Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hurray for Gustaf Tenggren!

Gustaf Tenggren is a major inspiration and influence of mine, although I'm not sure how much it shows in my work. He hugely influenced illustrators and animators of the mid-century and continues to be much loved today. The Animation Resources article below is a nice overview of his work and legacy.

More of my favorite drawings by Tenggren and other illustrators here:

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown

I believe Mummy Cat came to my attention through a video review on a youtube channel. However I found out about it, I am exceedingly glad to know it. I seem to be collecting books old and new that are inspiring and motivating in their excellence and bring me hope as far as interesting, original work getting picked up by large publishers. This was put out last year by Clarion Books under Houghton Miflin.

The wonderfully gothic cross-species love story strays from the safe territory kids books are expected to stay within. From the start, death is a central theme, as the two main characters, a queen and her pet cat, are mummies.

The gothic motif and the educational content make this an uncommon book. The fact that it is paired with excellent art makes it an outstanding book. Brown's work is beautiful. She is the real deal. Her use of papyrus texture works very well as do her strong lines and rich colors. The only thing I would have changed is the lack of strong shadow. Shouldn't a tomb be gloomy? A little darkness would have hit home the melancholy story. The character design is cute and friendly enough to have supported darkness without getting too scary.

The story is followed with an appendix - two illustrated pages giving background on the historical bits woven into the story. I love this kind of geekery. There is a postscript as well mentioning the Egyptologists that proofed the book for any inaccuracies. Picture books that impart knowledge are rare and marvelous. The idea of including real world details and esoterica into kids books is exciting and I will definitely be doing same.

Super lovely Egyptian themed endpaper

As you can tell, despite my blurry phone pic, the illustration work by Lisa Brown is amazing!

Excellent use of watercolor and ink, maybe gouache too. Ms. Brown has a timeless style, elegant lines and unassuming simple shapes.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Little Gorilla — My Micro Library Find

I'd like to give a little praise to an old picture book I just found out about. I picked this one up from a microlibrary while on a walk with my baby boy. I love the mocrolibrary trend that is growing in Seattle residential neighborhoods. Although, I don't have my own, I've picked up and left dozens of books with them.

This particular find is titled Little Gorilla and is by Ruth Bornstein. It was first published in '76 but has more recently been released as a board book. This little book is a gem and pleases me on four levels.

Firstly, I love the art. The colored pencils are really great. It lends a softness and handmade friendliness that must be lost on the legions of illustrators insisting on using cold pixels to ply there craft. The drawings themselves are full of character and humor, especially the gorillas.

Secondly, I love when authors illustrate or illustrators author. There is a certain synthesis that happens rarely found in collaborations. Bornstein created this book, both words and pictures. Also, it is the opposite of what the childrens book publishers try to do. they insist on taking authors stories and pairing them with an illustrator from their stable. This to me seems like a fantastically bad idea but it's what we as creators trying to get published are up against.

Thirdly, my little one loves this book. He flips the pages eagerly to get to the page with a lion baring his  teeth and then leans in to get a good look.

I should also mention that is a very sweet story with a simple message of love and acceptance.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Where our hero sleeps and dreams up new mysteries

Here is a crop of the art for the toddler's bedroom - where the story begins! This was completed a couple years ago. I'm very busy with a 2-3 week gig right now so I might have to mine from the past for a couple weeks. Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Busstop Apology

This is an apology to the man I was waiting for the bus with this morning.

You were smartly dressed in a grey suit with a briefcase; probably late forties with short salt and pepper hair. You said good morning to me as I arrived at the busstop — a kind and rare gesture.

A couple minutes later, I asked if it was supposed to clear up later today. He  hadn't checked, didn't know. He didn't need to know, he explained. He worked in a cubicle investigating credit card fraud. He said this as if he were dismayed with himself. He said he spent some of his youth working outdoors. He turned back to himself perhaps reminiscing about those times. Taking a page from my ex-wife's playbook of interacting with strangers, I asked him the big question.

"What work do you really want to be doing?"

He paused not long at all. "Something with plants and dogs." He brightened up at the thought; at saying it out loud.

"That sounds pretty chill," I said, inwardly cringing at using the word "chill". And not sure how to encourage him without sounding trite or unrealistic. My ex would have said something encouraging and hopeful, but I was not practiced at this. Instead I said something not encouraging.

"...although, I know from experience, dogs can be difficult to work with." My heart sunk after I blurted these words. Just then the bus pulled up and we got on saying no more.

So, sorry man waiting for the number 2. I too need encouragement to follow my dreams. I, too, go to work at a job that doesn't inspire me or utilize my skill or passion.

Next time I see you, I will try to encourage you. I will share my goals and passions, the ones I am working towards, and maybe tell you about this blog.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Shedding Attachments

At that first meeting there was Steven, Keith's very close friend, Keith and me.  I knew Steven from back when I got to know Keith. Steven had impressed me as a guy with a wonderfully droll sense of humor. He could make me laugh because of his timing and dry delivery. Steven both speaks and writes like someone who loves language. Also, Steven loves movies.
After catching up on life, family, work and current events, we commenced our meeting. Keith shared the sprout of an idea that I mentioned in the last post  and what the thinking was as far as how the book would be interactive.
As we held more meetings, soon Keith brought Chad aboard, a graphic designer friend that played music with Steven and Keith almost weekly. Chad, I had never met before but right off the bat was clearly a genuinely friendly, refreshingly sincere man. I would learn of his graphic design talents later.
In those early meetings the story emerged. The case was centered around a broken cookie jar. How did it break? It happened unexpectedly in the early morning, it's resounding crash waking up the protagonist, arousing his passion to solve a mystery no matter how puzzling.
After Chad was brought on it wasn't long before we had a fifth member, Matt Jarvis. Keith met Matt while working at Zipper Interactive. Matt was brought on to do the programming, to make the pictures and words interactive.
He came to several meetings but because of family demands he had to stop coming. Also, it's fair to say, because of our slow progress he decided to give us some time to get our assets together. Not sure if Matt would still be interested in coming back — it's been a heck of a long time and we are still not done creating our assets. Again, that is mostly if not entirely my doing.
Because of the slow progress and lack of a programmer, Keith proposed the idea of focusing on a printed book. I stubbornly resisted this notion. I took a stand against it.
This was conceived as an interactive book and we were all inspired by that original concept! It's our take on the interactive kids book that will make our product stand out! It's our angle! -I complained. I was afraid of losing my passion for this project. I was afraid of settling for less than the dream. (Yes, a procrastinator can be passionate. It's just a lack of praxis that has got me in trouble.)
Later, Keith made another pitch to focus on the printed book and by that time I had softened, I agreed. Now I feel silly for not trusting that this book is not sufficiently special without interactivity.
These are the reasons to focus on print first:
Books are wonderful. We all love the printed book.
We couldn't rely on Matt to program the interactive book and hiring a programmer would cost too much. We would have to raise the programming money.
If we had a physical book we could use it, leverage it, to raise money for a programmer or acquire a publisher that wanted to sponsor the digital interactive version.
Creating a book and an interactive book at the same time was difficult, time-consuming and messy.
Nevertheless, I am excited for the day where we make this book the digital masterpiece that we envisioned.

Dad the culprit(?)- Page in progress, pre-color, detail

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Origin Story

This is the beginning—the beginning and the middle. It's a first time blogging in earnest. (Try to overlook rusty writing skills and disorganized thoughts.) It's the middle of production on a children's picture book. (I'll call it a storybook from here on out, but it is, in fact, a picture book heavy on story.)

These pages will chronicle the completion of that book, a story about a very young detective and his companion who happens to be the family dog. 

I am Otto, the illustrator.

The project is in fact two-fold: 1) print our book and 2) convert that book into an interactive storybook for tablets. If there is a third step it is simply to conquer the world.

I came to this project in May of 2012 with a call or email (I don't remember which) from a friend I met during my Art Institute of Seattle student days, Keith Sjoquist. Over a pitcher of beer at the Wedgwood Alehouse he explained how he and his good buddy Steven had begun writing what they wanted to be an interactive storybook for tablet devices. I knew next to nothing about the medium and what titles were on the market. 

I wondered, was I the right person for this project?

At that time, I had no real experience in creative collaboration. Also, I had no idea if Keith and Steven could write. I knew Keith had a lot of interesting ideas and a capacity to try different things — to think big, to follow his creative whim. He is warm, charming and a natural leader. I could tell he was excited about the kid's book idea. I was wary but curious. He invited me to a meeting about the project at his place. Surely, it would be a fun time. I said yes.

Every other week or so, in a cozy cedar shake shack behind Keith's house, I met with Chad, our graphic designer, and with Steven who I hadn't seen since he roomed with Keith during our AIS years. That was 8 years ago. 

That night Keith and Steven shared what they had in mind for the story and how it would be interactive. I can't remember if they had anything written. The story was still just a seed: a young child detective that tries to solve mysteries despite his lack of experience and reasoning power. The reader would know who-done-it before the detective. The working title of the book was The World's Worst Toddler Detective.

I imagine I was hooked right away. Or maybe I wasn't really hooked until I started designing the characters. This was four years ago, so it's hard to recall. 

So, why is the book not finished yet? -you might ask. It's one of those things. Speaking only for myself, and quite candidly, I have suffered from a severe case of procrastination which stems from a sort of performance anxiety. Sure I have had a lot of things going on in my life and not a ton of free time. I could have done the drawings necessary for this book to be completed several times over if I had been determined and able to conquer my procrastination. 

You might say that it's because of this works importance to me that it has taken so long. It's all about anxiety. The story of me completing this book, (the writing was completed long ago) is going to be about me finishing a big personal project in the face of my anxieties and doubts. Hurrah!

Funny thing... I have gotten divorced, met a new partner and had a baby boy in the last few years. New beginnings! Young Desmond and his mama are my guiding inspiration and motivation to see this dream through. It's too good of a thing to let slip through my fingers. I want the pride and satisfaction of reading this book to my boy.

-- Next entry: The rest of our origin story and why we are focusing on a printed book --