Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Merry Christmas Card

Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to all!

My agent, Bernadette Szost at Portfolio Solutions, asked all of us illustrators to draw a mouse with a wreath for the agency's holiday promo. Each artist gave the assignment their own unique twist. I considered several ideas (a mouse riding a frog through a burning wreath, a la Evil Knievel, was one) but settled on this concept-- inspired by a childhood craft project (macaroni art) and Stephen Soundheim's musical, Sunday in the Park with George.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My "Illustrious" Past

Oh, dear.

My mom recently found this ancient newspaper clipping. That's the back of my head along with a fine example of my early artistic stylings.

At the time, I was a lowly dairy clerk. I probably volunteered to draw on the chalkboard–and the management was happy to "take advantage" of my talent.

I was just happy to take a break from stocking shelves.

I had mischievous fun with many chalkboards. I recall a spaceship blowing up the store with a death ray. A dinosaur devouring the meat department manager. And Bill Clinton looking for a date on Valentine's Day. That last one received complaints, but my boss took the heat and spared the eraser.

It wasn't the best art gig I've ever had, but it was fun to have an audience. I would often get a crowd watching me draw. And I did develop a following of sorts – heck, the local paper even did a story about me!

And to those vandals who occasionally besmirched my work – HOW COULD YOU?!

I hope you are haunted by remorse.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Don't Think – Draw.

Signing my books is nerve-wracking. I always want to include a drawing. And I want that drawing to be AWESOME! But it's a bit like walking a highwire without a net. There's no chance to revise. No opportunity to rip the page out, throw it against the wall, scream, and start over.

That's probably why I have a stack of books in my studio, collecting dust, waiting to be signed.

Tonight, I tackled some dinosaur books. I opened "Introducing Dinosaurs: Triceratops" and started scratching tentative, wispy lines. I was planning to draw a straightforward dino but then this whimsical Triceratops came out of nowhere.

Generally, I'm a pretty methodical artist. These sketches are more spontaneous and a reminder that I can (occasionally) trust my instincts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

School Buses: Crunchy on the Outside, Soft on the Inside

A couple years ago I illustrated a series of educational children's books about dinosaurs; it was a great project! I got paid to draw Tyrannosaurus Rex, Spinosaurus and my long-time favorite, Stegosaurus (among others).

This Allosaurus never made it out of sketch phase. Everyone involved decided that a child running for its life was not exactly appropriate for the target age.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rotten Teeth, Hairy Moles and Knobbly Knuckles

I had a blast illustrating "The Truth About Witches", a book slated to be published January 2011 (according to Drawing wicked and ugly came very naturally to me. Don't get me wrong–I enjoy cute and cuddly as much as the next guy–but sometimes I want to draw rotten teeth, hairy moles and knobbly knuckles.

Below is a peek at my process from sketch to final digital illustration. I'm looking forward to the book being published so I can share more of my witchy work!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Doth the Little Crocodile

I have an illustration in the December issue of Highlights magazine.


Yeah. That's still fun to say.

Back in June, the folks at Highlights asked me to illustrate the Lewis Carroll poem "How Doth the Little Crocodile." I couldn't say YES! fast enough; there's no one more iconic in children's literature than Lewis Carroll and having the opportunity to illustrate his words was a real kick.

I'd say it was a brush with greatness–but I work digitally (and I'm not a fan of puns).

And I'm always thrilled to work with Highlights. My wife and I have had the good fortune to visit their Honesdale, PA offices and meet many of the talented and passionate people that bring the magazine to life. This reminds me – the Holidays are fast approaching and a great gift for 6-12 year old kids is a subscription to Highlights! And for younger kids, check out High Five. Fun With Purpose – without corporate product placement.

Below are some of the sketches I created on the way to the final illustration. First, the final sketch which I submitted for approval:

And below are some of the early "thumbnail" sketches. Here you can see me experimenting with different compositions.

And one last thing – the poem!

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

By Lewis Carroll
Art by ME!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Truth About Elves

The truth about elves?

They like Fluffernutter and ketchup sandwiches.

That's a joke.

The Truth About Elves is a book that I illustrated and it was recently published by Capstone Press. The book is about Elf mythology through the ages and across cultures. I had fun illustrating all these pointy eared creatures, from Santa's helpers through Tolkien's warrior elves.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Two "BRAINS!" are Better Than One

When writer (and friend) Chris Dahlen approached me about illustrating his zombie story, I had only one word for him–BRAINS!

Actually, I don't remember what I said. I was hesitant at first because I illustrate books for children–a horror comic seemed like it could be a a bad career move. I read the story and it wasn't what I feared. It was gruesome, yes – we're talking zombies after all– but it wasn't ultra-violent. I knew the final art would never appear in my official portfolio, but I could see blogging about it one day. Also, graphic novels are very popular in children's publishing and I wanted to give it a try. Well, try is not really accurate – I grew up on Marvel comics and drew my own comics in high school, college and beyond. I wanted to show the world (and show myself) that I could still tell a story in panels.

I quickly remembered that making comics is HARD. It was a real
challenge to break down the story into the three pages I was allotted. Pacing is key – the story had to be evenly distributed over the three pages and the page breaks shouldn't feel haphazard. I sketched dozens of possible layouts looking for a solution that made sense.

A typical children's book project requires me to think in terms of single- and double-page spreads. For this comic, I had to treat EACH panel like a spread–and each panel/spread had to relate to the others on the page (and to the page as a whole). It took a lot longer than I expected to wrap my head around the project. Eventually I found a way to put the puzzle pieces together.

The final product took on a life and spirit that was somewhat unexpected. Chris wrote a darkly funny story inspired by his experience with unruly (albeit darling) children. I found something profoundly sad about the story and that's reflected in my illustrations. I typically work from a completed manuscript and don't meet the author; I enjoyed the working with Chris, discussing the story and the themes it was evoking (intentionally and unintentionally).

"My Lil Zombie" appears in the anthology "ZombieBomb! The Feed" published by Terminal Press. The ZombieBomb series is the BRAIN(S!)-child of Adam Miller and Rich Woodall, who wrangle the writers and artists, edit and design the 64-page comic and also contribute artwork. It's an impressive feat and they have a cool property on their hands. Congrats, guys! The first printing of "ZombieBomb! The Feed" is already sold out but there will be a second run coming soon. I hope to take part in a comic convention to promote the book at some point – stay tuned!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Story Through Silhouette

When the mere silhouette of a character is identifiable, expressive and visually interesting I feel I'm on my way to a successful illustration.

Illustration is all about telling a story and it's critical that the story is conveyed clearly. By looking at the silhouette, I can assess if my gestures are jiving with the story. The witch above is clearly recoiling from the water thrown at her. Her bent posture and splayed hands project that fact. And we know she's a witch because of the pointy hat, gnarly fingers and scary chin... well, that wasn't too hard to figure out.

In fact, all these characters are pretty easy to identify–particularly that four-legged beast. Still, it's useful to consider silhouette when composing any work of visual art.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Character Study

Here's a preliminary character study for a chapter book I'm illustrating. This drawing was taped to the wall above my desk while I sketched thumbs and then final drawings for the project. The character evolved a bit while I drew her in action, but she essentially looks the same.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

IF: Prehistoric/NESCBWI Poster Showcase

UPDATE: I'm repurposing this post for the Illustration Friday topic: Prehistoric.

And now, back to your regular scheduled blog post.

This weekend I attended the NESCBWI conference and entered their poster showcase competition. Posters needed to reflect the conference theme: "Moments of Change."

I was thrilled and honored to win both the Best in Show and the People's Choice awards. Thanks to everyone who voted for my poster!

I'm embarrassed to confess I wasn't in the room to accept the award. I lost track of time and didn't realize the contest results were being announced. I was mortified when I realized my mistake.


In any case, it was a great conference! I met a lot of awesome people and I learned a lot. Like maybe I should buy a watch.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alley Cat in Highlights Magazine

I'm happy to announce I have an illustration in the May issue of Highlights magazine–ON NEWSSTANDS NOW!

Fun saying that...

The great folks at Highlights asked me to illustrate a poem called "Alley Cat" by Valck Georges. The poem is about a feline stalking imaginary foes. I was happy to have a whole page to draw my cat walking a spooky street filled with menacing shadows, blood-curdling clouds and frightening architecture...

Okay, I just got carried away with my adjectives.

Creatively, it was fun to play on the drama implied in the text. The foreshortening, skewed angles and muted tones all convey unease and possible danger... but not too much–it's a magazine for children after all:)

The final art is a digitally-colored pencil drawing. I used Photoshop and my trusty Wacom tablet.

Here's a look at the digital painting in progress.

Above: my final sketch. Below are early thumbnails where I'm experimenting with different approaches to the composition.

If you have kids ages 6-12, make sure they are reading Highlights! It's a great magazine–and not just because I'm in the current issue!

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Butt Full of Birdshot

X-ray of our dog "Q." The white dots? A bum full of birdshot. No, we haven't been using him for target practice. Apparently he was up to no good in his youth – trampling Mr. McGregor's garden, perhaps?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Illustration Friday: Dip

Update: I accidently illustrated last week's topic! Sorry folks!

It's been awhile since I participated in Illustration Friday–I took a crack at this week's topic, Dip, because I was eager to: (A) experiment with some new Photoshop techniques and (B) draw for the fun of it!)

I gave myself a two hour window to illustrate a boy after too long a dip in the ocean. I didn't agonize over the proportions–instead I focused on the pose and expression (but not for too long).

I scanned my sketch and first painted tonal values. Once the greyscale tones were finished, I added color on a layer above. This color layer was set to multiply, allowing the tonal values below to darkening the color. I probably should show some examples of this process, maybe in a later post–I've exceeded my two hour limit and need to get myself to work!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mind the Music and the Step...

Some examples of my illustration process from the first rough thumbnail to the nearly finished drawing. After looking at the lively gesture in the initial scribble, I'm going to make some changes to the final art. I miss the arc in the accordion player's body and the pony's lifted tail. I often find the first attempts at a drawing are more dynamic than the polished revisions.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I'm working on a project that stars a cowboy. Here's a collection of sketches where I'm "searching" for an appropriate look for the character. Not sure which of these I like–if any. But I know I'm fond of handlebar mustaches.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Zombie Jamboree

I'm working on a short comic that will appear in an upcoming anthology of zombie comics. Chris Dahlen wrote the bleak story about a zombie preschool entitled "My Li'l Zombie." Not my typical project but comics are near and dear to my heart. I did a lot of comics as a kid.

Here I am working old school – brush and ink. Actually, brush and gouache. I find gouache doesn't gunk up the brush; it lays down smoothly and holds the brush tip.

The downsize is that gouache isn't waterproof but I'll be doing the color digitally so that's not an issue.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

NH Children's Museum Meet the Artist Event

The New Hampshire Children's Museum hosted a meet-the-artist event to celebrate my show, "Introducing Dinosaurs." Gallery manager, Tess Feltes, organized an extensive, informative and fun exhibit around the illustrations I created for the Child's World. I had a blast meeting everyone at the museum and mingling with friends, family and dinosaur fans.

The night ended with a surprise performance by the a cappella group, The Overtones, featuring my wife Jessica.

The show will be up until March 31st. And if you haven't seen the new children's museum, you should check it out – the facility is beautiful and impressive!

Friday, February 5, 2010

From the Archive: Godzilla vs. Gigan!

While preparing for my upcoming show at The Children's Museum of New Hampshire I unearthed this masterpiece. Clearly, Creature Double Feature made a huge impression on my small, young brain.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dinosaurs in Dover

I'm proud to announce an exhibit of my illustrations at The Children's Museum of New Hampshire. The show opens February 1st and features art created for the book series, Introducing Dinosaurs, published by The Child's World. On display will be final illustrations, thumbnails, preliminary sketches and even an example of paleo-art that I created in First Grade!

The Portsmouth Herald and The Union Leader have both written great articles about the event. The Children's Museum of New Hampshire is located in Dover, New Hampshire – for hours and directions, click here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Year in Pictures

Last year was the Year of the Dinosaur. When 2009 began, I was working on a dream job: a 12-book series about dinosaurs. I created 72 illustrations for the project and had a blast, despite an aching back, sore wrist, and tired eyes.

I was fortunate to have steady work throughout the year. As you can see from the thumbs above, the subjects ranged from robots to Greasers to Frankenstein's monster–and a joint of ham. The variety kept me on my toes and certainly kept things interesting. Looking over these images, I realize I've made progress this year with:
  • Working with tight deadlines
  • Developing a suitable BW technique
  • Conveying a wider range of emotions
  • Refining my digital painting (only 2 illustrations above are traditional media)
And I feel like I'm getting closer to developing my own "style" of illustration. As I learned to work more quickly and efficiently, I found my work becoming more spontaneous and less labored. I'm learning I can trust my instincts.

I'm kicking off the new year with a book about elves and a short comic-book story about zombies.

Happy New Year, everyone!