Illustrator Profile - Stephen Kroninger: "For me collage is an improvisational medium"

By Robert Newman   Thursday September 22, 2016

Stephen Kroninger is a New York City-based illustrator who creates brilliantly artful, funny and provocative collage illustrations. His work has appeared in “just about every magazine in the U.S.,” as well as in three children’s books, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and animation, including the hilarious Bad Phone Sex for the Chris Rock Show. For years Kroninger has produced some of the best and most pointed illustrated political commentary. “I’ve never seen my work as out to change the world so much as to  assist in rallying the troops,” he explains. For the current election season, Kroninger has been creating and posting online an ongoing series of campaign commentaries, with the primary target being, of course, Donald Trump. In the tradition of the best political cartoonists and visual commentators, Kroninger responds to specific news events, speeches, quotes, etc. with graphic surgical precision, skewering Trump and his minions in the Republican Party. The illustrations have appeared online on Facebook and Drawger, and have been picked up by a number of publications and organizations. Get ready for the first Presidential debate on September 26 by viewing Kroninger's collected election commentary. And he'll have much more before the election on November 8.

I live in Greenwich Village, New York City with my wife and twin daughters, one of whom is starting college about half an hour away and the other is at school in England.

My father was a garbage man. I’d help out on weekends and school vacations. Much to his amusement I was more of a collector than any sort of great help on the truck. He used to say I kept more than I threw out. I’d pick out magazines and books and records and discarded newswire photos from the local paper. I’d often fill up the cab with stuff to take home. I still have a lot of it.

My first professional illustration job was in 1979. I’ve worked for just about every magazine in the U.S. and others in Europe and Asia, too. The big break was in the mid-80s, when I started doing pieces for the op-ed page of The New York Times.

I work in two places, my studio and all over the city. My studio is basically a variation on my bedroom when I was 15 years old. The walls are covered with pictures and the shelves are full of books and ephemera. My wife says the clutter makes her jumpy, but I love having all these things to look at everywhere. I have a few work surfaces, but front and center is my computer, where most of my editorial work is done. I still have a huge file cabinet of reference images that I continue to use—I just scan them now.

For the past few years I’ve been working on a series of New York collages and that’s taken me all over New York City. I spend a lot of time sketching at various locations around town before returning to the studio to translate the sketches into cut paper collage. For example, I did a piece on Grand Central and went there all the time over a year to sketch people. So some people were dressed for summer and some were bundled up in winter clothes. There was only one image actually of the space itself—the big clock at the information desk—but it really evokes Grand Central.

I generally work in Photoshop for my illustrations and do traditional cut and paste for my other pieces. They each feed off of the other. There’s a freedom to traditional collage that’s not inherent in the computer and a precision to Photoshop not available to the traditional. I try to bring elements of both into each. For me, collage is an improvisational medium so I don’t often do sketches beforehand outside of extremely loose doodles. The composition comes as I start to research, select images and work. I create to music and that often assists in the direction of whatever I’m working on. And sometimes one of our cats will lie down on a piece and come up with something more interesting than what I was doing.


The best piece of advice I ever got was from former Village Voice art director George Delmerico. After sending him samples of my student work he wrote back, “Try to soak up as much drawing as your eyes can handle…and don’t try to be commercial— just draw.”

New York City is my biggest influence. As for art, my biggest influence is Modernism, which covers a wide range. Picasso, Matisse, Romare Bearden, John Heartfield, George Grosz, Hannah Hoch, HC Westermann, Tadanori Tokoo are just a few on a very long list. The artists of Simplicissimus and L’Assiette au Beurre also come to mind.

Gary Panter. Not only is his work inspiring but also his example. Gary is a creative monster. He does comics, illustrates, paints, set designs, light shows, makes music and all at an extremely high level. A visit to his website is highly recommended if you’re not familiar with his work. The man is a giant.

Living in NYC, watching films, looking at my art books. There was a time when I looked at George Grosz drawings every night before I went to sleep.

My studio is in our apartment so it is easy to get distracted. There’s also the internet and all of its various rabbit holes. So, yes, it does take a measure of self-discipline. A friend of mine once told me that having a studio in your living space is both a blessing and a curse. Since I like to work around the clock it’s been more of a blessing. It’s nice to wake up in the middle of the night, walk across the hall and get back to work.

I’m just starting work on a piece for a book entitled, Go To Hell And Bake Bagels: Yiddish Curses Illustrated. It’s edited by Eddy Portnoy and to be illustrated by about three dozen artists.

Over the past few months I’ve been doing pieces about the election, mainly Donald Trump, who offers endless opportunities for commentary and caricature.

It began on Facebook. I would read comments on the election and think of a response but I didn’t want to engage in any of those long-winded threads batting opinions back and forth. So I  just did what I always do, made a collage. And with this election, I've had a lot of opinions, so I keep doing them. Some have just been picked up by Creatives by Humanity, and there’s been interest expressed by a number of traditional publications. Check your local newsstands.

Early in my career, political activist/Fug/cartoonist Tuli Kupferberg told me that “we’re basically the U.S.O. of the left” and I’ve always kept that close to my heart. I’ve never seen my work as out to change the world so much as to occasionally assist in rallying the troops. There is lots of great political work floating around of late.It’s a good sign. I recommend checking out Mark Wagner’s collages made entirely of one dollar bills, Keith Knight’s insightful comics, Molly Crabapple’s posters and videos among others.

I generally vote for the Supreme Court in every election. I wouldn’t like to see Trump and his crew that includes Giulliani, Christie, Carson, Bannon, Pence et al selecting any justices. Some Trump supporters have said, “I can’t wait to see what you do with Hillary.” Well, they’re going to have to wait until after she’s elected.

Over some years I have been working on a series of pieces about New York. My Washington Square Park piece was published in The New Yorker and Grand Central Station is on loan and hangs at the Society of Illustrators after being awarded a gold medal. Other pieces in that series include Grace Church, Grace Church School, and Paul the Birdman of Washington Square Park. Kyler, a tarot card reader in the park, is currently on my work table. I would love to put them together somehow, whether it ends up as a show, or a book or a spread in a magazine.

For the past few years I’ve been doing a series for a column called “Encounters” in American History magazine. The articles deal with curious meetings of somewhat disparate personalities that actually took place. Some examples include Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot, Buffalo Bill and Queen Victoria, Nikita Krushchev and Marilyn Monroe, Walt Whitman and Bram Stoker, etc. Rudy Hoglund brought me in and I’ve since worked with a number of art directors there including Peyton McCann and Cynthia Currie.

You know this is the toughest question for fear of leaving someone out. In fact before I start I know I’ll be leaving out a bunch of them because I admire so many. Off the top of my head, Gary Taxali, Katherine Streeter, Yuko Shimizu, Marc Burckhardt, Shadra Strickland, Chris Buzelli, Bil Donovan, Steve Brodner, Philip Burke, Robert Risko, JT Steiny, Victor Juhasz, Drew Friedman, Barry Blitt, John Cuneo, Richie Pope, Andrea D’Aquino and Chris Kindred. I knew this was a bad idea. I’ve named a bunch and still have a couple zillion to go. And then there are the dead ones. I have a lot of those too.

I’ve been teaching Senior Thesis at Parson which I love. I’ve been fortunate to have very bright, talented and highly motivated students.

One thing I’ve done over the past few years is give lectures, which I’ve really enjoyed. Drew Friedman and I did a lecture together on Forgotten Caricaturists, which we did at the Society of Illustrators and then again at SVA’s theater. So I’ve been focused less on alternate clients and more about sharing some of the things I’ve learned over the years. It’s gratifying in a different way.

I’ve never had a rep. Maybe I should look into that. I do all of the online things and send out e-mails. And word of mouth is still powerful, on and offline.

Say “yes” to everything and don’t pigeonhole yourself. For example if someone calls and asks for animation and you don’t do animation, say “yes” anyway. Worst case scenario is you’ll screw it up and they’ll never call you again, but chances are good the artist in you will figure it out, you’ll do a great job and you’ll have a happy client and the added benefit of discovering a new avenue of expression for yourself. And become a member of the Society of Illustrators. It’s a great place to network and shoot the breeze with fellow illustrators and art directors.

See more Stephen Kroninger illustrations, new work and updates:
Stephen Kroninger website
Twitter: @S_Kroninger
Instagram: @stephenkroninger
2016 Election Series