Monthly Archives: December 2009

Color and costume for Stinker

Stinker and the Onion Princess is an updated Grimm’s story set in Texas—but with a fairy tale quality.  I didn’t want the characters to look too real, but they should be sort of modern-day.  To get the kind of vibe I was looking for, I turned to Roy Rogers.  Roy, Gene Autry and a host of singing cowboys wore some outlandish cowboy costumes in their movies.  I found some books in the library about them, and faithfully rendered them in paint.  This helps me to get a sense of color for my project.

I also looked at books about Western roadside attractions, cowboy kitsch, and Mexican festival costumes.  I painted the examples I liked.  Here they are:

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast 2009

Jules has a retrospective of 2009; I’m among some pretty exalted talent.  Seeing such impressive work makes me want to do better work myself.

Here’s the interview from January.


I did a caricature of our neighbor, Hannah.  Here’s the sketch, and painting in progress.

Big Mama/Big Daddy

Two more characters from Stinker and the Onion Princess. Big Mama and Big Daddy are tired of seeing their son lay around the house—they want him hitched so they can hear the pitter-patter of their grandkiddy’s feet.

Big Mama is loosely based on actress Kathy Bates. She's wearing an outfit I saw on Dale Evans.

Kathy Bates

Here's Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. This isn't the outfit.

Big Daddy is loosley based on actor William Conrad. He played Detective Frank Cannon on TV in the 70s and before that, he was the announcer on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Big Daddy is an oil baron. I figured he must have grown up in the saddle, so he stands bowlegged. This is not so easy to draw on a character with short legs.

Bill Conrad

The Onion Princess

Some more character designs from Stinker & The Onion Princess, the book that never got past the sketch stage.

Here’s the lovely Onion Princess, pictured here dressed for Big Daddy’s barbecue party.  Big Daddy is hoping to get his son hitched.

She’s the heiress to an onion fortune.  Her dress is light green with dark green scallions extending from her waist to the hem.  The spiral decorations in her hair are ruby red/pale pink onion slices.  I think I drew her calves too skinny.

Here are her rivals—heiresses to lumber, cotton and rose fortunes:

The Lumber Lass is sporting a buzz-saw blade in her hair and her dress is made out of wooden sticks.

The Onion Princess shows up again in the story, at another big party.

More of the red onion and scallion motif.  The flowers in her hair are those light blue blossoms you see on garlic plants.


Some time ago, I got a fabulous manuscript to work on: Stinker and the Onion Princess.  Set in Texas, is was a retelling of the Grimm tale King Thrushbeard, but this time the proud and beautiful princess was replaced with a proud and handsome heir to an oil fortune.  The hapless king-suitor became a hapless daughter of an onion magnate.

This was to be the third in a trilogy of Texas stories by Kitty Griffin and Kathy Combs.  Alas, after the sketches were done the publisher deemed the project unmarketable and called a halt to production.

Here is my character design for Stinker.

This project was a blast to design.  Since every character is a Texan, they all wear cowboy boots, no matter what.  We decided to make the book really wide, and I filled the image areas with Western vistas and Spanish-Moroccan architecture.  I will try to scan some of the sketches for future posts.  I only have an 8.5 x 11″ Playskool scanner, so I’ll need to figure out how to piece them together.

The Soldiers’ Night Before Christmas

A few posts ago I zeroed in on a book cover from the fifties showing Santa Claus smoking tobacco from a hookah.  Pretty unusual, right?  Nothing like what you’d see Santa doing in a kids’ book nowadays.  Well, not so long ago I illustrated A Soldiers’ Night Before Christmas by Trish Holland and Christine Ford (both military moms), in which an army base in the MidEast is paid a visit on Christmas eve.  Instead of Santa Claus, it’s grizzled old Sargent McClaus who swoops in on his flying jeep, accompanied by eight humvees and a red-nosed Blackhawk helicopter.

Clenched between the sargent’s teeth is a cigar!

The story calls for a cigar, so Sargent McClaus’ head can be wreathed in smoke just like Saint Nicholas.  He brings the troops duffel bags full of goodies: letters from home, photos, phone cards, and crayon drawings.  The story is set to (what else?) Clement C. Moore’s poem.  As for how the army base is decorated for the season, I got lots of inside info from Trish and Christine.

Spare a thought (and a prayer) for our gallant troops who will be far from home on Christmas.  God bless them.


Head over to the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators website, where you’ll find our newsletter, PSInside.  Editor Anni Matsick interviews me.

An early Christmas gift

Our British friends, the Wallaces (John, Sarah, William & Sam) sent a delightful little children’s book about a British family who travel around the United States.  It’s titled: Flight Three, U.S.A., A Ladybird Book of Travel Adventure.  Story by David Scott Daniell, and what appear to be gouache illustrations by Jack Matthew—like the one of Old Faithful above. Published in 1959 by Wills & Hepworth Ltd, Loughborough.

As the title suggests, this book is part of a travelogue series.  This one’s about two British kids, Alison & John, who tag along on Daddy’s business trips.  They tour the United States while Daddy reels off information about their destinations.  When they stop by a farm in Middle America they eat hamburgers—’very large and delicious beef patties.’

I think we served hamburgers when the Wallaces visited us a few years back, on their tour of the United States.  We had tacos, too.  I met John and Sarah 10 years ago in Mexico on an illustrators’ retreat.  You can find a few of John’s images here.

Here’s an aerial shot of the Battery in New York City—

A great old truck

My friend Tim is a landscaper in Mars, Pa, and owns this wonderful 1950s Ford truck.  It still runs but needs a bit of, ah, cosmetic repair in one or two spots.  Yes, that’s a fender in the bed.  I confess: I covet it and would love to have one of my own someday. 

Tim’s truck found its way into Peter Spit A Seed At Sue.  Here it is with a guy selling watermelons out of the back.  The street is Stanton Avenue in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood where I used to live.