It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rachel's Island

 I joined the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) this year. They have an annual conference of the New England chapter in the spring, which I am hoping to attend. In anticipation of their illustrator's portfolio review, I am working on adding to/updating my portfolio of work. I have been an illustrator for a long time, but my work has not been specific to children's books, so I am looking to fill up that gap.
I have notebooks full of story ideas that I have been hoping to develop, but rather than work one of them into a book dummy, I have decided to produce a series of covers for "books that never were" (but might someday exist).
Kind of like a teaser showing what I can do.
One of my favorite books is the "Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsburg. The main conceit of the book, is that an unknown  and mysterious illustrator drops off his portfolio at a publisher, and then never returns. Not only is his dissappearrance mysterious, but so are his somewhat enigmatic pictures and story fragments. The book is comprised of a series of single black & white illustrations accompanied by a story title and a fragment of text. They are intriguing because the the illustrations show odd or compelling moments, and the text is only a tiny glimpse of an implied larger story, so your imagination runs wild with the possibilities. I am trying for a similar effect, showing what I hope are provocative moments from stories as yet unwritten, that will intrigue the viewer and leave them wanting to know more about the implied story.
My first one is called "Rachel's Island". The story is set in Maine in the early part of the last century and is about the relationship between a Native American girl and a local boy and an island that they "discover" and explore together. It is an idea that I have been kicking around , in one form or another for more than 20 years.
My first version of the image above, was a thumbnail sketch I did in one of my small sketchbooks.

I started doing some research for the individual elements that would appear in the composition. The first step was finding a suitable island location. This is a photo of an Island on the Maine Island Trail, a route for kayakers and boaters. I loved this image, not only because it fit the composition, but also because the water looks beautiful, like something you might find in the Caribbean.

Next was to find an appropriate-looking rowboat. Something classic-New England looking. I considered using a dory, which is very common in New England, but I loved the white-and-wood look of this sailing dinghy. She is of clinker construction, also termed lapstrake: the planks overlap to form ridges along the hull, outside and inside. These ridges are termed "laps", or "lands", and are fastened with clinched copper nails or rivets. Steam-bent ribs inside the planks, thwarts, a solid keel, a stem, and a transom provide the supporting framework. Clinker sailing dinghies were used in near-shore fishing and carrying, and were carried on ships for harbor-going boats. These strong and fairly simple boats had to be able to carry a load and to stand some rough conditions. Besides being better-looking, its design predates the dory. It can also be rigged to sail.
 I now had my setting and my major prop.

I worked this into a black and white sketch. Among other elements I pulled together to use as reference or inspiration:
Pictures of mill-working children from that time period (1900).

A portrait of Lena Cayuga, a beautiful Seneca girl, also from about the same time period (1904)

And an American river otter.

I put all of these items together in a black and white sketch. I then transferred this to a piece of 3-ply-bristol by tracing the original sketch and putting a piece of artist's wax-free graphite paper underneath. I added some refinements. You may notice the "transparent" otter. He was originally much farther to the left, and not standing on his hind legs.

Working in watercolor, and guache, I started with outlining the main shapes in black, waterproof acrylic ink with a fine sable brush, then roughing in the color, working from lighter washes to darker ones, adding and refining details as I went.

I finished up the details with colored pencil. I varnished the final piece with watercolor varnish.
Here is a shot of the nearly-finished painting.

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