Most people I encounter don’t understand the hours of work that go into each Illustration. For some strange reason, they have the impression that illustrators simply sit down and about twenty minutes later—out pops a completed painting. Unfortunately, this is far from realistic. When I speak in schools I liken the illustration process to that of the writing process. I always begin with research. I’ll use my newest painting as an example: The Frog Catcher.
I began with frog research. What do these slimy creatures look like? What is their proper anatomy? Which way do their legs bend? Only by understanding the true anatomy and what makes a frog…well a frog, can I then stylize and warp it to my own unique ends. Then I move to sketches, a basic rough draft that I know will change as it becomes more and more finished.
Since this particular character did not yet have a story in which he belonged I moved to a color comp next to try to get a feel for who he was, and what in the world he was doing with all these frogs.
I loved his little determined expression and all the crazy frogs, but I wasn’t sure where this character was going yet so I showed him to my mentor EB Lewis. EB liked him too and suggested I find a home for him. Where is he now? Where is he going? What is he doing with all those frogs? So, I went to work again. I liken this to the editing process when writing. More research, more sketches, and quite a few hours later I discovered my frog catcher lived in the bayou and was planning to have frog legs for dinner! I worked up the sketch for a background and created another color painting.
I liked the depth in the background and the additions of the dog and bucket but I felt that something was still missing. If this little guy was hunting around in the Bayou all day there’s no way he’d be so clean! EB also suggested that I bring the boat into the foreground more, give the ground more interest, and add some more dramatic lighting. Back to the drawing board for more research, more sketches, some trial color comps (more editing) until I arrived here:
I knew I was close, but still no banana, everything had turned muddy—my colors, my background vs foreground, my water. Yuck, bad painting day, everyone is allowed one once in a while. Back to the drawing board for the fourth time—or painting table in this case! Until I finally ended here…
Mud only where it belongs, a definite foreground, middle ground and background, emotion, narrative and interaction. In short, a story for my crazy character. And all told it only took about forty hours of work!
Frog legs anyone?