WELCOME TO 2022

Man. It’s been almost 15 months since my last blog entry. A LOT has happened in that amount of time. Let’s take a look, by way of a helpful, bullet-pointed list:

  • September 2021: I started a new job as the Creative Director for video and events production company. It’s a great fit, and I get to do lots of illustration, design, and art direction (I’ll touch on some of those projects in a future post).
  • December 2021: I got engaged!
  • April 2022: I got married! My little family of three pretty much doubled, because now I have a wonderful wife and step-son, and two dogs. Oh, and we all moved in together into a house.
  • August 2022: The three kids all started at a new school. Thankfully, it’s right next door to us, so mornings and afternoons are way easier and less stressful than they were in the single-dad years.

Now, that’s just a short overview of the last year (my wife and I also went on a couple great trips too), and doesn’t cover all the art I’ve put my hand too in that time. For that, I’ll need to break the updates up into catagories: illustration, sculpture, and animation. Let’s start with…

THE ILLUSTRATION UPDATE

In February of 2022, I took part in the Love for Kettle art auction again. My piece this time was, “Why Not Both?”, an acrylic painting on 9×12″ wooden board. Since I like to work 3d elements into the Bad Apples series, I decided to try something new and create the condiments out of Sculpey clay. I was delighted to find out that this painting was bought by the owner of my previous entry, “Hold the Pickles” – which has got me thinking of how I can create a bookend piece that would give them a nice trilogy in February 2023.

This summer, I announced a big project: Year of the Ring. This was designed as a way to get me back into regular work after the marriage and move, so that I could do character designs and sculpts based on Lord of the Rings without having to exert too much energy into creating my own IP. However, because I am what I am, I way overbooked and overscheduled myself with ideas, which immediately got blown up by getting a much more creatively demanding day job. However, I’m very happy with the pieces I’ve created so far, and will continue to tinker away until I’ve at least illustrated the Fellowship…. except Gollum and an orc or too would be really fun to draw….

Here’s the illustration I made for our wedding invitation! We were going for a very specific, muted ink and watercolor style, which I’m sure I overworked a bit. This was a traditional-digital hybrid project, starting with a rough pencil sketch on Bristol paper, then scanning and cleaning up the proportions in Photoshop, then printing that onto 140lb watercolor paper and inking with brushpen, before finishing things up by scanning that back into Photoshop and painting digitally.

Since my wife, Katelin, is wise, she is pushing me to finish up hanger-on projects before starting new ones. First on the list was the Headless Horseboy, whom I had drawn, inked, and put down the base colors in watercolor in October 2020. When I didn’t get him done in time for Halloween (probably because I was a little busy making something else), the painting got put in the closet and kind of forgotten for two years. Thankfully, it survived the madness of the home move, and I pushed through and got it completed for this year’s Halloween; even releasing a print for sale. I’m excited to see which little monster walks down the sidewalk in 2023!

And then there’s this big boy. Starting as an answer to the SVS prompt of “Fairy Tale Traveler,” I went into this as mainly an excuse to discover and dial-in a digital inking process that would perfectly match my traditional brushpen work. A) I happily nailed it and B) I stumbled on an IP idea that is taking up a lot of my headspace (remember how I specifically did NOT want that to happen for at least a year?), and I’m itching to flesh it out. What I know right now is that this is Quentin, who is on a quest in the Land of the Dead to find out why his family has vanished to the Land of the Living. However the story pans out, I’d love to create this as a graphic novel, or a heavily illustrated novel, a la “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

Well, that wraps things up for the Illustration Update. My goal is to publish a blog every other Friday (and if I can do that for a year, adding a newsletter to the mix), so by the time I write the next one, I should be pretty far into the drawing of a pirate mutating into a were-raccoon. It’ll all make sense then. Trust me.

Vector Illustration Process

We’re one week away from Easter, and I’m just starting to wrap my head around the fact that we’ll all be spending it shut off in our own homes. This morning, I ran to the grocery store and grabbed some candy, chocolate, plastic eggs, and baskets for my kids, so that the holiday can feel as normal as possible. We’ll even put on some nice pink clothes, which is weird, but all of this is weird.

Speaking of weird – my vector illustration process. So far in this blog, I’ve focused mainly on traditionally produced artwork, but I’ve been a professional graphic designer since 2008, so most of my work is actually created digitally, using Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is fun primarily because it looks like witch-craft to anyone unfamiliar with it. I think most people can understand Photoshop in the abstract (you’re painting… but on a computer!), but creating vector artwork in Illustrator (you’re making art with points and math to insure infinite scaleability?), not so much. Which is a shame, because it’s really versatile.

Let’s take a look at my vector illustration process using my Adventureland poster project as an example.

STEP 1: THUMBNAIL SKETCH

I created this, along with three other thumbnails for the other posters in the series, so that I could show the client my rough idea for the layout, and what elements/attractions from Disney World’s Adventureland would be featured. Pretty sure the whole set took between 10 and 15 minutes, because each design was really clear in my head. Now, when I pitched it to the client, I included a detailed explanaition of what was going on, but for my purposes, this was good enough for me.

STEP 2: FINAL SKETCH

Once my client responded back with approval, I printed out the reference images I’d googled, blocked out the frame on some 14×17″ bristol paper, and got to sketching. I feel like this sketch took somewhere between three and four hours to knockout, primarily due to the pirate ship. 1) There wasn’t a reference image from the Pirates of the Carribean ride that showed the angle that I needed for the illustration, and 2) I don’t recall ever drawing a pirate ship before. That doesn’t mean I hadn’t as a kid, but I have no memory of it. This created a fun challenge to tackle.

STEP 3: COLOR TEST

After the final sketch was completed and I’d scanned it into the computer, I created this insanely simple color sketch. I’d already pitched the color palette that I intended to use to my client when I sent over the thumbnail, but I wanted an abstract view of how the colors would work together with the Adventureland layout (for my eyes only). This is a step that I would definitely call “productive procrastination.”

STEP 4: COLORING BLOCKING

At this point, I placed the sketch on the first layer of my Illustrator artboard, set the transparency to 50% and the blending mode to Multiply, so that I could create the artwork underneath without losing my guide (which is all that the pencil sketch was ever going to be). I then pull out an extremely sophisticated tool that makes all the magic happen.

That’s right – the humble mouse. That’s all I use to create all the points and vertices needed to form the outlines of all the shapes that build up the illustration. In my mind, a stylus is for Photoshop, and the mouse is for Illustrator. They’re different programs that function very differently. It only makes sense to me to use different tools to subconsiously reinforce this as I work. Plus, in my experience, the mouse is just faster when clicking vertices out.

For this step, I’m just focused on blocking out the overall shapes and color sections of each character or element. These are also given their own layer, as to cut down on the chance that I will go insane as the illustration gets more and more complicated.

STEP 5: ADDING DETAIL

Now, I go through each big color blocked shape and drill down with more detail. Since I’m basically just tracing the pencil sketch on this step, I like to work the vector in as red or magenta lines. These colors stand out the strongest underneath the pencil lines, so I never lose track off what has and hasn’t been outlined. Also, they are exceptionally fashionable. Two birds; one stone.

Once all the red outlines are in place, I assign each outlined shape a color from the set color palette, then make sure everything is arranged from front to back in a way that will allow everything to overlap correctly (which is basically a digital version of placing colored paper cutouts over each other).

STEP 6: ADDING SHADOWS

The last step is to add the shadows (for this posterized process, I don’t add highlights in Illustrator), which is done by adding one of the darker colors over the flat color blocks at ~25% opacity on a Multiply blending mode.

Steps 5 through 7 are done for each element in the illustration, but sometimes I do them piece by piece (for example Blocking, Adding Detail, and Adding shadows to the hippo before moving to a parrot), and sometimes I do them for the whole illustration at once. It really just depends on what rhythm feels better on that day. And, just if you’re curious, this is what all the outlined shapes on the illustration at this point in the process look like all together:

Wow. Now I understand why this (and each poster in the series) took at least 30 hours to illustrate. But, to me, it’s worth it, because everything is individually scalable and editable in a way would either be impossible or cumbersome in Photoshop. This illustration would be just as easily produced on a stamp as a building wall.

STEP 8: CREATE THE FRAME

These travel themed posters are all tied together by their frames, so on this step I designed the four tiki masks and swashbucklin’ swords, x-marks the spot graphics, and then added a weathered texture over all of it.

STEP 9: REVIEW ALL THE VECTOR WORK

This step is short and fun, the carrot at the stick of all the late nights sitting in front of the monitor wondering when I’ll let myself go to sleep… or if I will ever see sleep again. Once everything is “done” in illustrator, I turn all the layers off, then add them back in back-to-front, and watch the illustration come together. It’s at this point where I give myself one last chance to to see if I’ve missed anything, if I want to move anything, or if there’s anything else I want to add.

Personally, I find it hypnotic, especially considering it’s usually 1 a.m. whenever I find myself at a finishing point. Somehow it always works out that way.

STEP 10: FINISH OFF IN PHOTOSHOP

Now, this isn’t a step that I do for most vector work, but for these travel posters (for which I’m intentionally going for a retro, screenprinted look) and a couple of my Flat Pops, I do drop the finished vector art into Photoshop. All I do is grab an old-school grainy brush and lightly reinforce some of the shadows with some texture, to get a little bit of a spatter/half tone look.

WRAPPING UP

Projects vary in complexity, but I invariably do steps 2, 4-7, and 9 for all of my vector work. It’s challenging and fun, but by the time I finished this set of posters (the last two of which still are waiting to be released), I feel like I may have pushed Illustrator as far as I can for the sort of work that I make. This leaves me two paths: to go backwards into more simplified or abstract vector work, or to start working more in Photoshop. And the answer to that, I feel, is yes.

Both.

Oh, and if you want to buy a tee or tank top with the Adventureland print on it, you can pick it up at Nick & Lete.

PROJECT UPDATE

Well, seeing as I just spent this weekend mostly sleeping to recover from full-time homeschooling/working from home, I don’t have a ton of update at present.

  • I’m running an Instagram promotion for my emergency coloring pages (found here) because I want as many kids and parents as possible to have as many resources as possible to get through this pandemic shut down. So far, 63 people have downloaded the PDF, and that makes me happier than all the shirts I’ve sold on TeePublic to date. I’ll have that PDF available for download until everyone in America is able to go back to school and work.
  • For fun, and to get myself in the graphic novel mindset (besides all the Batman I’ve read in the past couple weeks), I’m going to put something together for a mini-challenge on the SVS Forums. A blank comic page (with the panels, of course) has been posted, and you come up with whatever story you want. Should be good practice.
  • Tonight, once the kids are asleep, I’m jumping back onto character design for my graphic novel project that’s sat dormant for 5 years. So the iron is hot, so to speak. I’ve also planned out the month to set some time aside to get the ball rolling on my Narnia cover project and Gravity Falls character paintings. That is, unless the world goes crazier.