Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Critical Theory II

I just got the reading list for the next Critical Theory seminar in June. In addition to reading some required books and essays, we also have to chose one artist who we think is relevant to each four parts of the seminar, and be prepared to speak about the artists and provide images in class. I'm curious to see if I can select Illustrators who are relevant to books such as "Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments", or "The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible."

I'll be sure to post my choices, once I do the reading.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Detailed sketches...

These are the illustrations Erick thought I should develop further. I'm pretty happy with the development so far, but I do think there needs to be a little more contrast...Have to work more on it.

Clay Model

Ok, I know this isn't claymation perfect, but this little clay model is serving its purpose.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Waxing and Waning

I started reading The Education of an Illustrator which has a ton of essays about, not only how to best educate an illustrator, but trends in the business, the future, etc. The introduction is by Steven Heller and Marshall Arisman and is written as a conversation between the two men. Steven speaking as the Art Director and Marshall speaking as the artist/illustrator. They raised some interesting points.

The business of illustration has undergone a lot of changes; rare face time with art directors, promotional plans to expose artwork rather than dropping off portfolios, computers changing styles, websites multiplying daily, expressionistic work is considered more self-expressive than tightly rendered work, etc. What HASN'T changed is the struggle of young illustrators to find our own voice and content.

Steven is one of only a handful of art directors who still meets face-to-face with illustrators to look at portfolios. Steven believes he can make better judgements by interacting with the illustrator, and of course the illustrator benefits from his input. He talks about how art directors used to have the opportunity to mentor illustrators, and vice versa, forming simbiotic relationships.

Marshall talks about his experience with mentors. He says that it's a rare occurence, except in good graduate programs (thank you AIB!) and that a good mentor will sit down and talk about your work, and allow you to have a discussion about the practical and conceptual aspects of your pieces. He says to beware of the mentor who advises you how to market your work, or who ask you to change your artistic voice for profit. He then goes on to talk about influence versus stealing. "If you truly connect to another artist's work, it will show up in your work. That is influence. You will incorporate it and move on. If you mimc a style of an artist because they are successful, that is stealing."

On this subject Steven says that there's a danger in hiring an illustrator based solely on their style. "Style is a voice but it is not an intelligence. Illustratio is best when the ideas, skills, and styles are seamlessly woven into one entity. Style alone is empty." Which I found very interesting. This should be completely obvious, but it's least to me. This is why I can't turn my back completely on writing. I need to continue exploring my personal narrative, as that is part of the whole package.

Marshall believes that "the ability to draw, regardless of personal style or content, will become more in demand." He believes that there must be something behind the image, giving it something more than just surface style. I completely agree with this, and it's something that was drilled into me at Syracuse. It wasn't until I started gaining more confidence in my drawings, that I was able to bring about more expressive paintings and illustrations. I think that's what Erick is trying to remind me of, with his smaller assignments, and how he's forcing me to go slowly with the illustrations from "Brothers and Bees", gaining confidence and purpose with each drawing.

He goes on to say that "the process of drawing can unlock the entire creative process for an artist". When we're children we tell stories in pictures, drawing the concepts that we can't really articulate yet, and each new picture holds the memory of our history of pictures. He says that this is what seperates drawing from photography and computer manipulated images. "I am fearful tha tmost illustrators' choices about the computer are based on speed, greed, short cuts, and avoiding the practice itself." I've heard this before, many times, but it's not something that I've ever really taken seriously. I don't draw on the computer. I use pencil and paper to work out my ideas, because it's what I'm used to. I use the computer as a tool, certainly as a short cut to time consuming hand made alterations, and I don't see anything wrong with that. I'm not using it because I'm lazy or because I'm greedy, but because I know I can accomplish the same thing, in half the time! But Marshall believes that "Drawing takes time. In that time, you will find yourself."

I thought Marshall's final point was very interesting:
"The vocabulary of the illustrator has to be expanded into authorship. Contemporary illustration in our current marketplace is reflecting the machine and not the personal viewpoint of the illustrator....In order to gain control of their own subject matter, illustrators are going to need more than drawing and painting skills. Combining words and images will demand a strong liberal arts component, particularly in literature and writing. The ability to deliver the complete story will be crucial. The printed page and commissioned work will always be a part of what they do, but the core of their activity must center around what stories they feel need to be told and how to tell them. With the rapid advances in digital technology, new tools will have to be learned. The internet is opening the door to personal content. Who is speaking and what they are saying in words and images is going to be more important than ever."

Well said.
I've feel like I've been working really hard on grad projects lately, but I still don't feel like I have enough to show for all my work. I'm getting frustrated with myself because I'm comparing my work with everyone else's in my year. I would like to have some decent things to show at the end of this semester, but I'm getting nervous that that's not going to happen. I actually had a nightmare recently that I got to the next residency, only to have a few small pathetic things to show....that was awful.

I've finished the storyboard for "Brothers and Bees" and am now working on fleshing out two of those spreads. The plan is to start with pencil comps (which I'm working on right now) and then move into color comps, then start the final illustration. I made a clay model of the character, which I'm going to post soon. She's pretty funny, but not very flexible cause I used wire that's too thick. I've only done this once before where I've made a clay model instead of taking pics. I still think I need to take reference pictures, but I've run into some walls concerning that. The local elementary school won't cooperate because it's not technically a "school project". I think I'm going to see if I can borrow a room somewhere in town, either at a school, library, etc during April Vacation week to hold an open casting call.

This week is going to be about more sketches, reading, taxes and financial aid.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Finished Comps

I've finished the comps that Erick assigned to me. I'm only posting two though, because I'm not happy with the Russian Myth comp. I'm hoping I'll have time to redo it before I meet with Erick tomorrow, but if not, it'll get get redone eventually. I started with the Russian myth comp, and it was my first time using gouache in about 10 years...

Dinardo Designs

Yesterday was the SCBWI workshop with designer/art buyer Jeff Dinardo of "Dinardo Designs". His talk was really interesting. He talked about his history working as an illustrator, how he fell in love with Maurice Sendak's work, working in the textbook design field, what he looks for in illustrators, etc. The stories about Sendak were the best. He met Sendak when Jeff was around 18, and actually got to show him his work, see Sendak's home, and take him out to see E.T.! I guess Sendak had had a medical condition and couldn't drive, and he wanted to see the movie! Jeff met Sendak at a lecture Sendak was giving. Kind of reminded me how I was so star struck by Tomie DePaola at his lecture. Also reminds me that having the balls to talk to someone, no matter how "famous" they are, usually pays off in the end. I wish I wasn't so mousy sometimes!

Jeff was very personable and he took the time to look at everyone's portfolio's. His comments about my stuff were pretty accurate, and all things that I know I have to work on. He did say that my style was very unique and painterly and that he has never seen a style like it before, so that's something I guess. He said he could definitely see my stuff being used in posters, or to illustrate poems, etc.

So considering this workshop was free (Thank you SCBWI!), and I now have another great contact, I think it was well worth it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Neva Nevicica

I've been looking all over for an english translation of a Croatian fairytale. It's called: "Bridesman Sun and Bride Bridekins ( Neva Nevicica )", so you can see why I was interested in it. I think I may have stumbled upon it when doing a google search of my name. There's a cool site that has flash animation of a bunch of Croatian fairytales, including the Neva one. The fairytale doesn't seem to make much sense, and involves the sun, and muffins...The site didn't give the full text of the fairytale.

So I asked around, and the AWESOME librarians at Lesley University tracked down a copy of the book and are going to send me the scanned pages that contain the Neva story! WOOO HOO! I love librarians.

Currently working on: Storyboard drawings. Tomorrow will be dedicated to the comps.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Progress update

#1. The text is in the full size book dummy, with no pattern in its placement.

#2. I've started the scaled down storyboard sketches and anticipate finishing in the next two days. I've ordered some vellum paper to play with, but am not waiting for it to start the storyboard.

#3. I've researched Russian Fairytales and have settled on "Sister Alenushka and her Brother Ivanushka". It's not the most complicated fairytale ever, but it's pretty cute. Basically this brother and sister are alone after their parents die and have to travel to another town. Along the way, the brother drinks water from a goat's footprint and turns into a goat. Then of course a Tsar comes along and decides to marry the sister who insists on taking the prancing goat along with them. So they live happily for a while, until an evil jealous witch in disguise lures the sister to the ocean and pushes her in after tying a large rock around her neck.Then the witch takes on the sister's likeness and goes on living with the Tsar. Only the goat saw what the witch did, and mopes about, staring into the sea. The witch asks the Tsar to cook the goat, the goat hears this and goes out to the ocean and sings to his sister that "oh crap, they're going to eat me!", and the sister sings back that "I can't really help you, I have this big rock tied around my neck." The Tsar hears the singing, figures it all out, drags up the sister who wakes up, and then they kill the witch and live happily ever after.

I liked the visual of the goat crying to the ocean, and the sister floating under the water singing back. So that's what I've chosen. The Russian clothing was fun to research, and I've tried to incorporate what I saw. I've also been looking at other artists who have illustrated fairytales, such as Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac.

#4 For the still life, I've incorporated one of my Mom's old dresses, which has some great designs on it, a little golden elephant statue, little wooden letter blocks that I've had forever that spell out "NEVA", and in the very background you can just see part of a Venetian mask. I'm thinking that this one, with all the patterns, might make a good "whimsical" style painting.

#5. I've decided to do an indoor environment for my third comp. So I'm going to ask my Mom to sit and read in the living room, with some lamps for lighting, and try to incorporate her environment as best I can, within an interesting composition. I thought this would be good as a more mainstream style. I have not sketched this comp yet.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cutting Away the Waste

So I finally got to meet with my mentor, Erick Ingraham, last week and it was AWESOME! He was very patient, looked through all the pieces that I had brought to AIB, gave me his honest opinion and advice about each one, and then we talked about specific parameters for my work. This meeting really should have happend sooner, but there was no getting around that.

He made a few excellent points.

#1. I am not a writer, and writing is not my main priority. So cut out the other two stories. I need to focus on the main problems in my work, and cut out any excess mini-projects that are getting in the way of that. So, no more Illustration Friday illustrations either. I think it's a good idea, but I'm not giving it the attention it deserves, and it is definitely detering from my other, more important projects. So it's GONE!

#2. I need to focus on the drawing in my painting, and how my hurried process affects the quality of the finished product. He's making me slow down, and focus on the process. So I've been given a few assignments. I have to pick three different themes, such as landscape, still life, portrait, and create mini-comps in watercolor and gouache, focusing on the midtone values and maintaining the drawing.

#3. I did the book dummy ALL wrong. I need to start by creating a true size book dummy, giving specific borders on each page, and then place the text FIRST! And when placing the text I have to avoid patterns in the placement. The text is taped on and remains movable. Then I go and do a storyboard layout that is seperate from the book dummy. I was combining the two. But this way makes more sense to me.

#4. He thinks it's plausible that my colors are the glue that holds my style together. So with that in mind, I'll be incorporating those bright colors into my smaller comps.

#5. He suggested that I arrange an "open casting call" for models at an elementary school, and just take a ton of pictures and get people's info. That way I have a wide variety of kids to choose from. I liked that idea and am going to contact the school tomorrow.

So all in all it was a great meeting, and I feel a lot more secure in where I'm heading. He also suggested that I create a time-sheet for myself so I can keep track of my hours. An excellent idea, which has already been implemented (although after filling out last week, I realized I need to be commiting even MORE time to this...but at least now I know.)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Thumbnail Sketches & Planning for "Brothers and Bees"

I started this project by doing thumbnail sketches of the entire page layout. I don't like to think of the illustrations as single images, but rather as an entire spread. I think some of the best children's books are the ones that utilize the entire spread in some unique way. But of course this presents an interesting flow challenge. In this case, there's usually a paragraph on each page, requiring two seperate illustrations on each page in order to show all the information. I'm using a 32 page standard format. I guess I could add pages, but I want to try to work within a construct with specific rules, so I can see how well I can break and flex those rules. It's easier to add pages to suit my illustrations, but it's harder to change my illustrations, and still keep them interesting, to fit the pages. Anyway, because I do need to provide two seperate illustrations on each page, I have to think about how they connect in the middle...Do the illustrations fade around the edges? Do they go right to the gutter? Does part of one illustration flow into the next page? Does one page have a full illustration while the other page just has a smaller one with no background? All things to keep in mind.

I drew three different versions of the same illustration, because in my experience, my first idea is hardly ever my best idea. I'm not completely happy with all of these thumbnails, but the ones that I've chosen as my favorite are at least heading in the right direction.

Page 4 - My brother, Eric, is three years older than me. He likes to think that's a lot, but it's not. I can do mostly everything he can do; sometimes better.

Page 5 - For example, when Mom kicks us out of the house to get some "fresh air", like today, I'm much faster at getting on my boots and zipping up my jacket. Eric always takes forever, and I'm out the door and at the swing set before he even gets his gloves on.

Favorite: (d)
I liked (a) but I wanted to show something a little more competetive between the brother and sister. And maybe something that would warrant the Mom kicking them out of the house. The first thing that came to mind was Nintendo! I was super competetive with Eric when we first got our Nintendo. It used to infuriate me that he was better at Contra. And of course it drove my Mom crazy that we would sit in front of the TV for hours at a time. So I decided to keep the couch image for the end of the story, and use (d) instead.

I like how (d) shows them getting their coats on in the basement, and how Eric is so leisurely about it. I liked (a) with the dashed line, like you sometimes see in the "Family Circus" cartoon, but I couldn't justify using it if it didn't appear elsewhere in the book. And I didn't want to be trapped by this convention of the dashed line. It felt a little gimmicky to me.

Page 6 - While I wait for him, I like to lay on the swing on my belly and pretend I’m a super hero as I fly back and forth. Eric says he’s too old for the swing set, but really I think he knows I’m the better super hero.

Page 7 - Behind our swing set there’s a great forest that’s fun to play in. I can only go in there if I’m with someone though. Eric rolls his eyes whenever I ask him to play in the forest with me. I guess he’s too old for forests too.

Favorite: (c)
This is one that I'm not sure I'm compeltely happy with. The text mentions the forest, and I couldn't really come up with a good way of incorporating that into the illustration. I did like the angle of the swingset in (c), and Eric's bored stance. (a) felt to static, and (b) has possibilities, but the composition felt forced.

Page 8 - When we go into the forest, I always have to walk behind Eric, ‘cause he knows the path better. All the trees and shrubs look the same to me, until we get further into the forest. Every time I’ve tried to lead the way, I always get stuck in a pricker bush. That always makes Eric laugh, even though he’s lost plenty of gloves in pricker bushes too.

Page 9 - At least when we’re walking down the path he’s careful to not let the branches go flying back in my face. He knows I’d tell Mom if he did, and then he’d get in real trouble because Mom hates anything that could “poke an eye out”.

Favorite: (c)
I felt like the most important things in this text was the fact that they are going into the forest to play, that Eric is being considerate with the branch, and lastly that the pricker bushes are a real threat that eats gloves. I think (c) is the most intresting composition, and I like how it shows the pricker bushes in the foreground. I envision the pricker bushes having a glove half hidden in its branches, as if that's one that Eric lost.

Page 10 & 11 - We’re going to the old Indian graveyard today. Eric says it’s not really a graveyard, but that’s what all the other kids in the neighborhood call it. It’s a huge pit in the ground, and parts of it are filled with old tree trunks, branches, and a ton of leaves. The tree trunks make good balance beams. Unless they’re rotted. Then they’re good for the bugs. Eric likes the centipedes, which of course, I always find before he even gets down into the pit.

Favorite: (c)
This one was difficult. I had a lot to show, but I wanted the illustration to spread across both pages in order to show the complexity of the forest environment. I think (c) shows that well. I like how the centipede is in a close up, and the sister is balancing on the beams while Eric prepares to jump into the pit.

Page 12 - The piles of leaves come up to my knees and I like to run around the pit kicking them into the air and then flopping into the piles. I like how the leaves stick to my hair. Eric hates it when I put leaves in his hair.

Page 13 - All around the graveyard are tall trees that are almost completely dead. The branches are as big around as my arm, and they’re perfect climbing trees. We’re not supposed to climb the trees, but I do anyway. Eric climbs them all the time, but frowns at me when I try to. I always go higher than him. I think that’s why he frowns at me, because he knows I’m a better tree climber.

Favorite: (b) or (c)
I actually like (c), but I don't think it accurately describes the text. I think that I like page 12 on (b), and page 13 on (c). I like the interaction between Eric and the sister on (b), and I think just seeing the feet dangling from the tree on (c) is hilarious.

Page 14 & 15 - When we’re tired of the graveyard, I drag Eric up the dirt-bike path. At the top of the hill, I spread my arms and yell “TIMBER!” and pretend to fall, but instead at the last second I run down the hill. Eric tries to walk down the hill, but even he has to jog because it’s so steep! He shouldn’t try to be so cool, and just run like me.

Favorite: (b)
I think that (b) is a good beginning, but that it needs to be developed more. Obviously the background is important. I'm lucky because I can easily go into the woods where I grew up and take a look around. I'm going to do that at some point this March, maybe when some more snow melts. I was trying to convey that "TIMBER" feeling of falling with a straight body until you can't keep straight anymore and have to start running.

Page 16 - At the bottom of the hill there’s a stream. It’s muddy today, and you can see the dirt bike marks in the mud. The dirt bikes can just plow through the stream, but I think it’s too wide for me to jump across. Eric crosses by jumping on a rock that’s in the middle of the stream. So I jump on the same rock and leap for the other side, both feet sticking out in front of me.

Page 17 - The mud makes a SQUELCHing sound and I’m totally stuck. Eric comes back and pulls me out, laughing the whole time. I hop around on one foot while he pulls my boot out of the mud. He’s only a better jumper because he has longer legs than me.

Favorite: (c)
I think the first two are pretty pathetic sketches, and the obvious winner is (c). I like that up close look at the sister as she trys to clear the stream, and then the interaction between Eric and the sister as he pulls out her boot. I just loved that image of the soggy sock hanging off her foot as she trys to hop around on one foot. It's definitely something I've done before.

Page 18 & 19 - With my muddy boot back on, I run past Eric and out into the field. The grass comes up to my neck. I like to spread my arms wide and run through the grass, whipping the grasshoppers into the air. Eric gets beaned on the head with a few of them.

Favorite: (b)
I just loved this part of the story. I think it's such a powerful few sentences that it deserves a full page spread illustration. I actually like each of the illustrations, but (b) shows the most movement. (c) could be fun too though, as an ariel shot, although harder to visualize...

Page 20 & 21 - When the field is humming with angry grasshoppers, Eric and I retreat back to the stream and go up a ways until it gets rockier and is easier to cross. It’s good frog hunting out here. I am a better frog hunter than Eric because I know a trick. You can tell where a frog is hiding because their little eyes make two bumps in the water. Then the trick is to be really still and slow as you come towards them, and then STRIKE FAST at the last second. Just be careful not to squeeze too hard. I like to cup my hands so I can feel them jumping around inside. Eric’s never been very good at catching frogs.

Favorite: (c)
There's a lot going on in this text, so I thought the most important thing to show was the sister's enthusiasm for catching frogs, and Eric's obvious lack of enthusiasm (perhaps because he's not as good at catching frogs as his sister). (a) didn't even show Eric, (b) took his contempt a little too far, but the close up of (c) worked well.

Page 22 - Eric is bored with frogs and wants to go home, but I don’t want to go just yet. He always thinks he’s in charge. I’m old enough to be outside alone. Go home Eric, but I’m staying here! He races up the hill and doesn’t even turn around at the top.

Page 23 - Brothers make me so angry sometimes. I kick an old tree stump as hard as I can, hoping that Eric will hear it and know that I’m upset with him.

Favorite: (c)
I didn't mind (b), but it didn't correspond to the text on each page, so I just flipped it for (c) and it made more sense.

Page 24 - He’s not that much older than me! I can do everything he can do, but better! I’m a better tree climber! I can find the best bugs! I can run faster! I’m so upset that I can’t hear anything but a great humming in my ears.

Page 25 - OW! What was that? The humming is getting louder, and something just bit me! Was it a mosquito? What’s going on?

Favorite: (b)
I liked the extremes of (b), where on the left we see how angry she is at being left alone in the forest, and then on the right, when the first bee stings her, how truly alone she is, and now the forest is much more ominous than it was with Eric there.

Page 26 - BEES!

Page 27 - The tree stump I kicked must have had a nest in it! I start screaming and yelling, jumping up and down, swinging my arms around, trying to get the bees off of me!

Favorite: (c)
Honestly I think any of these three would work, but I liked the repetition in (c). I thought it showed how frantic she is, and showed a lot of movement...Although the other ones do show that she's completely outnumbered by the bees...I'm not sure about this one. Is it better to show her freaking out and jumping all around, or is it more important to show how many bees have swarmed around her? hmmm.

Page 28 - I hear a splash and Eric is back next to me telling me to run. I can’t though! I’m too scared! He grabs my jacket and pushes me across the stream and drags me up the hill. The bees are stinging him too and we’re both crying now.

Page 29 - We run down the path, past the pit, through the trees, past the swing set, into our yard, screaming all the way. Mom comes running out of the house and asks us “what on Earth is going on”? Eric has to tell her ‘cause I’m still jumping up and down, yelling.

Favorite: (c)
(a) is obviously terrible. I thought I'd try the dashed line again, but I really don't think it would work well. I don't mind (b), but the movement is better in (c).

Page 30 - Mom makes us take off our jackets and boots, and she shakes them out on the porch. Dead bees fall onto the porch and through the cracks. Then she makes us go inside and sit on either ends of the couch. Then she covers our bee stings with pink smelly stuff and gives us both popsicles. The pink stuff doesn’t help much, but the popsicles do.

Page 31 - She says that I’m very lucky that I have an older brother who would come back for me and protect me from a bee attack. I think I agree. He’s definitely better at protecting little sisters from bee attacks.

Favorite: (b)
I just loved the idea of them sitting on the couch, covered in pink stuff and bee sting bumps, holding their popsicles and looking bewildered. I did like the visual of the dead bees falling through the cracks of the porch, but I don't think it's as important as the interaction of emotions between the brother and sister.

Page 32 - But I’m still the best at catching frogs.

Favorite: (b)
I didn't like just showing the sister on the last page, because I feel like this is a story about both the brother and the sister, and their relationship... I loved how (b) showed that even when the sister is being smug and relaxed, how Eric is still watching out for her by capturing a rogue bee. I thought that was a cute way of ending it, but (c) would be a simpler way of ending it, with them cheering each other with their popsicles.