Bill Russell (illustrator)

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Bill Russell
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Born (1955-01-03) January 3, 1955 (age 69)
CitizenshipUnited States
EducationBachelor’s of Fine Art Degree in Illustration
Alma materParsons School of Design in New York City
  • Illustrator
  • visual journalist
  • painter

Bill Russell (born January 3, 1955) is a Canadian-American illustrator, visual journalist and painter based in the San Francisco Bay Area, creating scratchboard illustrations for books and magazines and advertising, and abstract and narrative paintings. He earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Art Degree in Illustration at Parsons School of Design in New York City.

Russell was a staff artist at the San Francisco Chronicle from 1996 to 2003. From 1995 to 2003, Russell was an Adjunct Professor of Illustration at the California College of the Arts (formerly CCAC). Reactor Art & Design represents Bill Russell as a commercial illustrator.[1]

His digital drawings, created on an iPad using the Procreate app, were used in the collaborative project Wine Country Tales.[2]



Bill Russell has illustrated books, magazines and advertising, using scratchboard as his medium. After earning his BFA at Parsons School of Design in 1976, Russell began his career as a freelance illustrator in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. As a staff artist 1996 to 2003 at the San Francisco Chronicle, Russell illustrated news stories, features and icons.

Russell created hundreds of scratchboard illustrations for a variety of print media. His scratchboard art has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, Esquire and The Wall Street Journal. Russell's scratchboard work is also featured in three Stephen King novels: Needful Things,[3] Gerald's Game,[4] and Dolores Claiborne.[5] He created magazine covers for The New Republic, as well as illustrating for companies and organizations like the Yiddish Book Center, Air Canada, Brown University, Columbia Sportswear and Levi Strauss & Co.. Russell created the "Arnold the Worker" logo and other illustrative branding for the software company Metrowerks.[6]

Wine Country Tales

Russell’s collaborative project with finger-style guitar musician Brian Gore called Wine Country Tales was a performance art that blended of music and illustration.[7] On many stages, Russell created digital artwork as Gore played original songs about the California coast and wine-growing regions. Russell's live digital drawings on his iPad reflected Gore’s song narratives.[8]

A review in the East Bay Times described the performance as a melding of Gore's rippling, rhythmic music and Russell's fluid and vibrant visual storytelling.[9] The Independent also wrote that Russell's still life landscapes, animation, and live digital drawing complemented the sensor input of Gore's music.[10]

Visual Journalist

Bill Russell expanded his illustrative approach when he began working for the San Francisco Chronicle, adopting a more reportorial style for newspapers, books, corporate, advertising, and lifestyle projects.[11]

For Russell’s 4-month art residency at Recology, he scavenged for stories and drew the employees, told their stories, created a set of prints and published a book.[12][13] "He’s focused on the folks who are often overlooked, and he’s acknowledging and respecting their difficult jobs,” said Deborah Munk, manager of the artist-in-residence program. Russell acknowledged his egalitarian approach to art in an interview with the Marin Independent Journal and said too many artists focus on esoteric themes.[14]

Fine Artist

Later in his career, Bill Russell has shifted away from illustration to fine art. In 2004, Russell participated in the Hearts in San Francisco project, creating a giant heart sculpture depicting an everyday San Francisco street scene — including a Green Machine street cleaner, sidewalk musicians, shoppers, Market Street road construction, and more — in the style of a Greek vase. He told SF Gate|SF Gate that he was inspired by Greek vases' ability to act as societal time capsules. Russell hoped that people viewing his heart in the future would learn about 2004 San Francisco culture in the same way one would learn about Greek society from a vase.[15]

His painting, "Galleon on the Red Sea" won honorable mention at the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art's 2016 Summer National Juried Exhibition.[16][17]. MarinMOCA awarded Russell an honorable mention again in 2018 for his piece, "Fire Condo" during the Museum's Contemporary Landscape show.

Russell’s 2015 solo exhibition of his work at Stanford Art Spaces in Palo Alto, CA, was curated by art writer DeWitt Cheng, who wrote, “Russell’s works, with their intuitive orbs and arabesques of black enamel paint, resemble musical scores set free from their staves…collaged printed elements assimilate bits of the real world, or at least references and metonyms, into the frozen music of the pictorial architecture. Russell’s lyricism is generally playful, but it has a darker side, too, mixing myth, history and politics.”[18]

Russell participated in the 2020 Utility Box Art Series held by Dublin, CA. His painted box depicted a joyous blossoming of life.[19] Several of his florals and canyon paintings were also part of the 2020 "Voyagers" group show at the Marin Community Foundation in Novato, CA.[20][21]

Notable Works

  • Illustration for Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, The Franklin Library, 27th Annual of American Illustration, #306, Society of Illustrators 1986, ISBN 0-942604-09-1[22]
  • Sequential illustrations for Deadman by James M. Cain, American Illustration 8, 1989, pg.116-118, ISBN 0-904866-73-4[23]
  • Bata Harvest Poster, The Advertising and Design Club of Canada, 1987.[24]
  • Interior and frontispiece illustrations for Stephen King novels, Needful Things, 1991, Gerald's Game, 1992 and Dolores Claiborne, 1992, Viking Books[25]
  • Metrowerks Software branding illustrations, including their (metaphorical) “Arnold the Worker” [6]
  • Wigwag magazine for the short story "Seventh Heaven" by Alice Hoffman, 1988.[26]
  • Ruth Lozner, Scratchboard for Illustration, 1990 & 2017. Watson-Guptill Publications, ISBN 0-8230-4662-1
  • Leslie Carbarga, Dynamic Black and White Illustration, 1993, pgs 136,150 & 151. Art Direction Books, ISBN 0-88108-113-2


  1. "Reactor Art + Design - Bill Russell".
  2. "Welcome to Wine Country Tales". Wine Country Tales.
  3. "All Things Bill | Needful Things Frontispiece Illustration | Bill Russell".
  4. "All Things Bill | Clothesline Illustration | Bill Russell Illustration".
  5. "All Things Bill | Dolores Claiborne Frontispiece Illustration | Bill Russell".
  6. 6.0 6.1 "MetroWerks Illustrations by Bill Russell | Scratchboard illustration, Illustration, Art". Pinterest.
  7. "Illustrations set to music in Upper Lake". June 4, 2015.
  8. "Los Gatos: Gore, Russell pair music, art at The Woodshed". October 7, 2013.
  9. "Tri-Valley A&E: Images, guitar combine in unique show". April 28, 2017.
  10. "Art and Wine the Focus of Wine Country Tales". The Independent.
  11. "Faces of the Bay Area". SFGATE. April 19, 2004.
  12. "Recology San Francisco, Art at the Dump Artist in Residence Exhibitions: Work by Ferris Plock, Suzanne Husky and Bill Russell". Recology.
  13. "Bill Russell". Recology.
  14. "Marin artist creates portraits of those who do the dirty work at S.F. dump". January 20, 2011.
  15. "PAPER HEARTS". SFGATE. June 27, 2004.
  16. "Summer National Juried Exhibition".
  17. "Bill Russell - Paintings - Marin California-based Fine Artist". July 25, 2016.
  18. "Art Silicon Valley/San Francisco 2015". Issuu.
  19. "Utility Box Art | Dublin, CA - Official Website".
  20. "Art Exhibitions | Marin Community Foundation".
  21. "Bill Russell - Paintings - Marin California-based Fine Artist". February 29, 2020.
  22. "Homepage". Society of Illustrators.
  23. "AI-AP | American Illustration - American Photography".
  24. "Bata Harvest | The Archive".
  25. "The Narrative Illustration of Bill Russell".
  26. "Illustrating Alice Hoffman Story for WigWag". August 4, 2015.

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