Tag Archives: Sketchbook

Cover Sketches for The Expeditioners

For the last few weeks galley copies of THE EXPEDITIONERS have been out in the world in search of reviews. I imagine the books all huddled together, whispering and giggling through thick mailing envelopes, as they wait to be loved by a child or a blogger or read by someone from Kirkus. The books are just gorgeous (and they’re only galleys!) and Sarah and I couldn’t be more delighted.


In anticipation of a wonderful review from Kirkus coming out today (THANK YOU, KIRKUS!) I thought I’d share a few design sketches for the final hardback book cover. It’s not often that illustrators get to draw tremendously cool double fold-out wrap-around covers—printing costs are too high for most publishers to splurge—but McSweeney’s is all about the book-as-art-object, and McSweeney’s McMullens for kids is no different!

As with any illustration project for me the cover began with concept sketches scribbled in a notebook. It needed to feature both the four main characters and a beautiful southwestern environment, so I started with a two different directions: one in a montage movie poster style and the other focused on a story moment at a waterfall:





After much deliberation with a trusted few we all agreed it would be best to combine the two ideas into one. One 30-second sketch later (see the lower right-hand corner of the black and white sketch above) I had the framework for the final drawing. Combined with editor Brian McMullen’s gorgeously designed logo font it suddenly felt like a real cover!

From there I did a simple sketch for the wrap-around outer cover:


And then digitally drew on top of it to finalize the design:


This last image is very close to what the (front) cover will look like once the subtitle and credits are in place. The book is available for pre-order now from your favorite local bookstore or from Amazon.com. Nine weeks left to release! Whoo-eee!

Horses, Battles, and a Couple of Moose

Yesterday I spent a few hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, surrounded by kids and tourists as I drifted from room to air-conditioned room. My goal was to do studies from battle scenes, to draw horses, peasants, and armor as illustration reference for my Mesoamerican BURIED BENEATH US book with Macmillan. But of course I love just being at the Met too; each and every object feels full of life and presence. Thousand year old jade combs and 18th century portraits of children. Someone wore this. Someone made this. This is what someone left behind.

The Aztec and Incan empires fell at the hands of Cortez and Pizarro, respectively, so before I left my apartment I looked through my roughs of page spreads that demand drawings of Spanish conquistadors to see what I needed. The museum’s European political paintings and various on-location works by the Impressionists were especially helpful in giving me ideas for poses, composition, and general stylistic approach. I’m not sure quite how this book will hang together yet–right now I’m trying to take each section at a time–but going to the Met gave me a much fuller sense of what is possible. I hope to pay many more visits over the rest of the summer.

Also I completely forgot to post this last month but I did this moose sketch while at the Museum of Natural History, too. I love the pose within this scene! So much emotion between the two animals. They’re fierce and majestic, fragile but strong… can’t wait to get back there again soon, too. I love living in New York!!

Museum of Natural History

This Sunday found me at the Museum of Natural History in NYC drawing Mayan sculptures and pottery. After many days spent indoors working on my BURIED BENEATH US book I thought it would be fun and helpful to go get a look at some source material. At first glance the Central American wing is a little disappointing: it lacks the dioramas, reproduction clothing, educational videos and drawings curated for many of the other civilizations. But at closer look there’s much to see, and the time that I spent there gave me some new ideas for the book.

From the towering reproduction stelae (above) to the tiny figurines, the museum’s collection of Mayan figures wear a dizzying alphabet of marks and lines to describe their clothing, hair, and ornamentation. While this stylized short-hand doesn’t quite compute for modern viewers, it’s a terrific jumping off point for an illustrator. With my walnut ink washes and black line work I focused trying to draw “from the inside” of the figures, looking for gesture and anatomy within the different clay portraits:



My giant Moleskin gave me ample room to play, and I’m already looking forward to my return. In the meantime I may take a trip down to China Town to draw in the markets, the closest stand-in for village life that I can think of in New York City (but I’m open to suggestions!) In other news today I signed the gigantic beast that is my contract for SHARK. I’m a real author!! Huzzah for Macmillan!

Star Island Shark Tournament 2012

Hello blog from our new New York apartment! I’m so sorry for my absence the last couple of weeks, but I’ve been desperately working away on the last touches on EXPEDITIONERS as I simultaneously unpack into our place and transition into the next book project. It turns out that fitting a two-bedroom life (complete with storage shed) into a one-bedroom life (without a storage shed) is quite the squeeze and many trips to Goodwill, but as the empty cardboard boxes get broken down a home is beginning to appear underneath. I’m delighted to say that the interior art on EXPEDITIONERS is done and the full fold-out cover near completion. I am super duper excited to hold the book this fall!

In the midst of all this I decided to take Saturday off to travel out to Montauk, Long Island with art teacher Jeff Fisher’s weekly location drawing class to sketch at the 26th Annual Star Island Shark Tournament. Like the late 19th-century French idea of drawing “en plein air,” location drawing forces an artist to solve content, composition, and color problems in the moment and directly from life. Class began in a nearby shipyard to warm up with fishing boats and pilings before heading to Star Island to claim front row spots around the judging area and settle in for an intense afternoon.

With over $500,000 in prize money at stake there were many dozen teams competing to catch the biggest sharks, and the crowd of families and tourists grew as boat after boat arrived to deliver the fish to the judges. Each shark was hoisted up, weighed, and photographed, then cut down, measured for length, and gutted. The carcass was then either cut up for use at a nearby research lab or trimmed into steaks for the team that caught it. The heads, tails, fins, and guts were tossed into the front of a construction loader for easy trips to the dumpster.

While watching dozens of sharks drop stomachs and lose heads isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, the fast pace of the tournament was quite the drawing challenge and gave me some on-the-ground context for our cultural obsession with these predators. Great white sharks are no longer hunted for tournaments, much to the disappointment of every small child present. Their endangered status keeps fisherman catching blues, makos, and threshers instead. Hammerheads are qualified too, though none were caught at this event.

It takes enormous endurance to draw all day in the midst of crowds and heat, but for me this guerrilla approach keeps me in shape for better and better work done in the studio. This trip was also the first time out with my new 11″ x 16″ Moleskin sketchbook; I loved having so much breathing room to collage and try out ideas (but next time I’ll be sure to put more sunscreen on my arms!). Keep an eye out for its filling pages throughout the summer on this blog. In the meantime, a few photos from the tournament:

Leap of Faith

There is a moment that happens while working on any big art project that for me is full of electricity and magic. In a film, this moment would fall at the end of Act 1, about 25 minutes in, when the character makes a choice and crosses into the world of Act 2. It’s when Ripley and the Nostromo touch down to investigate the signal in Alien. It’s when John McClane decides to stop the terrorists in Die Hard. It’s when Joel gathers his things to erase Clementine from his memory in Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind. (Can you tell that I’m married to someone who loves to talk about story structure in film?)

But in art, in books, when working on a manuscript in life, this transition into Act 2 really does happen (which is why it works in stories at all). And for me the moment looks just like this: a tiny box divided in half full of scribbles that represent a page spread:

To anyone else this might look like the very beginning. After all, my sketchbook is empty, and I’ve made countless trips to the kitchen to avoid doing actual work. But usually months have already passed since the initial project discussions and I’ve been turning over the problems in my head for some time. I’ve met or spoken with the editor or art director at least once or twice, and I’ve done my reading, I’m doing research, and I am beginning to fall in love with the material and the context. Perhaps I’ve even started to doodle some characters. Anything (but not everything!) is in the realm of possibility, and I’m trying not to let my fear of certain failure keep me balled up on the couch.

Now there’s nothing left to do but to “start.” More and more I am learning to recognize (and have faith in) the threshold of Act 2. There is a beat, a breath, a pause… and the world goes absolutely silent. I peer into the abyss ahead, knowing that in six months or one year I’ll have completed the project, even though from where I stand I can’t see how it will happen. I pick up a pen and I take a leap of faith. It will all work out (or it won’t) but there’s not going back to Act 1!

Shark Snacks

Busily working away in my studio this week as my white shark book dummy begins to take shape. One poor northern elephant seal continues to be a hot lunch:

Today’s task is to wade further into the middle and continue to explore words and drawings that will engage kids in learning these beautiful apex predators. I want to share the awe and fascination (and obsession, as the weeks go by!) I feel when reading about their color vision, their rotating teeth, or their rete mirabile, the “wonderful net” heat-exchange method of maintaining warm-bloodedness. It is SUCH fun research to do. More sketches to come soon!
 

Mural Madness at the Collis Center!

For a second time this year, Laura Terry, Jen Vaughn, and I have combined our talents for another mural adventure! It’s finally up and on display for one year in the Collis Center Cafe at Dartmouth College. Here are my early composition sketches for my part of of the design. Our theme was A Dartmouth Year, scenes of life around campus: