Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Remember Why We Draw

The last few months have been busy. Busy is a good thing. It means that people like what we do and want to buy it, but sometimes we need to take a little time to remember why we do what we do. I have stolen a few moments the last few weeks to simply draw. No project, no purpose, no client, I drew just to draw. Drawing is the fundamental building block of every true artist, but sometimes we forget to draw. Life is busy and even in the midst of an art career, we sometimes stop drawing if it's not part of the current project When we forget to draw just for fun, we lose sight of WHY we draw and sometimes even feel like we have forgotten HOW to draw.

I fall into this trap all too often. Deadlines feel too tight to take a moment of frivolous drawing. It seems selfish to indulge in drawing for drawing's sake when the paying projects are nagging at you, but this is just what I did on a few recent outings. I don't regret the choice. The experience of drawing from nature with no intentions other than to capture what was in front of you and make it a permanent expression of your perceptions on paper is a powerful experience. I had forgotten how therapeutic it can be to simply draw for no other reason than to draw. I found myself immersed for a few moments in the shapes and textures of my subject. I found myself really seeing the things I was drawing and solving problems as I worked to get them down in my sketchbook. I was totally invested in the effort and for a moment there was nothing between me and the trees but a thin column of carbon. I became one with my drawing. This is why I draw.

I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen.
-Frederick Franck

In spite of everything, I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great disagreement, and I will go on with my drawing.
-Vincent Van Gogh

There will always be reasons why not to draw. but don't let the ups and downs, the pressures of life and deadlines derail you from your drawing. Draw on!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Jimenez Logo Redux

A couple of years back I did an illustration for a brand logo that was being revived. The brand had been used commercially for years, but had gone under during a corporate transition and fallen out of use. The new logo was to be a modernization of what I thought was a rather crude and dated look.

I did the illustration and it turned out very well. I thought I had captured beautifully the personality and essence of the company founder who was the face of the brand. The fully rendered version I completed consequently got mired in a conflict over the likeness of the company founder. In the end after more than a year of wrangling with the family foundation it was decided that the safest thing to do would be to go back to the logo version that was wholly owned by the brand and create a closely updated version from that.

Working closely with friend and fantastically talented illustrator designer Val Paul Taylor. I did a new, very graphic version of  the figure. Val then created an updated version of the typographic treatment  that brings the brand into the 21st century while paying appropriate homage to the 1980's version. The client was very satisfied with the outcome and they plan to relaunch the brand this year. I rarely get the chance to do something this graphic outside of a few t-shirt designs for my son's swim teams, so this was a fun change of pace that I hope to do more of in the future.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Taming Media Horses

This magazine assignment, which I finished last week, got me thinking about how much time I waste every week on low return investments online or on TV. The article's  focus was on how to rein in and control the consumption of media within the personal or family structure. How do you deal with the ever present access to information and entertainment that comes with smart phones, ipads, cable or satellite television and the like? Do we even realize how dependent we are on our precious devices? Do we know how corrupting this dependence on media is or worse yet, how damaging the seedy side of the Internet can be if abused? I got to thinking that while I use the Internet each day for my work, I could probably cut back on my consumption and that would be a good thing.

Then my phone froze while enjoying on one of my "favorite" mind numbing time wasters, Temple Run 2. If you are not familiar with the game, it entails leading an Indiana Jones type character on an endless run through jungle obstacles while trying to collect coins and other artifacts. I say endless, because you NEVER win. You rack up as high a score as possible before you die. But wait. You can save yourself and rack up even more points by spending the gems you have collected! Sweet right? OK, I admit I have had some fun with it, but it had gotten out of hand as I racked up over 200 gems and 250,000 coins on my way to level nine. I had spent coins on all the upgrades and had collected most of the bonus objects offered. I had different characters and had earned different hats they could wear. Then BAM! My phone froze while in the game. No problem right, these phones are smart. Just reboot and all is well. Not so fast. I went back into the game with some annoyance and was horrified to find that everything had been reset to ZERO! I threw the phone down on the floor and stomped it to bits. OK, not really, but I did mentally destroy the stupid thing. Then I thought about it and realized this was the perfect opportunity to simply give up the game. So I did. Haven't played it since and I have not missed it. On the contrary, I no longer have to worry about whether or not I completed the daily challenge or wonder what the next one will be. No more frustration when the game buffers and I slide off the end of the bridge and die. No great loss.

So, a small thing you say? Sure, but it was a catalyst and now I am thinking about other ways I waste time and the next obvious time suck is Facebook. Given that I use it quite a bit to promote my work and enjoy keeping up with other artists and friends, I am not intending to give it up completely, but it's time to go on a bit of a Facebook diet I think. Face to face interaction with real people is so much more rewarding anyway. What time suck would you be willing to give up?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Scuffy in 3X3 Picture Book Annual.

Last week I received the great news that pictures from  my personal project "Scuffy- A Scarecrow's Tale" have been accepted into the 3X3 illustration Annual. I've been trying to get the story published ever since I started the book as part of my MFA project back in 2009.

Finally, a picture book annual that had an unpublished category has come along and I am gratified to finally see at least part of the book in print. There was a snag in the process when I read in the submission guidelines that even unpublished entries needed to be submitted as "published" spreads and include the "cover".

I enlisted the help of friend and fellow artist Val Paul Taylor to give my spread mock ups and cover a nice type treatment. I am super excited with the wonderful type treatment he came up with for the "book". Scuffy is currently being shop by my literary agent, so hopefully I will actually get to finish the book at some point. Fingers crossed!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Alabama Story

I recently finished another piece of art for Pioneer Theater. This one for a new play that will have it's world premier this fall called Alabama Story written by Kenneth Jones. The plot revolves around a little known incident (at least I had not been aware of ) that happened in Alabama during the racial tension of the late 1950's.

In 1958,  Garth Williams, famously the illustrator for Charlotte's Web and the Little House on the Prairie books, wrote and illustrated a charming little tale of two rabbits who frolic together and fall in love. At the end of the book the two rabbits  wed in a ceremony attended by their fellow woodland creatures. Innocent enough, right?

Well in the racially charged South, this book became the center of a firestorm because, in the book, one rabbit was white and the other was black. The book was censored and a lawsuit raised to remove the book from the state funded library system. The story revolves around a white librarian, her childhood friend who is a black man and various other lawyers and State legislators who are immersed in sorting out this murky topic.

As I began sketching the art, and admittedly before I read the script, I thought it would be fun to use the rabbits as symbols for the racial tension. Early sketches revolved around the idea of the black and white rabbits and the book that precipitated the argument. Even after I changed the setting to the library shelves, the client felt that the furry rabbit angle gave too much of an impression that this was a children's play so that idea was scrapped.

I still wanted to evoke a feeling racial tension and imply the idea that the story somehow revolved around books, so we switched to the idea of the black character and the white librarian being on opposite sides of the the divide, in this case, a stack of books. The light filtering from the left side illuminates her as she reads and the the other side is symbolically more in shadow.

After this idea was approved, I set to work. I took photos and proceeded to the final drawing and rendering. I think it turned out pretty well considering my deadline was cut about three days short due to a planned excursion with my son. I had to scramble to deliver the art before I left town which included a 2:00 am bedtime one evening. I don't enjoy the late nights and avoid them as much as possible, but sometimes the deadline just has to be met, regardless of the lack of sleep.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Peter and the Starcatcher Poster

Some of you may be familiar with the Peter and the Starcatchers series of books by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Well, the story has been turned into a play that recently closed it's run on Broadway and is now being staged in other parts of the country. I had the luxury of picking a play to illustrate from several of the plays on the Pioneer Theater Company schedule for next season and this was among those on the list. I guess being old (or at least having a long track record working with the theater) has it's perks. It was a tough choice between  this and The Crucible but Peter ultimately won out.

For this one, I went through an unusually high number of comps before we settled on the winning design. At times this can be frustrating, because personally, I felt that they were all visually compelling and any one of the designs could work. But, I have learned over the years that the client is the one that has to be happy and I am hired to make that happen. Here's a run down of the idea sketches:

The theater wanted to play on the pirate idea, so the first two were pretty straight forward pirate cliche scenes with a nod to N.C. Wyeth.

 Idea three hinged on the "magic flying dust" that is being transported via old fashioned steamer trunk. I thought it would be fun to focus on that aspect of the story since everyone in the play wants to get their hands on it. That idea was liked except the creative director wanted more of a focus on the pirate ship.

 So the next idea I had was to do a split screen of sorts with the top of the ship above the water and the hull being shown below the water. The twist was to show the hull as a pirate skull. Great idea right? I love this one and will probably finish a version like this for fun, but the theater thought is was a little much. "Just a regular hull" was the directive, so back to the drawing board.

After decapitating the skull from the ship, it was obvious that there was something lacking in that big empty space. It needed a little magic, so I decided to let the sky full of stars filter down underneath the water. I intended to leave the area open for the title treatment, when I thought to myself, "why not do your own hand lettering?" Having done a few projects over the years with my own lettering, I decided to give it a shot. 

I came up with a nice "piratey" style that feels like it could have washed right up on treasure map. The theater loved it and agreed to bump up my fee to cover the hand done type. Moral of the story, if you happen to get an idea or two shot down, keep after it and find a way to make it your own. If I had not decided to tackle the lettering myself, I doubt I would be feeling so good about the final result. Who knows, maybe I will get more chances to do hand lettering after this.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summerbelle Final Art

Summerbelle Final Art (detail)- Greg Newbold- digital
I just finished up the illustration for the Summerbelle fruit carton. It's always fun to work with John Ball at BDG. I really enjoyed the process and it turned out to be one of my favorite jobs of the year so far with virtually no changes. I have to reinforce the fact that I followed all the steps that I have taught to students in the past which basically follows the basic recipe for illustration success. I have outlined it before, but it bears repeating:

1-Think. Get the idea right in your mind before you start, so you have a target you are shooting for. Think of possible alternate solutions and list them. On this job, it was pretty clear what the intention was, but I brought the idea of the umbrella to the solution which ultimately was what worked best.

2- Thumbnail Sketches. This is the most basic form of ideation on paper. Don't just chicken scratch out something vague and indecipherable. Take some care to get proportions, shape relationships, angles, POV, and value patterns defined at this stage. No details yet, but the "skeleton" is established. I made sure the angles of the pose were as dynamic as possible given the parameters of the space.

Final Summerbelle Art by Greg Newbold with graphic design by John Ball
3- Reference Gathering. In this case, I went to the trouble of renting a real costume and props from a professional theater resource. It cost a little more, but this was a good paying project and it was worth the added expense. I posed my model based on my thumbnail ideas and took lots of photos. I gave myself 2-3 alternate poses as well in case the client did not like what I proposed. I submitted two versions for consideration and the umbrella pose won out. Having great photo reference saved endless headaches and guessing.

4- Final Drawing. I draw my final drawings by hand despite the fact that this project and most of my illustration work is painted digitally. This gives me a chance to make adjustments and edits that deviate from the reference material, to stylize and to generally put my personal fingerprints on a piece.

5- Value Study. I made sure that my final drawing had the values and shadows established in a monochromatic fashion. My actual physical drawing has a certain amount of value in it and I reinforced it with multiply layer glazes of gray before stepping to color.

Summerbelle carton looking sweet with art on three sides
6- Color Study. I work out the color plan before diving in. When I don't, disasters happen. I've been doing this for a long time, so I admit that sometimes this is a mental color study for me. I thought about how I wanted the colors to pop based on the input from the client. The overall desire was that it wanted to fell light and summery. I did a quick Photoshop paint over on top of my sketch at a small size just to reinforce my instincts and then dove into the final art.
7- Final Art. At this point, most of the questions had been asked and answered. It was just a matter of getting all the details painted and then making sure the nuances were appealing. For instance, I went back into the shadows of the skin tones to bring some cool light into the up facing planes and warming up the down facing planes or adding reflected color as in the underside of the arm picking up the orange glow of the citrus fruit.