Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My drawing table

Since before the time of Rockwell the camera has been a tentative partner and tool to the illustrator. This Christmas my wife and I bought a digital camera. Not that we have never had a camera before, but film was to involved for us. Ho the digital camera! Shoot it, love it, keep it. Shoot it, hate it, delete it! This is my drawing table top, uncovered and set up for inking. I write most of what I need to do on half size yellow pads, yes I love the Rotring sketch pens and Ticonderoga pencils.
The blue line drawing in the right is a copy of what I was inking. I currently listen to my iPod while drawing since my radio done gone busted.
The batarang is from the Limited Edition Batman Action figure that stands next to it’s Superman counterpart and a Green Lantern action Figure (Hal Jordan) and a Bob’s Big Boy.
This is just a rough description of the area used for conventional art that I call the cockpit.

Illustration roads not taken: Beth Orton

There are a lot of times that, when the illustration is finished, you look at it and think of the things you should have done, could have done and wonder, “Did I do the right thing?” Even when you feel you have, there can be a bit of second guessing. Most artists and illustrators that are, in my opinion, critical of their own work and REALLY take stock of what they are doing, go through these feelings.

This illustration of Beth Orton was for No Depression Magazine. After some research, the concept for the illustration , done in my favorite limited color airbrush style, sprang almost fully formed into my head. The only part I wasn’t sure about was the hands, so I sketched them as a quick overlay on tracing paper. When I saw the hands as outlines over the face, ghostlike, there but not there, I though that was a nice way to show how Orton is somewhat shy, but still opinionated, strong and putting her powerful music in front of a lot of people.

So there it was, the dark dress, the close crop, pale skin with dark eyes. Somewhat mysterious, sexy with wispy ghostlike hands! Cool.
I finished the illustration without a hitch, adding the delicate line work being very careful to not do what I normally do and get heavy.

When I was done, my wife commented that I had lost some ethereal elegant quality that was in the sketch. This is always a a worry in illustration. I That in planning and preparing each stage, some spontaneous, wonderful element will be lost going from one step to the next.
I did some slight reworking to the final after a long bought of soul searching.

Then on good advice, I made two copies of the sketch and finished each differently, keeping in mind the felling and concept that drove the illustration in the first place. The result? Some not bad work, two pages done in my sketchbook, possible alternatives in style, and a glimpse at illustration alternatives that may come fully to life in another illustration.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Star Sisterz card illustrations

In the LeeAnn Womack post I talked about Star Sisterz so I thought I would show some of them.

Star Sisterz is a collectable charm/card game. Each card describes an activity or task the the player has to complete to receive points or a charm. I’ve worked on three card sets. A total of 54 illustrations targeted for tween-age girls. When I started, the ideal image was Lizzie McGuire.

Illustrators were carefully chosen so their skill set matched up with the card description. I was given some of the more difficult compositions based on the required image. Each card assignment came with a small brief outlining the activity/task to be shown, color scheme, and a general guideline to keep the racial mix balanced, and the clothing not too street. The legal department of Hasbro really did their job on these.

On the first set I did detailed thumbnails, then two increasingly detailed sets of sketches with color notes.
On the second set, after thumbnails, I did one round of sketches and printed them from my computer in a non-repro blue on Bristol board and went right to ink line. The third set was done the same way. All the coloring was done digitally. After getting a nice mix of characters on the first set, I gave all the characters names and reused them for the following two. So all of my card sets feature the same girls. My goal was to have recurring characters that the players would recognize and identify with.

What I enjoyed about this project was that after all the requirements were met for showing the activity , I could concentrate on the details of the characters. Clothes, hair, accessories, posture. I could get into developing the background characters also (mostly boys and adults) to flesh out the scene and ad some real life to the card. All that in a 2inch square space. It doesn’t seem like a big illustrative challenge. But the beauty of being an illustrator is that you can create your own challenge within the assignment. You don’t HAVE to do it, you GET to do it.

Illustration Flavor Mixing: Lee Ann Womack

Most of the time, thematically, assignments alternate from serious to humorous, line to color, caricature to conceptual, back and forth, forth and back.

I had been mired in pink and purple for weeks, doing 22 card illustrations for Star Sisterz, a tween-age girls game. I was ready to switch things up, when No Depression Editor, Grant Alden, called with this assignment, an illustration of Lee Ann Womack. Her music is an easy listening style of almost retro 1970 Country that is light and kind of pop, but very well written and produced. Doing the necessary research, I found her to be friendly, courteous and girlish. Just the kind of traits that I had been putting into the illustrations for Star Sisterz. That’s how the peanut butter hit the chocolate.

Peanut butter flava’.
I did the initial concepts, sketches and airbrushed art just as I like to do, in black and white. I kept me eye on getting the right values and a strong composition with a good use of white space for a lighter feeling overall and a higher key value scale. I had just done a Dolly Parton illustration that was similar in feeling but way darker in value scale.

Chocolaty goodness.
Digitally, I stole the colors from my previous assignment, Star Sisterz, and began to build from there. I added a bit of noise in the background while keeping in mind that this had to have a light frothy bright happy pop, kind of 1970s feeling. By the way, whenever I think of 70’s pop image, I see things surrounded by the Mike Douglas Show set, that explains the flowers, which I did use on the tween-age girl game. It’s not pink and purple. I tried to make Lee Ann more of a butter-honey color, with the bright spot of color being her eyes, which are actually that blue!

Illustrators experiment during down time as a way of bringing new things to their next assignment. That’s is cool, but you don’t have to wait for down time. You can bring what you know or have learned from the previous illustration right along into the next, creating a great new tasty piece of eye candy.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Illustration out of context: Bennifer

I did this while working on the Secret Central website. I was doing still art, animation backgrounds and Flash assets, then got into designing characters that were not part of the line of dolls. After getting the style down, the evil crept in and as a lark I did this piece to send the team.
Always, the style and context of an illustration play a large role in how we read/understand the illustration. Put in another context, a certain style brings a whole new meaning to the illustration.
By the way, the deal with the word balloons was a contest to see who could come up with the best lines for Ben and J-Lo. Feel free to post your own dialog…now that they are splitsville..

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Illustrating Homage; Ghetto Pulp Fiction

From time to time I have been asked to illustrate certain things, in certain style. Art director's ask because they know I love research, have an extensive library on the history of illustration, and do pretty good impersonations. However there are a few pitfalls with doing this. One, you can loose sense of your art and what you have to offer in the illustration. Two, the possibility of copyright infringement. Three, you may only get work as a "Wrist." Four, you run the risk of recreating mistakes and thus taking on the responsibility for them. And five, you may have big shoes to fill and not measure up.

Taking that all into account, it can still be fun, not to mention educational, to play in the styles of other illustrators from time to time. As part of a feature in Black Issues Book Review, art director Warren Bernard commissioned headline type illustrations for two articles. To start all he wanted was something like the old Blacksploitation movie poster type, our point of reference was "Super Fly", cue the Curtis Mayfield theme. I have a book, or two, in my library on Blacksploitation movies, that reproduce the "Super Fly" poster. After a quick letter count, I wanted to see just how close to the original type I could get.

I began with a lot of sketching on tracing paper, and some correcting of letterforms. I wanted to correct any mistakes that may have been in the original type, and avoid my type looking like it was traced. After I had a sketch I liked, I gave the concept some closer examination. I knew that I thought it was a good idea to use the "Super Fly" type verbatim, but did Warren and, most importantly, would the reader. Was this a strong, valid concept, or an inside joke that no one else would get. Warren loved it. We both thought the homage brought with it a feel for the period and put the reader in a mind set that was right for the article. I'm sure the original type was done by hand, and since I was doing this digitally, and suck at doing type by hand, the accuracy of the computer was a big asset. I was able to check and double check the letterforms, and match the colors exactly. Illustrator made doing the outline strokes and smooth curves a breeze.

The client was happy, and I think this worked out well. The concept was strong enough to support the homage. I was able to use my tools to avoid mistakes. Careful craftsmanship makes the work look fresh and considered, not rushed and traced. The strength of the illustration lies in the concept, something that I would be proud to show and claim “ I did this”, it’s not “Wrist” work. A solid editorial piece that makes it’s own statement, not just a rip-off. Lastly, I learned a little about illustrating type, and a lot about what I love in illustration.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Convetional to digital

When I tell people what I do for a living, after the blank stares, and a brief explanation, they then ask me if I use a computer to do my art. "Is it all on computer?" Well, most everthing starts out on paper for me. I can draw faster, stay on concept and not get caught up in all the nifty things I can do with the computer/Wacom tablet. This is an example of the move from convetional to digital.

This is the sketch for the TRANSFOMERS skeleton, or chassis, done for the Robot Builder part of the toy's website. After spending a few hours scouring for the right scrap (photos of car chassis, engine bits, wheels struts and shock absorbers), I sat down at my drawing table and got busy! I was free to just kind of throw things down and create a really dynamic drawing with suggestions of things to be. I knew, after I scanned the image, it would be easy to clean up and fine tune, or machine things quite a bit, working from the same scrap photos. The red lines and the blue lines were done on separate sheets of tracing paper then overlayed. Why draw the lines in two colors, 'cause it looks cool! Then it's of to the clean, digital side of the basement.

This is the vector art. I used this Chassis as a register mark for all the TRANSFORMERS I created. The bits off to the side are robot parts that were used more than once. I just put them aside to grab when needed. (The most challeging bit to do was the Jeep tire). Somethng like this Chassis is much easier to finish on the computer, but the life and spark of it started on paper. I used a lot of neat tricks digitally to get the lines I wanted, creating brushes and expanding apperances. The Chassis wasn't used as intended, but the concept shows up as the selector icon on the left.
Yeah, super deal, I created 14 TRANSFORMERS from scatch! My art director, was great, backed me up and let me go. The parts are all at the website.click on Robot Builder. The sounds are a lot of fun also.

I normally don't like to draw cars, or machines. However working first loose on paper, playing with the pose, feeling, and concept makes the process fun and energetic. The computer makes keeping things even and machined, doing curves and angles much easier. The whole process can be enjoyable, using the right tool for the right job.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Feast of Love illustration

This is a rough rundown of how I work through an airbrushed illustration. The first step is the rough thumbnail. Here it is with type and side bar pattern put in by Colleen, my designer/art director/wife. No shit, she does all that and garden! Since her type sense is way better that mine, and we work back to back, It's for the best that she does the type at this point. The thumbnail is rough here, in my previous post you can view the sketch. Sketches are done to scale, very tight, so the designer can use them for placement. Saves time for both of us.

After the sketch is approved I go to the other side of the basement, the convetional art side, (with all my books and scavanged oak drawing table) and airbrush the art. I've been airbrushing for years, but still seem to learn something once and a while, or maybe I just have a really bad memory. In and event, I try to make a nice clean piece of art. This one came out beautifully.

The last step is to come back over to the computer side of the basement, scan the art, and add color in Photoshop. This one went a bit further. I added the pattern from a shirt I scanned. I removed the side bar from the scan, and brought in more of the shirt pattern. It gaves the illo more depth, things don't look so stuck on.
Working for Black Issues Book Review is rewarding. I've worked with four art directors. Each one has given me room to really push what I want to do. One day I'll post the "Literary Blackface" project done for BIBR. Lots of sketches and research for a really fun series of illustrations.

More airbrushed illustration like this can be seen at this photo album.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

He did what?

This is what I do. This particular illustration is for Black Issues Book Review magazine. This is my final sketch. I'll try to post the next step soon. Right now I have to get back to work lettering a comic story adaptation.

Live fast, draw hard.

I have yet to build a website, but one thing I wanted was some kind of forum, or format, that would allow me to talk about what I do (illustrate, yeah, I'm an illustrator). Several art directors have loved the stories about the illustrations in my portfolio. Others think I'm a walking Illustration encyclopedia, and I'd like to have an place for my students to read my lectures/thoughts/rants about illustration, instead of sitting/sleeping through them. Also, it might be fun, and a way to charge up my creative batteries.

In any event, welcome.
Stan Shaw