Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Clubhouse Magazine

This summer I was commissioned to illustrate an article for Clubhouse magazine. When I read the article I was very excited because it was about Vikings, and I happened to be traveling through Viking country at the time - specifically Sweden!

Obligatory vacation photo! This is me exploring the ruins of a cathedral in the town of Visby. As you can see I'm using directional light to establish myself as a focal point.

(Buckle in, this post is going to be nerdy.)

(More than usual, I mean.)

My husband and I joked that maybe this assignment would allow us to write off our whole Sweden trip as a "business expense" for "research." Obviously we didn't do that, but when I saw that the Stockholm History Museum had a Viking exhibit going on, I figured my museum admission could be considered a legitimate business expense.

Turns out admission was free. I've never been so disappointed to NOT pay for something.

Initially the art brief asked for a full-page illustration of the main character, Gunther, with his goat, three Viking longships, and the Greenland fjord during summer. As I started sketching thumbnails, I was struggling to fit all these elements into a vertical format, especially the fjord. Fjords are wide and spacious, but my sketches were feeling cramped.

The art director, Jenny Dillon, had mentioned that the format was flexible. I took a chance and asked if, instead of drawing one full-page illustration, I could draw an illustration that spanned two half-pages. I was thrilled when she gave me permission to do whatever I wanted with the format. I literally clapped my hands in glee. Horizontal formats? Double-page spreads? EEEEEEEEE!

This is the most obscure kind of nerdiness, I don't even know what to call it. Why do you guys even read this blog?

Here's the rough I sent to the AD.

There was also a secondary illustration of an eskimo teaching Gunther how to build a fire in front of a stave church.

I quickly got permission to go to final, so now it was time to have fun with the colors.

While I was painting the main characters I realized that I had neglected to do any research into what types of goats Vikings might have owned. The breed of goat I originally sketched was a Nubian goat, which is a very cute breed, but the breed originated in the 19th century. After some Googling I discovered a breed called "British Primitive Goats" which were probably closer to the types of goats Vikings would have owned.

(So nerdy)

For the secondary illustration, the emphasis would be on the contrast between the warm fire and the cold environment. In order to keep it from being too similar in color to the first illustration, I set the scene in the early morning, so I could work some pinks, purples and yellows into the environment.

I eagerly awaited my copies of the magazine. I was curious to see how the double-page spread would turn out. I got my copies just a few days ago and it looks great!

This was a lot of fun to do and I'm really happy with how it turned out!

If you read all the way to the end of this blog post, you are a truly dedicated Kelley McMorris fan. Hi mom!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Book covers before and after - November edition

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.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Self-portrait day 2017

November 1st was International Self-Portrait Day, and this is the 3rd year I've participated, I think. I did this in about 2 hours on Halloween night - maybe that's why it ended up with a slightly orange/black color scheme!

Honestly I'm not too happy with this, but oh well. Every year I sit down to do my self-portrait and I'm like "THIS time I'm going to do something AWESOME" but it never turns out that way.

I'm starting to think that the surest way to sabotage personal work is to tell yourself "this time I'm going to do something awesome."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Book Cover: The Underground Railroad

I am thrilled to share this project I've been working on for most of this year: "Real Stories from My Time," a series of non-fiction history books published by Scholastic and featuring the American Girl characters. So far it's a 4-book series and the first book, The Underground Railroad, will be available on December 26, 2017.

When Scholastic approached me for this series in February of this year, I couldn't say no. It was a dream job in so many senses: I love doing middle-grade covers, I love historical books, and I've been a fan of American Girl since I was, well, a girl. I read all the chapter books, I had a Felicity doll, I subscribed to American Girl magazine. To now be illustrating for American Girl is so exciting!

For the first book in the series, The Underground Railroad, the team at Scholastic asked for a cover with a runaway slave girl crossing a stream with her mother. They suggested a few elements such as rushing water, a howling wolf, having the characters hold sacks over their shoulders. I tried to give them a few different options in the sketches I sent to them:

The team decided that they liked rough #1, but they also liked the slave owner in the background of rough #2 and the howling wolf from rough #3. They asked me to combine all those elements together into one composition.

From there I was clear to go to final!

I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to draw the mother and daughter holding hands. It's just not an easy thing to draw, nor is it something I've had to draw very often. But I knew it was important to get this right, so I got my husband to help me pose for a reference. I really should have done this earlier, before sending the color rough to the client, but they needed the color rough in a hurry.

I also took a very quick, very unflattering shot of my hand holding a sack over my shoulder. You can see the illustration on my monitor in the background!

Having these references helped a lot!

Here is the final without the text treatment:

And here it is again with the text. I also drew the small portrait of Addy, the American Girl character, in the top left. It was a huge treat for me to illustrate one of the actual American Girls and I loved every minute of it!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

It's Not Too Late

I'm happy to show this illustration that I drew for the October 2017 issues of Liahona and Ensign magazines.

I really enjoyed working on this because the art director, David Green, gave me lots of artistic freedom. This story was about a teen girl who is failing at school. When the teacher calls in the girl's father for a meeting, she expects the father to give his daughter a tough lecture. But instead the father gently assures his daughter that it's never too late to turn things around. You can read it here.

Here it is on glossy paper! Oooh!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Using Color and Light to Tell A Story

Since the art I'm currently working on is still under NDA, I thought I'd show you some art that I did last year for the publisher William Sadlier. They commissioned me to do several Biblical scenes for their religious curriculum. (You can see another one I did in this older blog post.) I'm going to talk a bit about the process behind this illustration and about how I use color to tell a story.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came she stood at (Jesus') feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”...Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:36-50
This was the scene that I was tasked with illustrating. The client said that they wanted the woman to be crying, Jesus to be offering forgiveness, and the Pharisees looking offended and scandalized.

Here are some of the photo refs I took. These are so extremely lazy I'm kind of embarrassed to post them here. If you're an aspiring artist, don't follow my example here. Put, like, a tiny bit more effort into your lighting and costumes.

Oh hey, do you guys know what time it is?

That's right!

It's time for a Pharisee Reaction GIF™!

Here is the first rough that I sent.

Feedback from the client: they needed me to shift things around a little, wanted fewer Pharisees, wanted the woman to be looking up at Jesus with an expression of hope and surprise, and wanted to change Jesus's hand gesture to one of "absolution."

Time for another super lazy photoshoot! My specialty!

(Along with Pharisee Reaction GIFs™, obvs)

Look at the enthusiasm on my husband's face. He's like "ugh not this again."

Here is the revised rough.

From there I was approved to go to final.

So anyway, I promised I would talk about using color to tell as story. I love using color symbolism in my artwork, and in this piece I used it a lot. A common visual shorthand is to use warm, golden light for positive emotions, and cold light for negative emotions. This is something I learned from movies - warm, happy, nostalgic scenes often have a golden tint to them. Keep an eye out for it next time you watch a movie or show; they do this all the time.

So in this scene, I have the warm light hitting Jesus, while the Pharisees are lurking in a cool light coming from the left, and they're also wearing cool colors.

Secondly, I chose clothing colors that would work with both the storytelling and the composition. I dressed the "sinful woman" in scarlet, a color associated with (in Western cultures) emotion, seduction and guilt - think "the scarlet letter" or "caught red-handed." She's also wearing purple, which is associated with luxury, indulgence, etc. Although the Bible doesn't specify why she was known as "sinful," I thought that purple and scarlet would be more evocative than, say, ordinary browns or greens.

I dressed Jesus all in white. Not only is this one of the colors Jesus is traditionally depicted as wearing, but white is also associated with purity and innocence, which helps visually juxtapose Jesus and the woman. The aforementioned golden light works like a spotlight on Jesus' white clothing, making Him the brightest character in the room. This double whammy of light and color makes Jesus the focal point of the scene and also gives Him a divine "glow" that's more natural and subtle than a halo.

Overall this is a super colorful scene. If I was going for a more realistic, somber look, I would have toned the colors down and used more historically accurate earth tones. But since this is meant for a children's publication, it's good to amp up the color to make it more appealing for kids.

Looking back at this piece, there's a few things I would do differently. I guess that's a good sign, a sign that my artistic eye has improved over the past year. But overall I'm really proud of how this turned out.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

5 Tips to Draw Faster Without Getting Sloppy

If you want to be a freelance illustrator, you need to learn to work fast - not only in order to meet your deadlines, but also so that you can take on enough jobs to make a living.

Judging from conversations I've had with other illustrators, I get the sense that I work abnormally quickly - at least for a book illustrator. During busy seasons I may have to complete more than a dozen illustrations in a month. Back when I was working on Bible scenes, I had about two days to complete each one! After working at this pace for the past few years, I've developed some of my own techniques for drawing quickly and I thought I'd share them with you.

I'm not going to talk about premade brushes, photobashing, speed painting or other Photoshop shortcuts. This is a list of tips that can apply to all artists, no matter their industry or medium. Best of all, these are techniques that will improve the overall quality of your artwork, rather than making it look sloppy or rushed.

Here are my tips on learning to draw quickly without sacrificing quality.
  1. Use more photo references. If you're stuck drawing something over and over again because it doesn't look right, most likely you're not looking at photo references. Take the reference photos that you need, and 90% of the time this solves the problem. Don't spend an hour trying to draw a good hand from your imagination. Get off your butt, take a reference photo, draw the hand, move on!
  2. Leave details for last. If you render too early, you're more likely to waste time on something that later needs to be changed in order to fit the rest of the drawing. Make sure that you've completed the entire rough sketch and figured out all the tricky parts BEFORE getting caught up in rendering the highlights on your character's eyeballs.
  3. Practice short figure drawing poses. Go to a live figure drawing session, or try drawing people or animals in public, for example while riding the bus or subway. Use an online figure drawing generator and set the timer to 1 or 2 minutes. Try doing this for 15 minutes every day. This will teach you to work quickly, establish major shapes and not get caught up in rendering details.
  4. For complex buildings, objects or environments, use a 3D modeling program such as Blender or Google Sketchup. Sometimes clients have asked me to draw tricky things like a Victorian mansion with a wraparound porch or the Temple of Jerusalem. If I tried to draw those things from imagination, I would have spent hours going slowly insane. Instead I downloaded some 3D models, posed them in the correct perspective, traced over the major shapes, then added my own details and colors. To be clear, I'm not saying to slap photos or 3D models directly into your drawings. I'm saying to use them as basic perspective guides to draw on top of. (Here's some examples from myselfHoward Lyon and Wylie Beckert.) Although it takes a while to learn how to use a 3d modeling program, it will save you so much time and frustration down the line.
  5. Practice working under deadlines. When you're drawing for yourself, it's easy to get into the habit of taking your sweet time. You ponder, tweak, fiddle and change directions. While it's important to relax and enjoy your art, if you want to learn to draw faster, you need to light a fire under your butt! Give yourself an assignment with a less-than-comfortable deadline, or participate in a collaborative project like a zine or a group gallery show. Deadlines will force you to commit to artistic decisions and make them work. Think of it as a way to practice decisiveness.
Now get cracking, artists!

Have you discovered any tips and tricks for drawing more quickly? Please let me know in the comment section?
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