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!