Saturday, May 15, 2010

New Wednesday Figure Drawings

I'm very pleased with this first figure. This is a 2 minute pose and everything a gesture drawing should be--just enough information to describe the figures basic anatomy and a clearly defined line of action.

A 20 minute pose.

Friday, May 07, 2010

New Wednesday Figure Drawings

These are two 20 minute poses. Again I've been choking on the long pose. I never quite know how to pace myself, and I tend not to spend enough time working out the proportions. With these I didn't worry so much about proportion: everyone was drawing these Henry Moore-esque drawings because of the pose of the model and the way she was shaped. It was a fun session.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Taking Advice From Your Peers

Typically what I do when I finish an image is post it on Facebook. I have a wonderful peer group of illustrators and cartoonists on Facebook who often have things to say about the image. Some of these things are helpful, some less so, and it's important to discriminate between what will work for you and what won't. It's easy to get distracted by too much feedback and lose track of what's important to you, and with this image, after a number of conflicting opinions, I started to lose sight of what was working and what wasn't. So I gave it a couple of days. During this time I had a lot of conflicting emotions to go along with so many conflicting opinions: how dare someone say so-and-so, and are they right? At this point its easier and more appealing to go along with the people who say it's a great image and I shouldn't change a thing. So I stepped back and took what I reasonably could from the experience.

Some of the criticisms were subjective and more about the emotional content of the image, and there's not much I can do with these aside from starting from scratch and making a new image. I also didn't agree entirely with some of these assessments, and though in the end I could be wrong, all I can really do is go with my intuition.

One piece of advice I was able to take and reasonably act on was the length of her legs. In the panel where she is skating, and in the final panel, her legs were quite a bit shorter than they were in the panel where she's tying her shoes. So with the magic of photoshop, I was able to lengthen her legs. This is where it becomes valuable to keep everything on a different layer. I was able to stretch and distort the line art by itself, making the legs longer and the feet a little bigger to match the earlier image. Since the first foot in the skating image is foreshortened, I was able to keep it the same: a smaller foot and a foreshortened leg compared to the full profile leg and larger foot in the foreground. Before this both feet were the same size, but on the same plane, but now since one is in the further in the foreground this distortion makes sense. After this I was able to stretch the color as well, rather than to recolor it, fussing around with it until it fit.

Next I added a shadow under the image where she's tying her shoes. Before she looked like she was floating a little, and this served to ground her butt more firmly onto the ice.

Lastly, I lengthened the legs on the small figure making the snow angel. This one is probably the least "on model" but I feel it makes sense in the image, much smaller and a little more cartoony than the other figures.

So here's the finished (I hope) image, after all of these changes:

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Children's Book Mailer

After the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrator's conference the first thing I did was put together this follow-up mailer to send to editors and art directors. What I learned from Kristen Nobles from Candlewick was that one of the key things they look for in a mailer is character. The kinds of elaborate scenes I typically do are too busy. Though perfectly readable and effective at children's book size, these kinds of busy images are hard to read at the usual 5x7 mailer size. So I decided to keep it simple. I decided to do a mailer that would emphasize expression and body language. Another thing Kristen mentioned was that they like to see people interacting with animals. The point here isn't so much to come up with the most original concept, but to demonstrate that I have this skill.

The other thing I decided to do was a tri-fold mailer that was a sort of mini narrative. Because I have a background in comics, this kind of narrative came naturally to me. In picture books you want to distill in one image a key moment from the story, but the objective of the mailer is a little different. I need to attract the attention of the viewer quickly because publishing houses receive a large number of these mailers, and the mailer needs to be memorable. I thought that by keeping the pace of the action more immediate I could engage the viewer right away while giving them a sense that I can tell a story and that I can show the same character in different attitudes.

To be honest this isn't as carefully thought out as it sounds--my approach was mostly intuitive, but this is essentially where I was headed with the idea.

This will be the front image of the mailer where I'll have my e-mail address, website and other information:

This will be the interior, what you will see when you open it up. The final image will be a full-bleed, so this image has already been cropped to represent what it will look like with a trim:

Here are some early sketches of the character. Originally I had imagined the character as younger, but by making the character have longer arms and legs I could make her a lot more animated, so I aged her a little more. You can see here how on a younger character the features are smaller in proportion to the head.

When I started drawing more kid friendly material I didn't realize how much of a challenge drawing kids would be. When I did one of my first images featuring a kid, my interpretation of James and the Giant Peach, I ended up doing over 70 images of James before I came up with a James I was satisfied with. This time it took a lot fewer drawings, but I still had to go through a fair amount of sketches to get the character I wanted.

Here are just a few of the over 100 images I collected from the web to draw my final image. You can't have too much reference. It always helps to make your image more authentic. I try not to use any one pose from a photograph because I find that when I reinvent the character from multiple sources I avoid making the character look stiff. Drawing directly from photo reference without understanding what makes the figure tick, without being able to visualize the figure in the round, can make the figure look flat and static. Even when I do use just one photo for a figure as I sometimes do, it's important never to forget how to draw as you render it.

Of course this mainly applies to naturalistic poses. Mine are admittedly exaggerated and a little cartoony, but at their root they're based on observation. Some of my favorite illustrators, however, like Ben Shahn and Heinrich Drescher, draw figures that are more symbolic and expressionistic, a very different approach that I also admire and sometimes use in my comics work, like The Blue Kid.

Of course I have no idea if this is going to work. I'm new to this process, and this is how I've decided to approach it knowing the little that I know at this stage of the game. My plan is to follow up this mailer with two others of the same type in the next few months, with follow-up mailers afterward every three to four months.

In the past, when I did editorial, I thought it was adequate to send out one mailer a year, until the illustrator Frank Stockton straightened me out. He told me that at minimum, three to four months was as long as you should wait. Art directors need to know that you're serious and intend to follow through. Also, unlike in editorial, where postcards are adequate, some children's book publishers like to first see a small sampling of your work. To this end, I've had digitally printed a mini magazine that showcases my work which I intend to send as a precursor to my mailers. This is the beginning of what I hope will be an effective long-term strategy to catch the attention of art directors and editors and to let them know that I'm serious and reliable.

Over the months that follow, if you continue to follow my blog you'll see how successful this strategy turns out to be. I spent the last year establishing a new portfolio of kid friendly work, and this year I intend to actively promote it with the aim of cultivating a career in young adult and children's media.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, May 01, 2010