Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Prepping For New York

© 2012 Russ Cox | Smiling Otis Studio

Well, it is that time of year that many illustrators and writers in the children's book market begin prepping for the New York SCBWI conference at the end of the month. I have joined their ranks and begin putting my portfolio together for the conference. I decided to show around 12 pieces in my book. Many of them were created within the past few months. I am moving into a new style direction with my book illustrations. By using Photoshop instead of Illustrator, I am getting the traditional look that I have been yearning to achieve. Plus the comments that I have received over the past year have pushed me into a new and very freeing direction. Many have told me that they like my sketches and drawings better than the final vector pieces I was producing. They felt my Illustrator style was too clean and I need to loosen up a bit, especially for children's books. So I have taken these words to heart and begin experimenting with Photoshop. I will not abandoned working in Illustrator, which I still love. It is still a work in progress but it is getting there.

Back to putting my portfolio together. I noticed there was a hole in the story telling part of the illustrations and needed one additional piece that would help showcase the storytelling aspect of being a children's book illustrator. I spent about a week coming up with various concepts and sketches trying to get a visual story working. Thus "Wendell Takes A Ride" was born. The goal was to draw the viewer into the piece and have them asking "who, what, where, why, when, and how", hopefully that was accomplished with this illustration. As I worked on the piece, a full story started developing which I need to address once I have completed the story in the works at the moment. Details for that story will be talked about on a later posting. 

Since the conference is a week away, I need to run off and get cracking on some paying work and get those off to the clients. When I return, I will give you a full report, with photos, on the conference. I am looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting up with some of the Pixel Shavings gang, making new friends and contacts, and taking in the city for a few days. Until then, ciao.

"A book, being a physical object, engenders a certain respect that zipping electrons cannot. Because you cannot turn a book off, because you have to hold it in your hands, because a book sits there, waiting for you, whether you think you want it or not, because of all these things, a book is a friend. It’s not just the content, but the physical being of a book that is there for you always and unconditionally." ~ Mo Willems

Friday, January 13, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Last night we said goodbye to a beloved member of our family. Jasmine was with us for nearly 21 years. She came home with our daughter after visiting family in Tennessee. Jazz, as we called her, got to see the kids grow up, visiting family and friends when they would stop by, a move to Maine, and to see other furry family members come and go. She was very social and the first to greet guest at the door. Often jumping in their lap once they sat down. Jazz was with me when I left a design studio to chase my dream of becoming an illustrator, sitting by my side when I am drawing. She would sit in Lynn's lap while she read. I think Lynn would read to her secretly. Always quick with a purr, a meow, and some attitude at times, she seemed to enjoy being part of a family. We will miss her terribly, we already do. She will always be part of the family and in our hearts forever.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Finding the Groove

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope each of you had a wonderful time with family friends during the holidays. We kept it very low key here. Our son came up for a week long visit while our daughter stayed in Pennsylvania with her boyfriend. Nate and I got to go to Gillette Stadium to see a Patriots game which was a real treat. What a beautiful stadium! We had a great time, especially since the Patriots won. Go PATS!

I took a much needed break last week but found myself in the studio anyway. I had this idea for a promo piece that I was itching to work on. After breaking out my sketchbook, I did a quick doodle of the idea. Once I worked up the sketch, I realized that it was not working conceptually, so I thought about it and came up with a much better idea. Again, I worked up the idea, made revisions and finally had a a drawing that I liked.
This was the final drawing that I scanned into Photoshop which became the base for the painting. For the color palette, I wanted to keep the colors toned down and warmer to emphasize the friendship between the two characters. Usually my colors are very vibrant, this was something different for me.

Just like working traditionally, I did a gray underpainting to establish my light direction. I was happy with my first attempt and decided that the values would work. Oh, I made it a "multiply" layer some that the pencil work would show through. 

I copied my gray underpainting and added a deep brown tint to the copy. Again, the "multiply" was turned on for that layer. This made the underpainting very dark which is what I wanted to build the colors upon.
The sky was painting first which keeps the traditional way of thinking of working from back to front. It was hard not to put a bright sky in but I wanted to stay try to the color palette that I wanted to use. I built each component in layers with the "normal" setting on since I wanted to paint over my base painting. This allows me to tweak or redo something as I progress.

Once the sky was completed, the grass was next to be added. The colors are flat except for the bright yellow and a few highlights. This was intentional to help draw the eye up towards the figure.

The next step was to paint the oafish, troll-like giant. Having again to fight the urge to use bright colors, the bulk of his vest is an olive green and his pants a maroon red. The skin tones where built up in many separate layers which were flattened once I got them to my liking. I feel that I still need some work in the color theory for skin tones but it is getting there. Practice, practice, practice!
His vest seemed to missing something so I laid in a burlap texture from an old scan I had. It worked really well. The layer is set on "multiply" and the opacity was set to around 35%. The tree branch and bird was also painted in at this time.

The next step was to paint the girl. With the muted colors being a backdrop for her, I focused on brightening up the colors for her. I wanted to her to airy and very lively looking. Lots of purples and pinks were used in her clothing and a base of orange for her hair helped me achieve the look I was after.

The final touches like highlights, some lines, and a few dollops of color were added to bring the final piece to life. I was very happy on how the final turned out. Seeing the textures of the brushes helped make this look less digital and more traditional. Your thoughts and opinions are greatly welcomed.

Until next time, I leave you with this quote:
"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." ~ Michelangelo

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