Monday, August 30, 2010

Illustration Friday - Immoveable

With these 'Illustration Friday' challenges I usually tend to go with the first thing that pops into my head and this week was no exception.  When I saw the word "immoveable," the first thing I thought of was a very small creature trying to move a much larger one. I immediately thought of a mouse and an elephant. The mouse is trying to have a picnic on the park bench, but a big elephant has come and plopped herself practically on his lunch, completely oblivious to the little fellow's presence. He is trying to move her over a bit, but to him, she is completely immoveable.

By the way, you can click on all of the images to see them larger.

My original sketch showed a close-up of the scene, but from the beginning I knew I wanted to show the entire elephant. I was using a small sketchbook and I just didn't plan it well enough. I started with the mouse and then ran out of room. I hadn't left enough space to show the elephant. So, I scanned this sketch and created a new digital sketch in Corel Painter.

Originally I wanted to do the drawing from the mouse's point of view and to show the elephant with a lot of foreshortening, so that its legs would seem enormous and its head would be much smaller, but I just couldn't get it to look right. This was my first attempt.

Here is the final sketch that I ended up working from.  You can see that I adjusted the size of the elephant's head and rotated the bench a little bit counter-clockwise. I also tilted the elephant's head down a bit and adjusted the size and placement of the book that she is reading. I also added some background details, including a few birds.  I colored the image using Painter's gouache and watercolor brushes and to outline the drawing I used Painter's digital pen brushes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Illustration Friday - Atmosphere

Back in April, I began an illustration of a little girl walking her dog on a foggy morning. I had a hard time getting the foggy atmosphere to look the way I wanted it, which got me frustrated, leading me to put the image aside, unfinished. When I saw that this week's 'Illustration Friday' word was "atmosphere," I immediately thought of this unfinished piece. This would be the perfect excuse for me to try tackling it again and to see if I could get it to look the way that I imagined it.

To the right, below the finished piece, you can see my first attempt, the way it looked when I stopped working on it back in April. One thing that I wasn't happy with in my original painting was the way the trees looked. For one thing they were too spindly and I also didn't like the foliage, it was too grainy and patchy.  If you compare this earlier image to the finished piece, you'll notice that besides bulking up the trees, I made some other changes - I added a car and some houses, I made the girl a little shorter, I simplified her sweater design and slightly altered the dog's pose.

Here is my original sketch, done back in April before I started the original painting. I started off working on a blue canvas (the whole piece was done digitally using Painter 11 software), thinking that the blue would be a good undercoat for fog. Instead, it just ended up making the image look rather cold. In the finished painting, I changed the color to a warmer tone to indicate that the sun was about to break through. You can see that the original sketch did not contain much in the way of detail.  I was going to be using a digital watercolor brush, so I was planning to just add the detail on the fly and hopefully I'd have some happy "accidents" with the digital watercolor process (which did happen to a certain extent).

Here is the image, after I had begun to revise it - changing the trees, shortening the girl, and adding the car. This version still shows the dog in his original pose.

Here I've begun to paint the girl and the dog. You can see that the dog is now in his new pose. On a separate layer, I've also added two houses. On a layer above them, I used a FX glow brush to diffuse the light coming from their windows.

Above all of the painting layers, I added another layer where I painted a fog. I did this by painting white paint using Painter's oily blender brush.  I put the paint on very thinly and then blended it with one of Painter's soft blending tools.  Blending on a layer with little or no paint on it will give you a sort of white hazy effect. I adjusted the effect by lowering the opacity of the layer and gently erasing portions of the paint with a large erasing brush set at a low opacity. Here you can see the image with the 'fog' layer turned on. From this stage, I continued to fiddle with the tree foliage and the opacity and density of the fog. The very last thing I did in Painter was to add the yellow dashed line down the middle of the street. After completing the image, I dropped all of the layers and saved the image as a tiff file. I opened this file in Photoshop and made an irregular shaped selection around the border, feathered the selection, inverted the selection (so that it would select the edges outside the image) and then deleted the edges of the picture. This gave the image a nice soft, undulating edge.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Erik Blegvad

Last December, I included in a posting titled 'Favorites in Pen and Ink,' a short piece about one of my favorite children's book illustrators, Erik Blegvad. While many of his earlier books are out of print, with a little searching they can be found. Over the last month, I was lucky enough to find two of his books, one at a used bookstore and the other online. While at a Half-Price Books in Indianapolis, I came across a copy of a book titled "Beginning-to-Read Poetry." As the title suggests, this book from 1967 is a collection of short poems ideally suited for children who are just learning to read. The poems were compiled by Sally Clithero and the wonderful illustrations are by Erik Blegvad (there are used copies of this book available on Amazon for as low as $1.50, I paid twice that and it was worth every penny).

In my original posting on Blegvad, I talked about his pen and ink illustrations, which are what I've always associated him with, but he also did illustrations using watercolor, sometimes in combination with his pen work. In this book the illustrations are strictly watercolor, no pen at all. They are bright and cheerful and each one of them is delightful.

In this poem, titled "Jump or Jiggle," not only do I love the way he has framed the poem with his illustration, but I love how he managed to include in his image, every one of the animals that is mentioned in the poem, even the tiny little worm!

For a poem about a park in the snow after dark, Blegvad has created an enchanting landscape where he invites us to follow the two figures who have just entered the park through the open gate. The buttery yellow moon gives this chilly scene of winter a wonderful warm atmosphere.  Notice the little black cat off to the right of the image. I've noticed that Blegvad often includes this little cat in his drawings and as a viewer, it's fun trying to spot him.

The subtle coloration of the pond in this cute illustration adds to the feeling that light is reflecting off of the water's surface and I love how he has placed the little turtle in the foreground with the boy who is observing him kneeling on the other side of the pond.
Out of all of the poems in this book, this one by Robert Louis Stevenson, titled "Bed in Summer," is the only one I could recall reading before. Here, Blegvad has created a cozy bedroom scene, lit by a setting sun. We don't see the sun, but we see how its fading light streams through the window, casting a golden glow over the room.

The other Erik Blegvad illustrated book that I found recently was one that I purchased online from an Etsy vendor. It is a book published in 1971 that I had never heard of, "The Finches' Fabulous Furnace," by Roger W. Drury (there are multiple copies of this book available through Amazon for only $2.00, you can use the link in the book's title to take you there). The story is a bit on the preposterous side - a family finds that the only vacant house available for rent in the New England town where they have moved because of the father's new job, has a volcanic vent in its basement. But the author has such an engaging writing style, that I was soon able to suspend my disbelief and I found myself thoroughly enjoying this quirky and even sometimes suspenseful little book.

What really helped in bringing this book to life were the wonderful pen and ink illustrations by Erik Blegvad. There are more than two dozen illustrations in this short (150 page) book, everyone of them a gem. Each chapter heading has its own illustration and there are other illustrations sprinkled throughout. With his expert use of lights and darks, Blegvad excels at illustrating night time scenes, like this wonderfully atmospheric picture of a car driving down a night time street in the snow (see above).

This dramatic image of the house at No. 7 Pride Street, that the Finch family moves into, is another beautiful example of Blegvad's use of cross-hatching to convey a sense of atmosphere. I love how he shows the light striking the backside of the man's coat. In this image, Blegvad really manages to keep the viewer's eye moving - your eye is led from the man and his shadow over to the path leading to the house, up to the porch, to the roof-top tower, then over to the tree and then back to the man.

Blegvad also excelled in depicting children.  He was especially good at showing their body language. In this schoolyard scene, with very simple line work, he has created a series of poses that are very naturalistic. Even the way he has grouped the children and adults has been very well thought out. I love the shoe that is caught in mid-air hovering over the figures of the two boys wrestling on the ground.

Blegvad is a master when it comes to creating interesting compositions and lighting effects. Even in this scene, where we are shown a view of the volcanic furnace and where none of the main characters are present (unless you count the volcano, which is sort of a threatening character throughout the story), he has created an interesting and dramatic vignette. Notice the simplicity of how he created the hanging lightbulb and its shade. There is just a simple upside down crescent-shaped line to indicate the edge of the light bulb. He has used the white of the paper to give the effect of a bright light shining from the bulb.

With careful cross-hatching, he has done something similar in this scene inside the Finches' house. Here, Peter Finch is collecting materials to construct a volcano alarm, while his mother, who is unaware of the menace lurking in their cellar, does housework, and little sister Patsy wonders what's going on. The lighting here is somewhat subtler than in the previous image of the furnace, but you still get the sense that the lamp hanging from the ceiling is turned on. Blegvad has achieved this through his masterful cross-hatching. Notice how he even indicates the light that the lamp casts in a circle on the ceiling.

Besides his mastery at composition and lighting effects, Blegvad also had a knack for drawing different character types as can be seen in this example. Here, three of the town's selectmen, Mr. Blurt, Mr. Mound and Mr. Mumble have come to the Finch home to inquire about the rumors circulating that the Finches have an oil well in their basement. In the story, the heat rising from the volcano, that has been funneled by Mr. Finch through their chimney, causes a constant updraft around the house. Anyone approaching the house notices a strong wind blowing toward the house. Blegvad has illustrated this effect through these three characters. In the picture you'll notice the pant legs of the three men are riding up their legs, their coat tails are blowing upward and all three of them are holding on to their hats.

The book has so many delightful illustrations that it was difficult for me to choose which ones to post, but this simple horizontal image that is used in the middle of a page is one of my favorites. I love the simple character profile on the right contrasted with the shadowy image of the two Finch children sitting on the left. I love seeing panoramic images, maybe because they remind me of early wide-screen movies and when they're done right the whole frame will be put to use. In this case we see just a portion of the windshield and steering wheel of Mr. Pringle's convertible, but because of the placement in the image, it's easy to imagine the bottom edge of the illustration as the top edge of the car. The bottom edge of the illustration is very straight which suggests the body of the automobile, while the upper half of the illustration is irregular showing the landscape outside of the car. The way the image is composed, it's almost like the viewer is riding alongside of Mr. Pringle.

Besides his amazing pen and ink cross-hatching, his naturalistic poses, his use of lights and darks, Blegvad also created beautiful landscapes and architectural scenes. In this first image, which appears as the heading for Chapter 14, we see the town of Ashfield, clogged with traffic caused by people coming to celebrate the town's Bicentennial. It's another good example of a highly detailed illustration that will keep your eye on the move, searching out every corner. I love the slightly aerial perspective where we can see over the roofs of the houses back to a pasture where horses gallop on a hillside.

In this second image, the town wakes up one morning to see what at first seems to have been a snowfall, but which they soon find out is a dusting of ash from the awakening volcano. The thing that I find so impressive about this drawing is the way that the artist has used the negative space of the paper to indicate the ash that covers the rooftops of the houses, the cars and the tree branches. Because it's white, snow (and in this case, ash) can be difficult to depict in a black and white drawing, but Blegvad has managed to do it beautifully. Notice once again, the little black cat that is coming into the scene from the right side of the image.

In closing, I'll post one final Blegvad illustration. This one is from the end of the book where young Patsy Finch is to be given a medal for warning the town of the volcano's imminent eruption. This is another great illustration to search for details. One great detail takes place in the center of the image, just above the chapter number - A dog is straining on his leash to get at another little dog. This incident is not mentioned in the text, but like any good illustrator, Blegvad has used his illustration to add depth to the scene by presenting us with some extra details.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this look at two books charmingly illustrated by Erik Blegvad. If you love children's book illustrations and you're not familiar with his work, I highly recommend you seek him out. I think you'll be happy you did.

Below is an image sent to me by a reader. It is a print of an Erik Blegvad pub scene. The print is dated 1955 and was given to the reader by her father.  The reader would like to know more about the image. If anyone know anything about the origin of this scene, please post it here.  Thanks!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Illustration Friday - Star Gazing

Just a week or so ago, I created a piece for my portfolio that I called "The Stargazers." So, when I got my email on Friday containing this week's 'Illustration Friday' word I was pleasantly surprised. This week's word(s), by coincidence is "Star gazing." My already completed piece was a perfect fit.  There was just one problem - ever since I had completed the piece, in the back of my mind, I had this nagging dissatisfaction with the sky and the stars. I had gotten tired of working on it, and even though I wasn't completely happy with it, I called it complete and even put it up on my website. But when I saw this week's word, I decided I had to go back and redo the sky. I got completely re-energized and I'm so glad that I decided to tackle it again, because it turned out to be, in my opinion, so much better.

Besides not liking the sky's color and the arrangement of the stars and meteors, I was unhappy with the sky's oval shape. For comparison, you can see the original version on the left. In addition to repainting the sky, you might notice that I made some other changes as well. I decided to go with just one shooting star, I added a hint of the milky way in the sky, I added a cat in the background and I added additional shadows to the ground and figures. Those additional shadows that I created with Corel Painter's tinting brush, made a huge difference. In the original image, the characters and the grassy hill look like they are being lit by bright sunlight.  Adding a blue tint to the lower areas of the image unified the foreground with the sky and made the whole image appear more night-like.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Illustration Friday - Caged

Depicting a caged animal in a zoo is a fairly obvious way to interpret this week's 'Illustration Friday,' word, which is "caged," but it is the first thing that came into my mind. I love animals and even though my feelings about zoos are a bit ambivalent, I love going to them for the opportunity it gives me to see animals from around the world. It breaks my heart to see a caged animal, but on the other hand I know that zoos now play an important part in conservation and preserving species that might otherwise go extinct in the wild. For the most part, zoos have come a long way in creating more stimulating and naturalistic enclosures for their animals. I doubt that zoos even use the word cage today to describe where their animals live. Still, even at the best zoos you will see enclosures that seem to small for the animals that they house.  This seems especially true for the big cats like leopards, tigers, cheetahs, ocelots, panthers and lions. Who hasn't gone to a zoo and seen one of these majestic animals pacing back and forth in front of their bars, or just sitting staring into space?

I have been to a great number of zoos here in the USA - the Los Angeles Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Indianapolis Zoo and Chicago's Lincoln Park zoo. It was last year while visiting the Lincoln Park zoo where I was saddened to see some of the big cats on display in very old, very cramped enclosures. All of the cats who were awake at the time, sure enough, were pacing back and forth. So, when I thought about the word "Caged," a big cat in a small, concrete cage is what came to my mind.

I created a number of sketches before I finally came up with something I was happy with.  My earliest sketch is this one from my sketchbook where I was trying to develop a sad lion character.

From there I began to develop my scene, putting the lion in a setting, and adding some human characters.

I had a certain vision in my head of what I wanted the people to look like, but I had a difficult time achieving what was in my mind's eye. The character that gave me the most trouble was that of the overweight woman. As you can see in the first sketch, I had her as a mother, being dragged by her little boy to see the lion.

Then I decided to give her a different look - I switched her to this character, a large woman in cat-eye glasses, wearing plaid pants and holding a bag of popcorn. Instead of holding his mother's hand, I gave the little boy a balloon. By this time, I had also added in the two other children.

Although I think that drawing would have worked, I preferred the idea of the little boy dragging his mother over to see the lion, so ultimately I reverted back to my earlier version. I made a few changes though. I slimmed her down a tiny bit, changed the pose of her feet to make her look more like she was in motion and I gave her a purse to hold. I also took the balloon away from the little boy and gave it to the little girl on the left side. I tried to make the ballon a sort of counterbalance to the sun on the right.
Here, with my final sketch on a separate layer, I have begun to block in the colors. The entire image was created in Corel Painter 11. I used Painter's digital watercolor brushes for the walls of the cage and the brick wall foundation. For the lion and the human characters I primarily used Painter's gouache brushes.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a certain vision in my mind's eye of how I wanted this image to look.  My original vision was much more stylized, but I just couldn't get the stylization to look the way that I imagined it. The finished result is closer to the look of a Little Golden Book illustration, which seems to be a style that I'm working in more and more.

Anyway, thanks for reading all of this.  Comments are always welcome!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Butterfly Time

It's been a while since I've posted anything other than my entries for Illustration Friday.  Believe me, it's not for lack of material. I've had several things I've wanted to post, but a lack of time, a bout of prostatitis and summertime chores got in the way.  I'm feeling a little more caught up now, so today I'm going to share a book that I found at a used book store in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

A few months ago, while writing about attending a library discard sale, I posted some images from two books that I found illustrated by Adrienne Adams.  Well, while on a recent road trip to Madison, Wisconsin and a few nearby small towns, I found another book illustrated by Adrienne Adams. This one is called "Butterfly Time," and it was written by Alice E. Goudey. Goudey and Adams had previously collaborated on "The Day We Saw the Sun Come Up," which earned Adams a Caldecott Honor award.  Adrienne Adams was 58 years old when "Butterfly Time" was published in 1964. Her career was at its peak during the fifties and sixties, and this book shows off her talent at its best. The story follows a young boy and girl through the months as they discover the butterflies that appear in spring, summer and fall. The book is very informative, providing all sorts of natural history information on butterflies. Goudey, through her simple story, teaches us the names of the butterflies, what they eat, where they lay their eggs, how they hibernate, and which ones migrate. And Adams' illustrations beautifully illuminate the text.

I love the composition of this image. It is so beautifully balanced with the Butterfly on the right and the simple round yellow ball of the sun on the left. She introduces the children to us by having them approach the reader from a distance, almost like they're stepping out of the white haze of the page background.  The sky is suggested by a hazy patch of blue that spans the gutter of the two page spread. Adams cleverly shows off her botanical drawing skills by having the plants act as a sort of subtle frame for the lower half of the image. It also serves as a sort of trail that leads us visually from the children to the butterfly, in this case a Mourning Cloak.

In this illustration, Adams again uses the botanical elements in the image as a sort of framing device. Here she uses the branches of a blossoming tree to surround the children who look out of a window as they observe the Tiger Swallowtail and Spring Azures that flutter about.  The little blue butterflies almost look as if they are leaves from the tree that have taken flight. The coloring is subtle, with the strongest colors reserved for the Tiger Swallowtail.  The pattern on the girl's dress echoes the branching pattern of the tree and the cool coloring of the boy's clothing adds a visual link to the blues of the little Spring Azure butterflies.

Here Adams has perfectly captured a late June afternoon after a rain storm has left the landscape dotted with puddles. The warm color scheme is the perfect compliment to the yellow Clouded Sulphur butterflies.  Once again Adams has used the round shape of the sun as a sort of counterbalance to the butterfly that appears on the opposite page.

The hot days of summer arrive and with them come the fluffy-topped purple thistles that attract the orange, white and black Painted Lady butterflies. In this simple composition, the beautiful detailing of the thistles almost steals the show from the delicate butterflies.
With the arrival of the cooler days of fall, the butterflies have disappeared, but they linger in the memories of the children. I love the coloration in this image - the wintry blue of the sky, echoed in the boy's clothing, the color of the girl's skirt which is almost the same color as the kitten that is following them. The warm oranges and tans of the girl's outfit are perfect for an image of autumn. The few remaining leaves that cling to the almost bare trees are visual reminders of the fluttering butterflies that have graced the earlier pages of the book.  The book's last image is a chart of the butterflies that were talked about in the book, but this is the last image in which we see the children and I think it's a beautiful image with which to end this blog about this lovely little book.

For those of you interested in obtaining this book, it is out-of-print, but there do seem to be used copies available through Amazon. If you click on the title links in the second paragraph of this post, you will be taken to copies available for sale on Amazon. Or, if you're lucky like I was, you might find a copy in a used bookstore.