Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"Researching the Imaginary " by illustrator and CBIG member, Emmeline Hall

Let’s see a show of hands: who likes doing research?

We've got one hand…there’s two, three…looks like all the illustrators in the crowd are on board. And with good reason—-thoughtful, thorough research will take a drawing from ordinary to eye-popping. Not only that, but correct research is essential to adding "believability" to any illustration. However, the challenge faced by many illustrators is how to research something that’s totally made up. Can it even be done?

Fortunately, the answer is yes. To demonstrate how research can be used to help create and enhance detailed fantasy characters and places, let’s start by examining the main types of research and how they apply to illustration.

The first and most helpful type of research is called primary research. This means getting information directly from the original source. For example, if you are illustrating a picture of the Grand Canyon, you would travel there to sketch or draw from photographs of it. If you were drawing a character from the 1940’s, you would seek out vintage shops to study the clothing of the day, and/or you’d put together a library of photographs of people in the ’40’s and sketch from that.

Secondary research means getting information from a source that is at least one step removed from the original source. With this method, for our Grand Canyon example you might look at paintings or drawings that someone else has done of it. For the 1940’s character, you might watch modern movies that are set in the ’40’s or look at someone else’s drawings of people in that era. In each of these scenarios, you would be studying another person’s interpretation of a particular person, place, or thing.

A third kind of research is not necessarily the gathering of facts but the establishing of mood. Called, appropriately, a ‘mood board,’ this is a collection of color swatches, photos, sketches, or anything else that helps you establish the particular mood of a piece and keeps you inspired. Mood boards are most helpful when they are displayed prominently in your work space where they can be accessed easily and often. You could also think of them as an ‘inspiration board’—they could contain images that are not necessarily part of your fact research but serve as motivation to keep the piece going in that particular vein.

Which kind of research is preferable? Primary research, when it can be done, is always going to be more informative and helpful than secondary. Secondary research, while useful in a pinch, forces you to look at something through the lens of someone else’s artistic vision and mood. This can often result in the loss of crucial details and facts (and gathering facts, after all, is the point of research!) Mood boards are the most flexible of these strategies and are helpful in a different way: they keep you inspired.

Now the big question: how do these research methods help when creating imaginary worlds and characters? Start by creating a mood board. Are you creating a character? Find images that inspire you and help you nail down the details about that character. Are you creating a location? Find images of locations and time periods that you can base your world off of. As you work, you may find yourself straying from the images you've collected. That’s okay. A mood board is there to set the initial tone and keep you excited about your work. It’s NOT there to hold you back and keep you going in a direction that doesn't feel organic once you've started creating. Take away and add to your mood board as you go, if that feels right!

Once you've gathered some inspirational material, break down your idea into elements that you can fact-check using primary research. Even extremely fantasy-driven scenes are more believable if they have elements that are based on reality. Drawing a dragon? Write down all the characteristics you want your dragon to have and then research them. You’ll be surprised to find that when broken down into smaller, more recognizable elements the drawing becomes less intimidating. Let’s take a very common character in fantasy, a dragon. I’ll give you an example of how I’d break it down.

Character: Dragon
Physical characteristics: Large, probably the size of a house. Scaly skin. Wings. Tail. Small eyes. Teeth like a crocodile. Shades of blue and green. Eagle-like talons. Maybe breathing fire/smoke.
Emotional characteristics: Mean! Squinty eyes. Bared teeth.

Setting: Outside a cave.

See? This is a pretty basic breakdown, but you can see that once you distill the image into smaller portions, each and every one of these characteristics can be researched using primary research (photos of eagles? got it. photos or real-life observation of fire? got it. the list goes on!). It’s only when you put all these real elements together that you get something completely unreal-a dragon!

Here are a couple examples of my own sketches that featured imaginary creatures but used primary research.

In the first, I wanted to draw Medusa about to come face to face with a vacuum salesman (I think the odds are pretty good that she’ll turn him to stone, don’t you?). I researched vacuums, statues, gardens, women, and snakes. None of those things are out of the ordinary on their own, but look at the combination! In the second example, I illustrated the Minotaur (another character from Greek mythology) having tea.

The Minotaur is said to have the body of a man and the head of a bull. For this drawing I gathered research on men, bulls, teacups, and fancy tea cakes. I think he turned out fabulously! Take some time to try this exercise on your own. Pick a fantasy character, location, or scenario. Set a mood, then break it down into smaller parts. Build it back up again and see what you come up with! There’s a great book on this very subject that goes into even more detail. I highly recommend owning a copy if you do a lot of fantasy drawing, or even if you’re just starting to dabble in it. ‘Imaginative Realism—-How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist’ by James Gurney (2009, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC) is a fantastic primer on creating fantasy worlds. James Gurney is the well-known author and illustrator of ‘Dinotopia’ and many other fantasy books. Add this one to your library! I hope you find time to practice these techniques and make them a part of your next creation. There’s so many imaginary worlds out there just waiting to be created…by you!

Please check out my website, www.emmelinehall.com, to see more of my work. You can also look me up on Facebook under ‘Emmeline Hall Illustration.’ I post a new drawing every day…and a lot of it is fantasy inspired!

Emmeline Hall is a member of the Children's Book Illustrators Guild and the illustrator of the books, "Voices Across the Lakes: Great Lakes Stories and Songs", by Anita Pinson and "Ida May's Borrowed Trouble", by Pat Hall.

Monday, March 03, 2014

‘O March-What a Relief! by Dawn M. Schreiber

March, the Ides are a smilin’ and the Shamrocks are in bloom, Earth and daylight savings means spring is, is…somewhere… and yet after suffering a winter’s frozen thumb, I say “Think NEGATIVE!” What? You say, but spring will soon be here. Oh fuddle sticks. I believe a good dose of negativity makes for a positive relief (that’s print talk).

Since March is the time for revival, I decided to revisit an old printing process that goes way back to my 8th grade art class, (more like the late 19th century), called linocutting.
My art teacher, Ms. Brandt taught us how to roll up our sleeves and chisel, grind and press art into linoleum blocks using various blades and smelling like an ink press. I remember the excitement of seeing that grand finale print emerge and that old school process lingering on my band-aid free fingertips, long after the ink went dry.

For anyone interested in making print reliefs using this method, here are a few tips that may save you a cut or two. For starters, I went to www.makezine.com for a do’s and don’ts intro course, purchased a fairly cheap linocut tool kit including: 6 blades plus holder, two 8 ½ by 11” linoleum sheets, (grey is softer), transfer paper (luckily my negligence for using grey on grey traced well however, because graphite smears, I ended up retracing my drawing with a black marker) a brayer (soft rubber roller), multi-medium art paper, a black tube of oil based block printing ink (oil in case you add watercolors) and a box of band-aids- you never know.

Next, pre-plan what not to carve, negative versus positive effects. This part gets tricky, because if you are like me, you have been trained not to cut into drawings. (Hint, you will print the opposite of what you draw unless you scan and flip your drawing or intentionally draw backwards). Once the image has been transferred, roll up your sleeves, place the lino on top of a rubber mat, to prevent slipping and keep the non-chiseling hand pressed below the cutter at all times! It’s easy to forget that you have a blade in hand and not a paintbrush or something less threatening. Next chisel ‘til your heart’s content; until your arms, fingers and wrists cramp up and you try to dig the Panama Canal- like I did... but  eventually found my happy groove space, rolled the brayer in ink on thick glass, (this soaks up quite a lot) gave the print a solid coat and pressed down paper using a wooden spoon and wallah, here are my results. I pictured my grandmother’s garden and her love for frogs and pearls.

The second picture is from many Saturday summer nights at grandmother’s house, taking a bath in her “aquarium tub” I called it, feeling like a flounder on the bottom of her claw foot tub while watching her mobile of fish swim above me.

Other sources of inspiration? From the lithographer greats, NataliaMoroz, (known for her pristine print reliefs), Jill Bergmann (for her use of color) and Kathleen Edwards, illustrator for the Llewellyn Witch Calendars. Also, check out the linocut illustrated children’s books of The Day the Sun Danced, (Edith Thacher Hurd, author, Clement Hurd, illustrator) and The House in the Night, (author Susan Marie Swanson, Beth Krommes, illustrator).

A word to the wise inker: "Practice", practice before you start carving out your print. And if all else fails, at least this will condition you for next fall’s pumpkin carving contest!! Good Luck!!! Feel free to comment or toss a lucky charm my way at www.dmschreiber.blogspot.com or visit our new CBIG website at www.Childrens-Illustrators.com

(Dedicated to my Grandmother, Ida Marie Murry, Born on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1912, Died 1988) You bet she was Irish and she still inspires me best.

Monday, February 03, 2014


Eyebrows rock! And dogs with eyebrows always make me smile. There is just something so wonderful about a dog that looks at you and raises her eyebrows, as if to say, Do you want to play fetch? 

As visual artists, we learn to pay extra attention to little things like eyebrows. A great pair of eyebrows can express rage, empathy, sorrow, amusement, curiosity and so much more.

In fact, studies show that up to 93% of human communication comes from non-verbal interaction. For animals that number would be even higher.

Thats great news for artists. Our illustrations dont just add a little color to the story. Through expressive characters, our artwork can develop deeper levels to the story in a single image quicker than words could convey in several pages.

Lately, I've been on a mission to capture character, and I find tons of astonishing personalities with each new animal I meet. So I gave myself a challenge for 2014 to paint a different animal personality every week.

Thus the Petburbia Project was born - 1 year, 52 pets, endless pet hair.

I limited myself to just pets with a distinctive personality, just ones living in the Twin Cities suburbs, and only a single pet per portrait with only one animal from any household. This meant I had to get the word out, and had to meet new people and new pets.

So far I've met a precocious puppy whose aim in life appears to be food and destruction, a guinea pig that believes in feng shui, and a keeshond Australian shepherd mix that survived for almost a year with a wild dog pack after being abandoned.

I also spent a delightful hour with therapy dogs at the library. Every month these volunteer owners and well mannered dogs descend on the children's section of the library and patiently sit as eager kids practice reading to them.  What an amazing program! I can't wait until its my book theyre pulling off the shelves and showing to the dogs.

Although the Petburbia Project didnt begin as a concept for a childrens book, I can see it becoming one or at the very least inspiring one.

After all, the reason anyone wants to get to the end of a book is to find out what happened to the character who captured our attention on the very first page.

Free smiles, fun newsletter, and the chance to have your own pet painted in watercolor at the Petburbia Project.

To learn more about Melissa Artomel Black and her other projects please visit artomel.com

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Take the Plunge! by CBIG member, Robyn Dean McHattie

The new CBIG Challenge: Book proposal! 
Sounds daunting, doesn't it? I say: TAKE THE PLUNGE

So much expertise--and adventure-- to be gained, especially from errors and false starts. 

You think not? 
Look at my start in the children's book field. My first children's book, A Black Cat Named Smokey: On Vacation debuted as a real, live picture book the fall of 1992. The sixty-four glorious pages featured thirty illustrations, the hugest sequence of drawings I had ever attempted! And it sold like hotcakes locally upon release. But that is a long way from where the project started.

An original Smokey, that you have never seen, became my very first Zyxalon Press Publication in early Astrobright index weight wrapper, the original Smokey featured several panels per page layout with dialog word balloons. In a word: a comic book! I showed it to a score of retailers. Only one bookstore in town agreed to carry Smokey; Colette Morgan and Jackie Lotsberg (best known now as the mavens of Wild Rumpus) recognized the potential of the comic market even back in 1991 at their giant Centennial Lakes  bookshop. Meanwhile, Smokey glimmered from its shelf, but sat in the store. 1991. Just eight pages, reproduced by Xerox copier, hand-folded and stapled into an

Fortunately for me and my career trajectory, Smokey the comic book contained a tragic flaw. A TRUE friend, Jane Anderson Howard, who at the time was Membership Director at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), pointed to the horrendous typo on the cover and said: "Robyn. You need to know that over at MPR, even when we spell-check scan Minnesota Monthly for this error, we occasionally still miss it." The error? A badly missing 'l' in the word 'Publication'. Now doesn't that give you a more human view of the sacrosanct Minnesota Public Radio?

The beauty of such a mortifying error was the chance to fix it. Not just the cover, either. You see, by the time Jane saw it, I had a second Smokey comic ready for the Xerox: Primitive Instincts in Urban Pets. The additional drawing time turned Smokey and his friends into much better pieces of art. What to do? Since I was fixing things, I also reconsidered the objections given by the stores I had visited.

Out on my sales calls, a dozen amazing and first-in-their-field children's booksellers had told me, "You have talent. Kids love cats." Then they had named the same two obstacles: "Parents hate comics [and it is they who make the purchase], and we cannot shelve this without a spine." So was born the rewrite, redesign and complete art-rework of a real children's book:  A Black Cat  named Smokey: On Vacation. It took the entire dead of winter 1992 to enlarge and revamp the art, ultimately filling the new layout for 64 pages, which was enough girth for a perfect-bound spine. Although I felt like a traitor to free art expression, I needed to sell this book! Word balloons-- Be Gone!

The final product made my Xeroxed comic book laughable by comparison. The ISBN and Library of Congress numbers added legitimacy as well. Excellent enough to take the next frightening step? It was now June. I called on the book buyer at Dayton's. I was petrified. The buyer said the requisite three magic words: Puss in Boots. Holiday show. Gift shop. Expecting to trudge home stoically, instead, I returned with giddy glee. The opportunities that accompanied the success of Smokey fueled my further creative adventures, right into the international book market in this new century.

See? My entire career shifted due to starting a pitiful little project.
Moral? Be brave! Make the effort and see where it leads.

To learn more about Robyn Dean McHattie, visit her Website: Robyn Dean McHattie

Monday, December 02, 2013

'Tis the Season...To Enjoy Christmas Picture Books! A post by CBIG Member, Chris Wold Dyrud

We artists love to collect Christmas picture books. Among my many books by illustrator Tomie dePaola, I see that ten of them are Christmas books.

by Chris Wold Dyrud
In his version of The Night Before Christmas, the art was inspired by his collection of New England quilts and traditional holiday folk arts. I still feel a sense of serenity in viewing his illustrated song, The Friendly Beasts. Just as a song moves along with a rhythm, the eye moves from page to page with rhythmic repetitions of verticals, groups of threes and the direction of the figures. I admire how simply he creates his characters and how solid they feel with their appealing rounded lines and folded fabrics. The Story of the ThreeWise Kings surprises us with his imaginative depictions of stars.

He has compiled songs and holiday traditions in Tomie dePaola’s Book of Christmas Carols and Hark,a Christmas Sampler, which was created with Jane Yolen and her son, Adam Stemple. In these two collections, he adapts his bright colors and shapes to folk art styles from many lands. 

You may have seen Merry Christmas Strega Nona, but have you seen Jingle, the Christmas Clown? It is another Italian village tale with dePaola’s endearing faces and animals. Children dressed up for a church pageant appear in his book, The Christmas Pageant. Even though I hadn’t thought of The Clown of God as a Christmas book, I am reminded that it ends with a heartwarming portrayal of the Madonna and child on the birthday of the Holy Child.

by Chris Wold Dyrud
So many other distinct styles of art are on my shelf: the whimsy in Hilary Knight’s Twelve Days of Christmas; the dramatic silhouettes of Jan Pienkowski’s Christmas; the muted, simple watercolors by Lisbeth Zwerger in O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi; the intricately textured scratchboards by Fritz Eichenberg in his version of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas; the unforgettable frosty pencil snow scenes by Susan Jeffers for Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

There will always be marvelous new holiday books, and some of our very own CBIG artists are creating them! I have illustrated many versions of the Christmas story for Sunday School Materials. The images in this post are examples of illustrations I have created for my own family Christmas cards. 

To see more of Chris's work, visit her website at www.chrisdyrud.com

Saturday, November 02, 2013

CBIG member Franklin Haws Kickstarter campaign

Hello everyone.

Wanted to quick share with you a kickstarter campaign that CBIG member Franklin Haws currently has for his book "Horrible Horribles"  Check out the campaign at the following link

Franklin Haw's "Horrible Horribles" Kickstarter campaign