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Becky Heavner: A Washington Original [HalfBleed magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
HalfBleed: The Newsletter for Members of the Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington
March 1998

IT WAS LATE OCTOBER WHEN Becky Heavner sat down at the desk that overlooks the Pineapple Sage in her garden. A cup of Seattle’s Best Sumatra nestled in one hand, Heavner leafed through the manuscript for her latest assignments, an illustration for The Washington Post Outlook section.

The article, entitled “Exceptions to the Rule: Why Schools Can’t Expel Some Troublemakers,” discussed the dilemma that schools can’t expel disabled students even if they assault another student or a teacher.

Hm, thought Heavner, struggling to come up with an image. So she began an exercise that usually unleashes her creativity. She wrote down two lists. On the left side of a sheet of paper she wrote the words: schoolhouse, teacher, student, flag. In the other list she penned related emotions: boxed in, frustration, trapped.

Then Heavner began doodling, playing with the images that came from the words. By the end of the morning, she had several sketches. Unfortunately, it took three rounds with the editors to get final approval.

“They just didn’t know what they wanted,” says Heavner. “I came up with several ideas, but ultimately they really wanted a picture of a teacher with her hands tied.”

In her signature scratch-board style, Heavner gave them what they wanted. She created an illustration of a teacher, her hands bound with rope, crammed inside a small school room. Five small figures, depicting children reading books, surrounded the
teacher. Beneath her tied-up hands, though, was the single student who the teacher couldn’t reach. He had dropped his book. The teacher was powerless to help him, the other students, or herself.

“It was a good compromise,” Heavner concedes. “Sometimes you have to fish around for what the editors and art directors want. It is just the nature of the illustration business.”

A business that Heavner, 34, has been working at since graduating with a B.EA. from –Virginia Commonwealth University in 1985. She has come to know how to handle persnickety clients, easy-to-work-with clients, clients who give her three days to complete and job, and clients who send her work to the White House for an exhibit.

“Can you believe it? Bill Clinton saw my work,” beams Heavner, work shook hands with President Bill Clinton himself in 1995. “I had been commissioned by the U. S. Department of Labor to create a poster called, ‘Women’s Work Counts.’ It was on display at the White House, and I got to go to reception with the President and First Lady. Someone came up to me after the first couple saw the posters and told me that they said they liked mine the best. It was one of -the biggest honors of my career.”

Today, Heavner incorporates all of her experience into digitally created art. “A lot of people use the computer to make their work look very high tech. My goal is to make it look more hand made.”

She got into using the computer about five years ago when clients began asking her to add color to her black and white scratchboard illustrations. At first, she painted shapes of color and ran them through the Xerox machine. Then Heavner realized she could work faster, and better, with the help of a Power Mac 7 100.

Her hard drive is now filled with dozens of paper textures and two color palettes—the Pastel (for sensitive issues) and the Matisse (for art directors who like bold, bright colors). She also found the computer gives her work even more of a handmade look.

“Some of those paper textures are more dramatic than the actual texture in real life. I can emphasize things like the hairs, fibers and pulp that are actually very subtle.”

In addition to an impressive list clients that includes Fresh Fields, MCI, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Oracle, The Discovery Channel, and the Los Angeles Times, Heavner is also busy doing nonprofit work.

Heavner says recently she has seen a shift in the attitudes of art directors who want jobs to go much quicker—and don’t want to be bogged down by working with someone with an attitude or who isn’t professional. “They are trying to get you to do more and more,” she says, “and although budgets haven’t been cut clients do want more rights, such as worldwide or third party rights.”

To protect herself, Heavner says she is taking the time to carefully read the fine print on her contracts. But then, paying attention to the business of her business is one of her top priorities this year.

“I went to art school to learn to be as creative as possible,” she shares, “and now I am finding my interests lies in marketing myself and becoming a better businesswoman. I want to make sure I don’t get taken advantage of. It may seem like a negative thing, but I actually think it is very positive. Just like I am always working to perfect my art, now I’m working to perfect my business skills.”

10 of Becky’s Favorite Things

• Favorite Color: Depends on my mood …
• Favorite Artist: Henri Matisse
• Most Inspirational Artist / Person: Bryan Leister, my husband
• Favorite Illustration (of your own): Long vertical computer graphic illustration of a variety of seven ethnic people. I liked it because it was the first illustration where I depicted multiculturalism in a beautiful way.
• If you could be an animal: A fox because it is cunning and has a beautiful coat.
• Favorite Book & Author: Anything by Rosamunde Pilcher. Her books are homey and comforting. There is nothing stressful about them.
• Favorite Musician: My brother-in-law Don Leister. He plays the violin and sometimes I get to listen to his private concerts.
• Favorite Ice Cream: Mint cookie
• If you could do anything, what would you do? Create the garden of my dreams and have time to enjoy it.


More Art Directors Club / HalfBleed Articles

"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.