Third in a series of new quick sketches.
Archive for the ‘Work in progress’ Category
Another in a series of quick sketches with a limited palette.
Posted in blogging, Photoshop Painting, picture books, Random House, Schwartz and Wade Books, The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot, Work in progress, tagged The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot on January 31, 2013 | 6 Comments »
Anyway, I found one concerning The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot. An illustrator had left a comment like, ” It looks OK. Basically he just ripped off the minions from Despicable Me.”
Ouch! I have to admit, the alien kids do look similar. But the sad part, or good part, is I designed that book long before that movie came out. And here’s the story about that.
I started designing the aliens as soon as the contract came in. I was really excited. My first drafts had all three eyed-alien kids and that crazy multi-eyed robot. I was into lots of eyes…I tried making the characters blue, but I didn’t like it. So I defaulted to a yellow-green/acid-green coloring for them because that coloring looked great atop all the deep-space backgrounds the book featured. And they are aliens…come on. I’m not the most original colorist.
So I turned in my first designs, I got notes back and the art director asked what I thought about each of the aliens having a different number of eyes so kids can more easily tell them apart. Cool idea. I did that and was soon moving forward painting the roughs.
About halfway through the book I went to Apple Trailers one day and – nearly wet my pants when I saw the first full trailer for Despicable Me that featured the Minions. I believe that the earliest teaser trailers didn’t have the minions in them. Well, I freaked out. Looked online for anything about them and started alternative character designs. I wrote the editor and art director, who had seen the roughs, telling them I would have to change everything because my characters look similar to these other characters in a new movie.
The art director wrote back saying, don’t bother changing them. They loved my characters as they were. The characters in the book are kids, they are not minions. And there are lots of characters with similar traits in books and films.
And so that’s how I became a big, fat, plagiarist…not.
2012 was a big year for me professionally – if for no other reason than my graphic novel Earthling! was released by Chronicle Books. It’s a book I worked on for many years. A story that went through massive changes and a project that I am happy with and not happy with all at the same moment. I also illustrated two more picture books that will be out in 2013.Busy year. Good busy.
But 2012 was really all about Earthling!. I have worked on all sorts of projects in my life. Usually playing a bit-part or smaller in some major branded piece of entertainment. The desire to captain the ship, so to speak, speaks as much about ego I suppose as desiring a challenge. And it has been a challenge. But now Earthling! is done. Out of my head and my arm is recovering from drawing 256 or so pages in 6 months.
High-point: getting that first set of proofs from China (receiving them only a few days after I OK’d final full color digital art files in San Francisco…crazy). High-point: Seeing the real book for the first time when my author copies arrived. Seeing it on the shelf at a bookstore and library.
Low-point: being told it would get coverage in the New York Times and spending a week worried beyond belief about what they would say.
High point: having a very positive review in the NYT’s! Low-point: after the review ran in the New York Times having the paperback be out-of-stock at Amazon for 7 or 8 weeks. I’m still not clear why. But at least it’s back in stock now.
And so my professional year ends as this project that dominated my life for so long is cast aside, set sail, free to wander the winds of recycling bins and library shelves for years. I guess 2012 will always be about Earthling! for me.
If you are waiting for me to write some sort of valuable lesson about what I learned from all this I suppose I could write a platitude like: The more things change the more they stay the same. Or: Never leave an open container of cheese in your house if you have monkeys.
I might say that writing or drawing a book, creating a story and releasing it to the world is a job fraught with unexpected outcomes and revelations. Ups and downs. Disappointments and high points. It’s never quite what you expect. It’s never as bad as you think. And in the end, most of the time, you live to try it all again.
Where have I read that before? It goes something like this: “It’s a dangerous business…going out your door. You set onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”. And I believe that the road you take in creating something offers plenty of adventure too.
The second time I was going to write a picture book (I’ll talk about my first attempt at writing a picture book some other time. When we need a really good laugh…) I clearly remember clearing an afternoon of everything else, getting a sketchbook with doodles and ideas, sitting at my desk, bringing up a new Microsoft Word document on my computer, positioning my hands over my keyboard so I could start typing…and…and…sitting there.
I wrote nothing of any commercial value that day. I don’t most days. But the difference is now I write something everyday and don’t have expectations that what I will write will magically transform into a 32 page picture book. Most of what I write is, to be less than polite, sucky. (That’s a word used in the trade. Strictly a professional term.) And only the tiniest fraction is commercially viable. I wish I could improve my batting average. (I hate sports analogies…)
But I often think about sitting at my desk in Pasadena trying to write one on demand. I wanted to start work on it immediately. You know, things to do, places to go. And I had a million ideas. And just about 1 million of them wouldn’t work well for a picture book.
For me, books don’t just hop out of my head. Heck, my illustrations don’t work like that.
The way I work is more obvious to me now. It’s little steps here-and-there, now-and-then.
Ideas grow and develop across months. I write things down not expecting anything to come of them. On the rarest occasions something sprouts. The picture book that was recently acquired by a publisher developed like that. It’s a picture book that grew from one little drawing and a few sentences. After a long journey of edits with my agent and input from an editor, it was solid enough to move forward. I will be starting work on that in the next few weeks and I’m very excited. It’s the first picture book I wrote and will draw.
I know some people get that opportunity right away. I know artists and writers who have the ability and luck to sell their first manuscript. It didn’t work like that for me. And my second picture book, which is in the process of being acquired (which I can’t talk about yet) didn’t come about any easier. It didn’t have any less drafts or fewer edits or revisions or rewrites or waking-up-at-three-in-the-mornings and realizing that page 15 sucks. (Again, please excuse the professional language.)
I know everyone has a different process. Some learn faster than others. Some writers have a naturally commercial set of instincts. It’s taken me a lot of years to figure out that the time I set aside for writing is just the start of the process. There is no way to shorten the book making recipe for me. But by ending and often beginning each day by writing I create more opportunity for something to develop.
The graveyards on my computer are always growing.
In the ART and WRITING directories on my computer are files that are at best, living in purgatory. Bits and pieces of projects. Stories started and abandoned, illustrations not-quite-ready for whatever they were were meant for. Stuff from two in the morning when a story seemed SO good it would write itself, until the morning’s light made me aware that it was never…never going to work.
When I start writing a new story I usually visit all my graveyards. I rummage around in the old bones and shards of broken pottery looking for interesting bits. Character names, scenes, a particular doodle. These things have ways of coming back to life in a new context. Their resurrection isn’t 100%, but they tend to inspire me and make me think of ideas in a new light.
These graveyards don’t just exist digitally. I have folders stuffed with papers with doodles and opening sentences. Then there are the sketchbooks; filled with bits of projects going back years. I usually start a book’s thumbnails in a sketchbook than gradually build to full size paper. So one sketchbook might have 3 years of parts of books in them.
Below is a page from an abandoned manuscript. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll actually get back to that story and figure out a way to make it work. Or the idea will be reborn in a new way when the time is right.
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.
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.
I keep a lot of sketchbooks with doodles and a sentence or two story idea. When I look through them and try and find useable story ideas I am always shocked how 90% of them are absolutely bizarre. They tend to be plot points and concepts for stories, but from reading them I’m starting to think I black-out and write random stuff down. Or I am being experimented on by aliens. Now that’s a cool idea. What if you are taken and experimented on, but when you are just free writing in a diary or sketch book, things start coming out and making sense…Anyway, some of my favorites from an older sketchbook -
- Twins. but boy is alien. Blue germs.
Glad I wrote that down! If only I could remember why I thought I needed to write that down…
- 11 kids. But the steamroller can only carry 5.
- Trees dance? What if he had no eyes? Difference between not having eyes and not seeing.
Yeah. This is a great idea…can you call it an idea? I think stories about things that don’t have eyes are the next big thing…
It’s wise to keep these bits and pieces of things. It’s good to get stuff out of your head so you can move on. I’m actually pretty entertained by the musings and their anti-usefullness aspects.