Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eagle's Trial for Cricket Magazine

So now that the magazine is out, I'm finally able to post the work I did for Cricket Magazine.

Cricket is one of the few children's magazines still being published nationally. Carus is the parent company that publishes a number of other children's magazines as well, such as Ladybug, Babybug, Appleseeds and Cobblestone. They're pretty much the last word in Children's literary magazines. The other children's magazines like National Geographic Kids, Boys Life, American Girl and Ranger Rick tend to be more non-fiction oriented, and then there's HIghlights, but otherwise, Carus is the only game in town, and Cricket is their flagship title, so it's an honor to be included in the magazine and one step closer to doing children's books and children's lit for me.

What a Good Art Director Will Do

I was also privileged to have an excellent art director in Karen Kohn. A good art director can compel you to make better images, and Karen definitely pushed me to be better.

With too much art direction you end up questioning every decision, second guessing yourself as you try to guess what will please the art director. This generally results in a poorer image. A good art director will steer you in the right direction, helping you hone in on the objective of the image, but will also trust you to do what you do best, because this is why they hired you in the first place. Because they trust that you know what you're doing.

Eagle's Trial

The story was called, "Eagle's Trial" and was written by Gillian Richardson. It's a fictional story about a starving eagle who comes across a dead goose carcass floating in a lake in British Columbia and rows it to shore with his wings, based on something that the author actually witnessed. It's told from the point of view of the eagle.

In this first image the eagle sees some gulls going after a mostly picked clean salmon carcass (there are a lot of carcasses in this story), and as the Eagle descends on the salmon, the gulls scatter. In the original sketch, for some reason I drew ducks instead of gulls, but that was easily fixed. Here's the finish:

I've done other wildlife images, but I tried to pay particular attention to accuracy is these, since the object was in part, to educate.

One thing I discovered as I drew the eagle was how a wing operates in flight, the way the wing whips through the air similar to the way you might snap a beach blanket in the air before you lay it down on the ground, a sort of rippling effect, rather than an up and down paddling motion, and I tried to reflect this in the way that I drew the wing in profile.

I chose a dramatic angle with cropping akin to the cropping you might see in nature photography, suggesting both a kind of claustrophobia, and a world outside the edges of the image. I highly recommend looking at photography, especially journalistic photography, to inspire more compelling cropping of your images, so that you don't end up always arranging the elements of your picture as though they're food on a plate. Imaginative cropping can make your images feel more alive and dynamic.

And here's the second illustration:

How Do You Effectively Use Photo Reference to Draw An Image From Your Imagination?

This one was the most challenging, and it was an image that the art director specifically requested me to draw: the eagle rowing the goose carcass through the water. As you might imagine, there was nothing in the way of photo reference available for this sort of thing, so I had to conjure up the image from my imagination, and this posed a number of interesting challenges. One challenge was that the part of the goose that was visible above the water would be hard to identify, and it seemed like, no matter how I drew it, it always ended up looking like a frozen turkey.

The other challenge was to show some kind of movement, that the eagle was treading through, rather than drifting through the water.

So first I decided to do a cutaway to show the rest of the goose under the water so that there would be no mistaking that it was a goose. I used lots of photo reference in general, but the image that inspired the cutaway was from a photo taken by a diver or snorkeler that showed where the water met the surface. Using what I was able to gather about Eagle anatomy from photos and animal anatomy illustrations, I was able to visualize how the wing might look treading through the water, and I used images of oars being dragged through the water to get an idea of what a rowing motion would do to the surface of the water. From these images of oars, I was also able to discover the way a pattern of drips would trail from the part of the oar that had emerged from the water, an effect I also added to the wing.

Then I looked at images of swimmers to get a sense of what they looked like under the water when they were in motion, and the way the air was released in the form of bubbles from hair and clothing, since I imagined that a certain amount of air would be caught in the goose's feathers.

This was my first sketch as originally submitted:

Since this was a line drawing rather than a tonal rendering, I did it in blue and red to more clearly delineate background and foreground elements.

The art director liked my approach here, but asked me to make the eagle less plump since the eagle was supposed to be starving, and asked me to make the head a little more raised and expressive, since the eagle is supposed to be struggling. In redrawing the head, I also found some good reference for waterlogged eagles which was really helpful.

And here's the second sketch after I turned the ducks into geese, slimmed the eagle down a little, and added a little more tail, all suggestions from the art director that improved the image:

As I've described before, the drawing was done in ink and brush and crow quill for the background and water elements, and the color was done with scanned in watercolor textures that were added using the photoshop clone tool. I also use a a coarse pastel-style photoshop brush for highlights and more natural edges.

And here's how the images ended up looking in the magazine:

I was really pleased with the how the color turned out.

They ended up bleeding both images all the way to the edge, which is something I hadn't anticipated or made an accommodation for. Ordinarily you want to add a quarter of an inch on the bleed edge, but I lucked out here, because for some reason the crop was really tight and I lost very little of the edge of the image. I don't know how they managed it, but I guess they knew what they were doing.

And a beautiful cover by Ron Tanovitz:

As you can see, it's a pretty classy magazine. Not your typical kids magazine. There's a real sense of care and overall vision for the magazine that you don't always see, again, reflecting Karen Kohn's excellent art direction.


  1. Jed, I enjoyed reading about your illustrative process for my story. One problem: it was written by Gillian Richardson, not Anderson. Hope you can correct this detail.

    Gillian Richardson

  2. I'm so sorry! I fixed it! Thanks for your feedback! I'm usually careful about this sort of thing.