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January 29, 2015

2014 Recap: Slate Book Review - Part 1

Last September I was contacted by Dan Kois, the culture editor at who wanted to know if I would be interested in drawing some illustrations for the October Slate Book Review.  The pay was not great, and the turnaround was crazy (9 illustrations in 10 days!!?!) but they promised to post a review of my graphic novel, Basewood and it sounded like an interesting challenge to me.  I don't do a lot of serious, editorial illustration, because usually I'm working on projects for children, so I thought it would be a good learning experience for me.  It was!

Please note that all of the illustrations in this post were first published in Slate™ Magazine (I'm required to say that!)  Also, while I'm at it, if you click on any of the pictures below, you'll be able to see them a bit bigger.

First up was a banner for the Slate Book Review landing page.  Since these illustrations would run in October, I thought of curling up with a good book inside while it is raining outside (I grew up in Seattle, if you can't tell).  I also tried to hint at a Halloween theme, with a stack of orange books making a pumpkin shape.  I threw in a black cat for good measure!

Above is the version I turned in, though "Slate Book Review" was added on the left side in yellow.  You can see the finished banner as well as all of the other Slate Book Review banners (along with the impressive list of other cartoonists and illustrators who have tackled this assignment!) on this Slate Book Review archive page.

Next, Dan started sending me the articles that I needed to illustrate, one by one.  I have to say, it was pretty weird!  The articles are reviews of books, but there wasn't actually time for me to read the books.  So I had to make an illustration that sums up a book that I hadn't read!  The first book was Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle.  I read the article I was given, but then I also looked at the book's cover design and then read peoples' reviews of it on Amazon and Goodreads to try and figure out some of the themes of the story.  That became my practice for all of these books.  I was having a hard time wrapping my head around this first illustration, until Dan suggested I put my composition inside a maze.  It really clicked after that!

"No Child Has Ever Been Harmed by Music" by Carl Wilson

I don't want to post any spoilers, but if you have read this book, you'll know that I had to do some pretty gruesome image research to figure out this drawing.  It was the first time, but not the last, during this assignment that I had to look at some really horrific visual reference, which I have not been able to forget.

Thankfully the second illustration was much more tame.  Unlike most of the illustrations I work on, the goal with these was to go more conceptual.  It was not enough to just depict scenes from the book, I had to find some theme to represent visually.  In this case it was contrasting the dust clouds of the great depression with the clouds of heaven.

Likeness of Wings by Marian Ryan

The third piece I did was all about Auschwitz, which, again, lead to some really horrific visual reference.  Based on the article, the idea I came up with was to contrast really cartoony characters with a more naturalistic environment.  Since the whole concept hinged on the idea of two different styles between the characters and the background, I enlisted the help of my extremely talented wife, Claire Sanders, to paint the background, based on a composition I whipped together in photoshop from various reference photos.  This also had the added benefit of saving me some time during this extremely tight deadline.  Thanks Claire!

Well, this post is getting a bit long, so next week I'll post the other five illustrations that I did for this assignment, as I continue to post work that I did in 2014.

January 27, 2015

100 Watercolors #58 - Kick in the Head

I'm excited to say that last week I completed the last batch of ideas for this 100 Watercolors project!  I now know what all my illustrations will be, I just need to pencil, ink and paint them!

All I have to say about this week's painting is that soccer balls are one of my favorite things to draw.  I can still remember the first time I tried to draw one from memory but couldn't get it right.  I was very surprised when I looked at some reference photos, and realized that they are made up of black pentagons surrounded by white hexagons!

Next week's theme: No Way Out!

January 24, 2015

2014 Recap: Get Me Out Of Here! Cover and Save Rafe! Map

Okay, as promised, I'm finally going to start posting some of the illustration work that I did last year! I'll alternate these posts with my 100 Watercolors posts, until I run out of stuff.

In 2013 I finished illustrating Middle School: Ultimate Showdown.  Then, a few times in 2014, the art directors of the Middle School series contacted me to do a few random art jobs in "Rafe's" drawing style (which is, of course, drawn by Laura Park who illustrates the Middle School and I Funny series).

The first project was to draw some new Rafes for the cover of the second book in the series, Get Me Out of Here!  I drew half a dozen different variations and this one was used for the current cover, which still incorporates lots of elements from Laura's original cover, plus a new photographic element:

The second project was a promotional map for the sixth book in the series, Save Rafe!  The idea was to convey the entire plot of the book in one giant map.  I guess this folds in thirds and then fits inside the book, though I have never seen it in a copy of the book.  Maybe it only went out to schools or libraries or something?  If anyone has ever seen one of these in real life, please let me know!  I'd be interested to know where you came across it.

Click to see bigger!

Next week I'll be talking about some illustrations that I did for the Book Review!

January 21, 2015

100 Watercolors #57 - Sacrifice

It was fun, while working on this one, looking up reference photos of ancient greek vases that depict goat sacrifices.  It's pretty crazy that thousands of years ago people were also using a bunch of little lines to depict people doing things!

Next week's theme: Kick in the Head

Also, I'm trying to find the time to finally post some of the illustrations I did back in 2014.  If I can get my act together, I'm going to try and start posting that stuff on Thursday, and continue posting these watercolors on Tuesdays.  We'll see how it goes!

January 13, 2015

100 Watercolors #56 - Danger Ahead

I've been spending a lot of time on this project in the new year.  I've been going through the list, sketching out ideas for future numbers and I only have about fifteen more to design.  Then they all go into the production pipeline: penciling, inking, watercoloring!

This one had a nice, simple composition with some big shapes to paint.  I'm having fun working on these!  Let's hope I can through the rest of them before the end of the year.

Next week's theme: Sacrifice

January 6, 2015

100 Watercolors #55 - Waiting

Does anybody remember my 100 Watercolors project???  Well, I do!  And it is one of the many projects I am trying to finish off this year.  Blogger is telling me that it's been almost exactly two years since my last post from this project.  Well, then I guess this week's theme of "waiting" is appropriate!

If I can post one of these a week for the rest of the year, I'll have this done.  My plan is to then put together a book of all the paintings and then sell off the originals.  We'll see how it goes!

Next week's theme: Danger Ahead