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.

Friday, April 24, 2015

NESCBWI - Illustration Challenge

My wife Amy and I are attending the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators New England conference in Springfield, MA this April. I just joined SCBWI this year and this will be my first conference as a member. I have worked as a graphic designer for almost exactly 30 years, and although it pays the bills (mostly) my first love has always been illustration. To that end, I am trying to jump into the illustration field.
In keeping with the conference theme, "Think Outside the Crayon Box!", and to "get your creative juices working" SCBWI holds an illustration challenge. Your artwork is displayed at the conference all day Saturday for everyone to see. It is a great portfolio building exercise and a wonderful
promotional opportunity. The Challenge for this year was:
We would like you to illustrate this single line of text for a double-page spread of a picture
book: “Don’t worry–I fixed it.” Interpret in any way you like.
So first, I did some thumbnail sketches.

I like to work small, really small. These sketches are all about 3" x 2". I drew them in pencil and then colored them with ink and watercolor. I did (8) sketches total. I showed the sketches to my illustration critique group. They felt that some ideas were not appropriate for a children's book, and some were not that clear. The two they liked the most were the "Alien Garage" (upper left hand corner) and the "Mermaid Patching Job" (right hand top), but they had suggestions for changes on both of them.
"Alien Garage" shows an large orange alien mechanic finishing up repairs on a flying saucer belonging to a young girl astronaut, and her blue-skinned companion. The repairs have not gone well, and the saucer is definitely not space-worthy despite the alien's assurances.
Some issues pointed out for Alien Garage: it lacked context. Where was it located? What made it alien? Also; the body language of the children was not clear. What were they feeling?
"Mermaid Patching Job", shows a mermaid just finished repairing a hole in a rowboat that has struck a submerged rock, by covering it with a large starfish, and giving the "OK" sign to the little girl in the boat, while her father examines the strange patch. Issues with Mermaid Patching Job were mostly with it not being clear what the mermaid is doing. Is she finished patching the hole or is she assisting the "captain" figure with the patching? They wanted to see more context, more obvious damage to the boat, more clues as to what had happened. They also wanted the mermaids head farther out of the water, and her hair to cover her "side-boob".
I couldn't choose between the two until I had done some more work on them. So I took the two selections and reworked them.

First of all, now that I had two fairly solid ideas, I would need to rework them to the proportion of the final specifications, which was 10" x 16", the equivalent of a 2-page spread. Since at this point I was leaning heavily towards the mermaid idea, I extended the mermaid in watercolor, but only did the alien garage digitally.

I showed my group the revisions. They thought they were an improvement, but still thought they both needed additional work. Especially the mermaid. I did further sketches/revisions.

I changed the position of the "captain" figure, and adjusted the position of the mermaid so that her head was farther out of the water, and her hair was covering her upper torso. I added broken pieces of the boat to the water, and made the starfish "patch" larger and brighter. Although I liked it, I decided I liked the alien garage better.
I started to work on the finished piece. I added a lot more detail to let the viewer know that the spaceship was having issues. More broken wires, leaks, sparks flashing, essential-looking components strewn about. I had done sketches of various spacecraft components to populate the area around the ship.

Here is the final pencil sketch on Bristol board with all of the major elements in place.

I then started laying in the values using Payne's Gray acrylic paint.

Finally I started adding the color. Here is the color version of the painting.

I scanned the final illustration, did a bit of touch-up and color adjustment in Photoshop, brought it into InDesign and set the text. Here is the version that will be on display at the conference.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Return of the Pioneer Village Map

Back in January of this year, i got an interesting e-mail from one Ian Cooper.
 " I was looking at your blog as it refers to Pioneer Village which I have visited and enjoyed thoroughly (more than Plimoth because of its intimacy and informal atmosphere). I am about to publish a new travel guide following the Pilgrim fathers from the UK to New England and I will include Pioneer Village as I believe that it's not to be missed if we want to gain a real picture of life when the 1630 ships arrived at Salem.
I am about to produce my own map of the village for inclusion in the guide - or I would happily include yours with appropriate attribution depending on your agreement and any conditions you might want to put forward"

Ian wanted to use my map of Pioneer Village in a UK guidebook!

The guidebook is one of a series of travel guides following the lives of prominent Christians or places of Christian interest. (See They are unique in that they tell the story as well as provide travel information.
Here is the original map, created in Adobe Illustrator:

And here is how the map appears on the guidebook page.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Welcome to Salem:1630

Some of you may know that I am an avid history buff, and that I have on occasion, worked as an historical interpreter at Pioneer Village at Forest River Park in Salem. Pioneer Village is a recreation of what Salem would have looked like in 1630, shortly after it was settled. My wife Amy and I have been extras in several historical films that have been shot at this location over the years. I came across a photo of the two of us in early colonial costume and decided it would make a good illustration.
Here is the original photo.

First I did a pencil sketch of the scene using the above photo as reference.

As you can see, I have changed some of the details of the pose and of the outfits.
The scene looked a little empty to me though, and some details were either missing or incorrect. First off I decided the scene needed some animals. I considered adding goats, geese and cattle, but it seems that the animals most likely to be present and running loose would have been hogs and chickens. Both were allowed to run free to find their own forage. The hogs were particularly fond of raiding Native American stores of corn. Now not just any breed of hogs or chicken would do either. they needed to be contemporary to the Puritans of the early 17th century. After some research, I discovered that the breed of hogs that the New England colonials would have had were known as Tamworth Hogs.

The chickens were a breed known as Dorking Fowls. Luckily both of these breeds are still in existence today and there were photos.

I also added in a wooden barrel, some tree stumps and a man cutting a tree with an ax.

I also needed to make my footwear more period-correct. I actually really enjoy researching this kind of historical detail.

I transferred the sketch some Bristol-board and started to rough in the values using burnt umber and black. This work went very quickly. I showed this version to my illustration critique group, and they actually thought I should stop there. They liked the energy and the rough quality. So I did a scan of the piece at that point.

However...I really like color, and had intended to add color from the beginning, and so I moved on to adding in color. Using glazes of color over the monochromatic underpainting. Here I am after my second session of painting.

Here is the final piece. The original is about 8" x 10".