Saturday, December 5, 2009

Jon Foster and Technological Terror

Hello everyone. It's been an interesting week. I've been diligently working away at a 3 minute animation piece for Alberta Education. I'm very busy with this and have been unable to do any work beyond a few small sketches and making some notes for concept work for Our 1984. I wanted to share my dismay with you at the events of the early part of this week. I won't bore you with the graphic details but instead will cut to the chase and spill the nasty conclusion untempered by warning or lead in. hard drive on my computer crashed. I had most of my data backed up but lost some concept work for Our 1984. Booooo! I lost the raw files for my background works and two concept paintings I was working on for my trolls in the story.

Such a shame. I was very excited about the direction those painting were taking. I guess... I can do it over again and apply what I learned the first time I did it, and I have all my notes and analog sketches. So I haven't lost a lot of conceptual ground, just work time.

On a more positive note. I spent a good part of today taking part in an online seminar with Mr. Jon Foster, one of the most amazing contemporary illustrators. He is an excellent teacher and the seminar was really informative. I'm hoping I can apply some of the tidbits I received during this awesome event. His work always blows my mind. I have a link for his work under the illustrators/artists I admire heading in the right column of this page.

I'm still on hiatus due to my current workload, but will be getting back at this book in the new year. I hope you are all well.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Location Drawing and the Character of Environments

Hey everyone,
Just a few thoughts I wanted to share.

I'm still going through Illustrating Children's Books by Martin Salisbury. One section of the book deals with creating a sense of place in your images. The focus here is on using location drawing to inform your studio drawing. This has caused me to consider the spaces in which my characters will dwell. There are three main environments in Our 1984: Shelter.
  1. The interior of their house - bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, living room.
  2. The exterior of their house and the countryside.
  3. The countryside and grasslands of the imagined space they explore during their playing.
It's always been my desire, right from the moment I conceived of this story, that the environments in these books would be just as rich in character as the children. I have a feeling that task may be more challenging than I currently perceive it to be. Martin Salisbury writes about the benefits of location drawing in developing environments:
"The benefits of location work range from the primarily technical (namely, the ability to draw many things and from many angles) to less tangible ones associated with inspiration and atmosphere."
I think I may need to try and carve out some time to go to the country and do some sketches in order to better acquaint myself with the Alberta countryside. The downside of this is that winter is approaching and my story is set in Summer. I suppose even if I can get a handle on aspects of form, depth and perspective I can translate a fall scene into a summer scene by way of colour and some research into summer photos of Alberta.

Though I am very familiar with the Alberta countryside I want to be careful not to slip into a place of drawing from my memory completely. I believe in order for the character of the environments to come forth I will need to examine and include plant life native to the prairies.

As for the interior of the house. This will prove a little more tricky as the story is set 25 years ago. The house that I remember as a child has been greatly renovated and, though very beautiful now, has none of its former eightiesness. I will likely have to rely on memory and photographs to achieve a sense time and place for those scenes inside the house.

I'm so excited to get back to my book in full force, it appears as though that won't happen until the new year. For now I will continue to do some small amounts of reading and continue to sketch and work out concepts for some of the supporting characters. I had a major breakthrough the other day on the design of the trolls for this story. I won't go into detail here right now because it's something I want to share when the concept visuals are complete. It's very exciting though as it gives the trolls a few layers of interpretation and metaphors for story telling.

Well. That's all I've got for you today. Until next time, love large and dwell in the light.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Learning About Concept Drawing

Hello friends. As I am on a forced hiatus due to work commitments I felt the need to include a quick post here on some of the learning I've been doing related to style and character concepts.

In the book, The Skillful Huntsman: visual development of a Grimm tale at Art Center College of Design, three concept artists chronicle their approach to concept work for the main characters in the Grimm tale The Skillful Huntsman. It's a great book for anyone who is learning about concept art and design. There are many very good points of learning in this book. One that stuck out to me, and I feel applies to the antagonists in my story, is to be conscious of the balance between familiarity and strangeness. I'm in the middle of concept work on some of the fairytale creatures that the two boys will be facing in the story. My first concepts are feeling too "grown up" and perhaps too familiar as well. Because this story is meant for a younger audience I need to be carefully considering this balance. The creatures must be strange enough to be interesting and familiar enough to be believable and imposing, but not overly frightening. Their purpose in the story is to represent danger, fear, anxiety and the unknown, but that needs to be conveyed without bruising any little peaches. I certainly wouldn't want any children having nightmares because of this book.

In regards to the familiarity of the creatures:
  1. I don't want to completely rely on my experiences of what I've seen and enjoyed of fairytale creatures. For example, I'm working on a concept for a troll right now and as I watched The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings last night I realized that I had scooped the trolls hands and feet straight from that film. I have a large bank of fairytale creatures stored up in this old head of mine. I want to be careful not to default, even subconsciously, to that bank. If in the process I see the value in keeping something familiar then yes, I'll keep it that way, I just want to be careful to be aware of that choice in my designs.
  2. I want to be sensitive to the need for some familiarity in terms of keeping to basic tenets of fairytale creature design, insomuch as the kind of creatures they face. The basic fairytale baddies: trolls, goblins, wolfs, spiders, etc.
While working on these concepts I have again come back to thinking about style. This recurring theme in my learning has proven to be of great encouragement to me as I let go of my old thinking on the subject. I used to look at artists work whom I admired and strive to illustrate in an identical manner to them, believing that if I could achieve that "look" then I'd be successful. I realize now that this is not the key to my work being strong and memorable. It lies in the strength of the drawing itself. I feel a release to be true to my self in my work and pursue visions and images in which way feels most natural to me. I keep coming back to Martin Salisbury's book Illustrating Children's Books in my posts. When his students query him on the subject of style he informs them that they won't be learning about "style." In his words,
"Style is a word that other people use when talking about your work. If your drawing is to develop naturally, with integrity, it is vital that you do not consciously pursue a "style." The process of working honestly, and with a passion for your subject matter, will allow your work to evolve and develop its own identity."
Easily read, but not as easily done, especially when I've spent most of my life wanting to be able to draw like so and so. Fact is, there are a great many artists who's work I love and am inspired by. I don't think those inspirations and influences will fall null and void in the visual language of my work, but I find myself feeling motivated to just develop my drawing and observational skills and allow the feel and look of my work to take shape more naturally.

In the next month and a bit my work demands will continue to limit my time to work on Our 1984. I will be fitting time in here and there and will continue to share my thoughts with you until I can present you with some content of a more visually compelling flavour.

Blessings and health to you all.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Characters - Design and Familiarity

Welcome back!

I've completed the character turnaround for the younger brother. As well as a comparison sheet so you can see the brothers side by side to scale. I'll share those here as well as a character snap shot similar to the image of the older brother fleeing from the killer bee I posted earlier. I feel that I am becoming familiar with the process I'm implementing for the work. I am apprehensively pleased with that. The familiarity means the work flow is tighter and quicker I just need to be conscious as I work or in that familiarity the work may become stale. I need to be purposefully pushing myself in that familiarity of design and work flow to try and develop sound, interesting and lasting images. What a wonderful, wearying and enriching process this has proven to be, and I haven't even broke ground on the finished content of the book yet.

Before I post the character designs here are a few images of my process. I begin with rough sketches and use my makeshift light table to create cleaner line drawings. I then ink those line drawings using brushes. The brushes are taking some getting used to and I think I may need to make another trip to the art store to expand my tool set. Right now I am using two brushes. One for line and the other for tonal washes.

NOTE: the images listed below are missing from the interwebs currently.
Not sure where they are in all my old folders files etc. :(

My makeshift light table. Two fluorescent compact bulbs on an extension cord in our coffee table.

On the light table.

Transferred to the BFK Reeves paper.

Finished ink line work. Prior to adding tones.

Here are the character turnarounds.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Few Details On Panels

I've been reading Illustrating Children's Books: Creating Pictures for Publication by Martin Salisbury (Course director for the first school in the UK to offer an MA in Children's Book Illustration). Being new to the world of Children's Book Illustrations is great! I've discovered many new illustrators and have enjoyed learning about the history of the craft. One such illustrator who I came across is Winsor McCay. His work stuck out to me because he broke ground in the way in which he used sequence in his work. The following is an excerpt from the aforementioned book:
Winsor McCay's contribution to the development of sequential art for children is immeasurable. His Little Nemo in Slumberland is widely recognized as a work of genius that paved the way for much subsequent invention in comics and children's books. The strip first appeared in the New York Herald in 1905, and over the years McCay became increasingly daring with its design, structure, and content.

The above image sequence was included with the text in Salisbury's book. My story will include some sequential elements, many of which are narrow and vertical, very similar in size ratio to the panels in this sequence. Needless to say I was excited when I came across this work. It's so imaginative and such a joy to read (the image included here has dialogue in an Asian dialect sorry). I love how the final panel acts as a period to the sequence, being 1/3 the size of the other panels and a shade of colour closer to the first six panels. It ties the sequence together visually and punctuates the story perfectly.

I'll be posting more of my own work in the near future but just wanted to share a small chunk of the info that I have been absorbing during this process.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Composing Backgrounds

My, how time flies. It's been 19 days since my most recent post. My apologies, life has been very busy, but that's not why you are all here so I will spare you all the wonderful details. This post will take you through a very quick breakdown of some of the processes I've gone through with backgrounds.

It occurred to me the other day, as I wrestle feverishly with a test background for Our 1984, that I am approaching part of the layout of the book in a similar fashion one would an animation. This has not occurred by any planning on my part. Which leads me to believe I'm either relying on my previous experiences with animation or it's an indication of the desires of my inner creative core. Like a pack of renegade toddlers ambushing me from the thicket, this took me by surprise because I have tried to approach this whole project with a great deal of intent. When I realized I had been ambushed, I stopped production for a brief moment to look at some of the illustrated stories we own. It seems that many illustrators create images on one surface, providing a very unified and cohesive feel to the work. Look at the work of David Small for example, in The Money Tree, he uses watercolour to create some beautiful and coherent images. No trickery or composing digitally included (I assume). He's so good... drool! Anyways... I digress. After looking through some books I began to question my approach and I engaged in an internal dialogue that went something like this:

corey: Perhaps I should be painting the characters completely in so they match the backgrounds entirely?

Corey: No no, I'm way too happy with the way the characters are rendering using digital and analog techniques.

corey: You don't even know what you're talking about. Look at David Small... Hello!

Corey: I know ... gee maybe I'm right.

corey: Exactly. You're right.

Corey: I am?

corey: Yah.

Corey: Yah I'm right. Just follow my instincts. My gut tells me this is the right path. Thanks!

corey: You're welcome.

This whole conversation reminded of the inspirational interview with Greg Manchess where he discussed the importance of authenticity. (See previous post Sept 26)

Forging on, after realizing that I had unconsciously begun working on the backgrounds, I embraced the idea of integrating the characters (rendered using ink and digital colouring) into backgrounds which feel reminiscent of those found in animated films or cartoons (completely painted in photoshop). I'm aware of challenges this may create in relation to perspective and scale but welcome them wholeheartedly.

Without further adieu I give you "background test 1". (Click it to enlarge the image)
Background Test

This test background was painted digitally in Photoshop using my 12" Wacom Cintiq screen. I can't recall at this moment if I have mentioned I will be doing a portion of the book in Black and White and the other portion in colour. Well now I have for sure. Keep in mind this was the first crack at the background cat and although the image may not feature in the finished book; it has given me some solid building blocks for illustrating the backgrounds.
  1. As I worked on the image I continually asked myself the question, "How far can I push the fantasy in the coloured backgrounds?" (The coloured sections of the book are the sections where the brothers are in their imagined play time) I was making conscious choices as I went along to keep the image on the border of fantasy and reality. I feel it will be important to the story for the boys imagined play time to still be grounded to reality.
  2. Because of the setting of this story it is important for the backgrounds to reference rural Alberta. Thus you see rolling hills, a large sky, and mountains in the distance. Even though the rocky mountains were not visible from the acreage we grew up on, they have always held a magical and fantastic quality for me. As a child, they were ever on the horizon of my mind.
  3. For this book, Shelter, the imagined part of the story takes place in a medieval land where wizardry, dragons and the like exist. The castle in the background gives indication of this as does perhaps the stature of the tree and path on the left hand side of the image.
  4. It will be of utmost importance to me as I create this book to be very mindful of composition. In this image I have tried to create an engaging composition using light, colour, object placement and atmospheric perspective. I recently came across an interview with comic artist Phil Jimenez in which he discusses composition and storytelling. He describes the process of creating panels for comic books as "choreographing my own movie; part of it, I guess, is imagining if I was the director who had to shoot this film or cartoon, how would I do it? What shots would I pick? What angles? How would i tell the story and have it make sense to anyone?" Great thoughts! I'm going to hold on to those as I go through this process.
  5. The storm in the top right hand corner will also feature in the story. I'm not telling how ... you need to buy the finished book for that little bit of info. *wink, wink*
There you have it. A quick glimpse into backgrounds. I've been working on more of the character designs as well and will have more for you on that next time around. As I mentioned at the outset of this post, life is very busy, so I will have more content up here asap.



Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Characters - First Takes

Hey there gang! Buckle up! In this post you'll see early concept work for the characters in the book as well as some finished concept items.

The sketches helped me immensely with the process of arriving at the final style for the illustrations in the book. You can probably notice a struggle in this series of sketches to maintain conformity across the rendering of the character. It wasn't my intention during this exercise of drawing expressions to vary the just happened. It took me a while to realize that perhaps I should begin with creating model sheets for the characters. The sketches below were done after having finished half of the model sheet for the younger brother. They took me a fraction of the time the above sketches did... not only because of the lower amount of rendering on them but because I had a character model sheet to reference. Too much logic for me.

–––––––– •••• ––––––––

The character turnaround for the older brother in the story (seen above) is one of the building blocks for consistent character rendering throughout the story. This is one portion of the finished concept work. I will be doing the remaining angles so I have a view of him from his right side as well and I will also be doing a close up of his head in the same fashion. These will act as my primary model sheets for the design of the characters which I will reference throughout the creation of the rest of the book.

The following images are examples of some of the experimentation I've been doing with different mediums. I believe I've set my mind to doing the book using India Ink brushing lines and washes to define the character. I'm still experiment with how I will render the backgrounds and hope to have something done in that area soon. Some really exciting things going on there... I can't wait to share them with you.

The image of the older brother running in utter terror from a pursuing bumble bee is a finished example of how I intend to render the characters. The process marries ink and ink wash analog illustrations with colours done in photoshop on my Cintiq tablet. It's a very fun and interesting process and I love that fact that it combines elements of my fine arts roots with my more recent digital career.

Well, there you go. I hope that you've found this interesting enough to come back for my next post. Until then I'll be finishing the character model sheets and playing some more with background rendering. T-T-F-N... Ta ta for now.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

1984? Is that Orwellian?

This post will address a burning question which seems to be on the minds of a few interested followers.

Is the 1984 in the title a reference to Orwell?

The short answer is no, there is no reference to Orwell.

The "however's" are as follows:
  1. I am aware of the fact that people will probably have a recall of Orwell's work upon reading the title.
  2. I am not concerned by this because my story sits in a completely different realm to his work.
  3. I am by no means trying to say that my piece should sit in the same echelon of literary prowess by using the date in the title.
  4. I am, in one sense, counting on people to find curiosity about my book by recalling Orwell's work when they read the title. The more curiosity the better, I figure. When people who read the story because of a curiosity with the title they will find Our 1984 very different from Orwell's work and would be hard pressed to find any intentional similarities.
So what does the title mean?

It is chronological, I was 7 in 1984 and my brother was 9. As I stated in a previous post, the story is somewhat autobiographical...1984 was a year of great significance in our lives. I find it much easier to write about what I know so I'm writing from my experiences as I relate them to that year. The book is about these two boys and how they journey through life together in their waking, sleeping, eating, playing, fighting, imagining ... everything. (Obviously not everything will be touched on in one book -- thus the hope that the first book is successful so I can continue the series beyond Shelter)

There is a second tier to the meaning of the title that I hope people will connect with. It is my intention to invite those of my generation to relate to the title through their own experiences of that year and era. I hope to strengthen this by way of the references, styling of clothing, background objects and spaces. It's my desire that some of us with young children today can pick up the book and feel elated to have an artifact which we can share with them. An artifact that speaks to our experiences from that era. I hope that when they read the title Our 1984, they feel in part it is Their 1984.

I hope that takes a little of the mud off your windshields. Thanks for asking, let's keep the conversation going.

Thoughts on Style

Good morning! I decided to pull a little content off my journal at my deviant art page to add here. It's relevant to the process of this book so I thought it wouldn't hurt to include it here.


From my deviant art journal

So, while going through the process of writing and illustrating a kids book I've found myself wrestling with the issue of "style". I have discovered a few things. A. I'm not 100% sure what my style is B. It can be incredibly difficult to draw characters consistently when you don't have a clear direction stylistically.

I've found a comfortable approach in the past week and a bit. You can see this in my most recent post.

I am happy with the direction of this piece and am pleased with the aspect that it marries analog and digital media. I'm sure as I progress the colouring and final rendering will be given more attention and tweaking.

It's odd because when I look at the direction for the work I feel happy but restless, like I need to push myself more. This feeling is amplified when I look at the work of other artists. I think it's an artist's lot in life to always covet the skill and seemingly effortless ability of other artists around them; past and present.

I heard a great interview that touches on this recently on Sidebar Nation Podcast
The interview was with Greg Manchess, a great painter and storyteller who has been in the industry for 30+ years. Because of his experience and great success I take his words with much sincerity and weight.

He described encouraging his students to be authentic rather than original, stating that if you keep looking to be original and do that which has never been done you will be doing that until you're old and gray. He encourages artists/illustrators/story tellers to be authentic and real about what you love. What's in you is far more authentic and realistic than if you tried to be something else to prove something to the world.

His words hit home with me and were rather therapeutic as I've been struggling to get the feel for my work and always feeling like I don't match up with the artists I love. Perhaps I just need to trust my instincts and work hard at what comes natural to me. It's like I've had a release, a thumbs up to work at what mediums and tendencies come natural to me instead of trying to mold myself to fit a style. Granted, in my day to day I need to match styles as much as I can and actually enjoy pushing myself to do so. (A lot of learning happens when deconstructing other styles or trying to create something in a style that a client requires) In my personal work. This book for example. I will endeavor to be true to myself and work hard to develop based on my tendencies.

Here's to knowledge shared and encouragement gained.

Thanks for listening.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Getting Started

Welcome aboard! Here you will find a chronicle of my experiences while learning how to create and complete a children's book by doing just that. This site will include posts describing my frustrations (hopefully many so I grow sufficiently) and my triumphs as I endeavour to create the story Our 1984 - Shelter. This story is somewhat autobiographical in nature as it centers around 2 brothers in the guessed it...1984. I'm pulling from my own life experience to put together a story that will hopefully describe the bond between the two boys. It is my vision to have a series of books under the title Our 1984 featuring these two characters, the first of which will be subtitled Shelter.

I've been at the process of creating this book for a good few months now and was inspired by reading the blog Project Waldo. Nate Simpson's blog is dedicated to his process of creating a comic book. I was so delighted to read his posts and glean incite into his journey that I felt compelled to do something of a similar nature here. I hope that my process can be as inspirational and interesting to some of you out there as his has been to me.

Really this process was birthed quite a while back when I was sitting in my basement office working on something visual; graphic design or something. I was listening to a sermon by a preacher in California from Mosaic Church, Erwin McManus. He was preaching on dreams. No, not like riding a golden dolphin in the sky (which my daughter told me she dreamt about), but aspirations, goals, desires. He asked a few questions in his sermon that got me thinking.
  1. Why are you doing what you're doing?
  2. How could you do more of what you love and less of what you tolerate?
  3. What life changes or choices would create the most good from you're life?
  4. Have you allowed God to give you life as a gift to you?
Deep stuff right?! Well that got me thinking about a great many aspects of my life, the relevant aspect here being my career. I think I decided in that moment that I was going to FINALLY do something that I've always wanted to do, create a kids book. I've always loved stories and story telling and love the imagination and where it can take us. In my day to day work I am provided with many opportunities to be creative, but it's always under the pretense of a clients wishes or needs. This book will give me the opportunity to express something other. It will be a vehicle by which I can share some of my childhood experiences, which I believe may touch on a universal level with whomever may read it. By simply doing this book I am already achieving question number two. I love to draw, I love to tell stories and I love to create and challenge myself. Of course in the process of doing number two in the aforementioned list I find life becoming busier...there are only so many hours in a day and I am running a business and have two small children and a wife at home. This brings me to number three. I've recently, painfully, stowed away my playstation 3 and nintendo wii to free up some need time to complete these lofty goals of mine. Oh so painful! Sometimes life requires us to make the challenging decisions and this has been one of them. I'll pick up gaming again at some point but not for now. As for number four, well yes I've allowed God to give me life as a gift but I'd like life with a capital L in my career. Though I will continue to do graphic design (it's great I love it) I truly desire to be an illustrator, this is one small step toward that life long goal.

I'll get to posting some of the visuals of my story here soon. I've got a few roughs and early character concept sketches and drawings that I'll scan and post. I've come to a solid direction for the artwork and have a really clear concept and layout for the book as a whole. Well, the interior that is. I've finished a script and rough page layout which may evolve as the process deepens.

I've yet to do a great deal of research into the process of publishing a book and the question of whether to self publish or find a publisher. I personally would like it if I could find a publisher who would like to take the book on... I think it would be less of a headache in the long run. However as you can probably tell... I have no idea what I'm talking about when it comes to publishing. I am more than open to people posting advice and comments on this blog. Please, please, please feel free to comment on the posts you see here. I always find that constructive criticism improves the end result of a piece, and I hope in some small way that my journey can become your journey too.

Well. Thanks for tuning in. Here we go!