…over at PBwithJ.
This image is several photos taped together of the interior of Charlie’s Diner in Pittsburgh—not far from where I used to live. Believe it or not, they had a waitress named Minnie, although she wasn’t working when I took these photos.
I work in gouache also and I would like to ask a question if you don’t mind. I have trouble working the background and characters at the same time. I usually end up painting the characters/foreground first and then paint the background around it after the fact. This method has not been working too well for me and I wanted to know what your method is. Do you work the background first and paint your characters on top? Work them at the same time? Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated!
I usually work back to front—that is, I start with whatever is furthest in the background and work my way towards the foreground. I leave the characters for last.
By working that way I can use bigger brushes and paint the background with greater abandon. If I’m painting around a character I’ve already finished, I’ll be using teensy-weensy brushstrokes for fear of spoiling the character. Then the illustration almost always looks too tight and—most important—takes too long to paint.
Here’s a scene I’m working on. I’ve begun painting the stone walls, but you can see the burnt sienna underpainting for the girl, carpet and chair.
There’s a bookcase behind the chair, so I’m throwing in colors for the books’ spines. Neatness doesn’t count, so I’m using a medium-sized brush.
I’ve already planned what colors I’ll be using for this project. I painted little color sketches to keep track of my palette.
To make the drapery look like velvet, I painted dark green into medium green while it was still wet.
I’m using a small brush with a sharp point for details.
The background’s finished. I’ll add the characters once all the backgrounds for the whole book are finished. This girl appears throughout the book, so I’ll mix up all the colors I need for her and paint her on top of the finished backgrounds. This is how I keep my characters looking consistent.
You can find a continuation of this post here.
UPDATE! If you live in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area and like to hear really old classical music, mark your calendar Oct 24 to attend The Medieval Beasts concert. I’m told it’s a costume event, but didn’t see any info about that on the R&B website. Go—you’ll have an enjoyable evening and meet some fun people.
Here’s a little spot illustration I did a couple of years ago for the Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh. For October that year they’d booked a group called Artec who did a concert of Graveyard Music. So, we promoted it with a postcard. A couple of sketch ideas—
Ann Mason—the exec director—liked sketch A.
UPDATE! Ilene, Jerry & Drake discuss digital vs traditional illustration in the comments section below.
I get quite a few historical projects to illustrate, and that suits me fine. I enjoy doing the research—which is crucial to making the costumes and settings authentic.
Here are a few thumbnails, sketches and final paintings from Lewis & Clark, A Prairie Dog For The President. First, a thumbnail sketch of Lewis & Clark making a map—
And here’s the tight sketch. Remember, the thumbnail sketch is pretty small, about an inch-and-a-half tall. My tight sketch is usually half the size of the printed page.
I usually paint at the same size as the image will be printed. The compass in the wooden case shown here belonged to Lewis & Clark.
Here’s another one. The squares with an ‘x’ through them show where the text will go.
This was a fun little book to do. It’s 48 pages long, which is much longer than normal (32 pages). But it’s smaller in size than most picture books.
Below is what I mean by historical costume. I had no reference for Sacajewea, but used a drawing George Catlin had made of a young woman from Sacajewea’s tribe thirty years after her adventure with Lewis & Clark.
Here’s a comp (short for comprehensive layout) of the book’s cover. It shows the type and the sketch together. The next step is for me to paint the sketch portion.
Humphrey is set within the Sleeping Beauty story, about two boys who attend Briar Rose’s 16th birthday party and succumb to the sleeping spell along with the other guests. Having slept 99 years and 51 weeks, they wake up earlier than everyone else and set out to find a handsome prince to break the enchantment.
Here are a couple of cover ideas.
And some interior sketches.
The evil fairy—
I like to listen to really old classical music, and have attended the wonderful concerts organized by the Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh. I do illustrations for their season brochures.
A couple of years ago they booked the group Hesperus, who had the clever idea to perform a renaissance/medieval soundtrack to Douglas Fairbanks’ silent movie Robin Hood. My buddy Ann Mason, who was executive director at the time, asked me to do a poster illustration for this special concert. How could I resist?
I wanted to show the musicians superimposed on a larger-than-life Douglas Fairbanks, and somehow interacting with him. I remembered a scene from the movie My Favorite Year, in which Peter O’Toole (essentially playing Errol Flynn) drunkenly walks into a screening of one of his old movies and begins sword-fighting his own projected image.
To separate the musicians from Fairbanks, I chose to paint them in color and him black & white—that’s a no-brainer. Also, they will be lighted from below (as they turned out to be during the performance) while Fairbanks would be lighted from the left. They will cast hard shadows onto the b&w image to keep up the illusion of a projected movie. The perspective for Fairbanks is different and far more dramatic than for the musicians—we’re looking at him from a bug’s-eye view; the musicians are level with our own horizon. As usual with my perspective exercises, if you take a ruler to it and try to find a vanishing point you’ll be doomed to disappointment. The vanishing points are there, somewhere, but I don’t strictly adhere to them.
I did a burnt sienna underpainting even for the black and white portion. I think it warms it up a bit.
Here’s the thumbnail sketch for the opening spread of Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates. Like in a movie, this establishing shot offers a broad swathe of visual information that tells the reader where the story takes place. The crew of the Salty Carrot frolics in a tropical lagoon where their dear old barky is moored.
The art director asked that the image be flopped—the ship should face right instead of left. I begin tracing the ship drawing on a piece of translucent paper through which you can see the layout with the enlarged thumbnail.
Ships are complicated things to draw. I trace the scene at least one more time.
I like to place something like foliage in the foreground, so the reader has the sensation of looking through one plane to see another. To make this scene truly idyllic, I added a waterfall in the background.
I want to warn you ahead of time that I don’t have the finished illustration that would normally follow the series of sketches below. I must have gotten rid of it, or else it’s boxed away somewhere in my attic (I moved last November and am still unpacking).
A while back I got an assignment to illustrate a cover for a summer issue of StoryWorks magazine. The art director asked for fireflies reading books. Sounds like a fun idea—I went to work drawing variations of it.
The first one works, but it’s kind of the obvious solution:
I like this next one in spite of its being a little weird. To make it work I’d need to really play up the lighting effects:
Fireflies reading books in a bookstore after hours:
Fireflies combining their individual lights to read a book:
Firefly using a flashlight, with a farm in the background:
And here are fireflies using each other’s butts to read by:
Those were the ideas I came up with. The AD liked the last two, couldn’t decide which one to use—and asked me to combine them in one sketch:
I wasn’t happy with it. Too many elements, too difficult to read the idea. I would have loved to paint any of the other sketches, but it wasn’t meant to be. Nobody’s fault; the art director and I just had different tastes. That’s the way it goes sometimes. You do your work, get your paycheck, and move on.
John Manders Illustration
Caricatures, Comic Strips
School Assembly Visits