Friday, November 21, 2014

Boy Who Was Mistaken For a Potted Plant Revisions

So I'm getting just about ready to submit my proposal for a picture book called "The Boy Who Was Mistaken For a Potted Plant." Here are the final revisions on the illustrations with suggestions from my agent Abigail Samoun. I'm pretty happy with them. 

 I haven't been posting much artwork lately because I've been busy making instructional videos and curriculum for a class I'll be teaching online in March, but more about that later!

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Bunny 6! Final Bunny!

This is the final bunny for my Bunny Week! Sunday is a day of rest, so no bunny tomorrow. Last bunny!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Bunny Week! Day 2!

A bunny a day. For a week. Your second bunny with three bonus bunnies:

Monday, November 03, 2014

Bunny Week, Day 1.

So  because I missed Inktober, to make up for it I declare this bunny week! Each week will feature a different bunny. Here's today's bunny:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Boy Who Was Mistaken For a Potted Plant in Progress

I'm in the process of submitting a book proposal for my book The Boy Who Was Mistaken for a Potted Plant to various publishers. Here's a sample illustration. It was important to me to make sure the old woman didn't have a typical grandmotherly look, so I went for the braids.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Blackbeard's Ghost" for Cricket Magazine!

The  October issue (available at a finer magazine emporium near you) features the first story I've both written and illustrated for Cricket Magazine, "Blackbeard's Ghost." I've illustrated a number of stories for them, but this is the first one I wrote on my own.

This issue features a gorgeous cover by Daniel Krall:

Daniel Krall

As proud as I am of the story, this is a little bittersweet.

The majority of these illustrations were done about three years ago in a style I've since abandoned. While I am proud of the images, I don't feel they're quite me. It's more of an attempt to emulate classic illustrators like Noel Sickles and contemporary illustrators inspired by that tradition like Greg Ruth. There's some me in there, but it's buried in technique.         

The reason these images are a few years old is because I  approached this story in a novel way: the images were done first, with no initial intention of writing a story. They were simply an experiment in doing YA illustration. Then I wrote the story around them. "Blackbeard's ghost" is a kind of Treasure Island pastiche about a boy who stows away on a pirate ship. The story was suggested by the one color image I did at the time of Blackbeard.

The other images were colored for the magazine, and a fourth was added.

 There a bit of a misunderstanding on this one about the lantern. Both the lantern and lantern light were placed on a separate layer, and the lantern was meant to overlap into the text area, which it did, but somehow the light emanating from the lantern was ommitted, so the lantern doesn't have its intended glow in the print version.

I went with a very limited palette on these, evocative of some of the early magazine illustration by Noel Sickles and Robert Fawcett.

The fourth one is the title spread:

Unfotunately they printed a bit dark. To be fair, they were very dark to begin and it's hard to print these kinds of subtle value shifts in CMYK.

Otherwise I'm happy with how it turned out! My first published story in  Cricket. Cricket has had a long tradition of publishing some of the best writers and illustrations in children's lit, and I'm proud to be a part of that.  They've been very good to me, and I'm anxious to do more work for them, and hopefully, more writing as well as illustration.   

Monday, September 22, 2014

Giraffe Town rough

A rough layout for Hippotabus, work in progress.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Spongebob Fan Art

So, basically, I want to draw for Spongebob Comics. This is my version of the characters:

What Chris Duffy and Stephen Hillenburg are doing with Spongebob Comics is nothing short of seriously awesome. Just like he did with Nickelodeon Magazin, he's hired some of the best cartoonists in the business, cartoonists you'd never expect to be doing a kid's comic. While there is a "house style" for Spongebob, and there are strips done in that style, many of the artists are asked to draw in their own unique styles and tell Spongebob stories in their own unique way.

I've worked once before with Chris very briefly during his Nickelodeon Magazine tenure. It was just a small spot illustration, but I had a great time. Chris is a fun guy to work with.

Am a buttering him up? Yes. Yes I am. But it is the sincerest of all butters. There are no additives or emulsified fats in this butter. This is hand churned. This is the real thing. And this is my Spongebob.

Update: This totally worked! My two page comic, written, drawn, the whole kit and kaboodle, done by me will appear in Spongebob Comics #46! Dreams do come true!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Big Bird Bath

A Pencil rough for my work in progress, Hippopotabus.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hippopotabus Vignette

Here's the first vignette image from my work in progress, Hippopotabus. This is for a book proposal, so no guarantees that it's going to become a book, but I'm hopeful. I wanted to give a nice clear read on the two protagonists and introduce

I Decided to do the edge with a faded crop. Here's the shape I made with a wet into wet splotch of ink and some photoshop tweaks to make it round and symmetrical. I wanted the fade to be nice and organic rather than with a photoshop brush.

As usual I do the images in pieces, with ink brush, and dry brush. 

I even did the dress pattern separately, using the transform/warp tool to make the pattern fit the contours of the form so that it didn't look flat. 

And the water. One of those cases where I ended up cropping a lot of it out, which is a shame, because I like a lot of what was happening here, particularly in the foreground. Sometimes I get carried away with the render and don't take into account what's not going to show.

Here's the image before color and crop. I added the turtle, later, to correspond with my earlier hippo bus image.  (more process on that link).

You can see I kind of overjungled here as well. Better planning would have eliminated the extras, but I figured I'd worry about the crop later and having too much, rather than too little would give me more options.

Then I made some watercolor overlays for shadows. I painted these on a light box over the printed out image above. This is the first pass. I did one other overlay for shadows on the mother hippo's clothing. The purple is a stand-in, because I can change the overlays to any color I want to.

And that's about the size of it. Most of the color is done with scanned watercolor textures with some color manipulation. A few highlights, like the one ones on the bus, are done digitally, but most of this is wet media in one form or another. Even the highlights on the water are done by taking watercolor textures, separating them from their backgrounds, lightening them up, and pasting them in. There's also some digital airbrush to darken the edges and pull the focus. I also color the lines. So it's actually about 90% wet media. The computer gives me a lot of flexibility, but wet media still gives that touch of the hand. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Juvenilia: art I did in my late teens

So here's some work I did when I was a teenager. It's actually not bad.

This one is in 1990, so I was about 17. Clear Doctor Seuss influence here.

And this one has a huge Rick Grimes influence as I was getting more and more into indy comics.

This one I'm still pretty proud of. I remember doing it a bunch of times until I finally got it right. I was very compulsive that way. Still am. The Grimes influence seems obvious to me now, but there's still some of me in there.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hippopotabus! Process and Influences

So here's the first spread for my current book proposal in progress, Hippopotabus.

Be sure to open it in it's own window--it's nice and large, and doesn't have quite the same impact at this size.

And some details:

Getting Better at What I'm Already Good At

Be forewarned: I offer a lot of technical detail that's likely only going to be of interest to art students and other professionals, so if this isn't your thing, you might want to skip this part and go right to the next portion, "other influences."

as I explained in an earlier post, I'm working on concentrating on my strengths and getting better at the disciplines I've already been developing and improving. I've done a lot of experimentation in the last few years to find my way. Now it's time to hone in on what's been working for me. Experimentation is great, and I'll continue to work on my realistic rendering skills in my personal work, but for my professional work, I'd like to use more of a cartoon and contour vocabulary, something more rooted in line than tone and realistic rendering.

 Many of the figures above are done with dry brush (ink with less moisture on the brush so it catches more of the texture of the bristles and the tooth of the paper), but the emphasis is on contour and line.The dry brush is more to suggest surface than the play of light, which I achieve more through color.

I'm still doing work in pieces and assembling figures and backgrounds on the computer since this seems to have worked best for me so far. This allows me to do complex images without worrying about screwing up details.

Here's another example of an image done in pieces:

I tend to render these parts more than absolutely necessary--in this case I knew the feet would get cropped out, and a lot of detail is lost under the water in the picture, but I find it's better to have too much than not enough.This figure is more watercolor than dry brush to make the changes in value in the scales look more organic, something in the past that I would have done in the digital rendering..


I'm making more of an effort to bring organic watercolor textures into my images. One technique is to use not only scanned watercolor textures, but watercolor overlays. I'll print out my full black and white image after it's been assembled, put it on my light box, then paint in shadows on a separate sheet of watercolor paper to be scanned and applied.

this gives a little more organic variety to my color, making it less digital. One thing that this achieves that I really love, is to give me those hard edges--the way a puddle of watercolor has that hard edge when it dries, which makes for excellent core shadows and sharper light. The hippo's head, here, is a good example. I can't fake that effect with digitally applied highlights. It just doesn't have the same sharpness.

This also helps to unify, better integrating the figures drawn separately into the space, making the image feel less like a collage.

 the jungle background through the windows are like little mini watercolor paintings, in this case, done with dip pens and ink, with some brush and ink wash:

Still line-based, but the tones also have a nice unified feel when I color them digitally.

Color Concepts: Using Color to Provide Contrast and Richness

I use color, contrast and light to lead the viewers eye so that they won't get lost in a miasma of Where's Waldo detail. I use red accents both to compliment the dominant green and to further call attention to our main protagonists. Red is a very powerful color and tends to attract the viewer's eye, so this accent in my main figures should come in handy in future images. The other principal colors are purple and blue, both analogous to the blue-green and accented by the split compliments of the yellow/orange of the outdoor light that provides necessary contrast.. I think it's always good to have both black or almost black, and pure white somewhere in the picture for contrast. Though I do this intuitively, each color has its hierarchy within the space, First the dominant green, then the receding, darker purples and blues, then the complimentary accents.

 It takes me a lot of digital fiddling to get to where I'm trying to go with the color, and with a little distance--breaks are important-- I have a good sense when I've gotten there. I often am timid about adding darks, but seldom regret when I do. It's all about where you want the viewer to look--the focal point--contrast, and the balance of the composition--how can it be better unified? One technique I sometimes use is to put a watercolor texture over the entire image on a multiply layer as if it were a wash, and erase out highlights as needed. This technique really helped me to get the darks I needed for this image.

Embracing the airbrush

I've long resisted using the airbrush tool in Photoshop--it always seemed to make the work look too slick and plastic, but I've been recently looking at the work of Leo and Diane Dillon and rethinking how I feel about the tool. They used a conventional airbrush in some of my favorite images, and while I do want my work to look organic, airbrush can help add mood and richness if used sparingly. There's nothing inherently bad or good about any tool. It's all in how you use it, and it this case it was helpful to add shadow to the corners of the images to provide greater depth, and draw the viewer in.


The water, too, is done on an overlay, this time with brush and ink with just a little bit of dip pen when I want a line to come to an especially sharp point. Sometimes a pen gives just the right amount of snap to the line.

Water is one of my favorite things to draw, and this is a great example of how I significantly veer from tonal rendering.Water, constantly in motion, has very elusive edges. Contour lines in drawings are more often than not, an invention. Little in nature has a true line around it, and this is particularly the case with water. So the magic trick is being able to imply movement with nothing but edges. I also use a symbol vocabulary for this task, so I have a certain way I draw foam and wave crests that has less to do with observation, and more to do with expressionism or straight up cartooning.

One key inspiration for this approach is Hokusai's woodblock prints:

 In a realistic painting of water, you're going to want to rely more on value and tone. On the way water looks optically. But this kind of rendering is all about the way water moves and feels. There's always expressionism in painting of any kind, but this is expressionism using line and symbol rather than naturalistic values.


As discussed in an earlier post, I've been experimenting with intuitive and exaggerated perspective. No rulers are used, and the only measurements are made by drawing an X through a shape to find its middle. This image is  technically inaccurate, but makes intuitive sense. And while I want to exaggerate the perspective to give a sense of a roomier space, I don't want it to be too extreme or too caricatured. While I admire what he does, the fish-eyed look of an artist like Mark Fredrickson is less what I'm going for.

You also might notice that I changed the dashboard of the bus. Shortsightedly, it hadn't occurred to me that I would have to draw this part of the bus from another perspective on a future image, so I couldn't get away with faking it. I had to make sure it was not just a box of random buttons and squares, but something resembling a real dashboard with a break pedal and a stick shift.It's never a good idea to fake technology or anatomy. It's always going to bite you in the ass later. You don't have to render every detail, but the basics are critical.

 I also wanted to make the lever mechanism that opens the bus doors manually on older buses, but found this looked long and unwieldy within the exaggerated hippo accommodating width of my bus. It would look like something out of Seuss or Rube Goldberg, and this wasn't the aesthetic I was going for. So regrettably, I decided leave it out.

Other Influences: Babar and Zephir, Moebius an Darrow

As I grow older I find that I'm beginning to again embrace the art that had the most impact on me as a kid which has always been  picture books and comics. While my tastes have changed and varied, these early influences still resonate for me, and I've found it meaningful to revisit them.

One of my favorite books from childhood  that I recently rediscovered is Babar and Zephir. Zephir is the monkey companion of Jean De Brunhoff's classic character, Babar, though despite the title, Babar does not make an appearance.

I find images like this irresistible both in their whimsy and simplicity.

Babar and Zephir in it's original French

There's a lot of space for the reader's imagination to fill in. Just a few of these tree-houses implies a grand city in the trees.  I also love the whole aesthetic of these books, with their handwritten cursive script unfortunately replaced in recent editions with traditional typesetting.

I remember as a kid finding this sequence both fascinating and horrifying (the mermaid, to my relief, survives). It's also one of the great sequences in the story with no narration, told entirely in pictures:

I loved its depictions like these of water, and among all the Babar books, this one had the most whimsy, with  mermaids and monsters:

Moebius and Geof Darrow

Moebius, the pseudonym for the also French artist Jean Giraud, has also been an enduring influence, and this image done in collaboration with Geof Darrow, was an particular revelation:

this is from the now very rare City of Fire portfolio,but was printed in a book I had as a young teen, The Art of Moebius. There's so much life and energy and detail in this image you can see something new every time you look at it.

Later, Darrow did his own comic, Hard Boiled, with Frank Miller.

The world of Hard Boiled was much seemier than anything Moebius had ever drawn. This is one of the milder spreads. But as a teen I found it irresistible.

I wanted Hippopotabus to allow the reader to have this same kind of rich exploration, to discover something new every time they looked at it. So somewhere in between Hard Boiled and Babar and Zephir lay the childhood influences behind my current project.

Rather Than Emulate, Be Inspired

As I write this I realize I mention a lot of other artists. I love to look. But I do think it's important to find your own voice. It's not about emulating the work you admire, but recognizing through those images that you have your own unique observations. Because no one sees an image in quite the same way. And it's what you see that others don't, both in nature and art, that makes the work your own.

 It's also useful to see how other people solve problems, both to inform your own approach, and to discover what you would like to do differently. So as long as you're spending more time making art than looking at it,  the work you consume is only going to enrich the art you make.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Elephants Commission

This is about 18x24 inches. The last commission for my Kickstarter. Should be mailing this off first thing next week! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

I'm Going to Be Making Some Changes About the Way I Draw Pictures

So I've decided to change directions a little bit with my art. Or at least focus.  Something's not working. And rather than blame art directors or editors for my failure to get work, I'm going to more sensibly assume it's me, not them, and I'm going to make some changes.

Aside from wildlife, I'm no longer going to attempt to do Howard Pyle/Noel Sickles-style naturalistic images. For the time being at least. With a lot of effort and frustration, I do this OK. Other people do it a lot better. Greg Ruth  does it a lot better. When I work in this style using dry brush techniques, such as in my recent Cricket work, I feel like I'm trying to be Greg Ruth, and it's not working. He is better at being him than I am.  I would rather play to my strengths, and be more me.

I'm going to keep doing dry brush, but I'm going to use more of a cartoon vocabulary for figures. Something between a Moebius/Herge and a Gustav Tenngren, but mostly just me. I'm going to use a little more line. I  I think I can more effectively communicate nature through line using a symbol vocabulary that has more in common with Hokusai than the more photo real, classic illustration look of a Robert Fawcett. Like the way I do water. Like my recent Little Nemo picture. I'd like to do more of that. I'm good at water. I'm going to use more transparent color and less opaque rendering. Cartooning is good. I will embrace cartooning more fully.

This isn't that different than a lot of what I've already been doing, for instance: the way I draw kids--I'm happy with my (Mostly) Wordless book-- but I'm just going to be doing more of it, and use some of the same technique with my adult figures.

Also: I find doing very busy images with lots of action and lots of figures pleasing to me, and I'm going to do more of that, even though it can be very time consuming. I'm going to play with fantastical, or exaggerated perspective more. I'm going to have a lot fun! But I'm going to be more me.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Another dry brush figure for Cricket

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Been busy with a variety of projects and a short bout of illness. Here's an old lady for the Cricket Magazine piece i just finished.

Friday, July 04, 2014

another pirate

Haven't posted in a while because I've been a bit busy. This, for a work in progress for Cricket Magazine.

Monday, June 23, 2014

And this guy...

An inked figure for my upcoming piece for Cricket Magazine in progress...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

This guy.

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. For a work in progress, a pirate piece for the pirate story I wrote for Cricket. Drawing tons of people right now.