What are you doing on Saturday?

If you live anywhere near Clarion, PA and you’re not busy Saturday, December 11th, come on out to The Bathtub, The Kitchen Sink & Petey Dink’s (this is all one place with a long name).  I’ll be signing copies of The Year Without a Santa Claus from 2:00 to 4:00.

And, it’s open Studio Saturday at the Transit Building in Oil City, noon to 5:00.  My studio will be open most of that time—my lovely wife Lisa will be minding the shop.  If you need an autographed book please stop by; all the books are signed.  If you’d like one inscribed, leave me a note in the book and you can pick it up next week.

Santa’s eyebrows!

My friend Jerry Russell (whose fantastic work you can see here) observed that in The Year Without a Santa Claus I “made Santa’s eyebrows black, instead. For more expressive impact, I’m guessing.”

It’s true that the darker eyebrows make Santa’s face livelier.  I’ve always loved the interpretation of Santa in old Coca-Cola ads by Haddon Sundblom.  Click on his name to read about his work.  His Santa has those dark eyebrows, in pleasant contrast with the white beard.  Sundblom turned out paintings of Santa from the 30s through the 60s—so I got to see his new work when I was a kid.  You don’t hear his name much, but Sundblom’s work represents the best of the golden age of illustration.

Santa’s bed

Here’s a shot of Santa getting out of bed from The Year Without a Santa Claus.—the thumbnail sketch and the tight sketch.  Luckily I came to my senses and realized that Santa wouldn’t sleep in a four-poster—but a sleigh bed!

Santa’s house

The Year Without a Santa Claus opens with a long shot of Santa Claus’ house—the establishing shot, as they say in the movie biz.  It’s early morning, dark, with light coming from one bedroom window—the only warm spot in the picture.

For Santa’s house I looked to the architecture of northern Europe and Russia, cultures close to the North Pole.  I didn’t want to do a candy-cane swirly sugar plum North Pole—I wanted create a believable place where Santa lives and works.  Here are some examples of buildings in Norway and Russia.  There seems to be plenty of lumber there, and the builders made the most of it.  (I scanned these photos from library books but neglected to copy down the sources.)

No thumbnail sketch for this image.  Anahid (the AD) asked me to create an establishing shot instead of beginning the story in Santa’s bedroom.  I went straight to tight sketch, as you see here.  Once approved, I painted the final.  I used color to help tell the story—the images start with cold grays and blues, then warm up as the story progresses.

Cover ideas for Santa

A bunch of sketches for The Year Without A Santa Claus jacket art.  In the first few I was trying to summarize the story: Santa is too tired and cranky to deliver presents this year.  They don’t work well because they don’t look fun.  Jim McMullan, the Broadway poster illustrator told me a story about his early career:  after submitting depressing poster ideas that summarized the plot of a depressing play, the stage director told him “Just get the audience into the theater. We’ll give them the bad news once they’re inside.”  Good advice when drawing cover ideas, too.

The coat rack and Santa on a La-Z-Boy idea became spot illustrations inside the book.

The final idea with a happy Santa surrounded by presents was the winner.  Art director Anahid Hamparian put it all together with type that recalls the 1950’s, when the story was written.  I wasn’t consciously inspired by the famous shot from North By Northwest, but after I finished drawing I realized I had mimicked it.