Wednesday, July 20, 2016


I was honored to be one of the artists chosen to participate in Light Grey Art Lab's show, "Never Odd or Even."

Light Grey Art Lab always chooses challenging topics for their shows. This one is about "exploring the intricacies of duality" and "paradoxical questions" and "yin and yang." After reading the rather enigmatic artist brief, I have to admit that I momentarily regretted applying for the show. I ran the theme by a couple of artist friends, hoping for some fun brainstorming together, but they just got paralyzed looks on their faces. I was on my own.

As I thought about this theme, I remembered a temple I visited in Japan called Kiyomizu Temple. It's a gorgeous Buddhist temple with a fantastic view of the Kyoto skyline. But the thing that always stuck out to me was that there was a Shinto shrine right behind the temple. The two shared the hill, back to back, and people visited and brought offerings to both.

Buddhism is a monotheistic religion, and Shinto is an animistic religion native to Japan. They are quite different, and yet they have always co-existed peacefully in Japan. Japanese people participate in rituals from both religions; generally, weddings and christenings are celebrated in the Shinto style, while funerals are celebrated in the Buddhist style. Japanese people don't see this as contradictory or problematic, but more of a matter of cultural tradition than personal faith.

You want intricacies of duality, Light Grey Art Lab? I've got your intricacies of duality, right here baby.
Originally I had some sketches depicting the Kiyomizu Temple itself, and then that evolved to having a Buddhist priest and a Shinto miko (a priestess or shrine maiden) being a part of the scene, and then finally I ditched the temple altogether and focused just on the priest and miko themselves. After all, simplicity is a Japanese virtue.

The miko is holding a tamagushi, a branch of a sacred sakaki tree decorated with special strips of paper. It is a type of offering used during prayers.

I ran the sketch by a Japanese friend to make sure that I wasn't drawing anything in a culturally insensitive way. She said that the miko was showing a little too much wrist by traditional standards. "My grandmother would tell her to cover that up," she said.

From there I worked on establishing a serene, gentle color scheme.

I'm really happy with how this came out. It's channeling a bit of Miranda Meeks and Sam Weber. I think it would look cool printed on metallic paper, don't you think?

In America's current climate, it feels like every aspect of religion and culture is a minefield of controversy. We can't stop tearing each other apart over every little thing. While Japan is hardly a utopia of open-mindedness and acceptance, I found it therapeutic to draw while focusing on the fact that there is a small place in the world where two different things exist together peacefully.

You can see all the other artwork from the show, and purchase prints, at Light Grey Art Lab's website. Check it out, there's some phenomenally cool artwork on interesting topics.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

If Jasson and I were Portland Hipsters

Last week my husband Jasson and I attended some events where there were many young, fashionable Portland hipsters. We felt so square, so basic. Too norm to even be normcore. My only claim to hipsterdom is a new pair of thick-rimmed glasses which were handcrafted in Portland, thankyouverymuch. (Portland loves the word "handcrafted.") Jasson's only claim to hipsterdom is being a bit of a coffee snob.

I thought it would be fun to give Jasson and I illustrated makeovers as Portland hipsters.

Can't say I'm a fan of Hipster Kelley, although I think Hipster Jasson looks totally on fleek. But hey, have you guys been to Obscure Coffee Shop? They have the best vegan almondmilk lattes.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Helpful Links for Illustrators

Every few weeks I post a bunch of links related to drawing, freelancing, self-employment and personal motivation. I collect these from all over the web and hope that you find them as helpful and inspirational as I did.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Come Down, Zaccheus

Earlier this year I had the honor of working with the publisher William Sadlier on some illustrations for their religious curriculum. They commissioned several double-page spreads of Bible scenes.

These spreads were tricky because they had to work in two different books, and the two books had different layouts. One was square and folded in the middle; the other was wide and folded about three-fourths to the left of the illustration. But the same illustration had to work in both layouts. Basically, I had to worry about two gutters and two different crops for each illustration.

For this scene, the art director, Steve Flanagan, asked to see Jesus surrounded by a crowd of people and Zaccheus in the tree. The requests for the emotions in the scene were very specific: Jesus should be telling Zaccheus to come down from the tree in a warm and friendly way; Zaccheus should be surprised, and the crowd should be interested, astonished, amused or mocking.

This was the first rough I sent to Sadlier. As you can see, I tried to leave space for the gutters in the center of the image (the tree trunk), and on the left (the staircase). The feedback was that the crowd needed to be bigger; there was too much empty space here. They also wanted to see Zaccheus' face.

Here is the much improved second draft. The feedback on this was to add another child to the crowd, to make Jesus stand out more, and to add another branch to the tree that Zaccheus could wrap his arm around. They also asked me, oddly, to "fan Jesus' hair out more." But otherwise I was good to go to final.

In the layout above, the book folds on the far left, between the man with the green tunic and the woman with the purple headscarf.

In this other layout, the book folds right in the middle, between the two children.

It's definitely a challenge to have a single illustration work smoothly for two different layouts without seeming contrived or forced.

Looking back on this piece reminds me fondly of Kimberly Kincaid, who used to generously call me "The Queen of Crowd Scenes." She was always so encouraging of my Bible illustrations, and it meant a lot of me.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Personal Work: HAMILTON

Hamilton is one of the best things that has happened in my adult life, but none of my friends and family appreciate it. Sometimes I fangirl about it on Twitter but no one ever responds. My squealing echoes into the endless voids of the internet and is returned only with the chirping of e-crickets.

OR SO I THOUGHT. A while ago Arielle Jovellanos emailed me, asking if I'd like to participate in a fanmade Hamilton zine. "I am not throwing away my shot," I said to myself.

Somehow Arielle had scored not only a ticket to the show, but a backstage pass as well! Being the Queen of Productivity and Project Management that she is, Arielle wasn't just content to meet the cast of Hamilton and die a happy woman. Nooooooooo. She wanted to bring them a fully-illustrated anthology, with 46 artists illustrating the 46 songs from the show.

Each artist was assigned a song, and I got Farmer Refuted, which despite its short length is one of my favorite songs from the show. In this song, Samuel Seabury is reading a speech about why America should NOT go to war with England. Hamilton flips out and humiliates Seabury with his superior wordpower.

Tragically, I've never seen the show, but in this scene I imagined Hamilton taking Seabury's speech and ripping it to shreds - literally and figuratively. It turns out that many of the other artists used fluttering papers as a motif in their illustrations, so this worked out well.

I asked my husband to rip up some paper like the future of his country depended on it, and he did a great job.

I had no idea he was so patriotic!

I posed for Samuel Seabury myself.

Then I used photos of the actors who play Hamilton and Seabury to replace me and my husband's faces with theirs.

From here I started sketching out the drawing on top of the thumbnail.

At first I tried using a normal color scheme.

I decided that was boring and didn't capture the stylized look and feel of the show. So I played around with some textures and adjustment layers until something cool appeared. I was in the middle of a busy, busy month of commissions and didn't have a lot of time to second-guess myself. This piece was just gonna do what it was gonna do. Crazy orange and purple color scheme? Okay!

I kept the rendering simple, partly for the sake of time and partly so as not to lose the energy in the piece.

I have to admit I really like Seabury's expression back there.

Arielle put together the books...

...and gave copies to all the Hamilton cast members.

Be still my heart!

The Hamilton Pamphlet will not be printed or sold, however you can view it in it's entirety here. The illustrations are fantastic. Each piece really poignantly communicates the emotion of the songs. I am humbled to be among them, especially to share a spread with one of my idols, Claire Hummel.

Thank you Arielle for putting this whole project together. You are seriously one exceptional lady.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ranger in Time: Race to the South Pole! Interior Illustrations

For the book Ranger in Time: Race to the South Pole, I created 15 black-and-white chapter illustrations.

As I said in my last blog post about the cover illustration, this book is about the Scott Expedition, which took place during 1910-1913. The previous books in the Ranger series have been set further back in the past - from the mid-1800's to Ancient Rome - so this was the most modern of all Ranger's time traveling adventures.

Because of the relatively recent time period, and because the members of the Scott Expedition knew they were on an important mission, they took a lot of photographs. That meant I had a lot more photo references to work with than usual - which was helpful, but also a challenge because it meant that I had to pay more attention to details.

Everything, from the types of shoes they wore to the construction of their sleds needed to be double-checked with the photographic evidence.

Here is a scene from the chapter when the expedition is landing on the mainland of the south pole for the first time, and Ranger meets his first Adelie penguin. The author, Kate Messner, told me that this is her favorite illustration out of the entire Ranger series so far.

This scene in particular has some little details I'd like to point out, if you'll indulge me. All of the cans and crates are based on photos of supplies the Scott expedition actually used.

Note the boxes of Colman's corn flour in the back, and the cans of golden syrup in the front.

Perhaps one of the most interesting challenges was illustrating the scene when a small party set out to Cape Crozier to collect eggs from the emperor penguins for scientific study. They did so during the darkest, coldest time of the year. The three men (and, in our book, a boy and a golden retriever) spent several weeks pulling a sled and camping in the freezing darkness of the antarctic.

I had several questions about this. I sent an email to Scholastic who forwarded it to Kate Messner.
  1. Would the party be wearing skiis or not?
  2. They must have had a lantern with them, right? Would it be ok to show the main character holding a lantern?
  3. Why would any human being put themselves through this?
Kate got back to me quickly. She looked up the information in an autobiography written by Apsley Cherry-Gerard, one of the men on the expedition. As for question #1: skii poles but no skiis. As for question #2, it turns out they guided themselves by moonlight and by holding a single candle. (!!!!!!)

As for question #3, Cherry-Gerard named his memoir "The Worst Journey in the World" so that tells you how he felt about that.

I don't want to spoil any more of the book for you, but let me just say that it is packed with all sorts of cool stuff: killer whales! Ice cravasses! Storms at sea! You'll want to check it out. Ranger in Time: Race to the South Pole comes out on June 28.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ranger in Time: Race to the South Pole!

I'm excited to share another cover for the Ranger in Time series, written by Kate Messner and published by Scholastic. Book #4 is called Race to the South Pole, and it's about the Scott expedition, which took place during 1910-1913. Ranger joins a young stowaway on the ship, and together they face snowstorms, killer whales and ice crevasses.

 The art director, Ellen Duda, asked for "Ranger, on land, against an icy landscape with Captain Scott’s boat, the Terra Nova, in the background. Instead of dogs, Scott brought ponies with him, so one or more of them could be in the background, too. There were also issues with killer whales prowling around the ice if you want to show a fin or two in the water."

The Terra Nova (image source)

Captain Scott's Expedition Party (image source)

Here are some of my thumbnail sketches:

These are the roughs I sent in:

The team at Scholastic liked the second rough the best, but said that Ranger's pose was too similar to the first cover. So, they asked me to revise the pose.

The rough was approved. Next step was to create a color rough. Here I met a bit of a challenge. Scholastic likes their Ranger covers to be super colorful. But if I had a white and blue snowscape, and a white and blue sky, that would not be enough color. So, I suggested to the art director that we could have a sunset in the sky. She responded that since the sun only sets/rises once a year in the South Pole, showing a sunset would not be very accurate.

So I decided to exercise a little artistic license by adding an unexplained golden light behind Ranger. It's not exactly a sunset or sunrise, but it's enough to introduce some warmth into the color scheme. 

The color rough got the thumbs up! Time to go to final!

Here it is with the final text treatment, designed by Ellen Duda:

Ranger in Time: Race to the South Pole comes out on June 28. It is a fantastic book covering an unusual bit of history. For a while, Amazon was claiming that it was the #1 seller in the "Antarctic Travel Guides" category - which...I surely hope is a mistake. Please do not use this book as an Antarctic travel guide.

In my next blog post I will talk about the process behind the interior illustrations for the book.
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