Saturday, February 27, 2010

blast from the past #1

I want to start making a step by step documentation of everything i've done since the beginning of this whole thing, starting way back in august. Come May, I've gotta walk out and do a presentation of everything I've done during this whole creation process, so I figure that if I'm gonna do that, I gotta take some action so I don't collapse into a dribbling puddle of drool and stuttering "uhm"'s in front of everyone.

So lets all jump in the magic school bus, gang, or the delorean, or what have you (did you know that the original deloreans' speedometers only actually went up to 85? WE'RE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT BACK TO THE FUTURE NOW.)

So sometime midaugust in the dreadful lull between my summer job and the beginning of school, desperately trying to convince myself that there's still plenty of time to have fun in the sun, I got dragged along on a family vacation. That means a whole lotta nothing, because my family is the kind that loves to wake up, go to the beach, sit on the beach, and then go back to bed. This means a lot of time to doodle in your sketchbook and read. The book that I brought at the request of Ms. Diaz was by Reif Larsen and called The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. It's this super cool story about a prodigy cartographer by the name of Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet. T.S.'s mentor has sent off one of his insect illustrations to the Smithsonian, and its won an award. The next hundred or so pages are about his journey from his ranch in Montana to the D.C.; hopping trains, hitching rides, taking whatever he can get to get there. While the sense of wanderlust that exists in the content of the book would later get reflected in the sketches that spawned Pine Bark Kids, the really interesting part that spawned this idea of challenging the boundaries of illustrated stories lies in the margins of the pages.

Each and every page margin has an illustration in a very analytical, cartographic style; made as if T.S. had been doodling in the corners of this novel. This book is absolutely a novel, there's no questioning that, but there's something more than that. Does that make it a graphic novel? Not really. The graphic novel has become defined as what the Neil Gaimans, the Frank Millers, the Art Spiegelman's of the world make. Masterpieces, yeah, but locked down into what the page format of the comic book has become expected to be.

The problem was that there was no ground for stories to be somewhere between the comic book pages where more than half of the information lies in the images and novel pages, where one can use narrative text at great lengths to let the reader paint the picture in his/her own head. The answer I came up with was the illustrated novel. It's a novel that takes cues from children's books. The image is there to set the tone of the setting, but the action and descriptors lie in the text.

So there I was that summer, reading all this story about jumping on freight trains and packing your leatherman and hitching a ride with a truck driver. There was so much time to kill while my family soaked up the sun, so by the end of the trip, I had about 15 really rendered/watercolored pages in my sketchbook. Without even really thinking about what I was drawing, first some trees appeared, with a portrait of a boy next to them. Then his hat had a tree on it. It kept building, and suddenly I had 4-5 pages of bears and trees and boys and girls.

There wasn't that much thought of a full story that came with it, more just of a general concept of this dynamic between two boys and a girl in the woods, and how they live.

Next up came the short story that I wrote in December. The text itself is probably the perfect manifestation of mediocre, so I'll spare you and summarize it point by point.

Pine Bark Kids, First Draft.
  1. Three kids are walking behind the local grocery store, following directions to the big tree to find the train track.
  2. The three have a great time with the wind in their hair.
  3. One of them starts seeing this weird buffalo faced guy. Unclear. Hmph.
  4. The rest of the gang are all, "huh?"
  5. The first one starts disappearing more and more.
  6. Finally, one morning (after weeks, or something) he disappears for good.
  7. The other two continue on their journey.
  8. THE END.
So somehow that entire story fit into all of 4 or 5 pages. Needless to say, it was so shallow and lacking of charm that it wasn't much longer than what I listed above.


It was really important, because that first step of getting the general idea of what exactly is happening between these three kids was pulled out from just those random sketchbook doodles. So as mediocre as it was, it was a crucial step.

The next step from this (covered in BLAST FROM THE PAST #2 BR0) was to hack and chop, and put a magnifying glass on those little scenes to make it something that could actually hold someones interest. So, Good. I got that bit down. Once I get up to #3 I think, I'll have gotten to the point where I can put up a link to the sketches, where the design parts get really interesting. Hep!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

colorz, dad!

So, I got a lot further into the whole painting process this week. In total, I've pretty much laid down the underpaintings/general blocks of color for 6 or 7 of the spreads and got finally LEGIT character development sheets set up.

And now for a special message directed at color: you're killing me, brah!

I've been keeping that James Jean painting in mind and been thinking of how I decided to give some sort of rust-ish cast on the open sun areas and a ghostlier green cast on the stuff under trees, but it seems impossible to get all of it to fit together. To try and get a hold on different ideas of palettes that are interesting to me, I've been looking at as many paintings as I can.

This is a piece by Claude Monet, a piece of a series of paintings of the same Rouen Cathedral with tons of different approaches to depicting light. Googling "Monet Cathedral" will give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Nothing was different about these paintings except for his palette and the light. I think there's something really untouchable here that could fit in with what I want to try and make. In a similar vain (albeit in a more contemporary style), Sam Weber has hit on some of these ideas in his illustrated version of Lord of the Flies.

Now, in the day, this is all well and good, but the question is if this low contrast, fogged over style of rendering looks cohesive with the night scene that really needs to be high contrast to be effective? I guess I'll figure out soon enough.

Character sketches are coming soon (as soon as the snow stops falling long enough for me to get to school to bring them back home, sheesh y'all.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

scott mccloud on comics

I've read most of his book Understanding Comics, but seeing him talk through it really gets you. So definitely check out between 7:40 and 10:45.

let's start paintin', dads!

This Monday was the first time that I got to pull out the paints and begin to see what direction the aesthetics of each page was going to be. The first page I started painting was page 4-5 because I figured the large area of tall grass that was depicted would give me the opportunity to work on my textures and to see how smooth I wanted to paint something that was made up of millions of single pieces. From the feedback I received from my mentor, Chelsea, I decided that I wanted to depict things in a way that retained a certain lack of information. We thought that there was something special in the way the sketches held this quality of rendering that was worth looking for.

Based on this decision, I decided to get a rough sketch of what was going on onto the final Bristol pieces without trying too hard to get every detail mapped out. This ended up being a bit of a mistake. This first go at painting gave me a good chance to look at what sort of palette I wanted to keep consistent throughout the story. I began thinking that I would be using something pretty realistic to life, but as I began a few other paintings, my thoughts began to shift.

While imagining body contortions and painting styles, I’ve been looking often at the figure studies and paintings of James Jean found in his book Kindling. Jean is a graduate from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and has been working in the illustration world since 2001. His quality of rendering and his accuracy of figure studies have made him an important point of inspiration. Additionally, his use of layering is on point to the sort of things I hope to achieve.

After starting with more true to life colors, analysis of Jean’s paintings revealed to me the power of subtle shots of color amongst monotone. In pieces such as Swan, the use of a slight yellow pulling through the flowers pops out from the really desaturated rest of the painting, despite the fact that the yellow is not that vibrant. This made me decide that I should make the fields and mountains hold a red/gold overcast while the land sheltered by the trees could have a ghostly green overcast. I think this is gonna give my pages a nicer general feel, and will hopefully make the pages feel more cohesive together in the end.

A lot of painting is gonna start going on this week, so I'll start taking photos of a couple paintings as they develop to show the process.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

the beginning of my book, continued.

This week (from february 5-12) was meant to be the beginning of the creation of my book The Pine Bark Kids. The plan is to create an illustrated short story that looks to children's books for inspiration in page design while simultaneously telling stories normally reserved for adult graphic novels. The format will be a 40 page book with acrylic and collage illustrations. As of the creation of this blog, the pages have been sketched out, the story's been written, and the text has been set into place. At the point that this blog starts, I am beginning the rendering process of these pages. I hope to go back and outline the process that's gotten me to this point while documenting the successes and problems I have in this journey. Welcome to the first week of Focus!
Because of the fact that I started this process in December and even the very beginnings during the summer, I found this week to be working entirely with the preparation to begin my final pieces. Upon advice from my art teacher, Ms. Diaz, I decided that 11x17 Bristol board would be the best possible form to paint my final pieces. The relatively smooth finish of these thick paper pieces will be beneficial for a few reasons. The first reason is that this will make the paintings reproduce well; scanning bumpy paper and canvas board can produce less than stunning results, so I want to stay away from them. Additionally, because the final pieces will be about 9x16, or relatively small to some of the paintings I’m used to working on, the lack of tooth will give me some more control.
Because this week found me in a place that was just making sure that everything is prepared for when I really start cracking at the first paintings, I found myself looking back on my process thus far. The origins of the idea of the book started with doodles that absentmindedly formed during a warm summer day. I found myself drawing a tree with a sign that read “PINE BARK KIDS” on it, a boy with glasses, a boy with a hat, and a girl with a scarf. In December, I began the process of formally writing out the story as a four page short story empty of illustrations. The problem, I found, was that the lack of story told in the images caused an overcompensation on my part to make the story filled to the brim with plot. The result was a story that allowed for very little analysis into the characters’ minds or observation of the moments that make up their day to day life. I decided that the best way to fix this was to try to rewrite the stories with images. Working exclusively with storyboards, I loosely retold the story with just images. I found that this was really helpful. My natural tendency as an artist to look at little things, like the way your hands reach out to touch tall grass, pushed the story back into a place that felt closer to the feelings that the original doodles tried to evoke. They allowed the story to focus on the little moments. The next step was to rewrite the story so that the text would fit the images. This ended up with me turning the story from a 3 week long journey into a vignette of a 3 kids’ lives from afternoon on a Tuesday to the morning of a Wednesday. With eyes on my story board, I rewrote the story so that it would fit each page. Based on the fact that my project is meant to redefine the graphic novel and reexamine how text and image should coexist, it seemed to me that this creative process fit really well with what the core of this project is driving at. It seemed, as I was creating, that I was putting together a puzzle piece that had to fit together just right, each piece placed on the ground simultaneously. The final result of this week was sketching out the rough locations of each compositional element on my final Bristol board pieces. It looks good that I will begin my final paintings next week.