Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Card 2011

We celebrate our faith in our own peculiar and muddled ways, but it is infinitely precious, no matter how awkward and jumbled.

This painting was done in ink, watercolor, and colored pencils. 

I found a description (and I apologize for not remembering who posted it or where) of how to do a painting in more or less the technique of artists like Edmund Dulac.  It consists of beginning with a drawing in brown or sepia permanent ink, then a very wet wash of raw umber, which you blot in places where you want lighter colors.  Then layer the color in thin washes, and end with white highlights.  I did that, and then ended using colored pencils to make the colors more precise and more defined. 
The description I downloaded was a full page of instructions, which I have shortened to the point of being useless to try & follow.  So if anyone is interested in the full directions, tell me in a comment and I will be glad to post it or send it to you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Abraham and Isaac

My Sunday school class gets first crack at my pen and ink drawings, though I don't tell them I did them.  They don't need to know that.

In this story, Abraham has been called by God to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice.  Abraham sets off to do his grim duty, determined to follow the instructions of the God of the universe, no matter how counter it seems to everything that has passed before.
Of course, once he has proved that he was willing, God stops him and tells him to offer a ram instead. 

I won't go into the theology of this story here though, just the art.   Abraham is old and determined; Isaac is young and trusting, but puzzled. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bible illustrating

For my sixth grade Sunday school class in Old Testament, since we use only the bible as our textbook, I try to provide some visuals for the kids. 
I may not actually use this piece, because it's really rather a minor story, but I am trying to learn to do pictures with more action in them, and this scene was full of action.  Sodom is about to be destroyed, and the two angels (looking like regular travelers) are trying to convince Lot's family that it is urgent that they leave NOW.

Looking at the work of some of the great illustrators: Howard Pyle, N C Wyeth, Seth Fisher, and I see tension, bodies in movement, and then I looked at my pictures, and they were all quite still.  I realized I needed to learn to portray the tension that is at the heart of a story where there is high emotion and high stakes.

When I started doing watercolors, I thought I was pretty much putting pen and ink aside.  But I do really love line drawings.  And for this purpose, for handouts to my students, I can copy these on the school copier, so black and white works where color would not.   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The stuffed animals try some gymnastics

Another postcard for Tofu

Japanese schools have a wonderful event in the fall called the undoukai, or Sports Day.  In it, all the students and many of the parents, friends, and neighbors participate in various relay races, games, contests, and performances.  The older children (Sixth grade) do acrobatic manoeuvers like pyramids, and other feats of skill that in the US we reserve for cheerleaders and gymnasts. 

I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Japan for the undoukai at Tofu's school in September, and so I got to take part in the games.  We have some photos of Sixth graders making pyramids, which Big Dog (lower left) thought looked very fun.  He got together some of the other animals and together they made a pyramid.  But after two rows, the ones on the bottom started to get quite tired.  Who could they find to be on top, who would not make the pile too heavy? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I saw a squirrel the other day under the pomegranate tree by our driveway, but he scooted out through the gate to the back yard.  Now, you have to know that squirrels are rare around here.  I think we have one individual that comes to visit us, and so we enjoy his visits and encourage them.
Well then, I peeked at the pomegranates to see if he had been eating them.  Nope.  All intact.  Hmmm.  What was he doing?

Later I went out in back, and lo and behold, I found a half-eaten apple, one from our small apple tree in front.  So THAT's what the squirrel had been doing.  He must have found the apple in front, but then taken it all the way around to the back to eat it. 
I left the apple there, and it took Mr Squirrel three days to finish it. 

This is the postcard I am sending to Tofu with this anecdote.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Promo postcard, take two

It really helps to have some critique from a friend you can trust, someone with a good eye who knows what good illustration can be, and doesn't let you get away with doing less than the best you can do. 

Using the same basic idea (and some of the same books), I redid the postcard.  I am much more satisfied with this one.  Besides that, I won't have to put any information on the back: it's all on the front.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Three little cats and a hawk feather

Three little cats (two kitties and a very small leopard) found a nice striped feather one day.  They took it to Grandma, who looked it up, and said it was a tail feather from a Cooper's Hawk.  The little cats thought the hawk might need his feather, and decided to give it back to him.  So they sat outside holding it up for him, and waited.  But when the hawk came by, he had that "little cats might be good to eat" look on his face, and the cats hid under Big Dog. 
In the end, it seems the hawk didn't want his feather back at all, so the cats sent it off to Tofu in Japan.  Maybe Tofu would like it, because we think there are no Cooper's Hawks in Japan. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New Promotional postcard

Here is a postcard I put together to send to publishers.
I'll sit with it for a while and see if it needs some help first.
When it seems ready, and I am armed with names & addresses from Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Market 2012, I'll send it out.

Critique is welcome.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Watercolor practice

In his blog on July 21, James Gurney gave a nice lesson on doing watercolor sketching, starting with a pencil sketch, and then what he calls a "ghost wash", a wet-into-wet watercolor wash, in order to establish colors and tones in a lovely, soft mush.  Then as the paper dries, smaller brushes and more details can be added. 

Usually I begin with lines; I thought I didn't like the wet-on-wet look.  But now I wanted to try it.  So I have been experimenting with it this past week, with results much more pleasing than I would have thought. 

For this, I sketched Tofu sitting on the couch reading a book, but then he left before I could put any color on the page.  But the next day, with the same kind of light, I sat in the same place to paint.  Looking at the couch without Tofu there, I didn't have an exact reference for the shadows on his body, but I could see more or less where the dark and light places would be, and make educated guesses.  

I like the contemplative mood that the softness gives to the picture. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Designing a monster

At the Illustrators Master Class in June, one of our instructors was the wildly creative Iain McCaig, concept designer for LucasFilms.  One day he taught an impromptu class on How to Design a Monster.  I saw the first three Star Wars films, but as the first one came out in 1976, and Mr McCaig is surely under 50, he did not do designing for those.  I didn't see the later movies, the ones he did design creatures for, but I heard that the designs were the best part of them.  From what I saw of his work, I believe it. 
Here is what he taught us, as well as I remember (I didn't take notes).

Step one
Ask yourself questions about what the monster is like. 
Where does it live?    --sea?  desert?   air?  swamp? 
What is its general shape?    --roundish?  long and thin?   angular?  flat?
Where is it on the food chain?
What does it eat?
How does it propel itself?    wings?  legs?  tail? 
How many wings, legs, etc does it have?
Don't spend too much time working out the details at this stage.  Just go with your first notion.

Step two
Find some things nearby to use as reference for your drawing: a pillow, electronics, furniture parts, dogs, cats: whatever is around.  Find and draw something the general shape of the body you have chosen, something for the legs, tail, wings, etc.  Draw these references, but don't try to put the whole creature together at this stage.  You are just finding references for your drawing.

Step three
Using your references for the shapes of your monster's parts, and the ideas you have chosen for its characteristics, draw your monster.

Today I was telling my grandson Tofu and his mother Hisako about what I learned.  We decided to collaborate and draw a monster.
Here is the one I drew with Tofu's input.
Its body is based on a horsetail reed, its tail a lucky rabbit's foot, its eyes (4 of them) are from the light fixture in our kitchen.  It lives in the desert, eats salt (hence its tongue on the ground); is slimy, and has no feet. 

Here is Tofu's monster.  It lives in Yosemite, has a flat body, five legs, a rope-like tail, and eats grubs. 
Tofu and I are ridiculously pleased with our first venture into the world of creature making.
I think Tofu's father Seth would also be pleased.

It turns out that one of the students at IMC, Chris Pigden, caught 12 minutes of Iain's monster-making workshop on video, which he has put on his website here (on Sunday, August 14).   It's worth watching, for Iain's combination of energy and carefulness, and how he weaves his own vision from the ideas other people give him.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

At work

June this year brought the most extraordinary week.  IMC was a week of working hard on a single painting under the concentrated tutelage of a collection of eminent illustrators, people who are at the top of their field, and have an understanding of what it takes to do great illustration work, forged through years of putting themselves wholly into their art, having it judged by art directors, and continually drawing, creating, drawing.
And there were also my fellow students.  Some of them are professional artists in their own right, some are students just out of college, some like me, are people who have done art all our lives, but needed a little something more to give us a jump start.  There was a general atmosphere of learning.  We all knew that we were there to learn, and were looking for insights everywhere.  And the insights turned out to be available around every corner, from great illustrators coming around to your place and pointing out something that could make your work better, to astonishing talks from the likes of James Gurney, Donato Giancola, Iain McCaig, and Rebecca Guay (whose brainchild this class is). 

The picture above is my final from IMC.  The project was the children's book option: a book cover for a book called "The Trouble with ____" (we decide the subject).  From the outset I thought that the trouble should be with an individual, not a class of things.  With a little brainstorming help from Bob, I decided that it should be about dear goofy Aunt Sally who has decided she wants to be a superhero.