News for NMU Employees

Hughes Illustration Featured in New York Times

Being commissioned by The New York Times to create a visual to accompany a prominent story in the paper is a major coup for any illustrator, so Steve Hughes (Art and Design) was eager to oblige. The high-profile placement is the latest in a string of achievements for Primary Hughes, the name he’s given his illustration enterprise. Another is his portrait of William Cutting, the butcher character played by Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York (pictured below). The painting was purchased by Martin Scorsese after a New York art show that paid tribute to the acclaimed director’s movies. It also has received a silver award from the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles and appeared in SILA’s 52nd annual Illustration West exhibition in March.

The Times assignment revolved around a short story by novelist Matthew Sharpe titled “A Man, a Truck and a Load of Stuffed Shrimp.” It told of a summer job the author held during college peddling boxes of seafood and steaks door to door in San Francisco.

“I hadn’t submitted anything to the Times before, but the art director who contacted me said he had seen some of my work and was a fan,” Hughes said. “I jumped at the chance to work with that publication. It was a relatively hands-off process. The art director sent me a draft of the story as a guide, asked for a couple sketches, met with others to look them over and came back with a selection. He asked for slight changes to refine how it spoke to the story, such as making the guy look more disheveled and the box under his arm a little more disorganized.”

Hughes had a week to craft the initial sketches and two days to fine-tune the selected option. Unlike most of his works, which are acrylics, this one was digital. Hughes scanned the illustration and colored it in Photoshop by overlaying layers to mimic traditional approaches. It appeared in color on the Times website and as a teaser on the front page of the printed edition. A black-and-white version accompanied the full story on a page in the Job Search section.

“When I shared this with my illustration students, they recognized it was a big deal,” he said. “I’ve done some work for the American Greetings card company, but this is probably my biggest client to date. Hopefully it will lead to continuing work with the Times and other publications.”

A series of baseball portraits comprised Hughes’ master’s thesis at Kent State University. He credits that collection with helping him to land the faculty position at Northern and he has gained additional mileage from some of the paintings, which have been featured in exhibits and showcased in the North American Museum of Sports. An illustration of a robotic moth, “Cecropia Bot,” appears in Acrylic Works: The Best of Acrylic Painting. The hardcover demonstrates the versatility of the medium and highlights 126 “contemporary masterpieces” that cover a wide range of styles and subjects. Hughes’ accompanying text reads:

"Research into the movements of bugs and insects has led to great advances and experiments in the world of robotics. It is this unlikely combination that I have chosen to depict. Beginning with similarities in patterns of the Cecropia moth and by making comparisons to "Steampunk" and wiring designs, I constructed the robotic side of the image with plain bristol paper in collage, glued with acrylic medium. The resulting substrate creates a subtle relief that adds depth to the imaginative realism when the final acrylic painting is applied on top."

To see more of Hughes’ work, visit