Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pen and Ink - Digital Style Part 1

I have recently begun sending out postcard samples of my artwork to various children's book and magazine publishers. Approximately every two weeks since June, I've sent out another batch, so far a total of 59 cards. Some of the people I've addressed my cards to spoke at the SCBWI conference that I went to in New York last January. To those people, I've sent new postcards every time I've sent out another batch. So by now, if they've kept them, they have a small portfolio of my work. No word back from any of them so far, which isn't surprising considering how many submissions I'm sure they receive.

So, how does this relate to my subject heading, "Pen and Ink - Digital Style?" While going through my portfolio, selecting art to send out in postcard form, I realized that I have very little in the way of black and white artwork. I've often read that when putting together a portfolio, it's important to show black and white work as well as pieces in full color. A lot of children't chapter books, middle grade books and even some young adult books use black and white illustrations, either interspersed throughout a story or as chapter headings. The 'Harry Potter' books are a good recent example of this.  At the beginning of each chapter, there is a small 'spot' illustration. I enjoy seeing those types of illustrations in books and I always love it while reading when I come across the passage in the chapter that the illustrator has chosen to illustrate.

I am currently reading a children's book called 'The Hounds of the Morrigan,' by Pat O'Shea. It's quite a long book (over 600 pages), a fantasy with its roots in Celtic mythology and folklore. One of the things that I like about it, besides the author's sense of humor, are the two main characters, Pidge and Brigit. These brother and sister protagonists are very likable and don't have a trace of the cynicism that seems to have crept into so many contemporary depictions of children. I'm sure children are more cynical and jaded today than they were when I was a kid, but seeing children depicted without these traits, gives this book a charming, old-fashioned quality that makes it feel like I'm reading a book that came out during my childhood (which was in the late fifties and early sixties), rather than something that was written in the late nineties.

I am reading a mass market paperback edition of this book.  There are no illustrations in the book, but as I've been reading it, I've begun thinking that it might be a fun personal challenge to try and create some 'spot' chapter heading illustrations for it. I love looking at intricate pen and ink work (see my blog dedicated to pen and ink work from Dec. 12, '09 and my posting about Erik Blegvad from August 16th of this year) and I love working in the medium, even though it's been several years since I've done so.  For this project I decided to get out my rapidograph pens and see what I could come up with. But, when I pulled my pens out of storage, I found that they were badly in need of cleaning. I knew it was going to take some time to get them back into working order, so I decided to start my drawing as a digital sketch.

The first image I decided to do was of an oak tree that is described in chapter twenty-three: "At length they saw the biggest tree they had ever seen, growing at a distance of twenty feet or more in from the rim of the chasm. Its trunk was a bulk and a mass and a swelling; its branches were a billowing and a spreading and a stretching; its height was pride and power."

I knew I was going to need some reference for this drawing, so I took my camera on one of my many walks with my dog and chose this oak tree that is growing in our local park.  It is a big tree, but it is no where near the size of the tree described in the book. I basically used my photo for reference on how the branches grow and the fall of light and shadow on the foliage. In my drawing, I beefed up the tree, adding girth to its trunk and width to its span.

To the right is my original pencil sketch which I scanned and used as a rough guide. You can see that the tree in my original pencil sketch is rather squat. I didn't leave myself enough room in my sketchbook for the height of the tree, so, after scanning it, I improvised and added some additional foliage and branches to the top. I've also included some of the stages of development of the final drawing. In some of these you can see the sketch, which I had on a separate layer, showing through.

As I continued to add more and more detail to this digital pen and ink drawing, I decided to keep it digital and not try and duplicate it using my rapidograph pen.  I spent between 15 and 20 hours working on this drawing. It is the most intricate and detailed drawing I've done using Painter's digital pen brush, but I'm happy with the way it turned out, so I am already planning to do more. I already have a couple of more illustrations in mind that I want to do for my "Hounds of the Morrigan" project. I'll be posting them here as I complete them.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Illustration Friday - Acrobat

 "Acrobat" was the 'Illustration Friday' word this week and I knew from the start that I wanted to do something with animals. At first I thought of doing some sort of animal circus, but since I've been reading up on dog training, I instead decided to go with an all dog acrobat troupe. The first sketch that I did showed several dogs performing various tricks - balancing on a ball, tightrope walking, and doing front paw-stands, but at the time I made this sketch, I had just watched Disney's Dumbo and I love the scene with the pyramid of elephants, so I decided to do a new sketch, this time a dog pyramid. You can see my first two sketches below. On the right are the dogs performing various acrobatic tricks and on the right is the original version of the dog pyramid. I scanned this second sketch and then, feeling that the pyramid was too narrow and columnar in shape, I did a new sketch, adding some additional dogs and spreading them out a bit.

To the left, you can see my new sketch, with an early treatment of the sky in the background.
Since I was coloring the image using digital watercolor, I needed to erase the areas of sky behind the dogs, otherwise they would show through the coloring on the dogs. In this screen shot, I've begun to erase the background sky areas.

In this screen shot, I've begun to add color to the dogs. You can still see my digital pencil sketch, which I had on a separate layer.

In the left image, I've inked the dogs, using Painter's leaky pen brush. When I got to the stage that you see in the above right image, I thought I was finished, but as I looked at the image again, I realized I wasn't happy with the sky. There was too much green in it and I didn't like the cloud behind the little dog at the very top, holding the pennant. I thought he might stand out more, if he were standing against a darker sky. I also felt that the grass under the ball should be darker. The very last thing I decided to do was to give the dogs an audience, a little kitten, looking perplexed at their silly antics.
The finished illustration - "The Acrobats"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Snow Book

While on a recent overnight getaway to Cincinnati, my partner Mark and I visited a used bookstore called, simply enough, the Ohio Bookstore. The website for this bookstore states that, distributed over its five floors, it has over 300,000 books and magazines in stock. I only had time to browse two of its five floors, but I believe their claim. I ended up spending a hundred dollars on used children's books and left with two shopping bags of books. Over the next several months, I'll share some of my finds on this blog.

Because it was recently requested that I feature it, I'm going to start with a non-fiction work called "The Snow Book," by Eva Knox Evans, published by Little, Brown and Company in 1965, with illustrations by Aldren A. Watson. Other than the fact that the author won the Jane Addams Children's book award in 1953 for another of her titles, "People Are Important," I was unable to find any other biographical information on her, though judging by the number of her books that are available through Amazon, she seemed to be a quite prolific non-fiction author. Though "The Snow Book," is out of print, there are used copies readily available through Amazon. If you are interested in a copy for yourself, you can click on the link in the book's title.

What convinced me to buy this book though, were the beautiful illustrations by Aldren A. Watson (Watson, who is also a woodworker has also written several books, including "The Blacksmith," and "Country Furniture"). When I first glanced through this book, it flipped open to one of several two-page spreads. I think this one of a man shoveling snow on a rural road, is the first one that caught my eye (click on any of these illustrations to see them larger). All of the book's illustrations are done in this style - black graphite or (or is it conte crayon?) lines, with the shadows colored in a beautiful aqua blue.  The snow is indicated by allowing the white of the paper to show through. The composition of this image with its curved road in the foreground, invites the viewer to enter the scene. Our eye begins with the man in the road, shoveling snow by a group of mailboxes.  The man appears to have stopped shoveling for a second and seems to be watching the truck that has just passed by.  We follow his gaze down the road to the truck that is plowing the road. We then notice a figure opposite the truck, who appears to be waving to the driver. From there we wander further into the scene and see another figure walking across the snow covered landscape. From there our eye wanders up to the snow covered hills. As our eye moves up and to the right, we come back to the foreground by moving down the tree that anchors the right edge of the scene. It's a beautiful illustration, one that keeps your eye moving and leaves you with the desire to study it and revisit it.

I'd say that the book is probably written for a 4th or 5th grade level, but it's a wonderful little book for anyone who wants to know more about this natural phenomenon. It explains what snow is, what makes it fall, how it is plowed, how people travel across it, how it is predicted, how it can be induced artificially (Chapter 8 "The Snow Gun") and what happens when it begins to melt away. Above each chapter heading, is an illustration. One of my favorites is the illustration for Chapter 4 "Snowshoes and Dogsleds." In this image, the illustrator has cleverly given us a cut-away side view that lets us see what is hidden by the high drifts of snow. On top of the snow, a man trudges along in his snowshoes. The fence he is walking towards is half-hidden by the height of the snow, and the artist allows the viewer to see just how deep the snow is, through his clever cross-section.

Here is another chapter heading illustration that I think is quite beautiful, this one from Chapter 2 "What is Snow?"

There are also images sprinkled throughout the margins of the book. In the section devoted to Wilson Bentley, the famous snowflake photographer, we see images of Bentley and his microscope, his camera and the different types of snowflakes.
 One of my favorites of these margin illustrations is this one that depicts the shadow of an airplane as it passes over a tiny figure standing beside a house that is half buried in the snow. I love the unusual perspective of this illustration. It's almost like the artist has invited us to sit alongside the pilot of the plane.

Earlier, I mentioned that the book contained several illustrations that spanned two pages. Here are several of the others. In case you are wondering where the page gutter is in these scans, I have attempted to remove the dividing gutter in all of these two-page illustrations, through some Photoshop manipulation. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Illustration Friday - Proverb

This week's word for 'Illustration Friday' is "Proverb," and I must admit my first reaction on reading it was, "Oh no!" There were just too many possibilities, how could I choose? Seeing the word 'Proverb,' my first thought was of the Book of Proverbs in the Bible, but I really didn't feel up to illustrating something from the Bible (besides, not knowing the Bible, I'd have to do some research). As I let the word simmer in my brain, I started thinking of old sayings that I could remember and the first one that came into my head was "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Right away, I felt that this one might have illustration possibilities, so I began to think of potential scenarios that I could create using this proverb. My first idea involved a cat. After all, what animal is known for catching birds? And I'm sure any cat who had one bird, would much rather have two. As I thought about the image I wanted to create, I decided I wanted to make this humorous, so I thought about switching the roles of the hunter and its prey. I felt a giant monster bird holding a cat in one hand and contemplating whether or not he should try for the two cats in the bush might be a funny take on the old saying. So that's what I sketched out.

I was happy with the sketch I came up with, but before I began painting it, I began to think of another idea. Maybe I should back up a bit and explain what got me thinking about an alternative image. This week I got a new dog. I had been without a dog for the last three years and I am overjoyed to finally have one again. I've been spending a lot of time with her this week, getting her settled in and starting on her training. So, with dogs on my brain, I began thinking it would be nice to do an image that was dog related. After googling dog proverbs, I found one that was perfect for how I was feeling, "Happiness is a warm puppy." It's a proverb that was popular when I was a teenager back in the seventies and it was written by the great Charles Schulz. So I did a second sketch and decided to submit two entries for this week's challenge.

After drawing this initial image of a boy holding a puppy, I decided to expand the image a bit and show a mother dog sitting and watching the boy cradle her little pup.

Here is the final painted image. Both this image and the one of the monster bird (see above) were painted using Corel Painter 11. I primarily used the watercolor brushes (New Simple Water) and a modified leaky pen brush, but I also added a few touches with the gouache brushes. The only changes I made between the sketch and the finished piece were to the boy's face.

So, for a word that I was initially reluctant to work on, I came up with two illustrations. Maybe an occasional "Oh no!" is a good thing.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Illustration Friday - Dessert

I had a hard time deciding what to do for this week's 'Illustration Friday' word which is "Dessert." At the time I received the email containing this week's word, I was thinking about doing some drawings of funny monsters, so at first I thought I would do a monster having dessert, but I just couldn't picture in my mind how it would look. Then I began to think about doing something different - I began to think about a little boy sitting at a large table, peaking over the edge of the table, mesmerized by a large cake. As I began to draw this idea, I started getting frustrated when I couldn't get my drawing to match the picture I imagined in my head. But as I was drawing, I came up with another idea. I began to think about the times when I was a kid (and even still as an adult) when my favorite part of going out to eat was checking out all of the desserts in the display cases. I decided to keep the little boy, but this time I would have him staring at a whole bunch of desserts in a restaurant or bakery display case. This would give me the chance to draw lots of yummy desserts, which I felt would make for a more interesting and colorful image.

Above is my first sketch of the little boy at the table and to the right is the second sketch I came up with, which is what I based the finished piece on.

I created this image entirely in Corel Painter 11. I used a light beige colored canvas to give the image a sort of warm, vintage feel. I painted the image using Painter's watercolor brushes, and added some texture and detail using the gouache, chalk and leaky pen brushes.