It’s late January but hey, I got my new year’s post up before the end of the month. It’s the small ways we win. Every year my wife and I do a word for the year. Having a word rather than a resolution makes things thematic but also loose. and this year the word for me is revive! I think back to small things that I started and left behind through busyness or time that would be good to see more of how they will work out. So many good intentions left on the floor. So my hope for the year is to pick them up, dust them off, and see what I can take from them to make life just a little sweeter! Happy New Year!
Whew! I finally finished this piece. I've done a few variations on this one before. My intention all along was to make a physical piece, but as I do sometimes, I got caught up in the digital version of the project and took it to completion but to be honest, I wasn't satisfied with it. I had to go back into it and add pencil lines over the painting because I just didn't like the digital texture. I see other people work digitally and I love what they can do, but I'm not comfortable in how mine usually turns out.
With this piece, I used my new combo of acryla gouache (my new love), colored pencils, and conte crayons. I love how all of these materials work together to make a piece. And I didn't do any digital painting on this! I usually do some touch ups but I liked how everything felt on this.
I did have to go through 3 rounds of scanning to get what I was looking for. This was on a piece of illustration board that I had gessoed so it had some texture to it. When I scanned it, I felt like the scanner was picking up more texture than pigment and the image looked kind of weird. Then I took to trying to shoot it with some soft lights. That worked ok but didn't get the resolution I was looking for. The third charming try had me at my scanner again, but this time I didn't lay down a dictionary on the back of the piece, just the scanner top. It gave me the right color and texture I was looking for. Then I was able to stitch it up in photoshop and vwa-la I had Wendell his dog Skip, and his canoe paddling through the comsos on an intergalactic journey!
Here are some process photos for you.
When I first got married almost 15 years ago, my best man Kevin gifted us a record player as our wedding present. At the time, I thought it was nice but not quite my interest. See I didn't grow up buying vinyl or appreciating vinyl. I grew up in the late 80s where most of my early music purchases were on cassette tape. It was cheaper than CDs and readily available at all the music stores. I had stacks and stacks of tapes and my favorites were kept in this brown fake leather cassette briefcase that I'd take with me if I was in the mood for a variety of music. Or I'd just make a mix and pop it into my "walkman" (in parenthesis because I didn't actually own a SONY walkman. I was too cheap for that) and toil around my suburban streets probably smoking cigarettes angsting. My friends bands would occasionally record and publish on 45s but even this didn't get me into records. I was avoiding it or maybe, just maybe, it wasn't my time.
It was winter of 2017 that for some reason I got the itch to try out that record player. I had bought Sharon Jones (RIP) and the Dap Kings Christmas record for my sister in law that past christmas and wondered if that old record player Kevin got us would still work. When I found it, it was wedged in a cabinet collecting dust. I connected the wires to my little stereo and to my amazement it worked! That February my wife Emily got me what I call my first true record, a Red Hot Chili Peppers Greatest Hits album and since then, I've been off to the races.
I started buying vinyl left and right. My kids thought I had some sort of subscription from Amazon to send me new records every week. I would find bands or albums and just imagine what it would sound and look like to hear that music coming through the grooves of a record. The next year I upgraded my record player to a $300 audio technica. Now I know you can't really buy happiness. I also have had more than my fair share of buyers remorse when buying something, especially something expensive. But that record player has been pure joy for me and one of the best purchases I've ever made.
I know people talk about warmth when it comes to records but I think it is more than just sound. Its the dropping of the needle and watching the platter spin around. It's more than just listening to sound waves because we do that all the time now with our phones or radios. It's an experience albeit small. It's also strangely intimate as you have to be delicate putting the needle down, taking it off, putting the record away properly. Listening to a record is an act, as in action, and I have quickly grown to love that action.
It's weird when you get into something you never thought you'd get into. I never thought I'd be into making picture books. I never thought I'd want to grow my hair out (maybe I'll let that story slip at a later date). And I never thought I'd become a vinyl Junkie. But, here I am. Waiting for that next fix.
Check it out my review of Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat!
Full Disclosure, this is sorta stolen. This was a blog post by Beth Gismondi on her tumblr account which I just checked and is gone!!! But this was such a valuble resource for me when I started that I feel I need to keep this as something that people can refer to. So below is mostly Mark Teague talking about his process.
Mark Teague, is a fantastic children’s book illustrator and author. He has illustrated over 40 books, and written 11, including the popular Detective LaRue series and the How do Dinosaurs… series (written by Jane Yolen).
Mark is an inspiration to me because he is completely self taught. He went to college at USC and majored in U.S. history, and became interested in children’s books while working at Barnes & Noble after college. Mark’s big break came when showed his picture book dummy to Barnes children’s book buyer. The book buyer introduced Mark to the publisher of Scholastic, who liked Mark’s manuscript and decided to publish it. Mark is proof that illustrators can make it in this biz without a traditional BFA if they have talent and persistence.
In many interviews, Mark talks about the positives and negatives to not going the traditional route of art school. He has said, “My greatest strength and my greatest weakness comes from the fact that I am self-taught… There is still a lot I don’t know, and some stuff that has taken me years to learn that I could have picked up in the first semester of art school… But it always looks like my stuff. I didn’t set out to create a ‘look.’ It was organic—I didn’t have anyone teaching me, so it became mine effortlessly.” Personally, I think that Mark’s work is amazing. I love his painterly style, and I enjoy looking at his work for reference, because he also works in acryla gouache. I also love Mark’s great animal characters. I once saw Mark speak on an SCBWI panel, and he was just as funny as his characters are (the topic of the panel was actually “being funny”)!
Mark put together a really thorough description of his illustration process for the Children’s Book Council (CBC) a few years ago. Unfortunately, the CBC redesigned their website and removed the article, but I was able to track it down thanks to the Way Back Machine. I am reposting the article here, in its entirety:
“Illustrating Picture Books with Acrylics
By Mark Teague
Here is how I illustrate picture books.
First come the sketches, which may be the most important part of the whole process. I sit with the text for days, sometimes weeks, making lots of small, quick pencil drawings. In this case the story is the one I am currently working on, a sequel to Dear Mrs. LaRue (Scholastic, 2002).
These sketches help me define my characters. They also give me ideas about what passages are most visibly interesting and how best to put them across. I work out ideas about perspective and overall design at this point too. Design especially seems to reveal itself most clearly in small drawings. I work through the story page by page, paying particular attention to how each image flows into the next.
Small, loose drawings are often extremely expressive. I try to preserve that expressiveness as I move from the first sketches towards the final art.
The next step is making a book "dummy,” a more formal set of sketches, which approximate in pencil what the actual paintings will look like. I share the dummy with my editor and art director, who offer comments and suggestions. Sometimes major revisions are necessary before the project is approved, but it is much easier revising sketches than changing finished art.
When everything is approved I’m ready to paint. My pictures are usually the actual size they will appear in the book. I use 140 lb watercolor paper and apply gesso to the surface. Gesso is a kind of paintable glue that is used to seal permeable surfaces such as canvas and paper. It is more typically used in oil painting. Even though I use acrylic paints, I like the surface texture created by heavy brushstrokes in gesso. Often those brushstrokes are still visible in the final art.
Next I draw my picture, using the dummy sketch as a reference but not bothering to copy too closely. Careful copying tends to defeat the loose, playful feel I’m trying to achieve. Now I’m ready to begin painting. I use acrylic gouache paints, which I like because they are quite versatile. Heavily diluted with water they look and behave a lot like watercolors, but they can also be applied fairly heavily, like oils. My paintings are built up using many thin washes, with thicker coats applied at the end. The final painting won’t have the translucence of oils, but it will have some of that quality.
The first color I put on is burnt sienna, which provides a warmth that can still be felt at the end. I paint the entire drawing using only this color, establishing gradations from light to dark.
Next I put in highlights, using white paint (or sometimes gesso, which is more opaque). Then I sketch in the darkest tones and shadows using Paynes gray, which undiluted is nearly black.
This picture is somewhat unusual in that more than half the image will be black and white. The black and white section represents a scene in the imagination of Ike the dog, a highly melodramatic character. Black and white serves to clearly differentiate the dog’s daydreaming from his actual situation (a critical element of the story), and I think it works on another level, since dogs supposedly do not see color. In terms of the art it means that much of the image will be painted using exclusively Paynes gray and white. At first I apply the colors separately, but as I begin to “beef up” the image I mix them together and with matte medium, which gives the colors more translucence.
MISSING PICTURE!!! IF I find it I will add it!!!!
In the color section I also do not mix paints at first. From-the-tube colors lightly applied help me map out the color scheme and put colors into the underpainting (the early stages or layers) that will continue to peek through in the final art. Gradually I build the colors up. I want them to remain bright and friendly as a contrast to the black and white, so I’m careful not to mix too many colors together, as they begin to muddy after awhile.
Final work is mostly on small details, though I also spend some time “fading” the background so that the foreground features pop out. This painting took about three days to complete. More detailed images can take five or six days. Overall I need about four months to illustrate a book.“
Wow…three days to complete a painting?? If only…! Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed this view into Mark’s process as much as I have.
(via the Way Back Machine, originally written and photographed by Mark Teague and posted on the CBC website)
Added bonus! In searching for missing images I also found this piece on one of my favorite picture books Written by Audrey Wood and Illustrated by Mark Teague, Sweet Dream Pie!
Fairy Dogmother is a return to a piece I did a few years ago. I always loved the idea of this character that was one of those mistaken words that one of my kids got wrong. This one was done in gouache and I love the way the color pops. I used sculpey (superskulpey, to be exact) for the first time on this project. Sometimes you can envision exactly what you want to put on the page but other times it helps to have a reference to work from. Plus it was molding clay and I made little figures like I was a playdough champion.
I originally did this piece in my sketchbook which you can see below. This piece took a few restarts to get to this final piece but it was great learning along the way. I really like the mixing of watercolor, colored pencil and Kyle's Brushes on the Wacom to get to an image I want. I have yet to try to do my digital touch ups on an ipad, but soon we will see.
I bit the bullet and bought an IPad Pro 2. It was a tough decision to make because of the cost and not being sure of how it would fit into my workflow. But, I do love to sketch in Procreate and I had high hopes for Adobe Sketch because I could use my Kyle Brushes from photoshop. Also, I still have to try and use astropad to see if it is the Cintiq killer some claim it to be. I like the size of the 12.9 IPad Pro for sketching. It feels like a regular sized sheet of paper and I don't feel like I'm using a little notebook or anything. When I'm using it as an IPad, I feel like someone used the laser from Honey, we blew up the kids (the not as good sequel to the great Honey, we shrunk the kids) to make my IPad large. Using the pen is pretty great. I do love the ability to tilt and shade with the edge of the pencil in Procreate. And what is so great about sketching in procreate is building up sketches. It is so fast and comfortable that you can really work up a great image so quick without having to step into computer operation brain which I tend to do when I use photoshop.
The one downside I've run into is Adobe Sketch. It isn't what I hoped for. First, it took me two days to get my Kyles brushes into the app. Even though they say you can import from google drive, it doesn't work well. It kept on timing out and not letting me download the brush files. I had to export them from my google drive onto my creative cloud account for the IPad to see them. Then when I did use them, they didn't look exactly right to me. My pencil looked like a dotted line. Also you can't flip the canvas, you can't lasso select anything so the tools I love to use when building up a sketch in Procreate just aren't there. It still boggles my mind that Adobe hasn't destroyed Procreate. Maybe they're still bitter about Apple's trashing of Flash, who knows. But they are really missing out on a market that would gladly love to be able to work in Photoshop on a tablet and have it work like the real application.
The first day I got the Ipad, I decided I wanted to try and digitize one of my sketches so I went my recent sketch of Marc Maron. I am pretty happy with the transition from pencil to digital. Since I hadn't worked in Procreate in a while, I forgot about the feeling of the energy flow when working in the app. Very fluid. Now let's see what else I can make with this puppy!
I decided to try using watercolor once again. I'm really liking how these are turning out. I think it's funny when you are making something, at least for me, that I go through this phase of wanting to give up on the project at some point right in the middle. Especially when your painting, you get to a point where you gone beyond your drawing but you haven't come to a place where the painting is finished and you think that it looks like crap! But the magic comes when you go beyond that point. Once you keep working through past that point of crappiness, you end up with something that you're happy with most of the time. And sometimes that means starting over again or moving to a different medium. The happiness I got from the leaf girls paining I made in watercolor was after I had worked for a number of hours in acrylics and not liking what I had made. Then I also started a digital version as well that looked closer to what I was trying to achieve but it still just didn't feel right. When I finally moved to watercolor, I felt like the piece was coming together. But I don't know if I would've gotten there without going through that middle crappy phase that included working in two different mediums. So I'm gonna keep chugging along and I hope that if somebody else is reading this that it will keep them chugging along. Here's to going beyond crappy phases!
I will admit that I am still in the phase of discovering the different mediums that I can make my art in. My hope is that I continue to do this for the rest of my career but it's always fun to step into an area that you've never really tried before. I've never put a lot of time into working in watercolor but what is drawn me to a recently is this mix of control and lack of control. As an artist I've always started off with wanting a lot of control in my work so I've always relied on line. And trust me there's nothing wrong with relying on line to make your heart but for me it always felt safe and somehow constricting. I wanted to find a different sort of freedom and almost at discomfort in my work. Painting and more generically creating art is something magical for me because I can't see what I'm doing until I'm done and when I am done, I can't believe that I was the person that made that thing. This is especially true with watercolor. With watercolor, you have to give away some of your control to water and you can't be as meticulous and you can't constantly refine refine refine, but that's what is great about it! And it's why I am glad to be adding it to my Painting arsenal.
so recently I got a couple of new mailers to send out. I decided to do two different images because really I like both of them and I just thought they gave a different flavor for Halloween. I was also happy with the result of making them digitally on the Procreate app using my regular old iPad. Most people I see you working in procreate do it on an iPad Pro with a pencil but I wanted to see what I could do with the tools at my disposal. Working on these two pieces really got me to get a feeling for how to illustrate digitally on an iPad. I found a very freeing from just using my Wacom because I could move it around in all different directions and it felt closer to how I work when I use a traditional medium in that I can move fast and change around what I'm doing quickly rather than hitting keystrokes to tell the computer what I'm doing. If you're working in digital or if you're working traditionally and you have access to a regular iPad I would suggest trying to use the Procreate app because it just brings you to the digital table so to speak.
Mailers are interesting. I never really know how many I should send out. The first mailer I sent out I sent out about 100. But with this one I sat around 200 and when I was watching Lee whites business in illustration class he said to send out around 1400 mailers at a time. Doing the math I realized how much of an expense it was to just send out mailers. I asked Lee about this and his response got me confused. He said if I wasn't getting recognized for my work and maybe I wasn't ready to be sending mailers out. But if I'm not sending mailers out how will people know me for my work? It felt like a chicken or the egg argument. So finally I just ordered as many mailers is a good sent them out the door and hope that someone will take notice. That's the best that any of us can do.
Do you know the show Moone Boy? Its a great show about a little boy and his imaginary friend. Of course, Martin Moone is a little too old for an imaginary friend but that's what made it entertaining. You could fit it in with other family comedies on tv today since its the family set in Ireland instead of the black family or the 80's family or the California family (also its not on ABC), but it has a flavor all its own. We've caught the entire series on PBS over the last year or two and I always felt happy and surprised when it showed up on my Tivo queue.
For the past few weeks I've been focusing on digital work using the Procreate App but I've been itching to get my paint tubes out as well. I already had the sketch done a few weeks ago so I was able to get straight to painting. I'm happy with the final result.
*Side Note: One of the things I need to watch out for when I sketch is that I usually draw with a red pencil meant for teachers grading papers. I like using the pencil because it is harder than colored pencils but doesn't smear like regular lead, but when I paint over it with my acrylics, the color seems to bleed through the paint. So I usually have to either add more paint or accept that it is just part of the piece. For this one, I did a little of both, but I wanted to send a warning out there that sometimes pencils will bleed through your piece.
If you've never seen Moone Boy, check out the trailer below.
Yesterday I finished a documentary about Miyazaki called The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. I also finished listening to Marc Maron interviewing Werner Herzog on his WTF podcast. It felt serendipitous that these two great artists were visiting me at the same time. Both directors were refreshing in their own way. Miyazaki chain smoking at his little desk in his big studio. He wasn't secluded from the rest of his staff. He just sat there working in his little white apron finishing his last film. He often expressed doubt in himself and his studio but in such a Japanese poetic way. Then there was Herzog. So German. So sure of himself and who he was as an artist (and BTW, Marc handled Herzog like a boss!). Here were two shining examples of artists being themselves and just doing what they do. As dumb as it sounds, its easy to forget that you need to be you and the people out there that are telling you to follow a prescription or a method to work are wrong. Its why Seth Godin refuses to let people know his routine. He often talks about Stephen King's pencil. People want to know what sort of pencil King uses in hopes of emulating or stealing the "magic" of what he does. It's the person not the pencil. Its good to remember that as an artist to trust in your own process.
Earlier this week I started using the Procreate app on my regular iPad. I tried using Procreate on an iPad plus with a pencil and was impressed with what I could do with it. Since I can't afford to buy an iPad Pro right now I decided to try using my regular iPad with the procreate app. I've done digital work before but it hasn't been until recently that I felt like I have a groove going working on a piece starting digitally and ending digitally. I think that normally I would probably finish something off like this in Photoshop but I wanted to see what I could do with the paintbrushes in Procreate. I'm happy with the results. Thanks for checking in.