Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kids Stuff

I really enjoy doing illustrations for children's magazines. The assignments are usually very fun and creative, and allow me to draw some crazy things. Whenever I work on stuff for kids, I'm always reminded of how different my day-job is from, say, working in an office somewhere. Its strange sometimes when I talk to people and they talk about what they did at work that day, and then they ask me what I did -- and I tell them something like "I drew monkeys riding tricycles today" or "today, I designed three different kinds of monsters doing aerobics" or something like that.

Here are some spot illustrations drawn over the last few months for children's publications:

These were drawn for the excellent Nickelodeon Magazine -- always a fun magazine to work for. They were fake games designs for a feature on Christmas-related board games -- as in "what if famous games were customized for the holidays?"

This mummy was also drawn for Nickelodeon, but for their Halloween issue. I think it was even turned into a sticker - cool!

These two were character designs for a children's book project that I was originally supposed to work on, but had to back out of due to some scheduling conflicts. They were also fun to draw, so I thought I'd share them here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Miss Mary Marvel!

I had an unexpected evening off work recently, so I found a couple of hours to do this quick painting of everyone's favourite superheroine-next-door, Mary Marvel. I've always dug the Marvel Family of heroes ever since I was 6 years old and saw the old "Shazam!" cartoon on TV. Since I had a little extra time, this one was painted old-school style with gouache on water-colour paper. The benefit of working in gouache (as opposed to my regular marker method) is that the colours go on so flat and clean that it requires very little photoshop cleanup after it's painted. You can compare the final to the rough pencil sketch on the right.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

My Favourite Cartoonists Part 2: Noel Sickles

Noel Sickles is the Man. Although he's primarly remembered as an illustrator and worked as a cartoonist for only a handful of years in the 1930's, Sickles revolutionized comic art. While Milt Caniff is justly celebrated for his deep chiascuro art-style, it was Sickles who taught his friend the basics of that approach. During the few years that he worked on the comic strip Scorchy Smith, Sickles really laid the groundwork for much of the cartooning that came after. In my opinion, few people did black and white artwork as well as he did, and none did it better.

As a writer, Sickles is nothing special, but as an artist and draftsman, he was second to none. His style was characterized by boldness, spontaneity and a sense of restless experimentation. I always got the feeling that Sickles was so good that he got bored very easily and was constantly inventing new ways of drawing just to keep himself interested in working at a high level. He was masterful in pen and ink, he did wonderful duo-tone artwork and most of all, he had an absolutely beautiful and lush black brush-work style. At a time when most people were doing line-art based cartooning, Sickles was more interested in shadows and lighting, using rich black areas to make his drawings leap off the page. He understood light and atmosphere like few others of his era and he used that knowledge to great effect in his art.

For me personally, I learned about line drop-outs, proper back-spotting and letting art just breathe from studying his work. The man could render snow in black and white better than anyone I'd ever seen. He drew jungle scenes that took my breath away. And nobody gave me the feeling of just being there in a scene, in a few quick brush strokes, better than Sickles. On my best days, when I feel I've really nailed in ink an impression of a place or a certain kind of light, I sometimes feel like I'm just doing my best, but very weak, impression of Noel Sickles.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Toronto Back Alleys pt. 13

For those who asked, here's another back alley painting. And, like the last one, its a winter scene. This one took a little longer than usual to draw, mainly because I was trying to be very careful with it. I drew this after I had screwed up a drawing just previous to this one (not posted here). There's few things that bum me out more than blowing a drawing in the last few moments after spending hours on it. It really deflates me. An old art teacher of mine once told me that you don't make one mistake, you always make at least two -- you make a mistake and then you quickly make another trying to fix it. And then, sometimes, you make another and another....which of course, is exactly what happened! Anyway, the problem with working with coloured inks like I do is that there's very few ways to fix mistakes once you've made them. I also try to be fairly spontaneous and loose with these sketches as well, so it can be a bit of a balancing act trying to experiment without making mistakes.

Regardless, I thought this one worked out well enough to share here. I hope you like it!

Monday, March 12, 2007

My Favourite Cartoonists Part 1: Roy Crane

Whenever people ask me about my influences as a cartoonist, Roy Crane is always near the top of the list. I first encounted his work almost a decade ago, and its been a source of great inspiration ever since. I know there's been a resurgence of interest in the work of early comic strip artists lately, and great cartoonists like Noel Sickles, Frank Robbins and Alex Raymond are being re-discovered by a whole new generation, but sometimes it seems to me that Roy Crane is still being neglected and not being afforded the respect he's due.

As a pioneer of the adventure strip form during the 1930's, Crane was very popular and influential with the first generation of comic book creators and well known in his day. Even the late great Alex Toth often mentioned how much he respected Crane's elegant and refined cartooning. However, many people today seem unaware of his art and writing and just how beautiful and humane it was.

Personally, I learned a lot from studying Roy Crane's comic strips. His strip Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy is a wonderful blend of humour and light hearted, all-ages adventure -- the kind that doesn't seem to exist any more. But his follow-up strip, Buz Sawyer, is even better, in my opinion. Like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes, when I read Buz Sawyer, I get a real sense of the warmth and humanity of the artist's personality. And Crane was an absolute master of adventure continuity writing. If you read a handful of strips, you'll be hooked on the story line and characters for good.

As for his artwork, its a joy to behold. The Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy artwork is a big-foot cartooning treat, but man, that Buz Sawyer stuff is absolute heaven! If you want to know where I get my two-tone sensibility from, the secret is that a good part of it comes from Crane and Buz Sawyer. He drew that strip on duo-tone board, so it was illustrated in black, white and a couple of grey tones -- all of which he handled masterfully. There's some panels I saw early in my career that just completely floored me, and they convinced me to stop working in just black and white and start adding a half-tone or second colour. The illusion of light and atmosphere he created with his duo-tone artwork was incomparable and when it was coupled with his cartooning, which stressed clarity and stripped compositions down to their essential elements, the result was magic.

I can see the influence of Roy Crane in many other cartoonists that I admire like John Severin, Joe Shuster, C.C. Beck and Jaime Hernandez, and I hope that more and more people will discover his art, and the wonderful body of work he left behind.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Illustration Work: Karnhuset (part 5)

Ok, here's one last image from my recent series of illustrations done for swedish agency, Karnhuset. This one's pretty simple, just a cake and piechart combo -- nothing to it, right? Except for the fact that after I drew it, the nice people at the agency actually got a baker to fabricate a cake based on my design for their promotion! How crazy cool is that?! Now I've designed stuff that went on t-shirts, CD-covers, even toys, but I've never had a cake made based on something I drew! Too bad that they're in europe, and weren't be able to send one to me -- I'd love to know what my favourite green colour tastes like. Yum!

Special note: My thanks to my fabulously talented wife, Claudia, for turning my drawings here into a vector file. She's a wonderful artist in her own right, and an expert at drawing food. I drew the original image in marker, and she converted it all in Illustrator to an eps file -- and even I couldn't tell the difference!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Illustration Work: Karnhuset (part 4)

Here's two more illustrations, drawn for the swedish agency Karnhuset for their website redesign. Like the other drawings done for them (which I posted here in December), these are portraits of their staff members. As with most of my work, I drew this in marker and ink and then colour corrected it a bit in photoshop. The final artwork on their website has a different colour scheme, but I thought I'd change 'em up before posting them here for variety's sake.

Also, just for fun, I thought I'd post the various concept sketches and pencil roughs that were done for the client on the way to drawing the final artwork and having it approved. You can see it all for yourself below: