visualize what might be an appropriate format, and look for the execution. I can usually visualize quite well what will work, but sometimes as I make a sketch for presentation I realize that it is too abstract or obvious. After I get the sketch approved, I draw it again and begin to worry about the finish.

Brian Morgan: What was your inspiration for this final image?

Leif Parsons: This was entirely the result of reading the article, then trying to think of an image that in content and tone seemed both appropriate and interesting (and could get past the editors).

Brian Morgan: Whose work has influenced you most?

Leif Parsons: You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell from this particular cover, but Saul Steinberg was an early influence. For a while, every time I tried something I would realize he had already done it! Christoph Niemann has also influenced me through his problem solving and conceptual approach to illustration. There are of course many other artists who have been an influence on my art practice, which in turn shows itself in my illustration work.

Brian Morgan: You’ve been creating for The Walrus for many years; this is the second cover you’ve done for us. How has your style and sensibility evolved over the course of our working relationship?

Leif Parsons: Some of the early work I did for you guys still stands among my favourites. What stood out for me about The Walrus compared to its competition was its willingness to take risks. I was lucky enough to do a five-page feature on the decentralization of power in Canada, and I used the opportunity to make a narrative riff in comic format on the general idea of decentralization. It was somewhat abstract and I am not sure how many magazines would have had the gonads to run it. It was quite fun, and a project I am quite proud of.

My recent artistic development has mostly been in my art practice (Leif Low-beer), but I am starting to feel the need to stir up my illustration life and make some changes. How to do this is yet to be determined.

Brian Morgan is the art director of The Walrus.

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