A look at the LA Times’ playoff preview

Leading up to the start of the Dodgers’ series against the Atlanta Braves, the LA Times released an eight-page preview section, anchored around an illustration by Moscow-based Evgeny Parfenov. We asked deputy design director Derek Simmons to give us a look at a few of the pages.

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Katie Myrick: Could you tell us a little about how the cover came together?

Derek Simmons: One of the cover stories for the baseball preview was about Clayton Kershaw, the ace of LA’s pitching staff. He had one of the best seasons in Dodgers’ history, but in order to have his name mentioned along the likes of Koufax, Valenzuela and Hershiser, he’d have to deliver big in the postseason. “At the end of the day, unless you win the whole thing, no one remembers,” Kershaw said.

The other story for the cover was a Bill Plaschke column about how the regular season was memorable, but it’s what happens in October that “creates legacies and defines careers.”

That led me to an idea for the headline: Fall guys. And that worked on two levels. These players are either going to be THE guys of autumn, or they are going to take a big fall under the bright lights of the postseason.

Kershaw was the main piece, so I definitely wanted to feature him prominently in the illustration. But I also wanted to show a couple of more players to support the other story and project a “Dodgers in the playoffs” feel. We have several portrait artists who have done superb work for us in the past, but I reached out to Russian illustrator Evgeny Parfenov because of his bold use of color and unique style. I wanted him to use oranges, yellows, reds and browns to support our headline, and he really did hit it out of the park. The leaves were a nice touch.

Timeframe was about a week.

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KM: I took a quick look at Evgeny Parfenov’s portfolio — he definitely has a distinctive style and it seems like he hasn’t done much work for newspapers (plenty of magazines, though). Do you tend to look for new talent or emerging talent? What’s your process like when it comes to hiring illustrators?

DS: We definitely look for emerging talent. And Evgeny is a perfect example of that. There’s a fair amount of risk involved, especially for such a prominent piece and relatively quick turnaround. But we’ve had great success. That said, we certainly have a healthy stable of regularly contributing illustrators who we rely on often (and in a pinch). But we’re always looking to expand our network. There are so many great websites out there right now for finding talent. I found Evgeny’s work on Behance. In addition to Evgeny’s piece, we’ve published work by illustrators from Switzerland, England, France and Canada over the last couple of years. Art direction has definitely gone global, and we’ve been fortunate to find a lot of talent in our back yard and way beyond.

We always try to match the style and tone of an artist’s work with our stories. So that’s step one for us when hiring for freelance illustration. If it is someone I’ve worked with before, I just send an email with some details to gauge interest. Email makes the process a lot easier. Can’t imagine being an art director without it. If it is someone new, I take time to introduce myself and include some work we’ve done with other illustrators. We do our best to give our commissioned illustrations a really good ride, and the artists definitely see that. We are also good collaborators and have some extraordinary content, two other great selling points. I try my best to give the illustrators as much time as I can to turnaround an assignment. We want as much time as possible for a healthy exchange of ideas and sketches.