Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Using Color and Light to Tell A Story


Since the art I'm currently working on is still under NDA, I thought I'd show you some art that I did last year for the publisher William Sadlier. They commissioned me to do several Biblical scenes for their religious curriculum. (You can see another one I did in this older blog post.) I'm going to talk a bit about the process behind this illustration and about how I use color to tell a story.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there...as she stood at (Jesus') feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”...Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:36-50
This was the scene that I was tasked with illustrating. The client said that they wanted the woman to be crying, Jesus to be offering forgiveness, and the Pharisees looking offended and scandalized.


Here are some of the photo refs I took. These are so extremely lazy I'm kind of embarrassed to post them here. If you're an aspiring artist, don't follow my example here. Put, like, a tiny bit more effort into your lighting and costumes.


Oh hey, do you guys know what time it is?

That's right!

It's time for a Pharisee Reaction GIF™!


Here is the first rough that I sent.


Feedback from the client: they needed me to shift things around a little, wanted fewer Pharisees, wanted the woman to be looking up at Jesus with an expression of hope and surprise, and wanted to change Jesus's hand gesture to one of "absolution."

Time for another super lazy photoshoot! My specialty!

(Along with Pharisee Reaction GIFs™, obvs)


Look at the enthusiasm on my husband's face. He's like "ugh not this again."


Here is the revised rough.


From there I was approved to go to final.

So anyway, I promised I would talk about using color to tell as story. I love using color symbolism in my artwork, and in this piece I used it a lot. A common visual shorthand is to use warm, golden light for positive emotions, and cold light for negative emotions. This is something I learned from movies - warm, happy, nostalgic scenes often have a golden tint to them. Keep an eye out for it next time you watch a movie or show; they do this all the time.


So in this scene, I have the warm light hitting Jesus, while the Pharisees are lurking in a cool light coming from the left, and they're also wearing cool colors.


Secondly, I chose clothing colors that would work with both the storytelling and the composition. I dressed the "sinful woman" in scarlet, a color associated with (in Western cultures) emotion, seduction and guilt - think "the scarlet letter" or "caught red-handed." She's also wearing purple, which is associated with luxury, indulgence, etc. Although the Bible doesn't specify why she was known as "sinful," I thought that purple and scarlet would be more evocative than, say, ordinary browns or greens.


I dressed Jesus all in white. Not only is this one of the colors Jesus is traditionally depicted as wearing, but white is also associated with purity and innocence, which helps visually juxtapose Jesus and the woman. The aforementioned golden light works like a spotlight on Jesus' white clothing, making Him the brightest character in the room. This double whammy of light and color makes Jesus the focal point of the scene and also gives Him a divine "glow" that's more natural and subtle than a halo.


Overall this is a super colorful scene. If I was going for a more realistic, somber look, I would have toned the colors down and used more historically accurate earth tones. But since this is meant for a children's publication, it's good to amp up the color to make it more appealing for kids.

Looking back at this piece, there's a few things I would do differently. I guess that's a good sign, a sign that my artistic eye has improved over the past year. But overall I'm really proud of how this turned out.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

5 Tips to Draw Faster Without Getting Sloppy

If you want to be a freelance illustrator, you need to learn to work fast - not only in order to meet your deadlines, but also so that you can take on enough jobs to make a living.

Judging from conversations I've had with other illustrators, I get the sense that I work abnormally quickly - at least for a book illustrator. During busy seasons I may have to complete more than a dozen illustrations in a month. Back when I was working on Bible scenes, I had about two days to complete each one! After working at this pace for the past few years, I've developed some of my own techniques for drawing quickly and I thought I'd share them with you.

I'm not going to talk about premade brushes, photobashing, speed painting or other Photoshop shortcuts. This is a list of tips that can apply to all artists, no matter their industry or medium. Best of all, these are techniques that will improve the overall quality of your artwork, rather than making it look sloppy or rushed.

Here are my tips on learning to draw quickly without sacrificing quality.
  1. Use more photo references. If you're stuck drawing something over and over again because it doesn't look right, most likely you're not looking at photo references. Take the reference photos that you need, and 90% of the time this solves the problem. Don't spend an hour trying to draw a good hand from your imagination. Get off your butt, take a reference photo, draw the hand, move on!
  2. Leave details for last. If you render too early, you're more likely to waste time on something that later needs to be changed in order to fit the rest of the drawing. Make sure that you've completed the entire rough sketch and figured out all the tricky parts BEFORE getting caught up in rendering the highlights on your character's eyeballs.
  3. Practice short figure drawing poses. Go to a live figure drawing session, or try drawing people or animals in public, for example while riding the bus or subway. Use an online figure drawing generator and set the timer to 1 or 2 minutes. Try doing this for 15 minutes every day. This will teach you to work quickly, establish major shapes and not get caught up in rendering details.
  4. For complex buildings, objects or environments, use a 3D modeling program such as Blender or Google Sketchup. Sometimes clients have asked me to draw tricky things like a Victorian mansion with a wraparound porch or the Temple of Jerusalem. If I tried to draw those things from imagination, I would have spent hours going slowly insane. Instead I downloaded some 3D models, posed them in the correct perspective, traced over the major shapes, then added my own details and colors. To be clear, I'm not saying to slap photos or 3D models directly into your drawings. I'm saying to use them as basic perspective guides to draw on top of. (Here's some examples from myselfHoward Lyon and Wylie Beckert.) Although it takes a while to learn how to use a 3d modeling program, it will save you so much time and frustration down the line.
  5. Practice working under deadlines. When you're drawing for yourself, it's easy to get into the habit of taking your sweet time. You ponder, tweak, fiddle and change directions. While it's important to relax and enjoy your art, if you want to learn to draw faster, you need to light a fire under your butt! Give yourself an assignment with a less-than-comfortable deadline, or participate in a collaborative project like a zine or a group gallery show. Deadlines will force you to commit to artistic decisions and make them work. Think of it as a way to practice decisiveness.
Now get cracking, artists!

Have you discovered any tips and tricks for drawing more quickly? Please let me know in the comment section?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Mysteries Unraveled Series




I haven't been able to post much artwork on the blog lately, but believe me I have been drawing every. Single. Day. Some of it is a new project that I'm really excited about but can't share online just yet. Hopefully soon!

In the meantime, I realized that I never showed off this 12-book cozy mystery series for which I did all the cover illustrations. I've showed a few of the covers on this blog, but not the entire series altogether. This is the Mysteries Unraveled series from Annie's Publishing.


It may not be as dramatic as my Bible illustration commemorative photo, but still it's satisfying to see all these covers collected in one place. I didn't realize until I saw them all together that they ended up with a really consistent green-purple color scheme!


I was right out of art school when Annie's Publishing contacted me about doing this series. I had never even heard of the "cozy mystery" genre before. I was extremely lucky to have such a patient, communicative, and kind publisher as my first client. They give me a LOT of artistic freedom and that makes it fun. I've done over 30 book covers with them now. In fact, by the end of the year I will have finished all the covers for a 24-book series, the "Amish Inn Mysteries"! And yes you BET I will line up all the books and take a photo when it's finished. That's kind of my thing now, I guess.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Helpful Links for Illustrators, July 2017


Every few weeks I post a bunch of links related to illustration, publishing, self-employment and personal motivation. I collect these from all over the web and hope that you find them as helpful and inspirational as I did.
  • Corarda - an amazing resource website with curated lists of art-related blogs, podcasts, events, education, communities and more. Basically, it's the ultimate version of my "helpful link" posts. If you're struggling to find a way to get started as an artist online, you'll find something helpful here.
  • All About Running An Online Shop by Fran Meneses - a video log about the nuts and bolts of how Fran runs her very busy Etsy shop. Fran's whole YouTube channel is great stuff.
  • How I learned to Draw by Kiri Leonard - On Kiri's brand new YouTube channel, she shares some of her early childhood drawings, weird teenage drawings, and how she became the working illustrator she is today.
  • What Game Recruiters Really Think of Your Portfolio by Gavin Goulen - if you're aiming to become a character artist at a game studio, this is a very honest, thorough, and informative read!
  • Abandoning the Preciousness by Stephanie Law - an inspiring blog post about overcoming "artist block" and developing the habit of drawing every day.
Do you have a blog post that you think might be useful for aspiring artists? Have you read any good articles lately you think I should include on my next list? Please leave a comment!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ranger in Time #6: Interior Illustrations


I drew 16 black-and-white illustrations for the interior of Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake. As I said in my last blog post about the process of creating the cover, this was one of the most challenging assignments I'd ever received. Although every Ranger in Time book has lots of action and danger, this one, set during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, was packed with a lot of city scenes and crowd scenes - both particularly difficult to draw.


In the sketch above, the main characters are dragging a cart down Market Street. While I was attending the Academy of Art University I often walked down this street and sometimes rode the the ferry to Larkspur from this very pier building.

This was a challenging piece to do because of the perspective. First I downloaded a 3d model of the pier building in Google Sketchup and set it up at the perspective I wanted.


I cross-referenced the pier building with some pre-earthquake photos. Then, I looked at photos of the earthquake to inspire the buildings on the sides of the illustration and the crowd in the middle.



Here is the finished version:


And a closeup:


For other scenes, instead of using 3d models I took my own reference photos. In one chapter, the main characters have to pull a boy out from some wreckage. I took pictures of myself pretending to lift up my couch.


And....being stuck...I guess.


Next I looked at photographs of Chinese children from the turn of the century, taking note of their outfits, hairstyles and shoes.





Check out this kid:


Clearly he's one of the gold miners.

Ba dum ching!

Anyway here's the sketch:


Did you guys know I studied Chinese for a year in college? Well I did. It was very hard. One of the few things I can still say is "我不會說中文." However, I did get to use a little of that education in this scene by writing the words "rice" on the bag on the floor and "seasonings" on the shelf.

So...worth it, I guess?

我不知道.


I don't want to give away too much of the book, so if you want to see more, order a copy of Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake, written by Kate Messner, available June 27! The paperback version is only $4!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book cover: Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake!


Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake, written by Kate Messner and published by Scholastic, comes out on June 27. In this episode of the series, everyone's favorite time-travelling golden retriever goes back to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, where he helps a lonely Chinese girl navigate the chaos of the disaster and find a new family.

I was really excited to work on this book because I grew up in the San Francisco area, and Chinatown was one of my favorite places. I was always asking my mom to take me there to look at the shops, eat dim sum and drink tea.

I quickly realized though, that as sentimental as the setting was to me, it was going to be a huge challenge to illustrate. The last Ranger in Time book was fairly easy to draw because it was set in the desolate landscapes of Iceland. But for this book, the Ranger in Time team was demanding my A-game: they wanted CHAOS! FIRE! DESTRUCTION! CROWD SCENES! BUILDINGS!

PERSPECTIVE!!!!!

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo


The team asked for Ranger, running through the rubble-strewn streets of San Francisco, with the main character behind him. These are my three roughs. The team decided they liked the middle one the best, but asked me to put the ruins of City Hall in the background.


The team liked this rough and asked me to add in a smoky sky, and then to send them a color rough.

Here's where I started to run into some problems. I was looking at many, many black-and-white photographs of post-earthquake SF, and I think my brain was just stuck in black-and-white mode. Smoky skies are grey. Ruined buildings are grey. Rubble is grey. Ranger in Time covers are usually super colorful - how was I going to work color into this scene?

My first idea was to have a bright orange sky, lit by the fires that charred the city after the earthquake. But I quickly learned...

...that an orange dog and an orange sky do not mix. Thankfully I never sent to the above color rough to the publisher, because I knew it was no good. I started to get frustrated, and I started throwing all sorts of crazy colors at the scene, just to see what would stick. (Insert angtsy artist montage here. Crumpling up papers and tossing them on the ground. Rubbing tired eyes. Drinking, smoking, toppling over easels in fits of rage.)


What emerged was a yellow-purple sky. Bizarre, but it works.

The Ranger team asked me to amp up the chaos by adding in fire to City Hall, a crack in the street, more toppled telegraph lines, and bigger smoke. (I can hear my art professor's voice telling me "more drama, Kelley! More drama!" When will I learn, Julie???)


This is one crazy cityscape! Good luck out there, Ranger, you're gonna need it!





Here is the complete cover, designed by Maeve Norton.

Ranger in Time #6: Escape from the Great Earthquake comes out on June 27. I also illustrated 16 interiors for the book, which I will show a sneak peek of on Thursday!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Helpful Links for Illustrators - May 2017


Every few weeks I post a bunch of links related to illustration, publishing, self-employment and personal motivation. I collect these from all over the web and hope that you find them as helpful and inspirational as I did.

Do you have a blog post that you think might be useful for aspiring artists? Have you read any good articles lately you think I should include on my next list? Please leave a comment!
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