Who is C.F. Payne? Illustrator from area has works on magazine covers

Covers and other artwork exhibiting now in Middletown.

American caricaturist and Illustrator C.F. Payne’s works are currently on exhibition at the Middletown Arts Center. The Journal-News spoke with Payne about his journey to having his art so widely known.

“It’s always nice to have a show of your work, more or less in your hometown region. I grew up in Cincinnati, so it’s not terribly far from Middletown. I currently live in Lebanon, and I know folks here in Lebanon. I’m a member of the local Elks Lodge here, and I’m part of the community. So, having your work on display in your community is always a good thing. I’ve been very lucky over the years, so it’s nice to have a show like this. It covers a lot of ground,” Payne said.

“I graduated from Miami University in 1976, and I started working as an illustrator in 1976, and went out on my own as a freelance illustrator in 1980, when I was living in Dallas, Texas. So, there are a couple of my earliest works from those Dallas years. I moved back to Cincinnati in 1987, and some of those works from that time period are there as well. And, it was in moving back to Cincinnati, that I started to have work that, I guess you would say has some national exposure, work for magazines such as People, GQ, Sports Illustrated, Time magazine, and the likes, and so, a lot of those images are there,” Payne said.

There is work in the exhibition from the early years all the way up through 2022. The main exhibition hall features more than 60 of Payne’s original works. Contemporary works include several illustrations from his brand-new state bird series in which the bird actually forms the shape of the geographic state as well as illustrations from his latest book release with author Brent Coleman, “Cincinnati Characters: The Unknown, Unappreciated and Unhinged.”

Retrospective works will highlight selections of Payne’s editorial work for magazines such as the momentous Barack Obama illustration for the 2009 Time Magazine Inauguration Preview Issue.

“Essentially, one of the distinctions of illustration is the work is always commissioned. So, I had been working for Time magazine for probably, 15 to 20 years, when the art director, Arthur Hochstein called me. It was initially assigned for the Time magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ cover. Those ‘Man of the Year’ covers are now their ‘Person of the Year,’ because often, we have women also. So, he called me to do a portrait of Barack Obama for ‘Person of the Year.’ They will assign that project to four or five artists, and then, they get the artwork in, and they decide on which piece to run. They ended up choosing a piece of artwork by Shepard Fairey, and so I didn’t get the cover. Then, about 10 days later, he called me and said, ‘Chris, we love that piece you did so much, we’re going to use it on the inaugural cover,’ and so, that’s what they did,” Payne said.

He said, “The interesting thing about the Barack (Obama) portrait is it’s a little bit different, stylistically, because when you look at most of my work, there is a bit of exaggeration. If you want to call it caricature, exaggeration, stylization, choose your word, but on that particular cover, Arthur very specifically asked me to be as close to realistic as I could get, and they supplied the photograph to me of Barack Obama.”

Other magazine covers such as those from Mad Magazine, New York Times Book Review, and more from Time will be included in the display. Plus, there will also be work from newspapers such as the Washington Examiner, and more.

Several illustrations from children’s books will include “Micawber” — with John Lithgow, “Late for School” — with Steve Martin, and “Mousetronaut Goes To Mars” — with Astronaut Mark Kelly.

Payne currently serves as Director of the Master of Fine Arts in Illustration program at the University of Hartford. He is an avid arts educator. He previously taught at Miami University and at Columbus College of Art & Design for nearly 20 years.


The exhibition, “The Works of C.F. Payne” opened Friday. To see Payne’s works, visit the Middletown Arts Center through April 6. He will offer several lectures and workshops in conjunction with “The Works of C.F. Payne.” For details on the various opportunities, go to www.middletownartscenter.com/events-exhibits.

Free and open to the public, Payne will lecture on “Why Illustration Matters in the Arts” at 7 p.m. March 28 at the MAC. He will discuss how illustration reflects our culture and tells the stories of our times.

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