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March 31, 2015

100 Watercolors #67 - Playing The Melody

I once again based this one off an old idea, a thank-you painting that I made for Carson Ellis.  I wanted to try a watercolor technique I had not really used yet on this one, where I draw with the paint.  One of my favorite watercolor illustrators, Scott C. uses this technique a lot, so I thought I'd give it a try for the thought bubble and the dream guitar (which may be based on a certain guitar, from a certain favorite band of mine...)

I think I probably made the dream lines a bit too dark, but it's still got a softer feeling than the black ink lines.  Anyway, it was an experiment and it put another technique into my tool belt!

As mentioned last week, I'm going to start posting these twice a week so I'll have another watercolor for you all on Thursday.

The next theme: Hero!

March 26, 2015

IRL illustration #2 - Alec's Animal Alphabet quilt

On March 3rd, my sister Galen gave birth to a baby girl which she and her husband Nathan named "Wren."  My niece!  She is the first child of the next generation in my immediate family, so it was very exciting.

My amazingly talented wife Claire wanted to make a baby gift for Wren that was from both of us, so she decided to make a quilt out of my old Animal Alphabet project.  After months of of hard work at her sewing machine, the finished product is pretty incredible!

Claire's got a great post all about the quilt on her blog where you can see close-ups of some of the patches. So much work went into each one, it was an honor to see my paintings converted into these cloth creations.  We skyped with Galen and Nathan a few days ago and I was able to snap a photo of Wren having fun hanging out on the quilt.  Cute!

Although Wren is a little young to start reading, I also sent along a copy of the Alec's Animal Alphabet book, which I updated for this special occasion.

It now has an ISBN and distribution through Ingram, which means you should be able to order it from your local bookstore.  It can also be purchased on, or you can get 25% off the cover price by ordering directly from!  I even made a DRM-free .PDF eBook version which you can get for $1.99 on Gumroad.

March 24, 2015

100 Watercolors #66 - Traps

In an effort to speed up the completion of this project, I have started reusing a few old illustrations as compositions for these themes, when appropriate.  As some of you might remember, this drum-playing octopus was featured on the cover of Ramen Music #3.

Initially I had this guy centered in the composition and was going to just leave the background white, but then at the last minute I moved him down and decided to go crazy with the watercolors in the top, to represent his drumming.  I have a hard time letting things be loose, so this was a good challenge for me.  There are some parts that are more successful than others, but in general I'm pretty pleased with it.

With this piece, I am now two-thirds of the way done with this project!  I've been pushing extra hard to try and finish the pencils for the remaining 34 themes.  Once that's done, all that remains is to ink and paint them!  In an effort to keep the pressure on, starting next week I will be posting two watercolors a week until the end of this project.  I will then release a book that contains all 100 watercolors and then I will sell off the original paintings.

Next week's theme: Playing the Melody!

March 19, 2015

IRL illustration #1 - Weezer Poster Sweater

Recently, the official Weezer Fan Club started up again.  It has been great reconnecting with my Weezer brothers and sisters, who are just as enthusiastic as I am about my all-time favorite band.

A few weeks ago, fan club member Michael McCarthy posted this photo from a few years ago of himself dancing on the Weezer Cruise:

I did a double take when I saw this and thought, "IS THAT A REAL-LIFE VERSION OF THE SWEATER I DESIGNED FOR THE MEMORIES TOUR POSTER???"  I asked Michael for confirmation, and he said that yes, he had in fact commissioned the sweater from a friend in Portland who knit it for him.

I had the idea for this sweater design back in 2006 when I drew this portrait of Rivers Cuomo for an editorial illustration assignment at Pratt Institute.  But that sweater was overly complex (too much cross hatching) and the two wings of the "W" didn't extend over the arms.  For the Memories Tour poster I simplified and improved the design.  Here's what version 2.0 looked like:

Please look back up at that photo and check out how accurate the real sweater is!  It's even got the one loose strand on the right sleeve!!!  Weezer fans are the best.  Anyway, it felt totally amazing to see something I had dreamed up turned into reality.

Next week I'll show you a second, even more amazing example of this happening to me!

March 17, 2015

100 Watercolors #65 - Horror

As I do more and more of these watercolors, I am starting to figure out when to use ink to depict something, versus when to use the paint, or also when to leave something completely white.  I am pretty pleased with how that salt turned out and how it works with the various other elements of the composition.

Next week: Traps!

March 12, 2015

2014 Recap: Highlights Magazine - Part 4

This week I'm posting the last of my work that was published in Highlights Magazine during 2014.  The following hidden picture drawings were printed in the Eagle-Eye Hidden Picture series.  They were part of the Gabby's Journal feature, which follows a little girl as she travels around the United States of America with her family.

In issue 32 they visited The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.  I tried to load this one up with a lot of Texas stuff, like the state flag and the shape of the state.  Initially when my art director saw the lizard in the bottom left corner, she asked me to take it out, because she thought it was distracting.  But once I told her that it was, in fact, a Horned Lizard, the official lizard of Texas, she let me keep it!

In issue 35, Gabby and her family visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.  I have fond memories of visiting this museum as a kid, along with my grandfather who flew B-24 bombers in the Army Air Corps during World War II.  It was fun revisiting it through various reference photos.  

Believe it or not, that finally catches us up with all of the illustration work that I had not posted from 2014.  Next week we'll look at some new stuff from this year!

March 10, 2015

100 Watercolors #64 - Multitasking

When I first drew out this idea, I liked it a lot, but it made me a little nervous.  I wasn't sure if I would be able to successfully pull off the lighting effect by laying a "shadow" layer of dark paint over the entire, complicated, scene.  I'll let you be the judge of the end results:

Back in 2010 while working at The Center For Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, I had the distinct honor of sitting in on a watercolor demonstration by the great Canadian cartoonist, Seth.  He spent two hours showing the students (and a few lucky faculty members!) a handful of useful tricks that you can use when you mess up a watercolor painting.  I remember then-CCS student Katherine Roy asking if he had any advice for us, other than how to fix mistakes.  He replied something to the effect of "When it's going well, there's not much to it!  It's only when you make a mistake that watercolors can be really punishing."

I sure learned that lesson with this little painting!

As I was laying the blue "shadow" layer on top of the dried, lit-up painting, the brush was grabbing some of the paint below.  Not because it wasn't dry (I let it sit for four hours and hit it with a hair dryer a number of times) but because that much paint and water laid over such a large area actually reactivated some of the paint and mixed it in with the blue shadow paint.  You can see this happening in the lower left-hand corner of the tent, where some of the red bled into the yellow section.

This also happened in the much larger yellow section on the right-hand side of the tent.  I probably definitely should have left it alone.  Like the bottom left corner, it wouldn't have been that noticeable to most people and it is almost always a bad idea to "go back in" on a watercolor.

While the paint was still wet, I tried to blot away the red that had bled into the yellow area, and then after it dried I tried putting some more shadow in there, which looked a lot worse.  I even messed up the area on the other side of the wooden pole, to try and make it match!  Ugh:

I had already dumped a lot of time and energy into this piece, so instead of starting over, I decided to try one of the old tricks that Seth had showed us.  After letting the painting dry again, I wetted the effected region and then used a paper towel to lift out as much of the paint as I could: 

I then laid in a "normal" area of yellow.  You can compare it here to the yellow inside the spotlight.  It's definitely not the same, because there was some residual blue and a bit of yellow left in the effected area as well:

After letting it dry again, I then laid in another shadow layer on the effected area.  Again, it's not smooth or even as the originally covered areas, and the color doesn't match quite right (the yellow is a bit too intense) but I knew at this point that this was as good as I was going to get!  Hopefully the value structure that I set up for the composition would keep the viewer's eye focused on the multitasking tightrope walker!  I'd be interested to know how many of you spotted the problem area at the top of this post...

As with most of these process posts, I have a dual purpose: 1) I hope this information is useful to some people out there and 2) I'm glad to have this documented so when I need to try it again in the future, I can see all the steps!

As if all of this wasn't horrific enough, next week's theme is: Horror!

March 5, 2015

2014 Recap: Highlights Magazine - Part 3

This week I'm continuing to post some of my work that was published in Highlights Magazine during 2014.  The following hidden picture drawings were printed in the Eagle-Eye Hidden Picture series.  They were part of the Gabby's Journal feature, which follows a little girl as she travels around the United States of America with her family.

First up is the Liberty Bell which appeared in issue 27.  It was cool drawing this landmark because my extended family is all from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the Liberty Bell resides.

Next up was the Cherry Blossoms in Washington D.C. which appeared in issue 29.  Did you know that the Cherry Blossom trees were a gift to the United States from Japan?  Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!  I visited these trees in March a few years back with my wife Claire, and it was a wonderful experience for us both.  

Washington D.C. has so many great, free museums... one of which you'll see next week as we continue the tour of American landmarks that I drew for Highlights in 2014!

March 3, 2015

100 Watercolors #63 - Do Not Disturb

I had a lot of fun painting this one, especially the family members' outfits.  I had laid in a few colors, but didn't want things to get too busy, so I ended up treating it almost like a screenprint by trying to use all the possible combinations of yellow blue and orange.  I also like how the second layer of textured dots on the crocodile turned out.

Next week's theme: Multitasking!