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, May 1, 2015

Starting Over

I recently attended the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI) conference in Springfield, MA. One of the activities that I participated in at the conference was a portfolio critique. This is an opportunity to show your work to an agent, editor, or art director. You get 15 minutes of face to face time. My critique was with Martha Rago, a creative director at Random House/Golden Books. The critique seemed to go well. Martha was open, friendly and easy to talk to. She seemed to like my work, she said it was obvious that I knew how to draw and paint, but she seemed a little indifferent to it. It lacked that"special sauce", that extra ingredient that would take it from competent to really special. And than she came across this piece in my portfolio.

This is one page of a series of sketches I had done for my friend Sarah Riddle. She had taken a stab a writing a children's book titled "Bon Appetite" and asked if I would be interested in doing some sketches for her. Her story is about a little girl named Kate, who is having liver for dinner. She hates liver, so she escapes from her home and travels to the faraway land of Bon Appetite, where the only food served are ones that kids like, and anyone who prepares or serves anything like liver, is banished from the kingdom forever.  My sketch was inspired by Sarah's note in her text — (Illustration shows the people are all children wearing dress-up costumes and Bon Appetite is made up entirely of kitchen utensils and items).
Martha Rago really, really liked this piece. In fact she probably spent more time looking at this sketch that the entire rest of my portfolio. A sketch. One I almost didn't even include in my portfolio.
 Why did she like it so much? Good question. I asked her.
She said that she found it to be playful and imaginative . If you follow this blog at all, you know that most of my work is fairly tightly might even say... a bit stiff. I have a certain working methodology that seems to work for most things, but children's books is apparently not one of them.
I always sketch a thumbnail of the idea, but then I use a lot on photo reference to compose the final piece. As could be expected, the reference sometimes takes over, and whatever life or energy it had, is blanched out of the final work. This was not easy to hear, but on some level I knew it was true. It confirmed something that I have suspected about my work for a long time, but was afraid to admit. So what to do about it?
Martha suggested having a glass of wine before I sit down to draw. I think she meant it half-jokingly, but the point was well taken. I need to loosen up a bit. Draw out of my head  and out of my heart more. Trust my instincts more. She said "You know enough, have enough experience to draw convincingly without relying on photo reference." 
So, I am starting again, going back to the beginning. I am learning to draw again, or really un-learn, everything that I think I know about illustration. Trying to make it fun again and draw naturally, like a child.
By the way, here are the rest of my sketches for the story, in order.

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