June 13, 2012 in Uncategorized
I recently illustrated a book for Milkweed publishing called Things That Are which is set to be published in July. The book is a magical, inventive exploration of the universe by the wonderful writer Amy Leach. I feel really lucky to have gotten the opportunity to work on such a unique book, and I decided I would share some of the sketches that I created in putting together the final illustrations. The first image I completed for the book was the cover so I am going to start there.
At the time that I began working on the cover for Things That Are, I was looking at a lot of prints from the WPA because a student of mine was doing a project on artists from the depression. The first image here is a close rendering of a bookplate from that era by Rockwell Kent. I often begin an idea with a reference of some kind; sometimes it is another persons work sometimes a photograph, and sometimes a life sketch. As I progress through an idea I often refer back to the initial reference as a way to guide my decision making later on. The second image is an attempt distill my idea down to it’s essence, in this case the sunrise felt like the right symbol for the reverent tone of Things That Are that I was trying to capture.
These next two were done on the opposing page of the first two. Things That Are is filled with quirky animal descriptions and it seemed fitting that the cover embody that as well. Also the first sketch of the mountain was too busy for me and the second was too simple. The Penguin was a first attempt to find a happy medium amidst these different conceptual aspects.
This next sketch is the first that I sent in for feedback. As you can see the penguin became a goat, actually there was a fire hydrant in there for a while as well. I believe that great ideas come from collaboration with others rather than from an individual. I am lucky to have a strong community of trusted advisers who have helped me avert artistic disasters many times, so when they said the penguin was a bit heavy handed, I went with a goat instead. In the end it was the right choice , though the penguin sunrise has a certain appeal to me still. The elaborate decorative pea shoots in the sketch above are inspired by a previous project that I did for Milkweed. Though they are fun(especially to draw) people felt like it made the image too busy. I am a detail lover and there is a sort of personal dance that I have to do when creating to work out the details that need to be there but not to add ones that distract from the core idea I am trying to convey. The decision to eliminate the pea shoots was an important decision in the direction that the rest of the illustrations took, as my original concept was much more decorative.
This is the second goat. Here is another example of how important feedback is. At the time that I drew this image, I was pretty happy with the simplicity of it,in fact I though I nailed it. But other folks felt like it was a little too masculine, and now in hindsight it seems obvious to me that it evokes the old Burlington Northern Railroad logo way too much(though I love that logo).
This is the final cover. It is fun to look back at all the sketches that led to this one and to see how each one, and the problem it presented are part of this final product. I have a hard time deciding when something is completed. The technique that I have arrived at is that when any additional work appears to be making things worse then I make myself stop. It probably goes without saying that I have a conflicted relationship with my completed work, However I am happy with how almost everything turned out here.