Friday, April 29, 2011

Cricket in Times Square - 5

This is the last cricket post. I just wanted to share the little cricket I added to the top of the mat. The music notes are on a circle of acetate, his feelers are cloth covered florist wire.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Illustration Friday - Bicycle

I wish I had time to make a new illo for this week's topic but since it's already Thursday, I'm afraid it ain't happening. This is a little piece I did for an Illustration For Kids promo last year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cricket in Times Square - 4

Okay, here's the final art. But now I'm wondering if the other layout would have been better. Oh well, if I have time between now and the conference I may try and redo it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cricket in Times Square - 3

Well after weighing the options and and reading the feedback - thanks for the comments everyone. And thanks so much to the person that offered me easy ways to mail gift baskets to Bangladesh. I've decided to go with thumbnail #8. I was debating between 7, 8 and 11. But since this is a contest, I thought 8 would probably be showiest plus I was trying to appeal to that 3rd grader that stuck her nose up at the old cover and both of my kids opted for the versions with the bright city lights.

So next step is to clean up the thumbnail. First I wanted to get the perspective right on the buildings so I created a perspective grid and redrew the buildings. I used a vertical vanishing point to make it seem like the animals are looking up at the tall buildings.

To make my guides I created a bunch of lines in Illustrator emanating from a central vanishing point.

Then I copied and pasted those guide lines into Photoshop. I positioned one set of guide lines where I wanted my horizon line to be and a second off the top border of the image for the vertical vanishing point.

Following those lines I was able to clean up the perspective on the buildings. They are still really rough but better than before...

Next I'm going to start working on the characters.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cricket in Times Square Cover - 2

So I'm back working on my book cover remake for the New England SCBWI conference exhibition. Today I'm going to brainstorm different layouts. My goal was to come up with at least 10 different ideas for the cover.

The cover of the paperback version of the book is approx 5" x 7.5" so I made a page of thumbnails in those proportions. It's so annoying to design something and then have to wrangle it into a space that is fatter or skinnier, so best to start out with the right proportions. The other thing that I think is useful is to do the initial thumbnails in color. Maybe the colors will change but at least you have an idea of what it will look like. Sometimes images I love in black and white fall totally flat when I start adding color.

I was able to come up with a dozen ideas for the cover. These are messy and probably a bit hard to read, but is there any that catch your attention? (Click the image to enlarge)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cricket in Times Square Cover

I signed up to participate in the poster contest at the New England SCBWI conference this year. This year's theme is to redo the cover of a book that you consider a milestone in children's literature. I decided to do "The Cricket in Times Square." I chose that book for two reasons, one, because I really enjoyed it as a kid and two, I was helping out in the library at the elementary school last year and I recommended Cricket in Times Square to a third grader. When she saw the cover she curled her lip and said, "gee, it's sort of old looking."

So in the next few days I'll try and post my process for redesigning the cover for what it's worth. Maybe it will help someone else.

First, I was very lucky to happen to by in NYC earlier this week so I was able to take some reference photos of Times Square and actually sit down at a table and draw for a while and try to soak up the atmosphere. Note, right behind a police horse isn't the greatest location to draw.

Next I went to the book store (I went to Books of Wonder - Great kid's bookstore) and bought a copy of the book.

Then I started doing some online research. The first thing I did was google "Cricket in Times Square" I had remembered an animated version from when I was a kid and I also wanted to see if there were any other illustrations out there. I didn't want to duplicate something that's already been done. But check out what I found. The original cover art is actually up for auction! Sadly I don't have an extra $10,000 laying around. But it's pretty neat to see the original separations.

In the News

Here's an article from the newspaper in Chambersburg PA about my virtual author visit there last week.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Spring Postcard Mailer



My new spring postcard mailer. I printed these a few weeks ago but now with the spring peepers going to town outside my window, it seems very appropriate.

Virtual Author Visit via Skype

I just had an author visit with a group of kindergartners and first graders 430 miles away at the Corpus Christi school in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. And I didn't even have to put my shoes on. How cool is that!

One of the moms was kind enough to send along a photo of what things looked like from the other side.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well Skype worked for an author visit. The classroom was equipped with a smart board which they used to display the Skype call. On my end, I had a monitor set up at the far end of my desk so the kids were able to see me and also where I work. Skype even allowed me to share my screen with the kids so they can watch me draw on the Cintiq. I also used the screen sharing feature when I was reading my books. I had previously scanned in the book pages and set them up a power point presentation. That way the kids can see the illustrations nice and big and my mug didn't get in the way.

The main drawback that I could see was the delay. If I said something funny (or at least something I thought was funny) I didn't hear any laughter until halfway through the next sentence. It makes it a little hard to tell if you are knockin' them dead or dying a slow death. But luckily I did eventually hear laughs at all the right places.

If any other schools are interested in trying this, please email me. I'd be happy to discuss.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Photoshop Brushes - Flow Vs Opacity

I'm giving a presentation next month with my friend Carlyn Beccia at the New England SCBWI conference. I get to speak about Photoshop painting techniques. And I thought this would be a perfect time for me to really look at some of the features of the Photoshop brush tool.

When you click on the brush tool you have an option to set the flow and opacity of your brush. This is one of those things that I found very confusing in Photoshop. What the heck is the difference between Flow and Opacity? They both have to do with the transparency of the brush strokes, but depending on the brush you are using they can seem to do pretty much the same thing. But there are some difference between the two.

According to the Photoshop help file, flow sets the rate at which color is applied as you move the pointer over an area, where as opacity sets the transparency of color you apply. Umm, I don't know about you, but that really didn't help me a whole lot.

So let's take a closer look at each options. Let's select the hard round default brush. If we draw with this brush it looks like a think solid line but when we open the brush palette and increase the spacing we notice that this brush is lots of circles being laid down really close to one another, if you lay them down close enough together they look like one continuous line.

So for now let's leave the spacing kind of wide so the individual circles are touching slightly, somewhere around 70%. Now if I set the opacity to 100% and the flow to 100% and draw a line with this brush I get a sort of rippled solid blue line. No surprise there. If I leave the flow at 100% but reduce the opacity to 50%, I get the exact same ripply line only 50% lighter. But if I reverse it and leave the opacity at 100% and reduce the flow to 50% I get something a little different. Now, each little dab of the brush is reduced to 50% but where those little dabs overlap the paint coverage is actually darker than 50%.

Okay so that's not too confusing. Now what happens if I start reducing both the opacity AND the flow? This is where is can start hurting your head.

I like to think of opacity as being the main transparency governor. If I set the opacity to 75% then no part of my stroke will ever be stronger than 75% transparency. Within that 75% range I can decide how transparent each dab of the brush will be from 1 to 100%. So let's say my opacity is set at 75%, even if I set my flow to 100% my stroke will still only be 75% of the original color.

Right now you might be saying, well, that's great, but how is that going to help me with my painting? Look at these four samples. In each one, I scribbled around and around in circle until I could go no darker. As you can see the center of each dot is the same color (75% opacity) but you can see when I used a lower flow rate, I needed more little dabs of paint to get to that color. At 5% flow I was scribbling quite a lot longer than I was at 100% flow. So flow gives you a way to gradually build up to your darkest color where opacity lets you define what that darkest color will be. You can use this to your advantage to make your brush strokes more or less pronounced.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Photoshop Tutorial - Watercolors (sort of)

When it comes to digital art, there is a school of thought that feels that the more digital artwork mimics traditional mediums the better. Unfortunately, anyone who has tried to replicate watercolors knows that a computer tends to fall short when it comes to copying those "happy accidents" that are inherent in watercolor painting. So I say, why try? Instead of slavishly trying to replicate watercolors, this technique takes inspiration from a loose airy style of watercolor painting and incorporates it into something new and a little different.

This illustration started off by scanning in a finished pencil drawing. I sometimes do my final line work in Photoshop using various grainy brushes, but sometimes it just feels good to pick up a pencil and paper.

After I scanned in the drawing, I selected Image/Adjustments/Desaturate to convert the image to black and white. The paper I was using had a slight yellow cast to it and I didn't want that showing up in the final art. Next, I selected Image/Adjustments/Levels. I clicked on the white eyedropper and then clicked on the white of the paper to make paper really white. Next I selected the middle slider under the Input Levels graph and slid it slightly to the right to darken the pencil lines just a bit.

Once the pencil drawing was adjusted and looking right, I moved it to a layer above the background layer. The way I do that is to open the Layers windows and click and drag the background layer down to the "new layer" icon at the bottom of the layer window, it's the icon next to the trash can. This creates a duplicate of the background. Name this new layer, "outlines." Set the blend mode of this new "outlines" Layer to "Multiply" Next I select the background layer and click Select/All and fill the whole background with white. So now my image looks like this...

And my Layers window looks something like this...

Next I create a new layer between the background layer and the outlines layer and name this new layer "colors".

On the new "colors" layer I select the paintbrush tool and using a hard round brush and 100% opacity I start coloring in the picture. I purposely leave gaps here and there to leave bits of white showing between the colors just as if I was painting wet watercolors next to each other. If you aren't seeing the colors, make sure you have the outlines layer blend mode set to "multiply."

So now the image looks like this...

And the Layers window should look like this...

Now make a duplicate of the "color" layer. Lock the original color layer so you don't inadvertently mess it up, you may need to go back to it later. On the new "color copy" layer use the magic wand tool to select a flat blue area of color on his PJ's. Using various texture brushes and different shades of blue I added some variation to color. I also like to sneak in bit of different colors here and there. For more info on creating textures see my texture tutorial. Continue to add textures to all of the areas of the image. With all of the image textured, I have this...

The last step is to add some shadows to give everything a little dimension. I do that on a new layer called, you guessed it, "shadows". I set the opacity of this new layer to 20% and then using black and a grainy chalk-like brush I add some shadows.

Here you can see a closeup of the final art. As you can see, no one would ever confuse this with watercolors but hopefully it still has the same airy whimiscal quality.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New Promo Piece - Theme: Playtime

Technology allows you to do everything quicker and more efficiently, including screwing up!

This is a piece that I did for the new Illustration for Kids postcard. I was thinking about changing some of the colors, but I inadvertently overwrote the original file that had all the Photoshop layers. DOH!