Two Bad Pilgrims’ progress

Here’s the big scene from Two Bad Pilgrims, where Francis and Johnny nearly scuttle the Mayflower when they fool around with their father’s fowling piece.  First the thumbnail sketch:

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Then the tight sketch:

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There was some squeamishness about showing two boys firing a gun in a kids’ book, so we tried a different approach.  Sometimes you encounter this kind of snag in the creative process.  Kendra Levin, the editor and Jim Hoover, the art director worked with me to find a solution.  How about if instead of the gun, we show the boys playing with squibs?

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What the heck is a squib?  Here’s where my dad, and the Company of Military Historians really came to the rescue.  My dad posted the question in the forum page of the Company’s website.  Turns out a squib is a thin tube of paper or a hollow quill filled with black gunpowder—homemade fireworks.  When you light one it zips around the room.

But, this isn’t really what happened aboard the Mayflower.  More important, it’s not as interesting to look at.  We ultimately struck a compromise and decided to show the boys with the gun, but not actually firing it.

Here’s the inked in version.  Squibs, a barrel of gunpowder, straw ticking on the bunk, old wooden planking—all the ingredients for setting a ship afire.

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It seems nuts to have gunpowder just laying around like that, but according to Mourt that’s the way it was.  I know that British warships in Nelson’s time stored all gunpowder in a special room, the magazine.  It was lit by a lamp on the other side of a glass window.  Anyone in the magazine had to wear slippers, because the nail of a shoe grating across powder on the floor would cause a spark, blowing up the ship.

Here’s the color sketch.

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And Vince Dorse’s colorization.

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Being John Singer Sargent

I’m working on paintings (finishing them up, actually) for a story about a cat who lives in Venice circa 1890.  Since the publisher refused to send me to la Serenissima to gather visual research (hey, you can’t blame a boy for asking!), I was forced to make do with the beautiful paintings of John Singer Sargent, who lived in Venice at the same time our cat did.

To help me get a feel for the color scheme, or palette, I did small color studies of some of Sargent’s Venetian paintings.  Here’s his painting of the Rialto:

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…and my study of it.

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I recommend this kind of exercise.  I learned so much about color from Sargent by mimicking his paintings.  Here are more:

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A piu tardi—

Later—

Designing a cover for the new Henry

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Sponge out your cannons!  Prepare to repel boarders!  Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates will storm bookstores on August 11th!

Many eager customers are even now camped out in front of those bookstores, awaiting the big day.  For those of you with internet access, here are a few visual bonbons to take your minds off of how hard a concrete sidewalk  can be.

The cover of a picture book is hugely important.  It’s the packaging that gets a casual browser to pick up the book and look inside.  The cover image has to give you an idea of what the story is about.  I also wanted to get a bit of action in there, to appeal to boys.

As usual, I began by drawing little thumbnail sketches.  These are very rough sketches, indicating the idea and where the title type will go.

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Bird's-eye view, looking down on Henry from the top of the Black Yolk.

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Version D is the winner, with some changes.  Henry will be flopped so he’s running left-to-right, the Black Yolk (the chicken pirate balloon) will be moved to the left, and the title type goes in the space made in the upper right.  Here’s the tight sketch incorporating the changes:

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Art director & editor liked this much better.  One last change:  show Henry carrying his book.  Here’s the layout they sent me including both drawing and type:

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Finally, the title type.  We were able to pick up the word ‘Henry’ from Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies. Here’s the sketch for the rest of the title.

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Then I enlarged the sketch, and inked in the lettering using a lightbox.

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John & Elinor Billington

Here are some more character designs from Two Bad PilgrimsJohn & Elinor Billington were Francis & Johnny’s mom and dad.  The passengers on the Mayflower comprised 2 groups: the Saints and the Strangers.  The Saints were the Puritans who wanted to found a colony where they could practice a Christianity free from the corruption of their religion in Europe.

The Strangers weren’t necessarily religious, but came to the New World for a variety of reasons.  The Billingtons were among the Strangers, and their reason for the voyage was to escape debt.  John Billington was certainly no saint—he was a bully who constantly antagonized Miles Standish to the point that Standish took legal action against him.  Eventually, John Billington met his end by making history: he was the first man in the New World to be hanged for murder.

I’ve drawn John & Elinor shabby-genteel, a couple who once had money but have fallen on hard times.

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Underpainting

When I paint, my favorite medium is gouache (rhymes with squash).  It’s opaque watercolor and versatile: I can water the colors down to transparency or paint them on thick and opaque.  If I need to make a change after the paint’s dry, I can soak off most of the paint with a damp paper towel and start over.

Since my style is so cartoony—which was not a selling point with children’s art directors when I started out—I learned to paint in a classic sort of way.  My goal is to make objects in my pictures look three-dimensional by modeling them, by rendering the light and shadow.

Figuring out light and shadow while worrying about color is not easy!  I found it’s simplest to separate the two activities.  I paint light and shadow first, then add color on top later.

The first step is called underpainting.  I like to use a warm brown, Burnt Sienna, for that step.

Here’s a page from Where’s My Mummy? another collaboration with my pal Carolyn Crimi. This story is about Baby Mummy’s one last game of hide-and-go-shriek before bedtime.  All the monsters in the graveyard are getting ready for bed.

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I should mention that as usual, I was behind schedule with this project and got lots of painting help from the talented Rhonda Libbey, who blocked in big areas of color.

Okay, first the sketch:

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You can already see many of the shadows in the sketch.  The scene’s a graveyard, so shadows are important for mood.  Here are the shadows painted in Burnt Sienna:

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You should be able to tell from which direction the light’s coming.  I try to avoid detail in the underpainting and concentrate on the masses of light and dark.  It’s really an abstract design.  I didn’t paint the vines growing on the tombstones, for instance.  Now here’s the color painted on top of the warm brown underpainting:

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I was trying to evoke those old black and white monster movies, so I used a very restrained palette, or range of colors.  There are few bright colors in this book.

One of the nice things about the warm Burnt Sienna underpainting is that it peeks through the cold neutral overpainting here and there.  I think that the underpainting also helps to unify the illustration by giving all the colors something in common.

You’ll notice that I haven’t yet painted the Baby Mummy.  First I paint my backgounds, then  I paint the characters.  That helps me keep all those elements consistent throughout the 32-page book.

Here’s another image—in progress—from the same book.  I haven’t painted the characters yet, just the background.

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And here’s the finished painting.  Dracula gets a bright red bathrobe.

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More Pilgrims

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Here’s the character design for Miles Standish.  I do these sketches for the major characters in a book so that they look the same all the way through the story.  Proportions are difficult to keep consistent unless you take the time to do these.  It does make drawing the comprehensive sketches easier, because I’ve made myself familiar with the characters in their different poses.

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The Indians nicknamed Standish ‘the shrimp,’ so I colored his costume pink with red showing in the slashed sleeves.  I gave him one of those lobster-tail helmets. Here’s the color sketch:

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Here are color indications for Franky & Johnny, the Billington boys:

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Two Bad Pilgrims

I’ve got another book coming out in August, Two Bad Pilgrims.

It’s the true story of the Billington brothers, who came to the New World on the Mayflower.  They were a couple of brats who nearly blew up the ship while fooling around with a fowling piece belowdecks.

The art director and editor asked that this project be given a graphic novel look.  When I was a kid, my goal was to become a comic book or strip artist.  So this was fun, but what a load of work!  Nineteen times more work than a conventional picture book.

I was never going to finish all this—thumbnail sketches, comp sketches, character designs, inking and coloring— on time without some help, so my buddy Vince Dorse jumped in to digitally colorize my black and white ink drawings.

Here are character designs for the 2 boys, Franky and Johnny.

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The thumbnail sketch for spread 18/19 (later bumped to 20/21). The thumbnail sketch is about 2 inches tall.

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The comprehensive sketch for page 20. I work about half-size.

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The inked-in version of page 20. This is a night scene at the top.  I really enjoyed dropping in those big areas of solid black!

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Now it’s time to color it in.  I painted this little color sketch for Vince.

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And here’s his beautiful colorization.

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This one is near, that one is far

When I talk about perspective, I’m talking about how an artist creates the illusion of distance in a flat drawing or painting.  Two ways to do that are 1) make the nearer object big and the farther object small, and 2) make the nearer object dark and the farther object light.

Here are some sketches from Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates.

We kids’ book illustrators are responsible for telling the author’s story in pictures.  So, when I work on a project, my first drawings are thumbnail sketches.  These are pretty small: maybe only an inch and a half tall.  Because they’re so tiny, I can draw them quickly and best of all, fit all of the scenes onto a single 18″ x 24″ piece of layout paper.  That way I can see the whole story at once.

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Here’s the thumbnail sketch for pages 14/15.  It’s pretty rough, but everything is there.  Another huge advantage to working so small is that the image’s composition becomes clear and simple.  Notice the contrasts:  Henry, in the foreground, is big and dark; the balloon, in the background, is small and light.

Atmospheric perspective is a technique Leonardo, Raphael and the rest of the boys came up with during the Renaissance.  Things that are close to us are sharp and contrasty, things that are far away are muted and softer.  If you are looking at a mountain off in the distance, its colors are softer because you’re seeing them through air that’s full of dust, water particles, cigar smoke, car exhaust, bird poop, &c.

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Spread 14/15

The comprehensive sketch is more refined but I’ve kept to the same composition.

By the way, those parrots are inspired by my parrot, Sherman.

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Wacka-wacka!

Sometimes the thumbnail isn’t quite doing the job, and the comprehensive sketch will change—and improve—what I’ve tried to do in the thumbnail version.  Here’s pages 20/21.

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In the thumbnail version, these pages look a little confusing together.  On the left, Henry’s gaze and pointing finger lead the reader away from the spread.  It’s always a good idea to direct the reader’s attention into the spread, not out of it.  Also, the right side is okay, but not inspired.

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Left-hand page.  By taking Henry out of the picture and just showing the book, we’ve improved the image: the bunny’s gone, so he can’t point outside of the picture.

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Right-hand page.  Yeah, much better.  A treetop lookout for Henry allows me to create a cinematic image, with dramatic perspective.  Henry is way up high and close to us and the Salty Carrot is below and far away.  The great height adds dramatic tension to the scene (will he fall off the ladder?), making it more important.

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All the dark, rich colors are near to us: the tree and Henry.  No dark colors were used at all to paint the ship and palm trees below.

La Serenissima

Today I’m working on a night-tme scene: a lady holding a cat in 1890s Venice.  Here are the thumbnail sketch and the comprehensive sketch.

Thumbnail sketch for pp 30/31.  The opera box scene was dropped.

Thumbnail sketch for pp 30/31. The opera box scene was dropped.

Comp sketch for page 30.

Comp sketch for page 30.

I’ll start by blocking in the dark areas in Burnt Sienna.