Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Glowing Runes Tutorial in ImagineFX

I have a new tutorial in the January 2017 issue of ImagineFX magazine. The editor, Clifford Hope, asked me to draw a magical book of glowing runes, and to explain my secrets for drawing glowing things in general.

Besides my written tutorial, the issue also includes access to an online video of my process!

I have to say, this particular issue of ImagineFX is really outstanding. There's a great article on composition by my idol Jon Foster which alone is worth the price of the issue. Also included is an awesome step-by-step by Marc Simonetti, as well as features from Kiri Ostergaard Leonard and Cory Godbey. You can purchase the issue online, or find them at Barnes & Noble bookstores.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ranger in Time: Journey Through Ash and Smoke Interior Illustrations

Ranger in Time #5: Journey Through Ash and Smoke takes place in Iceland, and the main character is a Viking girl. It features storms, landslides and a volcanic eruption. This meant that the environments called for lots of dramatic, rocky landscapes.

In order to help myself get the action poses right, I took some reference photos. I look at lots of photos of girls the same age as the character in the book, and try to combine my pose with the proportions and face of a child. It would be more efficient if I could get a child to pose for me in the first place. But sometimes you just need a quick reference, and you don't have time to try and figure out how you can ask a mom if her child can pose for pictures without sounding creepy.

The scene of Ranger being swept downstream was a tricky one. I wanted a foreshortened perspective, and a specific pose for Helga. So I used my nightstand as a boulder and took several photos to get some options for the arm and hand.

Although the author, Kate Messner, doesn't take reference photos like the ones above, she does graciously send me any photos she takes as part of her research into the history behind each book. For this book, she went on a research trip to Iceland. She took this photo of someone (I believe it's her daughter?) climbing out of a hole on the trip.

One of the illustrations called for Helga to climb out of a similar hole, so...yeah. I figured, why make this harder than it needs to be? This would be a very difficult pose for me to recreate anyway.

So there's your little dose of inspiration for 2017, blog readers.

Why make this harder than it needs to be?
- Kelley McMorris

Good stuff, right?

Ranger in Time #5 is filled with many more exciting and perilous situations, as well as 16 interior illustrations by yours truly. It's available January 31st!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Ranger in Time: Journey Through Ash and Smoke

Excited to reveal the cover of Ranger in Time: Journey Through Ash and Smoke! When I heard that the fifth book in the Ranger in Time series was going to feature a Viking girl as the main character, I was super excited.

Over the series, Scholastic and I have established a formula for the Ranger covers: Ranger running forward, looking directly at the camera, with an exciting and colorful background that established the book's historical setting.

But I guess the editorial team was worried that this would start getting too repetitive, so they said they wanted to change things up for the next cover. In addition to Ranger, they wanted me to include two more characters: the Viking girl, Helga, and her pet arctic fox. They suggested that Ranger and Helga could be running through the Icelandic landscape, or standing on top of some cliffs.

Usually I do three rough sketches for book covers. But since the editorial team seemed like they were interested in some new options, I did four sketches this time.

The team liked rough #4 the best. They asked for a few more revisions, especially to see an erupting volcano in the background. They also wanted to see some options for Helga and the horse.

They chose the middle option, and asked for a few more tweaks to the poses of Ranger, Helga and the horse. They also asked me to make the landscape rockier and change the volcano to a more accurate depiction of the actual volcano in the book, Eldgjá. It needed to look less like a classic conical volcano, and more of a "wall of fire and sparks." They also asked for a color palette of cool grays and rich greens.

I put a lot of detail into the character of Helga.

My Mom has done a lot of horseback riding, so I showed her my drawing and asked for some feedback to make sure that Helga's posture was correct. I also did a little research on what kinds of horses Vikings rode. Turns out they had their own special breed called Norwegian Fjord horses, which have a particular peachy coloring and white and black manes.

Here is the cover with the type, designed by Ellen Duda.

The author, Kate Messner, posted this photo of her first box of copies!

Ranger in Time: Journey through Ash and Smoke comes out January 31st. It also includes 16 interior illustrations by yours truly, which I will talk about in my next blog post!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Book Covers Before and After Text

Every once in a while I do a roundup of book cover illustrations, showing them before and after the cover text was added on top. The cool thing about book covers is that they're made to work together with text, but they also stand on their own. Here are some great examples from some talented illustrators and designers.

Illustration by Petur Antonsson

Illustration by Anna Steinbauer

Illustration by Scott Brundage

Illustration by Dan Dos Santos

Illustration by Kevin Keele

Illustration by Marc Simonetti

Illustration by Melissa Manwill

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Weaksauce Christmas Card

Underwhelming, I know. Look, it's been a busy winter for me. Civilization VI came out. I didn't have a lot of time to draw a portfolio-worthy Christmas card. Sorry, friends and family, this is the best you're gonna get.

My husband took one look at the card and said "it almost looks like it says 'and a crappy new year.'"

I could change it. But I won't, because I think it's funny.

Seriously though, happy holidays, blog readers. Thanks for reading the blog and leaving all the nice comments. It means a lot to me.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Cover: Simple Lies

This is book #3 in the "Amish Inn Mysteries" series by Annie's Publishing. If you haven't seen my previous cozy mystery blog posts, cozy mystery covers tend to have a quaint, small-town setting, a hobby theme, and a "sinister element" that suggests danger.

Of all the daunting art orders Annie's Publishing tends to send me, this one was relatively tame. The art director asked for:
  • Interior scene setting. Inside the front sitting room at the inn. Cozy, Victorian furniture, Christmas tree, roaring fire, etc.
  • One big present under the tree stands out. It has a gift tag on it with a skull and cross bones drawn on it. English bulldog looks worriedly at the present.
  • There is a broken glass ornament nearby on the floor.
  • Through the window there is a horse and buggy on the snowy street.

Not too bad! I was looking forward to drawing a cozy Christmas scene - even though it was July at the time! Here are the roughs I sent:

The AD liked the second rough the best. (Looking back, the Christmas tree in #1 is way too close to the fireplace! It looks like it's on fire! Or is that the MYSTERY??)

Here were the AD's revisions:
  • Move the broken ornament to the other side of the creepy present/closer to the tree. Otherwise it could look like the dog chewed it and broke it.
  • Make the present a little smaller.
  • Make the tree slightly larger, but don’t cover up that wintry scene out the window.
  • Flip the horse and buggy around so we can see the reflective triangle on the back.
Here's the color rough I sent. I focused on contrasting the warm glow of the fireplace with the cool light of the snowy scene outside. Making the walls a red was an easy way to play up the Christmas color scheme. In order to avoid a yellow-blue-red-green color scheme, I made the walls more of a wine color than traditional Christmas red. I also used the light of the fireplace to cast long shadows on the black gift, because long shadows are OMINOUS.

The AD gave it the thumbs up. From there I had a surprising amount of fun painting pretty, sparkly, glowy Christmas stuff.

Here's the book!

I hope you're all having a wonderful Christmas, with no mysterious black packages under your tree. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

How to Keep Your Illustrations Fresh

So I recently retired from doing Bible illustrations for Lifeway's Explore the Bible curriculum. Over the last three years I created 168 illustrations for it. Let's just say that I've become kind of an expert in drawing bearded men. (Note to self: write blog post on drawing beards.)

Over time, the art orders from Lifeway started to become repetitive. They required a lot of drawings of men preaching to crowds. Jesus, Paul, Peter, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Eli, Aaron, etc., all preaching to groups of people. Additionally, they started asking me to draw scenes I had already drawn in previous years. I had to find fresh ways to approach the same subjects over and over again - both for the client's sake, and the sake of my own sanity.

Thankfully, Lifeway gave me complete artistic freedom as far as compositions and color palettes went, so I tried to see each illustration as a way to try out at least one new thing. By doing this, I learned a few tricks to keep my illustrations from looking repetitive.

Here are some of the techniques I used to keep things fresh:

1. Vary the camera angles. Everyone's natural tendency is to draw everything at eye-level perspective, because that's how we experience the world. But that's also the least dynamic perspective artistically, so I tried to avoid it. Sometimes this wasn't possible; for example if the art brief asked for a crowd of people AND a certain building in the background AND emotion visible on the main character's face, etc, sometimes a straight camera angle was just the best solution. But for simpler scenes, I tried to use some birds-eye (high angle) or worms-eye (low angle) perspectives when I could.

2. Vary the time of day. There's no reason that everything needs to take place mid-afternoon. I learned to rely on sunrises and sunsets as easy ways to bring bright colors into an otherwise dull setting. Even when a scene had to take place at a specific time of day, there was still room to experiment. For example, in the Easter illustrations below, the color palettes are very different but they all give the feeling of early morning.

3. Vary the cropping. I learned that by using a combination of various perspectives and cropping, I could make the same scene look and feel differently. Both of the illustrations below are of King David and the prophet Nathan speaking together. In the one on the left, the close crop puts the emphasis on their relationship and body language. The one on the right is more about the setting.

4. Vary the light and shadows. Just as not every scene has to take place in mid-day, not every scene has to be lit by flat, soft light. I learned to use dramatic spotlights and shadows as a way of breaking things up and highlighting important characters. When I compare my older paintings with my newer ones, across the board the lighting became more interesting.

5. Play with symbolism. Friends sometimes ask me if I ever hid anachronisms in Bible scenes, like someone in a crowd talking on a cell phone. Nope. I did find ways to entertain myself by adding subtle visual symbolism. If a character was experiencing doubt or sadness, I would cast shadows over them - for example, in the Adam & Eve scene below. (Bonus - there's a hint of snake hiding in the foliage!) The second illustration is Jesus on His way to preach the Sermon on the Mount, so I added some sparrows and "lilies of the field" to the environment. The third illustration is the scene where Jesus refers to Himself as "Living Water," so I depicted him wearing blue, and the environment becomes greener as it gets closer to him. The art director didn't ask for these, and possibly never even noticed, but including these little "Easter eggs" was fun for me.

Wow, I didn't realize I had quite so much to say about this! In summary, I learned that there are always new ways to visually tell a story. That's the awesome thing about art. Unlike math, where there is only one solution and one correct way to reach that solution, in art there are infinite solutions, and the more you try new variations, the more compelling your solutions will be.

TL;DR : math is stupid.
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