Thursday, December 18, 2014

Towel Baby in a Manger

Here is another illustration I did for Lifeway's Explore the Bible curriculum. This is actually the first job I did for them. To get the pose right, I took my own photo references, using a towel for baby Jesus.

...and also a headdress.

What are you talking about? I don't look crazy! Not at all! Just because I'm wearing a towel baby on my head, both in these photos and as I type these words, means nothing!

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Trying out digital pencils

I sketched this horse in order to test out a set of digital pencils. I used Frenden's inking and sketching brushes, and I think they're pretty darn convincing, don't you?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Personal Work: Summer at Bag-End

I mentioned briefly on this blog that I am currently traveling around New Zealand. Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Hobbiton movie set on a bright, sunny day. (As I type this, it is a rainy, stormy, grey day and I am wistfully remembering my afternoon in the Shire.)

This painting is inspired by the incredible colors I saw there. I was very impressed by the amount of detail in the sets - the weathered wood, the worn-down grass, the potted plants and climbing vines and little birdhouses and lamps. Each hobbit hole had its own personality.

I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I now had my own original photo references to work from, and decided to put together my own scene rather than working from a movie still.

For Bilbo and Gandalf's poses, I looked online for photos of men smoking pipes. I liked the photo of the cowboy lighting up because he's sitting low to the ground; as Gandalf would have to sit on a hobbit-sized bench.

At first I had Gandalf's hands in the same "lighting up" pose as the cowboy. But then someone pointed out that, from a distance, it looked like Gandalf was texting.

"u shall not pass"

So I moved one hand so it was resting on his staff.

I have to admit, I could spend many more hours on this scene! I am forcing myself to call it done!

(True story: immediately after typing that sentence, I went back to the image to touch it up a little. Argh! Ok it's done now, for reals this time!)

I used Kyle Webster's gouache brushes. I love using these; they have such a nice painterly feel to them.

Until our next meeting. Namarie.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ranger in Time - Interior Illustrations

Last week I talked about the cover for Ranger in Time, a new middle-grade series about a time-traveling golden retriever. Today I'm going to talk about the interior illustrations.

When I was a kid reading chapter books, interior illustrations felt like a reward for finishing a chapter. They were like the dessert of the book. So while they don't get as much attention and love as the cover, they're still important.

There are 15 chapter illustrations in Ranger; I'm going to share a few of my favorites, along with their rough versions.

This is the first chapter illustration in the book. Scholastic asked for a scene where the family is packing up their wagon in Independence, Missouri, and a mule auction is going on in the background. As the first illustration, it's important to establish the main characters, the historical setting and the sense of preparing for a trip. I made sure to include a covered wagon, because it's an instantly recognizable symbol of this period. I put the main character, Sam, front and center, holding a suitcase to bring home the travel theme. Behind him are his parents and his sisters. (Sulky teenage sister is favorite part of this scene! Who can really blame her, right?)

In this chapter, the family is being rowed across a river by Sioux Indians. This went through a few revisions.

First of all, Ranger is described as biting the toddler's dress in order to keep her from leaning too far out of the canoe. But the author, Kate Messner, discovered that trained search-and-rescue dogs would never bite, only nudge or block.

Secondly, I couldn't find many photographs of Native Americans from 1850, the period the book is set in. I found some photographs from the 1890's and saw the men were wearing a mixture of traditional/western clothing, and often had feathers in their hair, so that's what I drew.

The art director and author were concerned about making sure the Sioux were accurately depicted. The author went out of her way to contact a librarian who specialized in Native American history. (wow!) This librarian pointed out that although there are photographs of Sioux with feathers in their hair, those photographs were often staged by white photographers who wanted their subjects to look more "Indian." The librarian suggested that we nix the feathers, and passed along a photograph of a Lakota buckskin shirt we could have one of the men wear.

I took advantage of the fact that this shirt is too old for copyright and stuck it right into my illustration.

This last illustration doesn't really have a lot of interesting revisions to it; I just like how it turned out.

On Twitter, @colbysharp posted this photo of an actual human child enjoying an advanced reader copy of Ranger in Time!

I spent a lot of time drawing these, and the art director and author spent a lot of time checking the details for historical accuracy. But as I said, interior illustrations don't tend to get as much attention as the cover. So I was very happy when a review of Ranger from Publisher's Weekly mentioned: "McMorris’s richly rendered illustrations heighten the plot’s many moments of danger and drama, and Messner incorporates a wealth of historical details into her rousing adventure story."


You can see more interiors in this promo video from Scholastic. Just skip to 20:47.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail!

This spring I received an email from my agent saying that he had exciting news for me - Scholastic was interested in having me illustrate a series of middle-grade books about a time-traveling dog. Would I be interested in this project? "You had me at time-traveling dog," I said.

Ranger in Time is about a search-and-rescue-trained golden retriever who travels to different time periods, saving the day while helping children learn to be brave. In this first book, Ranger goes back in time to the Oregon Trail, befriending Sam Abbott, a boy traveling west with his family. Scholastic sent me the manuscript to read, and I found it surprisingly touching for a 15-chapter book. I may have - may have - even gotten a little choked up over it. But then again I can get choked up at sentimental commercials, so.

Anyway. Back to the cover.

If you've read my blog before, you know that this is the part where I tell you about the process I went through to design the cover with the client's feedback. Usually the process goes thumbnail - rough - revision - final. But this cover was different. It took the team at Scholastic and I, including art director Elisabeth Parisi and book designer Ellen Duda, a long time to nail down the cover you see above.
I worked on this cover every day for a month. I started with three roughs, and those roughs were re-worked over and over incorporating Scholastic's feedback. First they wanted Ranger to look "attractive and cute," then "wise with lots of heart," then "dynamic and intense."

Eventually I had at least nine different versions with slightly different Rangers in slightly different poses, slightly different children and slightly different backgrounds. But still Scholastic felt like the cover wasn't quite right. They cared about this series a lot and wanted the perfect cover for Ranger.

They decided that they wanted to go in a more dramatic, dynamic direction, "with more action and adventure." They wanted Ranger running directly at the viewer, with no children in the scene.

Not going to lie - I was nervous. My drawings tend to be, you know, more soft and gentle. "Action and adventure" aren't my strong points.

Oh, and they wanted three new roughs in 48 hours.

I spent some of my precious time looking at lots and lots of book covers online, trying to figure out what made them look dramatic. Then I shoved all the dramatic elements I could think of into one scene.






HEROIC MUSIC! (Just imagine it here, please)

I also submitted two other roughs, but I knew this first one was the winner, and Scholastic agreed.

The only revision they asked for was the remove the eagle so it wouldn't interfere with the title. (RIP patriotic soaring eagle.)

The cover was finally ready to be painted!

I am so, so happy with this illustration, and I'm happy that Scholastic pushed me outside of my comfort zone on this. 

Here is the entire book cover, designed by Ellen Duda!

Here is the author of the book, Kate Messner, holding her copy:

I recently found out that Scholastic is also using Ranger on a reading poster for schools. Unleash the power of reading, get it? Unleash?

Ranger in Time: Rescue on the Oregon Trail is already receiving great reviews. The book will be available online and in bookstores on January 6.

In addition to the cover, the book also contains 15 full-page black-and-white interior illustrations by yours truly, which I will discuss in my next post.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Jesus Tempted in the Desert

For the past year I've been working on a series of Bible story illustrations for the Christian publisher Lifeway.  These are just starting to come out under NDA so I'm going to start posting some of my favorites on this blog. The're part of a Sunday school curriculum called "Explore the Bible," and the things I'm illustrating are called...well..."diaper cards."

Yes, diaper cards. Truly the Lord is keeping me humble. They're little cards that the Sunday school teacher can put in the child's diaper bag for parents to read later.

So...yes...anyway. Diaper cards.

The art order for this card was simply the scene of Jesus being tempted in the desert, which is found in Luke 4:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

This was my first rough. I really wanted to emphasize the emptiness, loneliness and heat of the landscape.

The art director asked for a rougher, rockier landscape.

With this revised rough, I was good to go to final.

The lurking crow is something I thought of and added just now. I wish I had thought of it last year, before this was published. I like trying to fit little bits of spiritual symbolism into these drawings.

This is how the illustration looks as part of the diaper card:

If any of you attend church, keep an eye out for these, ok? I'd love to see them in action.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pointless Fun: Depthy

Depthy is a website which allows you to create this 3D-effect on your images. You just upload an image, then draw your own "depth map," which is easy. Basically you draw dark grey on top of areas that should be in the foreground, middle grey on the midground, and white on the background. Then Depthy makes it look like this.

There's no point to it; it's just fun.