Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wisdom Wednesday

In the previous Wisdom Wednesday, the Wise Jolle suggested and provided a link to a pdf he thought would be of interest to me. He was very correct. In a few other places online when giving input on portfolios or dummies I have also provided a link to these resources. So now I will do the same for the readers of this blog.

Jolle directed me to the website of Mr. Scott Franson. An illustrator, designer and Professor at Brigham Young University. His first Children's Book, Un-Brella, was published in 2007.

The pdf I was directed to was a Portfolio Evaluation Form that goes over all the areas of a Children's Book Portfolio that an art director looks at and evaluates. The form gives a scale to rate your level in each category and then a scoring tally to determine how close or far you are from being employable within the industry. WOW!!!! I immediately printed this form out and after a thorough going over realized that I was in deep. It pointed out a lot of areas that I was weak and a lot of areas I hadn't even considered!! What a great tool this was! But it didn't stop there.

Mr. Franson also provided links to a number of conferences and organizations that dealt specifically with the Children's Publishing arena. This is how I found out about SCBWI for the first time. This was also the first time I even knew that conferences of this nature existed!! How excited I was at all these amazing possibilities and resources. I was learning that I was not so alone in my quest to break into children's books and that their was a supportive community that I could tap into. How amazing a find! ...But it didn't stop there either! LOL!

Mr. Franson also provided other PDF's. Templates for various size variations and dummy setups. (Vertical, Horizontal, and Square) He provided guides that showed various ways to layout information and illustrations on your pages. And also a Picture Book Anatomy sheet that shows how Picture Books are constructed and setup. But there's still more!!

Mr. Franson has recently restructured his website and all the old links that I would go to have been relocated into a section of his site called Children's Publishing 101. All the wonderful information is still there and he has provided even more!! There are now a series of great articles that he has written exploring Visual Flow and what Storyboarding is and how it benefits the Artist. Amazing and great information throughout!

Please take a moment, (though I recommend a great deal longer) and peruse what Mr. Franson has setup and check back regularly to see what new tidbits he adds as he continues to provide wonderful information for those of us seeking to better our skill sets and knowledge base within the Children's Book Industry.

Mr. Franson's older blog is here. He has a number of great posts that warrant going through but anything newer from him will be at his blog's new location on his website.

Enjoy guys and thank you Scott for providing such a wellspring of information and inspiration.

Please note: All artwork in this post is copyright Scott E Franson


Friday, September 25, 2009

Character Study-Singing Chef John

I have chosen Chef John to be the character that I will do continuity pieces of for my portfolio. And now that I have picked the three images I will focus on completing.(Thanks to everyone for their input!!) I need to make sure that the character is consistent from image to image. This is an exceedingly important aspect of your portfolio presentation. It's hard to follow the story of a character if you can't tell it's them from page to page of your book.

So, I thought I was done with the first image of Chef John and was almost done with the second.(see above) I was in the process of painting John when I decided to see how the characters compared to one another when I put them all in the same file and looked at them side by side. AAAAAAUUGGHHHH!!!!!

Well first of all, thank goodness I did it. But second of all, most of them looked either like completely different kids or older versions of the same kid. Which is not good. The ones that looked the most consistent were the latest sketches I'd done all at or around the same time (the last few images in this post). Problem is they looked very different from my original image(first image in this post). And the second image I was working on looked like the older brother of the character(above).

But this offered me a great opportunity to start figuring out how I would go about keeping my characters consistent. I decided to use Photoshop to my advantage. I used it to create the character sheet you see below. This week, I stopped and figured out the proportions and characteristics of Chef John from front, side, back and 3/4 angles. I used his bald head as a measuring tool for his proportions. And added his clothes and accessories on different layers as I moved forward. I looked up anatomy charts to see which parts should line up with what and used the guides in Photoshop to make sure everything lined up as I rotated him. And also did a number of expression studies to get a better feel for his personality. Some expressions suited him and others didn't feel at home. Which is good to know!

Please click on image above to enlarge.

I can only hope that I did it right! Since this is my first time making one I'm sure it's not 100 percent and I may have a lot more here than I need. Potentially not enough. But at the end of the day, I know what he looks like from a large number of angles and I have a resource as I move forward with completing and revising my previous images and sketches. This also gives me a chance to go back into the earlier images and make some of the suggested changes I got from other artists.

I feel that most of my sketches are on point as far as gesture and stance are concerned with John. I plan on copying the sketches of him into one Photoshop file, redrawing them based on my character sheet and coloring and painting them all at the same time. I think this will maximize the potential consistency of John and make sure that he always looks, feels and acts like himself throughout all the images. When I'm done painting the Johns, I'll copy them back into their original images and recolor or paint them to fit in there environments.

I hope it works!!

And if you folks have any other suggestions that you think may work, please feel free to comment them to me!!

Thanks and have a good weekend!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wisdom Wednesday-The Wisdom of Jolle

I can't stress how important it is to get and give great critiques! I never thought I would say that I sorely miss placing my artwork on the wall during class in college and letting the class rip into it!! I don't think I appreciated it as much then as I should have!

A few posts ago I talked about plaing artwork on forums to get input from your peers. A place I mentioned was the DrawingBoard. There was one particular person that I ran across on those forums whose crits were so insightful and eye opening that it made me happy to get my work torn apart by him! LOL!

He goes by the name Jolle De Wit or Guardstone. He is an Art Director, Designer, Developer, and Illustrator who resides in the Netherlands. And he seems to be a sincere and great guy! His crits have been phenomenal and I want to start putting some of them up to give examples of what good crits can be like. He's always honest and sincere and I have come to respect his words a great deal.

I'll start by just posting verbatim the interactions that transpired bewteen he and I on the forum. Enjoy!! I did!! I'm in blue and he is in red! Also, I only posted the image that he specifically critiqued and not all the images I posted.

Heya guys!! I am in the process of putting together a childrens book portfolio!! During the process I'd like to get input on the pieces as I go!! Any critique or help is appreciated! I want to make this the best I can make it!! Any input is appreciated!!
A study to show my ability to draw varied ages, ethnicites, body types and genders.

Let me know what you guys think so far!! And if there is anyone in the industry who already has already broken into this field any advice is more than welcome!!!

Just a couple of quick notes:

- For a children's book portfolio, be sure to include some animal illustrations
- Also, children's books are sequential: characters can be seen throughout the story, so be sure to show you can tell a story in more than one illustration and that you can draw the same character according to model in different situations and poses. In other words, be sure to include 3 drawings from the same story. [edit - I see you have plans there, good]
- Nothing wrong with a blue sky here and there, we're talking children's books!
- Any single illustration should tell me what the story is about.

Finally, am I right in thinking you're left-handed? It clearly shows, all your characters are skewed to the left, some even almost tipping over (right-handed illustrators often have the same problem in the other direction). Since you're working digitally, you can easily prevent this while working by flipping your canvas horizontally every so many minutes, this will instantly show any unwanted diagonals.

One more remark: making 20 pieces and cutting to ten is still a bit on the small side. Make like 30-50 and pick the best 12-15 out of those.

I probably should have posted in my first post how I intend to go about filling out this portfolio. Thank you so much for the tips on content to go in my portfolio and know for sure that I am going to be adding all the things that you mentioned!!

The topics and situations listed below are what I intend to cover:
1. Varying ages of people, from toddlers to the elderly. Interacting with one another in mostly familial ways.
2. Animals, most definitely. Some quadrupeds will definitely be featured, some with humans and some in a more anthromorphic state. (For those stories where all the characters are animals.)
3. Varying ethnicities, body types and genders.
4. Varying moods and atmospheres.(Not all pieces can be happy pieces. And my pieces need to not only be during the day, or inside,or on the ground, or on the planet even!!! Variety, variety, variety)
5. Multiple pieces from the same stories to show my ability to draw characters consistently from scene to scene. I intend to have two scenes from at least two stories within the portfolio.(But you suggest three though, so hmm....)
6. Vignettes, Spots and pieces that show knowledge of page formats and space for type. (I think this is where I may easily reach your advice of doing thrity to fifty pieces.)
7. I've seen some recommendations to have a dummy prepared. Not sure if I will do this but I'll keep doing research to determine if it's truly necessary.

Also...I'm not left handed..so I think I'm in deep trouble!! I'm not sure I'm seeing the left skewing that you spoke of. Is their any way to better explain this to me or use a specific piece to illustrate what you mean. Believe me, I only want to get better, so any help is appreciated!! Thank you so much Guardstone for taking the time to lay out your advice and crit. I really appreciate it!!

Well like I said, flipping your canvas is one way to spot it, butit could very well be that you don't. It is quite difficult to explain, so here's a few quick traces that may clearify my point.

As for your list, looks like you're heading in the right direction. You may find this PDF very helpful as well.
(That PDF will be a topic on a whole other Wisdom Wednesday! Stay Tuned!!)

Notice how many of your necks lean forward/backward/to the side. That's fine if you mean it like that, if the character has reason to do so, but I'm guessing that's not the case here.
Notice how many of these traced lines go in the same directions. Obviously, there will often be 'directional twins' in drawings, but this feels a bit different to me.
WOW!!!!! That's an eye opener and a design flaw I was never aware of. Never run across that particular one in my studies even!! Thanks so much for the illustrated descriptions, you definitely got your point across!!! I will be very aware of that from now on and see in what way I can address it in the aforementioned piece!!
And the link you provided IS EXCELLENT!! I have every intention of scouring this gentleman's site and teh links he provides, some I knew of in my research, but others I didn't!!! I wasn't going to just use my judgement to whittle my portfolio down to size. I was intending on having two sessions with myself and some co-workers(also artists). One session would be about halfway through the process, so that they could help influence my direction for the second half of my efforts. And a second one at the end to create my final portfolio and nail down my presentation. I will be handing out the pdf you directed me to, to them, to make sure that we are all on the same page as to what should be expected from a childrens book portfolio. Once again, thanks so so much!!! I deeply appreciate you imparting your knowledge upon me!! Please continue to do so as I move forward and post more stuff!!!

themightykwan wrote:
I will be very aware of that from now on and see in what way I can address it in the aforementioned piece!!
I don't really think that will work out too well. The adjustments you need to make here take a lot of time and would defy the groundwork they are made on, so you'll never be able to really fix that. Trust me, been there! That's the bad part. The good part is that you can take this illustration as a lesson learned, and that's the value you're going to take out of making it. Nothing wasted there if you learn from it! Now take your new insights and put your energy in something fresh, you'll enjoy that more, too!
themightykwan wrote:
Once again, thanks so so much!!! I deeply appreciate you imparting your knowledge upon me!! Please continue to do so as I move forward and post more stuff!!!
You're most welcome, I'm happy to help and glad you picked up on it. I'm not here that often but will keep an eye out for new work from you and will post comments when suitable. Good luck and enjoy!
Jolle really opened my eyes to an aspect and habit in my drawing that I wasn't aware I was doing! I am very mindful of that now and pay close attention to this habit when I work. I would not have realized or gotten this advice had I not taken the chance of putting my artwork up for review by my peers. The benefit far outweighed my initial fear of placing my artwork up to be judged by strangers. I currently post my art on 3-4 forums and 2 Critique groups! And I am in the process of starting my own critique group! (If interested, please e-mail me.) The more eyes you can get on your work, the more opportunities to grow you present yourself. So go for it!
This is just the first installment for , "The Wisdom of Jolle". I posted more and he came back with more advice! In the weeks to come I will post even more of his great crits and even greater insight! Enjoy folks!

Friday, September 18, 2009


I am attempting to put up a short post!  At least once in my lifetime! 

I saw this cute little video and thought how amazing the range of expressions and gestures are that children emulate all by themselves with no adults or others present. You could freeze frame any portion of this and just get an amazing sketch out of it!! Definitely something to study!! 

As far as the video goes. I feel blessed. I never had any affinity for marshmallows, unless they were melted and in Rice Krispy treats or Rocky Road Ice Cream. So I never got the Peeps fascination either, LOL! 

Enjoy folks and have a great weekend!! 


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Getting some continuity

I have evaluated my portfolio and found that I am still missing the following elements from my portfolio.

Adults, Parents, Grandparents
Interior scenes
Character continuity pieces
Interaction of multiple characters

This has made me take the pieces I had in process off my plate and choose to focus on the areas that I know are lacking. Now, most of you probably know that one of the most important elements of your Children's Book portfolio is character continuity. Your ability to draw the same character in different settings and situations yet remain consistent in appearance and demeanor. This is a BIG hole in my portfolio, so I am focusing my efforts there.

I decided to do multiple pieces of the Chef John story. Largely because I already had a second image sketched that I had yet to complete. For the past week or so, I've been working on that second image (sketch below) and I will be putting some of that process stuff up within the next few days. I'm still not done though, maybe next week or so. And yes I have had to fix his facial structure and body type a bit since this sketch!! LOL! I'm working hard at getting the character down before I go too much further! It's a lot harder than it looks!!! (Which is why it's so important.)

In the meantime I did the four sketches you see below. I need you guys help in deciding which ones to take to tighter sketches. I want to have three or four pieces in my portfolio from the same story (not including an eventual dummy of some sort.) So at most I will need two of the four images, unless you guys think I should have more. But check em out and let me know what you think and which you would go with. Also let me know if there are any glaring character inconsistencies. Also note that none of the characters other than John repeat in the other images. If some folks look way too similar to each other let me know!

Please enlarge these to get a better look at them.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wisdom Wednesday

You are welcome to be whatever you choose to be.

The illustration above is one of the first I took on with the specific intent of building a Children's Book Portfolio. It answers a question for me about what getting into Children's Books can mean. Making a difference for the young ones that are coming up behind me. In remembrance of the recently ended Reading Rainbow televison series.
Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high
Take a look, it's in a book - Reading Rainbow.
I can go anywhere! Friends to know and ways to grow - Reading Rainbow.
I can be anything! Take a look, it's in a book - Reading Rainbow.
Reading Rainbow, Reading Rainbow, Reading Rainbow, Reading Rainbow!
I came across an article on Don Tate's blog. An open letter to the publishing industry by Zeta Elliot. The article largely focusses on the lack of an African American presence within the industry and how the primary reason for this is monetarily driven. Consider me befuddled.

I think I took for granted that most minorities were being represented within the industry. And when I say represented I don't mean standing in the background or the best friend of the primary character. I mean the numero uno character and family that the book focusses on. It seems like I see a lot of books that center on Latin, Asian, Jewish or African American culture. (Which always makes me think of how much research I would have to do to properly illustrate some of them. Which actually is quite exciting!) But maybe I notice it so much because I am looking for it and seeking those companies and publishers specifically since I myself am African American.

A lot of my reasoning for considering the children's book industry to be different was in what my research showed me. A prerequisite of Art editors and directors is to see your ability to draw varied ethnicities, body types, ages and genders. Seeing as how this was a pre-requisite for entrance to the "kingdom". I find it disheartening to learn that 95 percent of the product being placed in the market is not reflective of this. The article speaks towards the lack of African American precense. But I often worry about other minorities as well. It's so important for children to identify with heroes and heroines that look like them and come from the neighborhoods and families that they know and understand.

I can personally testify to how hard it is to have the same people who treat you harshly in reality be the only option of heroes that you have to emulate. Which often leads to a person wanting to be like and identify with the same people they find tearing them down on a daily basis and in the end never really liking or loving themselves.

Knowing that I could be a part of a community that works to provide heroes for everyone is a large reason why Children's Book are so attractive to me. I know the amazing impact these things can have on children and I want to be a part of it. So let's make sure we all work toward providing product that every child can come away from feeling special and honored.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lion and Mouse Thursday update

Ahhh!! I am done! 

Well, so far anyway! LOL! Now I have to submit this to a few forums and critique groups and get some input from the online illustrator population. But here are the final few steps in this items creation. I'll try to be brief and to the point. I tend to be longwinded, (which of course you've noticed.)

On Monday I did like I said I would and focussed on finding reference for the mouse. An African Striped Back mouse to be more precise. Don't you just love the internet for reference! Upon finding image that showed me what I needed to see of the mouse I copied those files into Photoshop and put them all on their own layer. I then made another layer and started sketching the mouse out. I decided to keep the mouse in roughly the same pose as before, hopefully this time a lot closer to being anatomically correct! And also hopefully this time with a little more character and personality to really capture the intent of this moment in the story.

On Tuesday I started to fill in the colors of the mouse. And lay down shadow tones and  shading to help ground him.  I spend a lot of time adjust the mouses size. His height and plumpness bugged me from the previous day. So I slimmed him down a good deal and adjusted his positioning. I thought I was done with that part but found out I was very wrong! You will note that in later images his size and weight still change some more as I go on.
Wednesday, I feel safe to start going in and working tight on this piece. This is definitely a benefit of working digitally at a decent DPI. The ability to really zoom in and get as much detail as you could possibly want. I have learned that when I want large sweeping strokes I zoom out and use large brushes and the opposite for detailed portions. But it's important to zoom out to 100% (actual) size. To make sure that the level of detail you are executing is worthwhile. In many instances you will spend a lot of time on details barely noticeable at normal size. So be wary!

Thursday it looks like I will actually get to finish this up! I go in and finish out the details of the mouse. Who with those stripes looks like the child of a mixed mouse and chipmunk marriage! I really enjoyed doing the fur on the mouse! Good times! Once done with the mouse I use the Adjustment tools to make color corrections to the mouse. Removing a lot of the yellow because he wasn't standing out at all. He was getting lost in the image. Even with this adjustment I end up placing a lighter color silhouette around a part of him to help him stand out from the background. AFter adjusting his color, I apply an adjustment filter to the entire image. Enhancing the Saturation slightly and deepening my shadows and pulling out  more of the highlights of the image.  And I call it a day! Yahoo all done for now!! But there is one thing left to do....

How strong and brave was the mouse to offer his kindness to the upset lion.

I still have the original image in the Photoshop file on it's own layer. I move it to the top and spend a while turning it on and off. Looking at the image from 13 years ago and comparing it to the one I've just finished. This is what a difference 13 years makes. I consider myself lucky that there is any difference! I know many folks who haven't grown or changed in style at all in the years since college.  

I can see some elements in both that I like, some elements that existed in that young person fresh from college are evident in the image. While now it's obvious that I have changed a great deal. It's still me, you can still see my hand in what I do. But you can definitely see change. Whether people would consider it growth or not is a completely different thing. But I like what I see and I am proud of the difference. It lets me know that I am going in the right direction, my direction. So I got a lot more out of this than I'd hoped. And it's renewed that ember of confidence that a lot of artists struggle with. Now all I have to do is keep it lit!

Enjoy your weekend!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wisdom Wednesday

This whole week I've been trying to find more and more places to show my work. From what I've learned you have to get your stuff out there and in as many places as possible. The more it's out there, the more likely it will get seen by others. You never know who may come across you and need your services. I'm still researching the best places and I'll let everyone know when I find them and what they are. But for today I'll highlight the places that you can showcase your artwork as well as get input from fellow artists and potentially art directors as well. Forums.

I'll highlight two in particular that are fairly popular and see a decent amount of traffic. High traffic is good because it means that many more people will see what you are working on.

The first one is The Drawing Board. These forums are largely populated by student artists and professional Illustrators looking to get input and hopefully praise on what they are posting. I most often gravitate to the Illustration forum, but there are also forums for Life Drawing, Sketches, Caricature, Superheroes, Comics, Photography as well as many others. This site is great for networking and getting inspiration from the many talented folks that populate it.

Only thou of thick skin need enter here! Next up is not for the faint of heart! LOL! So often you post images hoping to get good feedback, insight and criticism. (Well I do anyways.) And sometimes in an effort to not hurt your feelings or ego people say nothing or only tell you that your image is great. This is not those people! These guys are dedicated artists who take what they do seriously and expect the same from you. I mean, how else are you to grow and get better if the flaws in your work are never pointed out?

If this is you and you are READY to get your Ego stomped on and thrown out the window, then Satellite Soda is definitely the place for you. These folks put the BRUTAL in Brutal Honesty. I've seen instances where someone getting too much praise is actually frowned upon. This group of folks want to bring out your best with some real tough love. Their Forums are limited to, Art Finished, Art Unfinished, Talk Art and Talk General. Straight to the point no filler.

I know I make it sound terrible! But I get butterflies thinking about posting in their forums. (Which is probably why I haven't done it in a while!) I know that they will give me a true and honest opinion about what I am doing right and what needs to be improved upon. Encouraging me throughout the process. Frequent visits here, a thick skin and persistance can only result in better artwork coming from your fingertips! Enjoy...if you dare!! :)