My pal Margeaux Lucas has a blog, Paper/Pencil/Brush. She shows a lovely example of underpainting in a gouache illustration.
Her style reminds me of picture books I read when I was little. It’s all too easy to become heavy-handed with gouache, especially when you’re piling paint on top of paint, as you’re obliged to do with an underpainting. Margeaux has kept this enchanting little image light and fresh. Also, look how much information she gives you: time of year, place, who the main character is, anticipation of some future event—all important to an audience who is just learning to read.
Here’s the big scene from Two Bad Pilgrims, where Francis and Johnny nearly scuttle the Mayflower when they fool around with their father’s fowling piece. First the thumbnail sketch:
Then the tight sketch:
There was some squeamishness about showing two boys firing a gun in a kids’ book, so we tried a different approach. Sometimes you encounter this kind of snag in the creative process. Kendra Levin, the editor and Jim Hoover, the art director worked with me to find a solution. How about if instead of the gun, we show the boys playing with squibs?
What the heck is a squib? Here’s where my dad, and the Company of Military Historians really came to the rescue. My dad posted the question in the forum page of the Company’s website. Turns out a squib is a thin tube of paper or a hollow quill filled with black gunpowder—homemade fireworks. When you light one it zips around the room.
But, this isn’t really what happened aboard the Mayflower. More important, it’s not as interesting to look at. We ultimately struck a compromise and decided to show the boys with the gun, but not actually firing it.
Here’s the inked in version. Squibs, a barrel of gunpowder, straw ticking on the bunk, old wooden planking—all the ingredients for setting a ship afire.
It seems nuts to have gunpowder just laying around like that, but according to Mourt that’s the way it was. I know that British warships in Nelson’s time stored all gunpowder in a special room, the magazine. It was lit by a lamp on the other side of a glass window. Anyone in the magazine had to wear slippers, because the nail of a shoe grating across powder on the floor would cause a spark, blowing up the ship.
Here’s the color sketch.
And Vince Dorse’s colorization.
I’m working on paintings (finishing them up, actually) for a story about a cat who lives in Venice circa 1890. Since the publisher refused to send me to la Serenissima to gather visual research (hey, you can’t blame a boy for asking!), I was forced to make do with the beautiful paintings of John Singer Sargent, who lived in Venice at the same time our cat did.
To help me get a feel for the color scheme, or palette, I did small color studies of some of Sargent’s Venetian paintings. Here’s his painting of the Rialto:
…and my study of it.
I recommend this kind of exercise. I learned so much about color from Sargent by mimicking his paintings. Here are more:
A piu tardi—
Sponge out your cannons! Prepare to repel boarders! Henry & the Crazed Chicken Pirates will storm bookstores on August 11th!
Many eager customers are even now camped out in front of those bookstores, awaiting the big day. For those of you with internet access, here are a few visual bonbons to take your minds off of how hard a concrete sidewalk can be.
The cover of a picture book is hugely important. It’s the packaging that gets a casual browser to pick up the book and look inside. The cover image has to give you an idea of what the story is about. I also wanted to get a bit of action in there, to appeal to boys.
As usual, I began by drawing little thumbnail sketches. These are very rough sketches, indicating the idea and where the title type will go.
Bird's-eye view, looking down on Henry from the top of the Black Yolk.
Version D is the winner, with some changes. Henry will be flopped so he’s running left-to-right, the Black Yolk (the chicken pirate balloon) will be moved to the left, and the title type goes in the space made in the upper right. Here’s the tight sketch incorporating the changes:
Art director & editor liked this much better. One last change: show Henry carrying his book. Here’s the layout they sent me including both drawing and type:
Finally, the title type. We were able to pick up the word ‘Henry’ from Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies. Here’s the sketch for the rest of the title.
Then I enlarged the sketch, and inked in the lettering using a lightbox.