Archive for March, 2012

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Spring break and my 5 year old is on the loose. Swimming lessons, bowling, play dates, Barbie-Polly-Pocket-Playmobile-Lego adventures built and torn apart as fast as creativity allows.

A full day with a kid is the most exhausting thing this old man can handle. By suppertime I feel like I’ve been awake for 60 hours. I’m hunched over. My eyes close anytime I stop walking. I smell. I’m not even sure I can tell my wife what we had for lunch. Ice cream?

It’s a great reason to be exhausted. But ask me by Friday and I may express a different opinion. If I can express anything intelligible at all.

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This is an older book, from 2009 (Remember 2009? We were so young, so full of dreams…) but it has become one of my daughters favorites.  The Dunderheads is a complicated picture book, especially considering the market right now.

It prompted a lot of questions from my daughter during the first few readings. She asked about words and concepts in the book, which I consider a good thing. Of course, if the book prompts too much discussion and the explanations get off track too far, the book falls out of focus for my daughter and she no longer cares about the characters in it or the story.

But The Dunderheads gets it right. There is enough plot and some very complicated interrelationships (for a 5 year old) but the characters are compelling and there is a very straightfoard goal. Paul Fleischman walks a tightrope introducing a lot of material and characters and character traits. But it never falls overboard. It never gets too complicated for its own picture book good.

I really enjoy David Roberts illustrations and in this book I feel he hits a perfect balance. They are not so busy on the page that they are difficult to comprehend, or complicate the act of trying to read the book. The details are funny and intriguing and add a great level of solidity to the fantastical world the story takes place in.

I look forward to reading the next one, The Dunderheads Behind Bars, as soon as my daughter stops wanting to read this one.

Paul Fleischman’s website.

David Robert’s website.

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I spent the past few days getting the final art ready for a new picture book. It’s always difficult to decide that the pages are complete and ready and don’t need ‘one more thing’.

The greatest danger of working digitally is the ability to chase perfection. Like we ever catch it.

When you work traditionally at some point the canvas won’t take anymore, the paper rips, the number of layers you can rubber cement on top is reached or all the colors in the piece have blended into brown-grey. Time to stop. Or, if you have any time left, start over completely. (been there, done that…)

For a final review on this book I will quickly look each page over one more time and see if anything pops-out. The book has been worked on for months already. I’ve gone through a series of notes with the art director and editor to make sure that continuity and overall design issues have been dealt with. It’s as done as done can be done.

It really is time to say goodbye. At least until we see the proofs.

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It’s sunny out today. It’s Oregon. It’s sunny. It’s March and it’s sunny. That means I just can’t stand to sit in front of this computer. I can’t do it. I will go pick up the doggy-doo in the backyard instead. I will pull weeds instead. I will sit cross legged in my front yard, in the sun, in the drying mud and cry instead.

When I moved to California from Wisconsin it didn’t take long for me to realize that when almost every day is beautiful, working when it’s nice out isn’t a big deal. Work until 8 at night, so what. When you get out of work you can have dinner at an outside cafe in Santa Monica and watch the sunset as it cools down to like 65.

But in Oregon, when the sun is out, in MARCH…well…

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I did this panel cartoon a few year ago. But what goes around comes around, right? There’s more reason than ever to be scared of the ground beef that’s on sale. And remember, Soylent Green is people!

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I really love Shel Silverstein’s work. As the years go by I find myself going back to his work and being knocked-out by the wonderful sense of play in everything he wrote. I don’t think I’ve had an idea yet for a story or book, that in some way, somehow, hasn’t made an appearance in a Shel Silverstein poem.

My daughter loves to have his books read to her at night. I think it appeals to her growing language interest. And the rhymes create their own dramatic tension as she tries to guess the right word.

Some might consider his work to be dark in mood. Sort of like Edward Gorey. But what I really love about Shel Silverstein’s work is he doesn’t dwell on that aspect. It’s not all Lemony Snicket. He doesn’t play the goth card over and over and over…He grasps at the full experience of life, the good the mundane and the scary. And his books are so much richer because of this.

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Mucky March in Oregon.

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I have never been a fan of doing detailed early sketches.

When I trained for animation in graduate school I discovered that my best drawings came when I drew a lot of pictures and only worried about the ‘final’ clean drawing at the end of what looked like a very messy process.

As I started to work on the computer and develop a system that I liked for inking and painting, I realized I had the ability to change my mind and not pay the price in the same way as when you work traditionally.

I sometimes worried that this was laziness on my part. You know, that Minnesotan inspired voice still in the back of my head that says laziness is the root of all problems…But it’s not laziness. I work just as many hours working on a project. But the hours are spent getting the maximum inspiration onto a page, not cleaning up roughs that just ge drawn and painted over anyway. The work stays fluid until the file is saved and sent off. Usually I don’t change that much. But when I want to, I feel it greatly improves the work. I can revisit everything too often of course. So the ability to say, ‘This is done.’ becomes even more important. You don’t want to pull a ‘Lucas’ (George Lucas has shown an inability to stop editing his work…)

I think each person finds a system that works best for them. Some people want the security of a tight pencil. Some styles demand the intricate issues be worked out in advance. But for me, how I work keeps it fun. It lets me discover new things throughout the process.

It helps keep the project fresh and interesting because you work on most books for several months, maybe even a year.   And along the way I always discover new things I want to include. Things that I would see or think about after working on it for the first 2 months. And of course, this method helps keep the final art feeling alive and energetic.

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Above is a 2 page spread rough from a new picture book.

I was talking to a friend the other day, discussing how work is going on a new picture book (not fast enough coincidently…) and while talking about how I work, I realized that I may be the worst example of a commercial illustrator …ever…(said in true Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy voice).

When I do rough sketches they are indeed, very rough.When I am working on a book I spend a lot of time with very messy, very hard to decipher sketches. These set a visual pace for me and help me look at composition issues from 10,000 feet. The character work, the details all come out as I work on the pages. And this, I realized, is the opposite of what a commercial illustrator is supposed to do e.g. provide a client with a solid idea of what the heck you are doing.

I’m not one to get too arty-farty about these things, but I think this method works well for books, where you are doing 30 or more illustrations and the story literally develops as you read and reread and comprehend it. It’s not so hot for spot style illustrations which is why I do pretty much none of that kind of work anymore.

I have tightened up my roughs lately and it’s kind of funny because I am trying to keep my finals looser and more gestural while providing roughs that communicate more clearly. I realize that the project needs to speak clearly, or at least as clearly as it can, at every stage. I’ll post more about my search for a working style tomorrow.

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