Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Duck Island Color Final, some Thoughts on P.D. Eastman and Edmond Dulac

The color is subject to change--I may have gone a bit too dark. What do you think?

This scene is very loosely inspired by this one in P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog, Go!

I loved this scene a kid! Still do. A real classic. For some Eastman's name isn't as known as illustrator's less popular and less enduring, but the same folks are often instantly familiar with books like Go, Dog, Go! and Are You My Mother, growing up with them alongside Doctor Seuss and Arnold Lobel.

This is the discovery of the doings on Duck Island scene. At first I thought I'd go more in a whimsical, fantasy direction, but decided that lots of ducks doing ordinary duck things would do the job. Earlier attempts to make some kind of more fantastic duck village were looking a little too Ewok village for my taste. Ducks are fascinating all on their own.

 I originally wanted to go more pastel all around with Duck Island, but I thought that darker would give it more of a sense of being deep in the heart of this place that was hidden and magical. Scenes off the island will be more sunny and pastel, while as they go deeper it gets darker and darker until we get to this little clearing with its beam of light. It's easy to highlight your focal point with a spotlight, but it's also a device best reserved for when absolutely warranted. 

Sometimes just a little fantasy goes a long way. I like the juxtaposition of very real elements with fantasy elements. In my Ladybug and Gentleman Beetle proposal I originally described the interior of the pumpkin as a "ballroom" but decided that the inside of a Jack O'Lantern from a bug's eye view was grand and impressive all on it's own. You can see it here  if you'd like (scroll down).

The color in this one is inspired by Edmond Dulac:

I generally tend to have a fear of going dark, so lately I've been trying to overcome it. Dulac's palette was rich, but often subdued, and I think it really worked. Compared to Dulac, my image looks almost washed out, but I didn't want it to be too much of a departure from the pastel I'll be using earlier in the book.

This one is perhaps my favorite of Dulac's:

I just love that single illuminated lantern with the light reflected on his face with all his ornate surroundings shrouded in darkness. Its so tempting, after putting a lot of detail in an image, to show everything, to make sure no one misses any of your clever little touches and nuances, but it's not always the wisest thing. The details are still there to be discovered, but a little selective light can make it so much richer in the right circumstances. Not always, but sometimes.

Another Secret to Getting Better

It's always good to keep seeking out and discovering new images. When I was in college I was more interested in modernism than the classic illustrators, but now, as an adult, I'm discovering them for the first time and wondering how I'd missed them all these years.

I think a vocabulary of Modernism gives you a toolbox for experimentation, but a classic illustration background provides a toolbox for effective storytelling. You don't want media and style to interfere with the clarity of your storytelling, but at the same time it's good not to get too comfortable with the tried and true. On the other hand, I try not too veer too far into exercises in style and technique. In the end, my goal is to tell stories and tell them well by whatever means at my disposal.

Picture making for it's own sake is an entirely different discipline from illustration, and should be judged in an entirely different way. In this regard, comparing a painter like Degas to an illustrator like Dulac divorced of context outside of the fact that both make pictures does a disservice to both. Both share similar concerns--the art of picture making is no small part of that--but ultimately its in the service of different aims.

Seeing what works successfully for others both in the illustration and fine art world provide you with precedents you can incorporate into your own work, and even better, to mix and match. If you borrow a little bit of this and a little bit of that you can recombine them to make new discoveries of your own, and find your own voice. There's nothing wrong with borrowing from others as long as it's from lots and lots of others and not a single source. Steal, but steal eclectically. Sometimes when I've done something I'm uncertain about, finding someone else who has done something similar and  has made it work gives me the confidence to push further.

Of course, even more important, draw and draw a lot! Drawing is always the fastest way to get better.

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