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A Little Space Update

I’m working more quickly lately, having made the decision to stop producing my book, A Little Space, with traditional media and switching to using Photoshop.

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I miss at times the fluidity that comes with using traditional media, but there is a trade off. Transferring my drawings to paper, exploring and then starting over, is a slow way to work. Still, painting with photoshop is awkward, not intuitive, and gives me no ability to work with paint in a way that I would through various techniques like dry brush, water color, drip, splatter and lets not forget impasto. Yes, there are brushes in Photoshop, but they don’t work like natural brushes or actual paint, and paint doesn’t actually blend, which is perhaps the worst sin of all.

What I like is that I can block in the look of my book much more quickly. My layout wall which was enlarged thumbnail sketches a few weeks ago, is quickly becoming full color test prints, ten out of sixteen so far.

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One of the benefits of working in Photoshop quickly is that I can experiment with the entire color palette of the book, and the overall look. I’m not just art directing each page, but how all the pages relate to each other. Does the color fit? What is the style I want to finish each image? Can i use the paper texture? These are the questions I ask myself, and the images I alter, influence the direction the story takes.

The story is about a little boy who loses his gravity, I read it to my sons recently and got some pointed feedback from them. They didn’t like the ending. At the end of the book he comes back around the moon, back towards the Earth, with the implication that he goes home happy. My sons didn’t like that solution. They want to have closure, and felt anxious that maybe he never makes it back to Earth. It was brilliant criticism and I’ve made sure the boy makes it home, even taking the story a little further thanks to their insight.

There is still more work to do, but the goal is to have an updated portfolio for the SCBWI winter conference in February, and two different books printed for the show. I have one book already done, this one doesn’t have to be fully complete, but I’m trying to get it as close as possible before then.

After I block in the rest of the pages I’m going to see if I can switch from Photoshop to a more painterly program so I can take this a little closer to what I see in my head.

Second Generation Artist

I wanted to talk about one of the influences in my art that i’m reminded of on some nights when my son sits in my studio doing his art and I am working at my computer on illustrations or my video game work. I’ve told him how in our very packed house growing up, with eight children and two adults, space was scarce, especially private space.

My bedroom at one point was the loft at the top of the stairs, where in winter months my mother would move her art table (from the enclosed front porch) to the bottom of my bed so she could continue working. On some nights she would work late, and I’d fall asleep listening to the light clacking of her metal knife as she edited books.

My mom was a graphic artist. Back in the days before books were created on computers and easily edited, artists like her would make essentially slave wages to manually lay out each page on full two page spreads. She would cut pages up with exacto knives and using wax lay them down on the page. I’m probably screwing up the order of things; I think the next step was she’d retouch full size negatives that were made of her frankensteined together pages. At this stage she’d remove any lines that showed up, and ink with a tiny metal pen the dust and scratches. It was a time consuming process that was under appreciated by her bosses.

Back in those days I took comfort falling asleep listening to her work at the bottom of the bed, lit from below by the light table that cast a soft blue glow across the room. I remember it clearly, from the smell of the paint to the way it faded from gloss to dull.

My mom is one of my art influences. It may not be obvious to some because she was never a published artist, although she wrote children’s books that only my siblings and I got to enjoy. I still have early memories of her working, though. Red ink, flowery designs for things that I don’t even have conscious memory of what they actually were she was working on, still find their way into my books, sometimes just the color alone as homage (like the red griffin in Monkey Marbles).

Her writing endeavors never came to full fruition, but I still appreciate the efforts she made. In between time that she was raising eight children and then later taking care of a stroke stricken husband, she would write children’s picture books. Let me underscore that again: she had EIGHT children and a SICK husband and still somehow found a little time. Holy shit, I can barely find my way with two children and still have energy to write and illustrate.

I’m a second generation artist, but have spent much of my career working in computer animation, visual effects, and architectural work. In some respects I’ve followed my mom’s path, doing work for others and ignoring the internal need to create things more personal, because, you know, food and stuff. This probably accounts for some of the hard times I’ve gone through during my career because I wasn’t listening to the internal voice that said I wasn’t content. It may also account for the need to still do something personal and let the stories out that I feel I need to release.

My mom is 82 years old now, and I wanted to write this blog post now, when she is still here with us, to let her know how grateful I am for not just the hard work she did raising eight children under impossible odds, but for her influence on my art, and her encouragement along the way. Having recently gone home to help her move out of her house, I was reminded of it again when I found perhaps my oldest portfolio. The artwork I found? Well, to me it was okay, and sometimes just plain embarrassing to behold. I blushed when I showed some of it to my wife. Somehow I continued to find encouragement and turn those awkward stumblings in art to something real. Let’s be honest: sometimes I feel like I’m still stumbling a bit.

Someday I hope to be a published author – you know books published that children actually read. I think if I do it will not just be an accomplishment for myself, but for my mom, too, who influenced me.

I’m a second generation artist. To me that figures as importantly as the fact that Andrew Wyeth is the son of NC Wyeth, that Stephen King’s children are also writers, or that Ben Stiller’s parents are Stiller and Meara. Like them, I have it in my blood, and for that I am grateful.

Open Studio

It’s been busy here lately as I try to ramp up in my studio more and more, and get focused on my art and writing again.

Original study of Griffin. Mixed media, using candy foil and acrylic paint.

Original study of Griffin. Mixed media, using candy foil and acrylic paint.

Having missed the yearly Open Studio walk of Boulder again this year, I decided to have my own open studio after our return from the east coast, so the last weekend of October I pulled together my work and opened my doors.

I showed a variety of work, pulling out artwork from over the years that I’ve been developing for books, or other paintings and drawings, as well as a few flood damaged pieces that I didn’t have the heart to throw away. I displayed these too, because they are interwoven in my story now.

My sons hadn’t seen much of my art, and my smallest son kept asking, “Did you write this story?” or “Did you create this artwork?” to which I’d reply yes and show him a little more. My oldest son wants to know why I’m not published. He asks this question innocently, because the only world he knows is a world where children are encouraged to create. I can’t really explain adequately that it’s not as easy as all that.

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The sampling above is representative of the hundreds of drawings and studies I did while developing Monkey Marbles. I tried mixed media like the foil study at the top, and then did hundreds of drawings before turning to color studies. This book of course is on the side lines as I develop new works right now, and I am already trying to decide what to rework when I come back to this book. That is not a worry for right now, though as I’m focusing on a couple other books for the Winter SCBWI gathering in NYC.

Part of what I wanted to share is my process. That when I develop a story this is some of the method that I work, and some of what I like to explore as an artist, to me there are countless ways to explore as an artist. Everyone works differently, this wasn’t a how you should, just how I work. I begin with thumbnails of my book that I pin to an art table or my wall. I then enlarge each thumbnail on the scanner and draw on top of it. In the old days I used to do this all on my light table. Each iteration was painfully redrawn if I found that I didn’t like some element of the composition or the characters etc. Now my process is to streamline what I’m doing. I still like to work traditionally, but my studio is a blend of digital and traditional. One of the things that I showed people is that instead of making physical models like someone like James Gurney (Dinotopia) creates, I make digital environmental models for my scenes now. Then I can be like a film maker framing my shots. This cuts my time down tremendously in deciding what I want a shot to look like in my book, as well as letting me work out details of the environment like furnishings and architecture in three dimensions first. Probably the best benefit is that it allows me to bypass working out perspective drawings from scratch with a ruler.

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Besides the children’s books that I’m developing, I showed other artwork, too much to show here. In the last couple days before my show, I managed to repair some Indie video game work that I let people play including some prototyping work using the oculus which is always fun. What’s not fun about ghostly cats?

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The show for me was about pulling together the stories, the artwork, much of which I had forgotten myself, and trying to jumpstart myself from being the artist in flood recovery mode, to getting my work together again, finished and out. Aside from connecting with people and showing them what I’m doing, the show for me was about trying to find focus again post flood, and get energized about what it is I’m trying to do.