Friday, August 27, 2010

My Pics: Children’s Books About Artists

It’s almost back-to-school time, and at least here in Southeastern Massachusetts the beautiful autumn weather will be rolling in soon. Time to get your fall book collection together! These are my picks for great children’s books about artists:

My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter (Harcourt Children's Books, 1998) is a must-have. Georgia O’Keeffe is one of my favorite artists, not only because I love her art, but because she has an inspiring life story as well. Incorporating quotes from the artist herself, this story traces the O’Keeffe’s life from childhood through her 98 years. The reader discovers how Georgia’s ideas came from the world she saw around her. The text is minimalist and very accessible. The illustrations echo the vivid colors of O’Keeffe’s work. I’d recommend this for ages 5 through 8, for boys and girls alike.

Mike Venezia’s series Getting to Know The World's Greatest Artists (Children’s Press, 1988-2004) is an affordable and entertaining collection about artists from all time periods. Venezia’s collection started a couple of decades and now totals 48 different titles. The books are full of humor and hilarious cartoons that make it fun to learn about famous artists. Recommended for grades 3 to 4, but even older kids enjoy these. There is also a series especially for music fans dedicated to the World’s Greatest Composers.

Finally, Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer (Dutton Children’s Books, 2003) by Robert Byrd is one of my favorite books about the greatest genius of all time. Recommended for ages 9 and up, Dreamer is a treasure of a book with beautiful illustrations and inspiring facts. Each full-color page is a new adventure that chronicles the life of the genius Leonardo da Vinci. There is even an extensive bibliography with time lines, web sites and further reading for those interested in learning more about da Vinci. This is the type of book that is so packed with interesting details, you’ll notice something new every time you open it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Floyd Illustrations: The Home Stretch!

Big announcement: I’m finishing up my illustrations for Floyd and the Mysterious Night Time Noise! It’s a great feeling to know the book is almost complete and ready to be scanned and go to press. But first, there is still some work left to do...

In the last few blog posts, I’ve explained the steps from drawing to outlining to painting backgrounds and adding the dry watercolor pencil areas. Now --drum roll, please-- the final steps:

After I’ve applied the the dry watercolor pencils (see last blog post), then its time to dissolve the dry pencil into paint. I love this part! The colors gets brighter and vibrant and I can play with color mixing and textures. I use a combination of bushes depending on the size of the area I'm painting and what type of textures I'm trying to create. My favorite brushes are detail round brushes, flat brushes, angle brushes and filberts (round oval) in a variety of sizes. I use a lot of different brands, but they are all watercolor brushes which means they have soft bristles. Usually watercolor brushes are made with natural hair like sable and squirrel (yuck- they work fine, I just am not a fan of squirrels) or synthetics like taklon. Some of my favorites are made with ergonomic handles and are very comfortable to hold. But there are no rules or price ranges of brushes that are perfect. You don't have to spend a lot of money for a brush, but you do get what you pay for. Try all different kinds to find the type that works best for you. Get new ones when the bristles look fuzzy or fall out.

To turn pencil into paint, simply dip the brush in water and start painting on top of the dry pencil. More water will make the color lighter, less water makes it bright, almost like a marker. At this stage, I can let it dry then put more color on top (dark on top of light since its transparent just like normal watercolors). I also use some white acrylic for parts that I want to have more opaqueness or where it needs a pop of white. I can mix the white with the watercolor to make a gouache type of effect, too. Don't forget: though a very small amount of water is needed for dissolving watercolor pencils and you're not dipping the brush into paint, you still need to clean the brush as you work and change colors!

When the painting is finished and dry, I often go back in and add more line work with regular colored pencils. I might put in fur lines, or darken outlines, or add in details that I think are needed.

Once all of the painting is done, the illustrations will be digitally scanned where I can do “clean up work” with Photoshop.
Anything that needs fixing or touching up can be done with that program, which is a big relief and takes some pressure off. Sometimes, I just don’t like one of the paintings, and I may scrap it and do another. At this stage, I really really hope I don’t have to, but it happens. So even now, there can be changes and adjustments and the work is not over. But the major stuff is done, and its time to celebrate!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Floyd Continues: Adding Watercolor Pencils!

Illustrations for Floyd and the Mysterious Night Time Noise are still in progress. Another phase of color work starts with dry watercolor pencil work.

After the backgrounds are blocked in with basic watercolors (see last blog post), I start to add the color into the small detail areas using one of my favorite media, watercolor pencils! They are fun to use and give me more control with the same effects of regular watercolor. I also like the combination of soft and rough textures I can get with them which works great for dog hair!

I use a few different brands of pencils. My favorite are my Aquarelles, currently made by Derwent. I still have most of the set which I bought when I visited Quebec in high school. So they were worth the investment! I also use Crayola and Prismacolor. Crayola is inexpensive yet great quality and vibrant. Prismacolor have a great selection of colors, but the outsides are all the same color of natural wood and its hard to tell what color you are reaching for. Hope they change that in future sets.

I use both heavy and light applications of the pencils to create a range of values. I can overlap to create color mixes. I also like to add interesting shading effects using these pencils as well. They are harder to erase, so at this point, its good to make sure you are apply the colors you really what, where you want them. I add the dry watercolor pencil into a bunch of the illustrations, and when I get through with that, I start the last stage, which I’ll write about in my next post!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Floyd Gets Colorized

This week, the color work on my newest Floyd illustrations is finally underway. For those of you just tuning in, the title of the new book is Floyd and the Mysterious Night Time Noise and again features Floyd, Tiny and Larue, three Welsh corgis who look suspiciously like my own dogs. This is the second of three books I have planned in the series. The first was Floyd and the Irresistible Cookie which is currently being made into a fabulous e-book/DVD by the Somerled Arts Foundation.

Last blog post, I wrote about how I got started on the drawing process, so today I thought I’d share some of my color process. First, I begin with colored pencil outlines (except for the cover where the title only is outlined in .05 black Micron pen). I used mostly gray, dark brown and small amounts of green and black.

The outlines give some definition to the edges of the images, but with a softer look than pen and ink or cartoon styles. Later, I’ll add more detail with colored pencil using other colors, too. Next, I erase the extra wacky pencil lines that are still hanging around at this point to get ready for paint (watercolor is transparent, so pencil lines will show through the color).

The first painting step I decided to work on is filling in the big background parts. I’ve been working on this in the last couple of days since it’s been less humid and the drier air seems to help the paper stretch nicely. Remember when I taped the edges of my paper to the boards with masking tape during the drawing phase? That is “stretching”. It helps the paper flatten back out after it has gotten wet from being painted.

It might seem weird to start with a back ground, but for me it works. It's actually the step I like doing the least, and so it gets it out of the way so I can focus on the detail and characterizations in the rest of the illustration, which is my favorite part. Also, backgrounds are kind of scary to me. They can wreck an entire finished work if you put them in last and hate how they came out. At this point, if something was really barfy, I can redo the drawing and I haven’t invested all that much time into everything else yet. So I’m less stressed about that part!

Materials I use at this stage are large brushes and a medium brush now and then, sea sponges, watercolor paints (I use both paint in a tube and dehydrated paints depending on what colors I need), palette, and clean water. I also always have a white paper towel handy. Don’t use one with designs printed on them even if they’re really cute. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

To create the backgrounds, I dilute the watercolor paints with water in my palette to create a wash. This is ideal for large watercolor areas. For this book, I am going to do a lot of layering with greens, blues and purples to get a feeling of night time without being too scary and spooky for the youngest readers.

I dip the sponge or large brush in the wash and streak it across the largest areas. I use a smaller sponge or brush to get close to the objects in the composition. Sometimes I’ll go on top of the wet color with another color or I might dab at areas with the sponge to take away pigment for an interesting texture. It’s important to work quickly to avoid weird overlaps with the brushstrokes. Sometimes it helps to wet the entire background with clean water first so the brush/sponge sections blend together more easily.

I let it dry, then I might swipe again with another color later. I try to keep the areas where the text will go light enough so that black text will be very visible on top. If I’ve painted too dark, the thickness of the paper does allow me to adjust the darkness even after it’s dry by wiping some of the paint away with a brush, sponge or paper towel without damaging the paper surface.

Once the backgrounds are done, then I get to the detail painting work. I’ll write about that in the next couple of weeks!