Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Illustration in the LA Times!

This Sunday, October 23, 2011, I become an officially published illustrator. By officially, I mean published ON PAPER (yes, I'm old-school). Not just any paper, but in a major newspaper - The Los Angeles Times. It may seem like no big deal to some of my peers, but to me, being printed on paper, even newsprint, means that an editor believes that a broad audience would enjoy my work. Am I a Luddite? Possibly. But this post isn't about the merits or legitimacy of e-publishing. It's about my process of making the piece for the newspaper I've been reading ever since I learned how to read.

Have you ever seen the LA Times Kids' Reading Room? As lifted from the text of an upcoming Art Show:
"As illustrators, putting visual imagery to text-pictures to words-is part of the job description. This is challenging when the text is in the form of a book, where sequential imagery enhances the words. It is even more challenging when the entire story needs to be distilled into one image. The L.A. Times Kid’s Reading Room is such a challenge.

Nestled cozily inside the Comics section of the Sunday Edition of the Times is a story with an illustration. How does an illustrator interpret these 600 words into a single image? The process starts with a reading and rereading of the story. An illustrator will look for crucial plot points – introduction of a character, set-up of the problem, climax, or resolution. Often these plot points will ignite images in an illustrator’s imagination. “Thumbnail” drawings are made, tiny explorations of different compositions and perspectives. One of these thumbnails will seem best to represent the story in the eye of the illustrator, and will be chosen to finish. The resulting image will accompany the story and enhance the reader’s experience."

As some of you may know, I'd made myself a bit of a niche market by drawing animals wearing costumes. But lately I've been focusing on drawing human kids too, since they're at least half of the equation in illustrating for children. Getting my illos of kids up to par with those of animals has been a long process, and it's been a challenge to find confidence in what I've produced. Also, I'd been missing drawing my costumes! So imagine how excited I was when I got the call to illustrate a Halloween story!

But if you want to learn more about my process, read on, but first check out the final result:

Back now? Good. So, I accepted the assignment and read and reread the story I was asked to illustrate. First things first, I needed to draw some kids wearing costumes!

My first pass character sketch:

I wanted to make sure that the kids were multicultural.

My initial composition thumbnails:

The final piece was going to be relatively small when printed, so even though I wanted to include a lot of characters, I had to be sure to make the viewer's eye linger on Jack.

The initial rough sketch for the chosen compositional layout:

My idea was that the swing set would focus attention on Jack yet set him apart from the crowd. It just ended up looking weird. I rejiggered it in Photoshop.

This is the rough sketch that I sent to the Kids' Reading Room editor at the LA Times for approval, as she'd requested:

Approval from the editor received, I moved forward.

This is the hand-colored version, pre-Photoshop:

I printed the final sketch onto bristol board and went in with watercolors and water-soluble colored pencils. As you can see, the colors are fairly muted and the background characters' faces are indistinct.

I scanned this in, and continued to work on developing the faces and colors in Photoshop.

Everything was going swimmingly, and it looked like it would be finished 3 days ahead of the due date when... a fact was brought to my attention. Cue scary music...

Somehow, from the very first character sketch on, I'd been drawing one kid in a silver box. However, the story mentioned THREE kids in one silver box. Oh no.

I didn't have time to start all over again. I could either hope no one would notice (yeah right, kids have eagle eyes), or do some major problem-solving.

I went to work on the solution: I scooted the merry-go-round over, "harvested" two kids from a promo illustration I had done a while back and added them to the back of the original silver box kid. I tweaked their outfits and features to make them fit in better, as
they were colored and rendered using a slightly different technique. Even if you can see it now, here's hoping you didn't notice when you looked at it the first time!

Sigh... The fact is, it still shocks me that I had made such a basic error. But at least I got to flex my problem-solving muscles! This is all to say LESSON LEARNED, and hopefully my telling this story will help other illustrators to remember: always read, re-read, re-read again, and maybe even have someone else read your source material to compare to your sketches if you can!

With that said, this is the final version I sent in:

As you may have noticed, I left the trees green-leafed. This was a conscious choice since the illustration was for the Los Angeles Times, and most of the trees around Los Angeles don't lose their leaves in Autumn. I also didn't put in any pumpkins or other Halloween paraphernalia. This was due to the size constraints of the printed version. None of that stuff would have read unless I had used a more graphical technique.

Newsprint isn't a forgiving format:

When I received my tearsheet in the mail, (though thrilling!) I noticed that some of the colors I used, the blue tones in particular, came out dark - a good thing to know if I ever get asked to do this again. Considering this was my first illustration printed in a newspaper, I think I did pretty well. Now that I've gone through the process, though, I think I could do even better next time!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Best-Laid Plans - no Burning Man for me

How disappointing to learn that I will not be going to Burning Man after all.

Our camp guru, Mama Nicole, read the tea leaves and decided that the rejection of the initial art car drawing and the camp site request are a sign that she shouldn't go this year. Nicole's a 13-year veteran of Burning Man, and had never been rejected before, so I suppose I can understand how she would be turned off by being turned away. The only problem is, without her leading the group, all the planners decided to throw in the towel.

With something as trippy as Burning Man, perhaps one must take "signs" seriously as they could effect your entire experience, but let's look at the "signs" themselves. One rejection in 13 years? I don't think most people are as used to rejection as creative types like me are. Heck, Nicole herself even rejected my idea of distributing a mini-comic at the Burn, citing the "newbie over-gifting" issue, and I was still gung-ho to go!

Not to say that there weren't legitimate reasons for canceling the camp; I'm trying to put a writerly spin on this. So, to continue: I've experienced some form of rejection in most of my creative endeavors, but like an insane person, I keep trying and hoping for a different result. The trick is to adjust and improve. When we adjusted the "the product" - the design of the art car - to conform to "the marketplace" - the approval board - it was accepted. (I didn't post about it when it happened, but the revised concept was accepted and was mid-build when the camp site request was rejected). Supposedly, the camp planners only problem with the revised design was that then it wasn't their "pure idea" and they were in some way "selling out" and Burning Man had become too rigid and boundary-setting, yadda yadda. So the camp site rejection was the final straw. I wasn't in a position to argue, but if it had been up to me, I

would've resubmitted the camp site request, and I bet it would've been approved just like the art car was. Instead, the camp planners felt misunderstood and p.o.'d and dissolved the group.

But this is how artists starve, maaaan! *shakes fist at sky*

Eh. So, I lost out on a chance for a wacky life experience (well, I still have my ticket, but there's no way I'd try to go it alone without the infrastructure - that's crazy talk! - so I'll be scalping someone for sure, ha ha - any takers?), but hopefully I'll have learned something from this.

I'll let you know when I figure out what that something is. Until then, here's one of the sketches I did for the camp costumes. It was in the process of being made, so it too is in project purgatory:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Illustration of the Week: Through Fires and Droughts

I'm not going to start listing the reasons why I haven't updated this blog. I will tell you, however, that I've written out about a dozen entries and then not posted them, simply because I'm not sure anyone is actually reading this, and if that's the case, then what's the point of typing out my "diary." See, the more I think about the fact that I, as an artist/writer, "need a platform," the more I chicken out about what to write. The blog needs to be deep and meaningful, and add fullness to other people's lives. The blog need to be interactive, offer choices to my audience for the development of future characters and storylines. The blog needs to even be fully customized to reflect and project my personal style consistently.

So instead of addressing that cliff of a load of challenges, I ignore it instead. And what does my blog turn into? A wasteland? Well, maybe not, but I was trying to make a connection between what I'm writing and the illustration I'm posting. Perhaps it's a bit of a stretch...

Anyway, the illustration above is part of an invitation I'm working on for a party. It starts out dark, (i.e. droughts, fires, floods, etc...), and then on the flip side there's a punchline. The text will be going in later, obviously. Just thought I'd post it to blow off a few cobwebs around here.

And now, back to work!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cover Art for Class Book at Local School

That is the illustration I whipped up in response to this email I received:

"Michael, my 5 year old, is in Kindergarten and I am helping organize a project where the students are going to create a class book which is going to be hardbound. The title of the class book is "When I Grow Up..." Each student will have two pages in the book, one for illustrating and the other for writing a couple of sentences describing what they want to be when they grow up.

What I thought would be a great addition to this book (which all the parents are going to purchase) is if you did the illustration for the front cover. I thought of you right away because I figured you would come up with something clever for a children's class book that fits the theme. When I mentioned this idea to Michael's teachers, they were so excited. The theme, by the way, is "When I Grow Up...".

Your picture will be used for three class books as there are three kindergarten classes (60 kindergartners). The illustration should be done in marker according to the publisher because they scan these pages in and they say marker turns up best. It does not have to be anything fancy like when you submit to illustrator contests, etc. Just something cute to complement the children's work inside. We can also mention in the front pages of the book your name under illustrator. It could be your published work, technically."

I don't think it actually counts as published work, but I thought it would be a fun project, and the homeroom moms even came up with a small token payment, so I felt appreciated. I rarely, if ever, have used marker in my illustrations, so the challenge was to acquaint myself with the media, (and the particulars of its color distribution), before working on the final piece.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Art Car: Client Concept to Finished Drawing

Though perhaps Burning Man is not your cup of tea, in the spirit of the no-cash system, I helped design an Art Car in exchange for an entry ticket (BTW, oh wow, am I really going to Burning Man?!? For those readers who don't know me, this is an improbable occurance!)

This year's theme is "Rites of Passage." Here is the rough sketch the "client" gave me for the group's entry, dubbed 'Ride of Passage':After a short chat, I made some changes to the client sketch, and submitted first draft:
After I received feedback, (needs a removable platform, make the phoenix more phoenix-like, it's a limo, not a clown car, etc), I made changes:
This drawing was submitted to an Art Car mechanic/builder and approved through the initial screening, and is now working its way through the DMV for approval (in this case, they call it the Department of Mutant Vehicles, hah!)

I now have my ticket to Burning Man, and had fun on this little project. I can't wait to see if the "Ride of Passage" will actually get made!

Commission: "Texas Flags: After Jasper Johns"

Ok, so I know it's been about five million years since the last time I posted, but there are good reasons, I swear. First of all, I was out of the country for a month, driving from Guatemala down to the Panama Canal, on a small portion of my dad's big Panamerican Adventure (he's somewhere in Peru right now if you want to check out his blog). Second, I have been hard at work on a picture book, and the basic rule is not to post any of the content publicly. Third, now that I am nearing the end of the picture bookmaking process, I am writing a middle grade novel, and the same rule goes for writing, as well as imagery. And finally, fourth, I am lazy about updating my blog. (at least I'm admitting it!)

Anyway, here I am, so you all can take a deep sigh of relief: life goes on. I recently completed a painting for a couple from Texas. They were interested in a painting by me, but weren't sure exactly what they wanted. We talked about their interests and over the course of the conversation, I came up with a fun idea: do a play on Jasper John's "Three Flags" triptych while displaying their Texas pride. Here is the final product: