Category Archives: illustration process

We’re going to need more books

Charlemagne wanted to promote a culture of learning throughout France and then the Holy Roman Empire. He didn’t have tv or the internet to spread this learning around, so Charlemagne would need to use books. Many of those old books from classical times (during the Greek & Roman Empires) were hard or impossible to find.

° Bad news: Charlemagne was made aware that many original manuscripts of ancient writers and philosophers had been lost or destroyed—like when the library at Alexandria got torched. Probably Alcuin and the other teachers told him.
° Good news: Charlemagne was made aware that copies of these ancient manuscripts existed in the Near- and MidEast, translated into Arabic. Probably Alcuin again.
° Plan of action: Charlemagne and Alcuin began an empire-wide program of finding the Arabic copies and translating them into Latin.

As I mentioned a few posts back, written Latin had taken on a different character in every different kingdom—it didn’t look like the square-cap Latin chiselled into a column that Julius Caesar would have recognized. Copying and translating these Arabic manuscripts would be a golden opportunity to standardize writing—get everybody in the empire writing the same way. Here’s the thing: instead of making all the monks go back to square-cap Latin, Alcuin had a different idea. He noticed that a lot of those regional writing quirks made Latin easier to read.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25669.How_the_Irish_Saved_Civilization
https://omniglot.com/writing/latin2.htm
https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory/chapter/charlemagnes-reforms/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

This sketch was driving me nuts

I drew this sketch for The Die Is Cast Part IV. Pope Leo’s head was too far to the right. It made him look like he had really long arms. So I cut and pasted (the old fashioned way, with a razor blade and a piece of masking tape) his head a bit to the left and it made all the difference. I also redrew Charlemagne’s sleeve so his arm is more foreshortened. I must not have had my wits about me last week.

Here’s the old sketch:

Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, ad 800

How my sketches evolve

Probably my best tool for convincing an art director to hire me is my ability to sketch. I like my drawings to look like they came together without much effort. That’s an illusion, of course. To make something look easy you need to put in a bit of work.

Here are the stages of the Hannibal drawing I did for the last post:

1) A rough thumbnail sketch of the idea. Believe it or not, I drew it 10 years ago when I first started planning this book. I like the carelessness of this drawing.

2) I grabbed reference for Hannibal’s elephants and drew this sketch by tracing over the thumbnail and refining it. I added a guy behind the elephant for some drama. I think it looks way overworked, like I’m trying too hard.

3) So I traced over the tracing. This one feels light and fun, like the thumbnail. But, I overlooked one thing…

4) …that howdah needs to be drooping further back on the elephant. That change makes the elephant look even less in control—the balance has shifted—there’s tension because he could go tumbling at any moment. I didn’t redraw the whole sketch, just the howdah.

If I use this image in the printed version of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing, I will paint it traditionally. I will concentrate on keeping it light and fun.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

That dirty rotten Rochefort

Here’s a little scene from The Three Musketeers where our hero, D’Artagnan,  recovers from having been knocked out by Rochefort’s henchmen. Rochefort has a quick conversation with Milady DeWinter—and you can see that he has stolen D’Artagnan’s letter. That scoundrel!

Reference photos (yes, that’s a Wells-Fargo stagecoach), thumbnail sketch, tight sketch, color sketch, work in progress, final art—bon appetit!

Christopher Lee and the astonishingly lovely Faye Dunaway

The Channel of old England

Update: I apologize—Wordpress.com’s new, pointless, irritating, impossible-to-use editing feature seems to have wiped clean the comments and likes from this post. I don’t know how to retrieve them. I dearly wish the geniuses at WordPress had never monkeyed with their editor.

More from Starry Forest’s The Three Musketeers. D’Artagnan must cross the English Channel to collect the Queen’s jewels from the Duke of Buckingham—and so restore her honor. Here’s our hero braving the sea-spray on the fo’c’sle deck. Thumbnail sketch, tight sketch, color sketch, some work in progress, final art.

The original art is available at my Etsy shop.

In the shadow of Notre Dame

UPDATE: I’m selling the original art on my Etsy shop. https://www.etsy.com/listing/915731637/in-the-shadow-of-notre-dame-cathedral?ref=listing_published_alert

Swordfight! D’Artagnan and the three musketeers abandon their plans to duel in order to fight the Cardinal’s guards. Thumbnail, tight sketch, color sketch, work in progress and final painting. From Starry Forest’s The Three Musketeers.

D’Artagnan arrives

Here’s the opening scene in Starry Forest’s The Three Musketeers. Our young hero, D’Artagnan, desires to be a king’s musketeer more than anything in the world. And so he leaves for Paris. As he nears the city D’Artagnan meets the bully Rochefort who makes fun of his horse. D’Artagnan won’t stand an insult—even to his horse—so challenges Rochefort to a duel.

Here are: thumbnail sketch, tight sketch, color sketch, a couple of work-in-progresses and final art. Also a photo of the immortal Christopher Lee playing Rochefort. Linear perspective enthusiasts will notice that the vanishing point is where D’Artagnan is standing.

The Three Musketeers is here!

A while ago I had the pleasure of working with Starry Forest Books on their version of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers for very young readers. I just got my advance copies so I guess it’s okay to show you the illustrations. 

Here are character designs I submitted to get the job. It’s Porthos, Athos, Aramis and D’Artagnan. They’re based very loosely on the 1973 Richard Lester movie with Frank Finlay, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Michael York (screenplay by the mighty George MacDonald Fraser).

New, improved Marco Polo

Yeah, the sketch in my last post was kind of blah. Here he is with improvements: bigger, more active camel; Marco is bouncing around on the saddle. I think it’s better and a little funnier.

Title type for my groundbreaking soon-to-be bestseller

Fooling around with lettering. It needs a little tweaking. Some strokes ought to be heavier, maybe. I’m trying to hold onto the energy of my sketch. I’m not sure if I like this yet. Let it sit for a while.