Friday, October 23, 2009

The Creature from the Brackish Pool - Part 2

I rounded up my nephew and nieces and bribed them to color my mask. No, that's not true–I didn't have to bribe them. They were more than happy to bring the mask to life and they all did an outstanding job.

Watching a child color my creation is thrilling, enlightening and a bit humbling. They picked colors that were completely unexpected and wonderful. I'm not nearly as bold with my color – I can learn something from these kids!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Creature from the Brackish Pool

The Portsmouth Halloween Parade is creative, chaotic and totally awesome. 

Anyone with a costume is invited to lurch, shimmy or crawl through the streets of Portsmouth–hundreds march and thousands watch. The parade brings out the imaginative best in the community–it's fun, festive and family-friendly (well, more or less family-friendly).

The organization is run by volunteers. Money is raised through t-shirt sales, bake sales, rock shows, and new this year, MASK-ARADE, a paper mask coloring book! 16 local artists (including yours truly) were invited to create a design. I was thrilled to be involved and loved creating my mask/coloring book page.

And a big thanks to Nick for coloring my mask and modeling it below. Great job, Nick – you look scary!

Have you colored my mask? Know someone who has? Send me a picture and I'll post it here on my blog!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Welcome Back Capt. Chamberlain Part 2

I used my less-than-stellar Tracer projector to project my sketch onto a piece of 4' x 4' canvas. After tracing the image onto the canvas, I started blocking in the color. Luckily, the acrylic didn't completely obscure the pencil and I could still see my drawing. I started painting in highlights then details. Painting on non-stretched canvas was more difficult than I remembered, but overall I'm happy with the results! The banner next gets hung in the window of a local business to greet the returning Captain Chamberlain.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcome Back Capt. Chamberlain

Back in the day, I painted humorous advertisements in the window of a local computer repair shop. I was surprised (and happy) to get a call from the shop owner's daughter requesting that I come back (after all these years) and paint another window. This window would be a little different – she wanted a welcome back painting for her boyfriend who was returning from Afghanistan.  I'm honored to have a small part in welcoming home Captain Chamberlain.

I offered to paint a banner that could then be kept as a souvenir rather than paint a window that would eventually have to cleaned. Above is a sketch of the painting. Below, Jessica is helping out by hemming the canvas. More to come...

Monday, August 17, 2009

That Just-Printed Smell!

Here's my most recent postcard, fresh off the UPS truck. Love that just-printed smell! I used online printer Modern Postcard and was really impressed with their nearly foolproof - yet thorough - ordering system. Want a card? Send me your address!

And here's what's on the back of the card:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Frankenstein's Monster

I decided recently that my portfolio needs more monsters.  Here's one you might recognize. I originally named this post Frankenstein, but my sister-in-law set me straight. In the original Mary Shelley novel, the big guy is referred to as "monster," "fiend" and my favorite, "wretched devil," but NOT Frankenstein--that's the name of his creator. I won't make that mistake again!

Friday, July 3, 2009

100th Post, New Website & New Look

You're reading my 100th post! This milestone coincides with the launch of my new and improved website - check it out here. The blog has also been given a modest makeover to compliment the new site.

This blog started March 2, 2007 with an awkward post entitled "My First Blog Entry". Early on, I half expected I might loose interest in blogging. But as the months and years passed, the posts began to accumulate and the blog took on a life of its own. These 100 posts chronicle my evolution as an artist.

Example: when the blog started, I worked almost exclusively in acrylic. Today, I mostly work digitally; the blog documents my shift from traditional to digital illustration.

Looking through these 100 posts was fun. A couple stood out as particularly amusing...

Here's a photo of a window I painted for Halloween when I was a kid.

Here I revisit a drawing from grade school. This post was inspired by the Illustration Friday topic "Then and Now"

Here I explore the theory that birds are really dinosaurs.

Here are a couple photos of my wife and me with a T. Rex. The photos were taken approximately 20 years apart!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Space Monkey vs Angry Octopus

I'm creating illustrations for my new website that should be going live this week. A menagerie of critters will take turns appearing in the header, depending on which image is randomly plucked from the database.

I often work on assignment. When I do have time to draw for myself, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. What do I draw when I'm free to draw anything?!

I knew I wanted fun, quirky creatures. I found inspiration by watching Animal Planet and looking through my handy book: Copyright-Free Illustrations of Mammals, Birds, Insects, etc. Mostly I chose animals I haven't drawn recently or creatures I loved as a kid. Here are two of the critters I've done so far - stay tuned...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

I wish I knew when this goofy card was made. I'd guess I was either in first, second or third grade. Unfortunately, I can't take all the credit for the card - apparently this was a collaborative effort with Robert A. That would explain the dissimilar themes; I had been wondering what a burning snake, a truck and the ocean had in common. And why is there a stack of quarters under the fire snake?

The truck is clearly my drawing; my dad was driving a tractor trailer at the time. I probably drew the ocean, because fishing with my dad was one of my favorite things in the world. Robert A. must have been responsible for the snake - maybe his dad was a snake charmer? I don't recall...

This year, in lieu of a Father's Day card I offer this blog post to my dad. Happy Father's Day, Dad! And that's with a big 10-4, whatever that means. Love, Robert

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Yippee! My 12 dinosaur books are on! It doesn't seem that long ago I submitted the final illustrations, and now the covers have emerged online. The books are not yet available; the publishing date is Aug '09. It's a real thrill to see my books there on Amazon!

Oddly enough, the books are not under my name in the Amazon database. You have to search under the author's name, Susan H. Gray, to find these books. My first three books do come up under my name.

New Site Coming Soon...

Hopefully I'm not jinxing myself by announcing to the blogoshpere that I have a new website in the pipeline. The design is nearly done 'cept the tinkering (and second guessing). Picking the illustrations is the next hurdle, along with writing some content. A programming guru/friend owes me a big favor, so thankfully I won't be slogging through HTML this time around. ETA is within 2 weeks - stay tuned...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Grease is Still the Word

I live in a great town. Portsmouth is a small city with an extraordinary amount of art and entertainment to enjoy.

Prescott Park is a quaint riverside park that becomes an outdoor theater during the summer. Many musical acts grace the stage, but the cornerstone of the season is a big musical production. Thousands of people flock to the park with their picnic blankets and bug spray to enjoy a show.

This year that show is Grease! The folks at Prescott Park Arts Festival asked me to create a poster for the event and I was happy to oblige.

I hope to see you in the park one night this summer, just don't forget the bug spray.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Four-Legged Figure Drawing

Here's a sketch of our new dog Q (aka The Beast). Generally, he's not a cooperative drawing subject; he's usually prancing around like a kid with ADD on a pogo stick after downing a 6-pack of Red Bull. Well, that's an exaggeration. Q is actually a very even-tempered dog. Sure he gets crazed, but overall he's a cool guy.

I grew up with cats and always assumed I would have feline pets but I married a woman that's allergic to cats. We agreed to get a cat-sized dog someday.

I've been pining for Pugs since I can remember but fate had a different plan. Q, a Puggle (half Pug, half Beagle), came into our lives serendipitously. Friends rescued Q from a shelter in South Carolina fully expecting to keep him. When they brought him home to NH, the family dog didn't take kindly to the new addition. Our friends decided they had to find the Puggle a new home.

And that's where my wife and I come into the picture. We took Q for a night. Then a weekend. Then a week. Two months later, and he's become an integral part of our lives. A dog is a lot of work but well worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Figure Drawing

Here are some sketches from a figure drawing workshop I attended last week. My illustration style is rooted in realism, and sketching from life helps me keep a fresh perspective. The human body is so complex it's mind-boggling, and working from a model is humbling. The more I observe and sketch from life the truer my illustrations will be... Well, that's my theory.

Sometimes the model assumes a pose that leaves me with nothing but a head of hair to draw. When this happens I turn my attention to the other artists in the room. FYI: The gent in the hat is actually drawing with a Wacom tablet and a laptop!

Monday, May 4, 2009


I've been working digitally for months and today I returned to traditional media.

I've been bouncing back and forth between traditional media and digital media for a couple years but this is the first time I've been away from real paint for months. I was apprehensive about busting out the acrylics - after all there's no undo! I spent a lot of time this morning reacquainting myself with brushes, paint, medium and the additive known as flow enhancer.

Creating a color digitally is easy: pick a swatch, move some sliders around and presto! The perfect color! Mixing paint is more like alchemy. Rarely is paint straight out the tube satisfactory. Some colors are easy to  mix, others are counter-intuitive. The dino's tongue is medium magenta and vivid lime green with a little cad red and a dash of Payne's Gray.

Overall, I got back in the groove fairly quickly (I think). This piece is a gift for an unsuspecting person that I hope doesn't follow my blog!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

IF Hierarchy/SCBWI Poster Part 4

Update: I'm repurposing this post for the Illustration Friday topic Hierarchy. Thanks to Chuck Dillon for suggesting I submit this illustration; it's perfectly appropriate!

Original Post: Here's the finished poster for this weekend's NESCBWI conference poster competition. Overall, I'm happy with the results and I think it's a good representation of my style and sense of humor.

I'm looking forward to the weekend and the opportunity to mingle with other artists (& authors), learn something new, get inspired and maybe meet some folks (editors, art directors) that can give me some work!

Monday, April 13, 2009

SCBWI Poster Part 3

Part 3: Illustration start to finish

I've made a lot of changes since the last post. The fly is completely different. Because the fly is the focal point I wanted him to rock. My first version of the fly was adequate but I felt he could be better. Here's what's different and why:
  • The pose is more dynamic: All the limbs have been tweaked but the kicking leg is lifted higher making the fly feel less balanced - that's a good thing
  • Fly is more fly like: I looked at photos of real flies and that inspired me to make the overall body shape more squat. I also added hairs and made the wing shape more accurate.
  • Add the funny: I made the bow tie ridiculously big. The proportions are also more humorous, a squat body with big head and thin arms is funny!
I also changed the snake and made the hawk one of those goofy looking barn owls.

Leading the post is a Photoshop color study. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

SCBWI Poster Part 2

Part 2 of chronicling my process as I create an illustration from start to finish:

Previously, I posted a crude thumbnail, my first attempt at composition. Here I start developing the character design. I'm also paying attention to the character interaction; these guys are happily singing barbershop but I also want to hint at what might happen after the song ends.

Hence the mantis eyeing the fly, the frog the mantis, the snake the frog and the hawk the snake.

I'm creating this illustration for the upcoming NESCBWI conference poster competition. The theme of the competition is "Many Voices." My first idea was a doo-wop group of singing frogs (inspired by the musical Forever Plaid). That idea morphed to include a fly lead singer. I then came up with the circle of life angle that dovetails nicely with one of my favorite books as a kid, A Fly Went By.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

SCBWI Poster Sketch

The SCBWI New England annual conference is coming up at the end of April and once again the weekend features a themed and juried poster competition. The theme this year is "Many Voices" and the art will be judged on storytelling, character, setting, color, focus and composition.

I've mulled over several ideas and have settled on the concept above. Ain't it great! Well, I admit it doesn't look like much at this stage. This is how all my illustrations start, with a doodle. I'll post more as the illustration progresses - stay tuned!

Friday, March 20, 2009


Here's a peek at a portion of an illustration from a forthcoming book. What are boy and ducky looking at? Hint: something with sharp teeth and claws.

But in this cropped view the image is more benign. It reminds me of Ernie's ode to his very best friend, Rubber Duckie.

Rubber Duckie, you're the one,
You make bathtime lots of fun,
Rubber Duckie, I'm awfully fond of you;

Woo woo be doo

Rubber Duckie, joy of joys,
When I squeeze you, you make noise!
Rubber Duckie, you're my very best friend, it's true!

Doo doo doo doo, doo doo

Every day when I
Make my way to the tubby
I find a little fella who's
Cute and yellow and chubby


Rubber Duckie, you're so fine
And I'm lucky that you're mine
Rubber Duckie, I'm awfully fond of you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Illustration Friday: Legendary (UPDATED)

This illustration is getting long-in-the-tooth, but it fits this week's Illustration Friday topic "Legendary."

When I say Legendary, I'm referring to those Abominable Snowman snowshoes the boy is wearing. I wanted a pair of those as a kid but now I'm not sure if they even existed! Were they only a figment of my imagination?!!

I've searched online for some evidence of these Bigfoot-shaped plastic snowshoes but came up with zip. Does anyone else remember these?

I suspect they were manufactured by K-Tel (yes, K-Tel), the same folks who made the Snow Block maker (and all those groovy music compilations). I'm afraid this will keep me all up night... 

UPDATE: Thanks to Roberta Baird for bringing Redfeather Snowpaw Snowshoes to my attention. These are not the Bigfoot snowshoes of my youth but a modern equivalent. Sadly, no adult sizes–dang!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dino Detail

I've been working diligently on a series of dinosaur books since November. I'm eager to show off my latest work but feel compelled to keep the illustrations under wraps until the books are published. But I can't resist an occasional tease; here's a small portion of a larger illustration featuring the tail of a well-known dinosaur. Care to guess which dino-type?

Those of you that have seen the final art are not allowed to "guess". 

Friday, February 27, 2009

Illustration Friday: Breezy

This breezy painting was done with acrylic on gessoed paper. This was the first time I used gesso as a foundation. Why gesso? 
  • If I make a mistake, I can cover the offending area with gesso, confident that I'm reverting to the same base color and surface.
  • Gesso can add texture. I purposely left brush stokes on the gessoed surface (rather than sanding it smooth).
Unfortunately, my experiment had mixed results. The texture adds visual interest but it's distracting (especially when scanned). Next time I'll sand the gesso smooth or vary the direction of the strokes.