Monday, March 31, 2008

Take off, to the Great White North!

Julie and I are just back from a brief visit to Toronto (Ontario, Canada). The locals pronounce it "ta-RAHN-o" like a silent-type second t. We went there on a summer road trip a couple of years ago and really loved the clean, laid back, international, feel of the city. Julie was on her spring break last week, so we decided on a revisit with a quick shot up there and back. The weather was as cold as it is here in Chicagoland, but not worse. Our visit was originally intended for simple pleasure, but Julie, being the go-getter she is, worked in a couple of GET WELL SOON signings while we were there. There seems to be some buzz about it up north. So it became half biz, half pleaz.

First stop was this cool indie comics shop I'd heard of AFTER our last visit to Toronto. So we'd missed it before. This time, we hit it right away. It's called the Beguiling, for some reason. Most indie comics shops pale in comparison to the indie comics mecca we have here in Chicago, Quimby's.But this shop's on par with Quimby's or, I'd go far enough to say, it's better. I love a good comics shop that has a great selection of both indie/snob stuff and fanboy/superhero stuff. Equal opportunities. The Beguiling has that. This two-story shop has an immense, albeit cluttered, inventory. What puts it over the edge is their excellent collection of original comic art for sale, which I've taken advantage of a time or two. Highly recommended. Hey, there's Julie out front!

The next day, we kicked off the mini GET WELL SOON tour, by hitting up two indie kids books stores and one chain store in the outer city area. I also love sweet independently owned book shops. Nothing better. First one, was a little joint called the Flying Dragon. Julie signed a few copies of GWS and the very friendly crew fattened us up with cookies, strawberries and hot tea. Excellent.

Next stop was another indie kids book shop. A nice corner store called Mabel's Fables. Julie looking extra cute by the storefront:

This, too, was a very friendly visit with a warm and welcoming crew. Another two-story shop with loads of great kids books. They even had this rotating Tintin display that looked ultra cool. Good enough to get a pic by, I reckoned.

Last up was this uber-chain (e.g. Borders bookstores in U.S.) called Indigo. Julie cracked off about 10+ signatures and we headed out. It was in a massive mall. Outside the bookstore was a chain restaurant called the Pickle Barrel. Creepy lil' mascot/logo/sign out front.

Next day, we headed home. I skipped telling all the various bits of dining, sight-seeing, and lots of walking and public trans. I ain't got pics of any of that. Good to be back in America. Feet up. Bathing again in pop culture. Hanging out with the cat. Back to work.

Til next time, eh?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Brat Stop redux

This past weekend, I had lunch again with my new illustrator pal, Jeff Newman. To refresh, I first saw Jeff's work mentioned on an illustration/cartooning blog I read called Drawn!, so I checked out his site and book, HIPPO! NO, RHINO!. It was all really fresh, really great stuff. I then realized he was pretty close to where Julie and I live (Jeff's in Milwaukee), so I emailed and we arranged to meet for lunch at a halfway point in Kenosha, WI. The meeting point was the Brat Stop (that's "brat" like bratwurst, the sausage, not "brat" like bratz the apple-headed dolls), a good and slightly weird bar/restaurant just across the state line. The Brat Stop was our spot again on Saturday. I was an hour late due to some unexpected traffic jam and construction, and Jeff patiently waited it out.

I don't get the opportunity to bump heads with many other kids book illustrators, so it's great to hook up like this. Jeff's finishing up his next author/illo book, THE BOYS (with Simon and Schuster, spring '09), and I asked him to send a finished pic to include here:

He's also got some sweet stuff on the horizon (Jeff's blog post on it here)--illustrating a pic book for author Aaron Reynolds (Chronicle) and a pic book for author Joseph Bruchac (Dial). I saw some early studies for the Reynolds book and it looks awesome.

Good on ya, Jeff! Here's to more books. And more brats.

Friday, March 21, 2008



The driveway.

10 inches of snow.

A snowplow.

March 21, 2008 2:30pm.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Form and Function

Coming up in school as a graphic designer, and in the workplace, I kept hearing that whole "form and function" discussion. Meaning, when making something that has a specific purpose, particularly in a creative capacity, you must keep a good balance of emphasis on both form and function in what she/he is making. For instance, if a furniture designer is designing a chair, she/he may want to make this chair the most interesting and original chair that's been made. But it still has to be sat in. If you can't sit in this chair, or if it's crazy uncomfortable, then what's the use? It then becomes Art.

In working in a commercial art world, illustration, this "form and function" discussion is still in my mind. I'm in the process of writing picture books now, as well as illustrating. And being an artist, the visuals always come to me first. When I get an idea for a picture book, it's not the story idea that first flashes in my head. I get a central image flash in my mind and then try and pull a story out of this first image. It doesn't always work.

Recently, an image came to me of a solely black and white world and a stuffy old guy who sees these colorful splotchy spots everywhere. It seemed compelling enough. When I tried to pull a story out of it, it kind of unraveled. The story was stiff. It choked. Roadblock. Form has taken over function, so to speak. Anyways, I still think it could work. I hope my brain can untangle what I'm supposed to do with this sometime soon. In the meantime, it's just "art".

(click to zoom)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ears Up? Ears Down?

How do you like your pigs' ears? Up is nice. Down and floppy is good too. I can never decide. I think I'll go with down. Below are some new sketches of some good-natured pigs with ears down (click for zoom). For an upcoming secret project! To one day be revealed. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Change of Address

My final tie to my beloved Chicago has officially been severed. First, Julie and I left our Chicago apartment for our sweet new home in the Chicago 'burbs. Second, I quit my insane-commute-to job in Chicago (just last September). And third, I've just closed down the post office box I held in Chicago for the past several years. I have a new p.o. box (as also noted on my website) for those who ought to know. And that is:

P.O. Box 8583
Gurnee, IL 60031-7018

In other news, I'm still in covers on the two current picture books I'm working on. TOOT! TOOT! ZOOM! (written by Phyllis Root, Candlewick) and MIGHTY CASEY (James Preller, Feiwel and Friends). CASEY had previously been resolved, but after some more recent consideration, an alternative has been requested. Something a little louder (like the story itself). No prob. One of a few sketches I just sent out, below.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Lizard Man Returns

Back in '88 there was this big urban legend/local news story about alleged spottings in Lee County, South Carolina (just a couple of hours away from my old stompin grounds) about a man-sized lizard terrorizing the community. Appropriately named, Lizard Man. I never got a t-shirt, but dang I wish I had one now! Those things are right on.

Anyway, one of the blogs I read occasionally is by a friend of some of my old college-time friends, J Chris Campbell. He's actually a quite good cartoonist and still living it up in my old Greenville, South Carolina. He just got wind of this awesome news story and vid, and blogged about it and even made up his own artist's rendition of said Lizard Man. Check it out here. But first, check out this hi-larious news story of the latest "sighting". Them's my people. Straight South.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New in

ALL NEW! I just added new illustration samples on my website, in my "work" section, for my forthcoming picture book, with James Preller (by way of Feiwel and Friends), MIGHTY CASEY. This fab book about a down and out wee baseball team (and one particularly terrible player, Casey Jenkins) will be available somewhat soon--fall of 2008. I will keep ye updated. Anyhow, please start here on my site and navigate to the "work" section and then navigate to the "MIGHTY CASEY" click-through under the heading "books". It's much easier than what I've just described. And if you've come this far, I think you might enjoy.

Tomorrow: an update on an urban legend creature from my homestate of South Carolina. It ought not disappoint.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Marks The Spot

In my humble opinion, I believe that, as an artist, the quality or the character of the marks you make is what makes your something more or less interesting. Study of mark-making has longtime been something of real interest to me. So it's no surprise that these test sheets (that are left over from each finished book I illustrate) are so compelling. I don't know if anyone else who may/may not be reading this gets anything out of this or no, but it gets me going.

First up, is a collage of color studies I did for the 4 main characters of this book. I printed up laser prints of each character (that had 4-6 of each character repeated on a sheet) and tested out a ton of different color combinations in watercolor. It was a real fight. Once I got to a happy place for each, I'd cut him/her out and tape down to a blank sheet. I went chipping away at color for each, until I had this little collage, here, of everyone taped to one page (to see how all the colors would work together). Also note the color wheel scribbled in upper-middle area here. I must've scribbled 5 or 6 of these throughout the job. Helps in developing color palettes. Anways, this was my master sheet for color matching from then on. Whew! (As usual, click on image(s) to view larger--in more detail.)

Next, maybe my favorite of the bunch. I love punchy black/white art. During inking, I keep a blank watercolor sheet to my side to test stroke my pen on before I brave drawing on my final sheet. Sometimes, too, I dip a bit too much and get way too much ink on the nib. In which case, I have to shake off some excess ink on the test sheet (see spots). Also did some test drawing here at times, and a few color tests when I ran out of room on other color test sheets.

I hit a snag when I was inking this drawing below (incidentally, the one I laid out my production process for, in a previous blog post). I ended up attempting to ink this thing 4 different times, if I remember right. Anyway, this is one outtake, but I never waste a good sheet of paper. Even if the ink job is a bust. I always keep a good sheet of same watercolor paper to my side to test the color and color density of the watercolor on the brush before I hit the brush to the final page. Color test sheets. I used this bum drawing to test color with here on out.

Color test sheet, to the max.

One of those other ink outtakes, with some scattered color test all around. There's actually some acrylic paint here, where I had to make some edits over the top of a finished watercolor illo. This was a first for me, but my color match skills as a printer came in real handy. Thanks to my old pal, top printer Sam Wilder!

And... One more color test sheet. Again, to the max.

Fun to look back on. Or is it really just me?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Jack Prelutsky

I was just looking through the many websites I have bookmarked and came across, again, the awesome site of the awesome poet Jack Prelutsky. Julie and I saw Mr. Prelutsky speak at one of those Anderson's Bookshop Children's Lit Breakfasts (two years back, I think). His poems are freaking great and hilarious, and so is he, naturally. In 2006, he was, in fact, named the first ever Children's Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.

Anyhow, after being impressed by his Anderson's gig, I looked him up on the web and found he had an equally great and hilarious website. It's chock full of excellently raw computer drawing, too-cool animation, and sweet sound effects (make sure your sound's on). Be sure to check out one of my fave poems on the site, "It's Raining Pigs and Noodles".

I would LOVE to illustrate something of his someday. I think our styles would compliment each other?