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Bob Mansfield Profile
posted: August 13, 2007
Taking a break on the Forbes Field bleacher seats installed in the Forbes Magazine Galleries....
It's lucky that Bob Mansfield, Art and Design Director at Forbes Magazine, likes change since he's been on the frontlines of the shifting world of editorial illustration for 25 years.

"I was the artist in my my family. I drew trucks, trains – boy stuff, initially. As a teenager, I went over to oil painting and took lessons from from Jock MacRae, a landscape artist. When I was in high school, I entered these little town shows and county events, and I was awarded ribbons and received recognition. People would actually buy my work, too, and I kind of liked that.

"I applied to Cooper Union and got in, but after the first year I hated the painting program. I nicknamed it Rhetoric, because it wasn’t about painting at all, it was about the students talking about themselves and their problems and why they couldn’t do anything that week. And the teacher enjoyed that more than going through people’s work.

"Your first year you had to take the foundation stuff, and I had a graphic design class. I didn’t know too much about graphic design, but I really liked the teacher, Peter Landry. He worked for Massimo Vignelli, who was this famous, very polished Italian designer. Toward the end of our foundation year he took us on a field trip up to the office and it was like: I like this. It was a super sleek office with great views, and everyone looked beautiful and I liked the work that was being done. So after that I became a graphic design major.

"Art directors have to be a little smarter now than what they used to be. A good art director will be a go-between between the printed page and what the writer or the editor wants to put on that page. They have to think not only what will look cool or what will look nice, but they have to think of what will get the message across correctly and what they want to say and how it'll work with the whole look of the magazine. When I started, when I was an associate art director, it was like, you heard about the story, and you had to get a piece of artwork for it; it was almost like a newspaper mentality. Now an art director should be asking, why a photo? Why not an illustration? Why not a diagram, why not some kind of graphic that explains this? And collaborating with the writer and the editor more, to come up with something that’s even more compelling.

"Over the years I've seen a shift from illustration to photography. We used to rely on illustration a lot. And we didn't have a very large stable of illustrators, because we had a really mean managing editor. Maybe he was a sweetheart, but – he didn’t like illustration 'experiments'. You had to get him used to illustrator. You'd have an assignment, and you knew that if you experimented with a new illustrator, you were going to get your head handed to you, so you'd give it to one of the 'safe' guys. One of these guys, he didn’t even do sketches, he’d just send it in and I'd look at it and think, 'I don’t get this'. The writer would look at it and go, "What the f...?"  and then I'd show it to the managing editor and he would back up, take his glasses off, and go, 'The man is a genius.'

"I think illustration has a more powerful message than photography. Here’s an example and this goes way back in the ‘80s: Bob Grossman, I believe, did this illustration for us about Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. It was about how they were doing these leveraged buyouts and they were just getting really rich. Now, Allan Sloan was the writer of this story and he was like, 'Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken are like pigs at a trough; they're gluttons; it’s awful what they're doing.' Now, if you just used a photograph of the two guys, it would be like, that’s that: Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. But it doesn’t really say anything more than that. But Bob Grossman came in with this great illustration of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, rotund caricatures of Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, eating a huge pie of a pie of money. The story was a powerful story, and Boesky and Milken were mad about that, but they were infuriated by the illustration.
 
"But, big picture, we use less illustration, if you compare it to 15 years ago. Photography has gotten cheaper and easier to do. In the days of yore, if you needed a photograph of a CEO, you had to make an arrangement with the PR people at the company, and call up and book a photographer who you’d have to fly there, and he would take the pictures on film, and the film would have to get labbed – which would take time – and keep in mind, when I started, there really wasn’t even Federal Express, you had couriers. So, you got your film, and the photo editors edited the slides, then you had to get it separated ... it was a long process, so a photograph could take many days to execute.

"Illustration was much quicker. Almost all the illustrators were in New York. I think all of them were, now that I think back. But photography just became easier to use, 10, 15 years ago. Digital was starting, and delivery services were more up to date.

"Then, around 1998, we had a new managing editor who really hated illustration. He just didn’t like it, he thought it was old fashioned and just not the way to go. And to an extent, I think he was right, I think if you use the wrong kind of illustration, you do look old fashioned or you send kind of a wrong message.

"This came up recently, because we were doing a story on this cool gadget, I forget what it did, but it was very cutting edge. We had an illustration done, but the guy did things kind of 40’s-ish and it just looked wrong. I thought, 'If you're thumbing through this and you look at this page, it’s just sort of like, 'There’s Forbes, they think people wear derbies and go down to the haberdashery.' I mean, it was the style of the illustrator, and the image we’re trying to project is that we’re not just for old folks. And we’re not. That’s when using the wrong kind of illustrator can give the wrong look and feel.

"It used to be that every cover of the magazine was an illustration, and  we never used photography, but then there was a turning point where there was suddenly no illustration on the cover. The new managing editor said, 'I’ll kill myself if there is ever an illustration on the cover.' He was here for about five years and I think it improved the look of the magazine. Not because we got rid of the illustration, but because he woke up the editors and the writers that it all comes back to story telling, that you want the artwork to help the story. It was a wonderful exercise to have someone like him in here, changing things and being an advocate for the art department. Because, remember, we’re always regarded as the kids in the sandbox.

"He took the art very seriously, but he did not want illustrations. He's subsequently left and I carried on that philosophy for a while because it was something everybody could understand: who are we going to put on the cover? We’re a magazine about wealth creators, 'heroes of capitalism', we like to call them. So most of our stories have a person that the story revolves around. But it got to the point for me where sometimes that didn’t work and it wasn’t the best solution for the cover. And some stories weren’t getting on the cover at all, because there wasn’t a 'who are we going to use?' to go with it. So we've been introducing illustration back on the covers and we certainly use it plenty on the inside of the magazine.

"What I love about magazines, is that every two weeks, it’s a new thing. It’s not a long, drawn out project: the magazine closes every two weeks and that’s that. Of course it’s got to be good every time, as best as you can, but if something is going badly, you can just say, 'Well, in two weeks this will be a distant memory.' And even though this is a business magazine,  business touches everything and everybody and it’s probably more fascinating than people realize, and it constantly changes, and that part is a lot of fun."
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