Archive for July, 2010

I’m a robot. See how Roboty I look.

I’m drawing a LOT of robots these days. It seems that 3 out of every 4 projects prefer robots over non-robots. I am well-roboted. A robot in every drawing pad. Just call me Mr. Roboto.

On one project I was thinking I would completely deconstruct the idea of what a robot would look like. That lead to an interesting discovery – while it is possible to greatly alter what a robot looks like, at some point, it no longer visually reads as being a robot. At least not for a younger reader/viewer. And while sci-fi imagery offers an extravaganza of what-ifs, one thing is clear. If you have a robot in your story, it helps if the robot looks like a robot, unless the story is about how the robot doesn’t look like a robot…or something like that.

So I backed off my idea of making a robot that looks nothing like a robot. (duh!)

Here is a later painting. I deem it at least 85% robot looking. A big robot, but still a robot.

From a pencil sketch, painted in Photoshop (like always – I’m so predictable…)

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shot and processed on my iPhone.

It’s come to this, posting pictures of my cat.

I eat lunch most days (well, summer days anyway) on the back porch and most often I am joined by our cat, Ravi.

He always makes himself present at the table. Here’s to Ravi. The cat who likes to lunch.

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above – some of my current favorite picture books

My previous posting, BlogAgony, provided a lot of emails and comments. At least for me to try and keep up with. And I didn’t mean to say that I’m not inspired by other peoples work. I try to post favorite books from time to time on here, even favorite animated films.

Lately the books I am most impressed with seem to be coming from Britain, Australia or somewhere in Europe. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the energy and excitement I see in the British picture book market is amazing. There are lots of great books from everywhere, but lately, every time I pick a picture book up and think ‘Wow. This is really different and engaging.’ It’s been a book from a British illustrator.

It may be that I am seeing only the ‘cherry-picked’ work in this country. The best of the best. But it seems like they take more chances with the material. I’m not an expert on international trade publishing. For all I know Britain has ALWAYS produced the best picture books…(“Oh darling! How can you not know that!?”)

Or perhaps they are just a tad more removed from the licensing deluge that engulfs book store shelves in this country.

I mean no disrespect to the licensed materials – the Sponge Bob books. The Mickey Mouse and Dora materials. I even like some of the shows. But the last time I was in a Borders I noticed the majority of shelf space was given to the licensed stuff. I know publishers pay for shelf space, so I understand that Borders is mainly stocking shelves with what they get paid to stock shelves with. Theoretically this in turn generates larger sales for the material with the most shelf space, especially when the characters are familiar to people from TV, underwear and diapers.

I also see a trend where a lot of original American picture books look and read like licensed material. They don’t take a lot of chances or seem to take the paper seriously. What do I mean by, “Take the paper seriously”? It’s just my shorthand for illustrations that accept the medium of marks on a 2D surface and use it to it’s best effect. To be painterly and engaging in a way that makes you want to touch and feel the book. Even a lot of the narratives feel a bit too Disneyfied. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But at my last visit to a big picture book section I’d say 4 out of the 10 books I took time with were oddly self conscious of being books.

To put it another way, I don’t think deepfried Snickerbars are the only dessert. They may have the most sugar bang per dollar, but that doesn’t mean they are the most satisfying.

I don’t remember the percentage but it’s only a tiny percentage of picture books that arrive in the big stores, and an even smaller number that get presented with the cover facing out.

But really, who cares about that aspect of the business? I think it’s worth paying brief attention to, but I try and not think about it. Much like the blogs from around the world with amazing art. At a certain point, you have to put on the blinders, put on the earphones and do what you can with what you’ve got.

List of books from above:

Mam Robot  – by Davide Cali and AnnaLaura Cantone

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs Missing Treasure  -by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto

The Great Paper Caper  -by Oliver Jeffers

The Story of Everything – By Neal Layton

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I love checking out other artist and writer’s blogs. I often find myself trying to wrap up my day, at about 2 in the morning, and taking a quick look at various blogs of other illustrators.

This usually inspires a few moments of pleasure often followed by – BlogAgony.

Sleep never comes easily as the pitter-patter of thoughts criss-cross my brain –

“All their work is great.Better than mine will ever be”

“Wow. They draw SO MUCH BETTER THAN I DO.”

“I could never paint like that…”

“They sold another TV show and a Film and have 13 books under contract…really? AND that’s their art on the CD Cover? And they were just elected bestest-person in the world?”

And it’s not just one artist, or two or three sites…it’s an endless, flashing ever changing, always updated feast of amazing work from all over THE WORLD.

Now, I am not proud of said anxiety. And I have learned a lot from other artists and their blogs. In fact, I have learned more from other working artists than from any class. But I have to admit, the blogs cause as much anxiety as pleasure.

You might say this is my fault. That I shouldn’t be judging in this way…but as far as I can tell, it’s very difficult (though not impossible) not to. I know, I know, live in the moment, don’t allow yourself to be riddled by self doubt, don’t judge yourself by others, find what makes you happy, believe in your vision – BUT DID YOU SEE THAT GREAT ILLUSTRATION OF THE ROBOT AND THE PRINCESS AND HOW’D THEY GET THAT TREE TO LOOK SO GOOD —- See…It happens.

I don’t want to look at others work and get depressed. And often enough it is inspiring. But at some point, especially after a long day of work and making the compromises that get deadlines met, seeing too much other wonderful work can be the opposite of inspiring.

The internet, and the moment-by-moment sense of blogs creates a perpetual tornado of material that can elevate insecurities in all new wonderful ways. And it’s hard to avoid it, especially for those of us who work ‘connected’ all day, every day.

My answer has been to control my blog reading/viewing. I check out 2 or 3 blogs each morning. And I try and never do that end-of-day-thing, when I am tired and a bit frustrated at the day passed and the work that never seems to be as good as I wish.

Inspiring things are delicate. The beauty, the admiration can easily sour the flavor of the life you are living. Like looking at beautiful pictures of a sunset over a Hawaiian beach all the time. Beautiful, inspiring, and why exactly am I not on that beach watching the sunset, instead of cleaning up the dog barf from the kitchen floor?

Ahh, grasshopper – the dog barf must be cleaned up. And you must keep drawing…

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