Friday, July 31, 2015

Evolution of an illustration

The final image, showing Henry
Bergh jumping through the skylight.
For the past three months I've been working on a non-fiction children's book that will be released next Spring. I am very excited about this project, not only because of the fascinating subject matter (more on that in a second) but because it is my first assignment with a major publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The book is titled "Mercy, The Incredible True Story of Henry Bergh, Founder of the ASPCA," by Nancy Furstinger.

April of 2016 will mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the ASPCA and being an animal lover, I'm very excited that the book I am illustrating will be released in conjunction with the ASPCA's anniversary celebrations.

For this posting I am going to let my readers in on the process of how I went about creating one of the illustrations for "Mercy." In the book's introduction, author Nancy Furstinger relates a suspenseful incident involving ASPCA founder Henry Bergh and his attempt to put a stop to a dog fight. The scene describes him waiting on the rooftop of a building where a fight was about to take place. He and another officer are watching the activities of the dog owners through a skylight. Just before the men release their dogs, Henry leaps through the skylight. I won't tell you how the scene ends, you'll have to read the book to find out, but in this post, I'll show you how I came up with the illustration that will accompany this scene in the book.

Reference books from the library
The action for this scene takes place in 1866. So, before beginning any sketching, I researched the time period. Henry Bergh was born in 1813 and died in 1888, his life spanning much of the nineteenth century. To begin my research, I checked out a number of books from the library, including books on fashions of the period and references for both human and animal anatomy. Much of my research though was done online. For this particular illustration I needed an image of a man jumping down through an open skylight. One of my favorite online sources for visual reference material is Getty images, which is actually a stock photography site for purchasing the rights to hi-res images for use in publications. But it's also a great source for reference images to aid in your drawings. The previews that come up when you do a search will be at screen resolution and have a watermark across them, but since they are to be used only for drawing reference, they are extremely useful for finding people in various poses, styles of dress, etc.

The leaping man in this image became my reference
for Henry Bergh jumping through the skylight
To start on this illustration I entered a number of search terms, things like 'man jumping,' 'man jumping down,' 'man leaping,' etc.  I not only used Getty images, but I did "Google" searches as well, using the same search terms. Once I started finding some possibly useful images, I downloaded them in to a folder on my computer. Using Adobe Bridge, I was then able to organize and look at thumbnails of all of my downloaded images. While using Getty images, I discovered some wonderful late nineteenth century illustrations from a periodical titled 'Le Petit Journal.' These illustrations were loaded with action and great period details and provided useful reference in several of my illustrations including this one.

An early attempt at a layout using
cut and pasted reference material

Once I had enough images, I did a rough layout by cutting and pasting some of my reference figures into a sort of collage. These collages were my early attempts at getting the illustration to match how, in my imagination, I felt the scene should look.  I played with several poses from various images and if things didn't look like how I imagined them, I would start over from scratch.  This scene on the left is my first attempt at a layout.

If I were an expert at drawing anatomy and perspective from scratch, I might have opted to just sketch out my idea. But since I had already downloaded the reference images, I found it was quicker to do a rough cut-and-paste job of my reference materials. That way I could move the elements around, scale them, flip them, etc. until I achieved a layout I was happy with.

Below are some examples of how my collage layout changed to reflect my evolving idea of how I wanted the scene to look.  Once I had the main figures positioned where I wanted them, I began to draw. I drew the dogs freehand, without much in the way of reference. I also made up whatever figures and elements were missing from my collage. The sketch shown at the bottom below displays the final layout, although I did make some changes to the dogs before I began to ink and color the illustration. I did all of my coloring and painting in Corel Painter 12, primarily using the digital watercolor brushes.

a second attempt where I've changed
some of the reference elements
The scene is starting to come together
 although the foreground is too
crowded, with no room to show the dogs.

Here I have begun to sketch out the scene based
on my cut and pasted collage. Some elements,
like the dogs, and some of the faces in the crowd,
I made up without much in the way
of any reference.

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