Books

The Dragon's Descent

Working on Laurice Molinari's series The Ether was a lot of fun, coming as it did at the beginning of the year over the course of three years. The series varied a bit in its execution each year. Where the first book had me reading a completed manuscript and concepting the illustration, the second and third book had to be painted before the final manuscript was in, in both cases. That meant getting a brief for the type of scene or image they wanted to see, which is a lot more challenging.

For the third book, we had the title and I was given the task of showing Vero armored up and ready to do battle. That's about it.

My initial sketches included a couple of concepts that I really pushed for, that were a bit more symbolic than literal, in that since we didn't have any text to go on, I intended to portray Vero armored, but with the enemy clearly indicated as wanting to destroy him. There were also a couple of others that featured the dragon in one manner or other.

A few of my unused concepts, digital over pencil

It took an awful lot of back-and-forthing on this piece for some reason, despite having numerous solutions that worked well. In the end we settled on one and I got to work.

I think by the time I got the go-ahead on the final, the actual deadline had passed. Not my fault! My sketches were in on time but there were very long stretches waiting on approvals, tweaks, new concepts, approvals. When it came time to go it was basically a matter of needing it yesterday. I got to work, beginning with an acrylic underpainting and then switching to oils.

I probably will never get to reading the other two books in the series, unfortunately, but I hope the direction I got does the stories justice. It is a shame I wasn't able to read the stories, as interpretation is a large part of what an illustrator can bring to the table. It's not that Art Directors and Editors have bad ideas necessarily (though sometimes, they really do), it's just that I think you tend to get the best from an illustrator when they are able to bring their whole creative selves to a project.

In any case, this series is wrapped up as far as I know, and it was good fun. The paintings, too, have been well received and all three covers sold fairly quickly.

"The Dragon's Descent" 12x16" oil over acrylic on heavy watercolor paper

"The Dragon's Descent" 12x16" oil over acrylic on heavy watercolor paper

Parthenope: Interiors, Pt.2

(To read this series of articles in order, start here)

This is the last week I'll be discussing this project, having now shown half the illustrations to be found in the book. After all, I need to leave you something to look forward to and motivate you to pick up a copy!

"Home in the Bay of Naples" digital over pencil

"Home in the Bay of Naples" digital over pencil

When I agreed to the project, it was certainly before producing sketches, and may have been before really reading the manuscript. As it turned out, the illustrations all called for multi-figure scenes, and took a bit longer as a result. One problem of course was then finding models for the various characters!

Marc Scheff, 2.5x3" pencil

Marc Scheff, 2.5x3" pencil

When possible I try to use friends or family, whether for pay or as a favor I might be called to return someday. Marc Scheff, probably the most-used model of the past year in my illustration circles-- sort of the Fabio of fantasy illustration--graciously posed as my Poseidon, even cajoling someone into allowing him to lift her in the illustration shown last time, to get that pose (I swapped her out for my actual Parthenope later). I paid him back in a small pencil portrait which I did on-the-spot in his studio, and an unspoken IOU I figure he'll cash in down the road.

The story is told by the narrator Papa Sam, who recounts the story of pasteira to his granddaughters while making a pan of it. This allowed me to bookend the myth with real world scenes. I don't do a lot of what I might call, "Everyday Art," scenes with nothing fantastical in them. Having a collaborator in the author, I also asked him to think of people I might use for the various roles. It was a lot of fun, using Bruce and his lovely granddaughters as models. A friend of Bruce's came down to the studio for a long session of photographs as Parthenope. Having never modeled for an artist before, she still did a great job. Other friends came over on a moment's notice with their young son to pose for the cover painting. And as usual I roped my wife and self into it as well. An ensemble cast, to create ten illustrations for a fun project.

"Papa Sam Starts Storytelling" digital over pencil

"Papa Sam Starts Storytelling" digital over pencil

Parthenope: Interiors

(For Part 1 about this project, see here)

Early on, the author communicated his hope that the book would have interior color illustrations. While I would love to do a fully painted book with multiple illustrations, such opportunities are rare simply due to the cost.

While talking over dinner, we got to talking about Bruce's love of older, more classic children's illustrators like Arthur Rackham and the like. I love those illustrators as well, so it was a nice commonality. It also resulted in the proposal that the interior art be done in some sort of style along those lines.

"Poseidon Saves Parthenope" digital over pencil

"Poseidon Saves Parthenope" digital over pencil

Were I a proficient watercolorist, that might have been the solution outright. But while watercolor can be faster than oils, it isn't necessarily, although the drying issues are of course not an issue. The number of times I've used watercolor are very few, and usually they involved my cat. It's a very different medium than oils, and I find it a bit unusual when an artist freely moves between the two. It's not unheard of, of course, and is certainly impressive. So for me to do the interiors in watercolor might even be slower than oils. You do build speed over time and repetitions.

Over the years, I've produced digital illustrations. Sometimes they were straight digital creations, but more recently they are some form of hybrid, usually beginning with some kind of traditional under-drawing. In them, there is some attempt to create a digital replacement for my painting. I've always known that would take a long time to accomplish, if ever, and I still work on a tablet, not a drawing monitor like a Cintiq. But it hasn't happened, quite, nor do I expect it to any time soon. My aesthetic has been molded in part by the medium. So those digital pieces look a bit like my work, but not really the same.

So I decided to make an attempt to create some faux watercolors. I would create fairly detailed drawings, as I might with an actual watercolor, scan them, and then use various tools and tricks to make Photoshop produce a look a bit like watercolor.

That allowed me to produce something faster than usual, in color, and without resulting in simply a less-successful oil analog.

It was a lot of fun, actually. Certainly I was learning on the job, and there was a bit of upfront experimentation before I could really dive in. The original drawings were done in pencil on bristol.

"The Sirens" digital over pencil

"The Sirens" digital over pencil

(To read the last entry in this series, click here)

Parthenope

Last year, I was contacted by a gentleman named Bruce Heckman. It was one like many such requests I get, wherein they are seeking an illustrator for some project they'd like to realize. I'm always willing to work with creative individuals to help realize their projects if we can work out the details. In Bruce's case, we were able to--that he lived fairly close by meant we could also enjoy a nice dinner as we talked about the project in greater detail.

Bruce's book is a children's retelling of the Greek myth of Parthenope, based upon the imagined history of the Neapoletan pie called pastiera. The book even comes with a recipe! The scope of the project was ambitious, and I was commissioned to create 10 illustrations for the book, told by the narrator Papa Sam.

Now, anyone with the funds can commission me to paint ten paintings. But, that would be very expensive. We talked a bit about this and arrived at a solution wherein I would produce one scene as a painting, which could be used as a cover as well, and then create the other interior illustrations in a sort of faux-watercolor style. These would be fairly tight pencil drawings, scanned and then colored digitally to look something like watercolors. It would speed up the project considerably, and allow him to get his fully-illustrated book. It was an idea that worked well, and we proceeded.

"Parthenope" 18x24" Oils on panel

"Parthenope" 18x24" Oils on panel

While projects by indies (as I call them) don't usually get the widespread distribution or "fame" of commercial clients, they often have fewer restrictions and can be more fun as a result. This is part of why I've allowed myself to work with indies when possible. And it was a pleasure to work with Bruce on this project.

Detail view of painting in-progress

Detail view of painting in-progress

I don't recall exactly when I switched my methods back to using tracedowns. For awhile I had been doing detailed drawings, printing them out on paper and then gluing the paper to board to paint on. That worked well, but eventually I've come back around to this tried-and-true method. One advantage is that I can trace down in stages. When you print out a drawing and then start slinging paint around, you can start to be too precious about retaining the lines. With a tracedown, you can put down a part of the drawing, paint, and then flap the drawing back over and trace down the next part. Or, if you lose the drawing you can get it back by tracing the missing bits down again since the drawing is hinged behind. It doesn't take much to align it properly again. I like that flexibility even if I don't always use it.

Parthenope sketch, 8x10" pencil on paper

Parthenope sketch, 8x10" pencil on paper

So I keep the print out of the drawing taped and flapped to the back of the board the entire painting, or as long as I might need it. This photo above shows me early on in the process. I started the painting right there, on the figure of Parthenope, and worked my way out from there. That's not how I always work, either, but well...process is fine but as you can tell there's always room to change things up!

Over the next month or so I'll be highlighting images from the book's interior illustrations.

Up top I've linked up the purchase options, which include ten books which I'll sign and number, in which I'll do a unique sketch of Parthenope.

Part 2 of blog coverage of this book can be found here, which discusses the interior art.