I really can’t think of a better way to top off a birthday than with a book deal. A lifetime supply of chocolate? A month of luxury living in Paris? A few days with a time-traveling Delorean? (actually, that would be pretty cool…)
BUT NO! I will take my birthday last week just the way it went: a beautiful day in New York City, a lunch spent dining at the Society of Illustrators, an email in the early evening bearing the news that Macmillan Publishing had made an offer on my first solo picture book (AHHH!!!), followed by a delicious dinner with my favorite person on earth.
My shark book, tentatively titled SHARK: THE GREAT WHITES OF THE FARALLON ISLANDS, follows a day in the life of a young white shark at the Farallons just off the coast of San Francisco. Ancient, gorgeous, and endlessly cool, these apex predators return to hunt elephant seals every fall using some of the most amazing (and lethal!) adaptations on earth. The story goes way beyond teeth and dorsal fins to explore shark hunting methods and the way the ecosystem of the Farallon Islands works, and just how badly this species needs our compassion and protection.
In diving into the book I have absolutely fallen in love with great white sharks, and I am so excited to share what I have learned with readers of all ages. As of right now the pub date is completely up in the air, but may possibly be sometime in late 2013. In the meantime I am a busy kid. More on what I’m currently working on to be posted soon!
Publishing world, I am calling on the Shark Phone: non-fiction picture books, here I come!
The past week has been FULL of awesome news and exciting work, but most of it is top secret (so I can’t talk about it here! Ack!). But what I’ve been up to lately that I can discuss is more white shark drawing at all hours in my studio. And after many trials and a great many errors I am proud to announce a triumphant discovery: the Seven Ways Not to Draw a Great White Shark, or SWNDGWS (for short). In sharing these failed attempts I hope to shed a little light on my process, and demonstrate the kinds of questions I ask myself when making images for book illustration. So, without further ado: let the Ways begin!
First, to make a final drawing I have to know what it is I want to draw. That sounds easy but it really isn’t; as any writer knows, arriving at a working rough draft is by far the most challenging part of a book. But at least for this spread I already knew that I needed a scene of a white shark hunting a seal. I scanned in a small drawing and played with value and color in my computer, and came up with a composition I was fairly happy with. And so the question surfaced: how do I want to complete this drawing? The only way to find out would be to fail again and again and again until I got something that felt right. I started where I usually start: pencil line as a separate layer from the color.
SWNDGWS #1: Too much detail.
But right away I knew this wouldn’t work. See all that detail in this first pencil drawing? Yikes. Talk about flattening out the space behind the shark! Though it’s true that the reefs are home to millions of creatures, I saw right away that by putting so much detail in the background I had eliminated depth. So for something completely different… I did it all over again almost exactly the same.
SWNDGWS #2: Too much detail with cute animal friends.
So much for not learning from my first attempt. And this time, what are all of those cute little animal friends doing in a reef where a shark is hunting a seal? If I wanted a spooky mood this approach achieved exactly the opposite. I also noticed that the shark’s tail was wrong: on a white shark the upper caudal lobe is larger, not the lower lobe. Of course the tail looks all sorts of sizes while a shark is swimming, but the detail and flatness of the drawing seemed to eliminate all movement. Still clinging to hope, I grasped at color to save me, which leads us to #3…
SWNDGWS #3: Too much detail with cute animal friends and digital color.
Well at least I fixed the upper caudal lobe thanks to the warp tool in Photoshop. Here the value and contrast are doing their job, but I felt that the details were blocking a sense of movement, and the digital color quickly felt much too sober. I abandoned the digital color (which, if you remember, still wasn’t the main problem!) in favor of watercolor to see if that worked any better.
SWNDGWS #4: Too much detail with cute animal friends and watercolor.
After printing out the line art on two pieces of watercolor paper I loaded up a brush and began filling in colors. The non-digital color instantly felt better, but my fundamental problem from SWNDGWS #1 was still unresolved. It occurred to me that perhaps the pencil plus watercolor approach was all wrong, so I pulled out some pastels and drew directly on the watercolor paper, covering up the #4 attempt as I went. I didn’t get very far.
SWNDGWS #5: Too much detail with cute animal friends and pastel.
Having never worked as a story board artist for Pixar, I knew right away that this just wasn’t going to work. In my hands pastels are stubborn, angry things that decide to break and crumble and play with all the wrong colors. With mild desperation and not a little panic, I started over with charcoal, which brings us up to #6…
SWNDGWS #6: Charcoal.
Look! Look! I finally dropped the detail! At last I was on to something, though I quickly saw that charcoal would be nearly as difficult to control as the pastel. The values were working, but the smudge factor was dicey. What if I tried the same idea but in pencil shading instead?
SWNDGWS #7: Pencil Shading.
For the most part I was very pleased with how this drawing turned out. There’s just a tiny bit of charcoal in the blacks and the rest is entirely with 2B and 4B woodless pencil. But as I worked I slowly realized that I would not be able to consistently sustain this approach, for two reasons: 1) for any above water scenes this approach would feel much too dark, and 2) this would put me right back in the chair of using digital color. Frustrated with (at this point) several days of failed attempts, I pulled out a scrap of paper and did an angry two minute drawing of a seal swimming. And… POOF! Something that worked:
OWDS (One Way to Draw a Seal) #1: Pencil and watercolor.
Simple, full of motion, and with natural hand-drawn color. Through all those other attempts of trying to figure out how to draw the scene, all I had to do was to just draw the way I usually draw (hey! what a concept!). Stay tuned for the final art sample. Happy March everyone!
At long last, the final drawing! View of Industria was done in graphite at 32″x48″, and digitally colored and printed at 48″x72″. Commissioned as the centerpiece for the show Building Expectations: Past and Present Visions of the Architectural Future,it celebrates the city of Industria from Didier de Chousy’s novel Ignis: The Central Fire, published in France in 1883. I’m very excited for the official opening this Friday, September 9th, at the David Winton Bell Gallery in the List Center at Brown University!
Curator Nathaniel Walker, a doctoral candidate in architectural history at Brown University, has put together a fantastic collection featuring historic works from the fervid imaginations of past futurists along with newly commissioned art work (including my drawing!) to illustrate a fresh look at the future. He will kick off the show at 5:30 with a brief talk about these visions of the future. Hope to see you in Providence this Friday at 5:30pm!
The expectations build for Building Expectations! Here are the final steps in my process before arriving at the finish:
After many rounds of making drawings and a few key conversations with the curator of Building Expectations, Nathaniel Walker, I honed in on a train-shaped temple design I liked. And then, of course, it was death by tiny buildings!
I had hundreds and hundreds of tiny buildings to draw in 3-point perspective to “build” the city of Industria. Colored pencils on tracing paper helped me keep different sections in order as I began to construct a composition that would work as both the cover of the exhibition catalogue and the centerpiece of the show. The temple and a strong foreground was important for the right-hand side, which would end up being the front cover of the catalogue:
But the back cover needed strong visual weight too, to balance the city detail. Perhaps a very large building, and a moving road with robots? The entire piece also had to contain a significant number of key architectural details from the book, such as French gardens, smoke stacks, glass/iron and “lacy stone” buildings, a “moving road,” and robot slaves. And, of course! a happy couple on a flying machine. And a cat, just because:
And here’s a look at the final rough draft for the drawing, a combination of drawing and gray digital tone:
Building Expectations will open this Friday, September 9th, at the Bell Gallery at Brown University. The final drawing, View of Industria, was executed in graphite at 36″ x 48″ and digitally colored for the giclee print. More views coming next week!
Great news from New Hampshire yesterday! The New Hampshire Writer’s Project selected our picture book, The Penny, as a finalist for the 2011 NH Literary Awards in the category of “Outstanding Children’s Literature”! Click here to vote for The Penny! The ceremony and reception to announce the winners will be held on Friday, November 4, 2011 at the NH Institute of Art in Manchester from 6-10:00pm. Hurray!
Ignis: The Central Fire, by Didier de Chousy, is the story of building a Utopian city around a hole straight to the earth’s core. This steamy wonderland, full of moving roads and glowworms, flying machines and glass houses, revolves around its train-shaped temple built on a platform over the great hole. Worshippers and civilians alike gather there to celebrate man’s industrious future!
Writing by the seat of his pants through tangents and digressions, de Chousy describes the temple as inspired by both the Parthenon (Greece) and the Pantheon (Rome). As the temple sets much of the visual tone for the city architecture, it was a natural place to begin sketching for my drawing for the show Building Expectations: Past and Present Visions of the Architectural Future at Brown.
Here are few sketches of the temple design, with great thanks to Google Sketchup for enabling me to build a 3D computer model to help with the circle perspective:
Building a book is like building anything else with your hands. You draw up some plans, refine the best designs, perhaps make a model, and then set to work. There are millions of tiny choices you make— a color here, a word change here, a different line there – but at last, and sort of suddenly too, you find yourself looking at the skeleton of a book. After nearly a year of work, my very first hard-back picture book is out and selling well, thanks to local author/self-publisher Andy Cutts!
Starting last summer, first-time author Andy Cutts and I teamed up to build The Penny, a 40 page picture book about the sailboat that Andy’s grandfather built circa 1958. The plan was for Andy to self-publish and distribute the 2-color book once I completed the illustrations and book design in the spring of 2011. After many discussions and meetings, my drawing tasks began with some character designs of Andy’s family.
Grampete, the main character, was tough to get right. I wanted to capture his love for sailing and family, but also embody the tenacity of hardworking New England engineer. I threw out dozens of drawings before finding this design. Here’s the rough model sheet of Grampete for the final version in the book:
Family photos and a trip to the cottage on Lake Winnepesaukee helped me find the mood. The other family members and neighbors came fairly easily. But the Penny herself was most difficult of all– boats are tough to begin with, and the Penny was a sleek, light-weight batten seam construction 20′ sail boat. It was important to get her as close as possible to the original design, but there were no plans for her left, and the real Penny no longer existed!
Now I already liked Google. Google Image Search, Google Maps, Google Earth. But the 3-D modeling program called Google SketchUp? A total god-send! It’s free, fairly easy to use, and thanks to the tutorial videos and lots of tinkering I was finally able to “build” a real model of the boat that I could rotate in space and draw directly from. The model isn’t a thing of beauty, and definitely isn’t seaworthy. But it worked nonetheless! Here is a screen shot of my model boat’s skeleton:
From there I was able to confidently draw the Penny over and over again, and the book dummy (or rough draft) began to take shape. Just to show a little more of my process, here is the rough draft, the sketch draft, and the final draft for spread 22/23, which features Grampete waving to the Mount Washington from the bow of the Penny. Few of the other final spreads so closely resemble the original roughs, but this gives an idea of how the project developed:
More images and more about The Penny coming soon. Stay tuned for the official book release in New Hampshire on July 2nd!
What a terrifically crazy month April was! Full of conventions and workshops and projects and books, topped off with a fabulous one-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I am delighted with all of the progress, but also overjoyed to be sleeping in one place again. Here’s a little recap of what I’ve been up to:
Vermont Arist Week at the Vermont Studio Center is reserved just for resident fine artists and writers create work at a beautiful facility up in Johnson, VT. I had an enormous studio all to myself, where I could close the door and dance around and draw to my heart’s content, stopping only for meals and studio conversations, and of course the occasional beer:
Not only did I get to make some fun new work, but I had a big breakthrough on a book project which had been giving me trouble. Huzzah! One of my highlights was drawing lots of happy, dancing animals, all of which started as warm-up gesture drawings at my desk:
April also found me at a wonderful (and not a little smelly) parchment-making workshop at Pergamena in Montgomery, NY, where Jesse Meyer leads a class for 8-10 book enthusiasts who have the unreasonable urge to turn an animal hide into a beautiful writing surface, start to finish. Of course a one-weekend class in parchment-making is something like a “cooking show” version of the process (which actually takes several weeks), but Jesse and his family had kindly set up each step in a very comprehensible order, so that we could see each stage of the process in action. I came home with two skins, a calf-skin parchment 12′ square and a dyed-red goat skin parchment about 6′ square. I have no idea what I’m going to do with them yet, but they certainly are gorgeous to touch and to look at:
Lastly, The Penny, a long-time book project that I’ve been illustrating and designing with local author Andy Cutts, finally went to press! I am so excited to hold my first printed hardback book after all the months of creative development and drawing. Once the book is out I will post more images, but here I am holding up the dust jacket of the book as it comes straight off the huge offset printer in Lebanon, NH.
I couldn’t be more thankful to the people I’ve met who have shared their ideas and encouragement with me this month. Thank you all, each and every one of you, for all of your support. I know that May will bring even more possibilities!