Concept drawings, over and over


I’m still struggling to create the look for Jimmy Jay. I’m frustrated that every time I draw him, he looks different. I’m hoping that if I draw him a 100 or 200 times that I’ll eventually work out how to draw him. Here are some of today’s renditions of Jimmy Jay, hero of The Jay Who Fell Down the Chimney.

Instead of a fireplace, what about a potbelly stove?


While I was researching fireplaces for my children’s book, I came across pictures of potbelly stoves. My grandmother actually had one of these, and a terrifying wood-fired kitchen stove. I’ve been wrestling with the complications of explaining how to open a chimney flue to let my errant jay bird escape — flues aren’t a big topic in books for 5-year olds. Serendipitously, the potbelly stove solves my problem — it’s obvious that you only have to open the top door and Jimmy Jay would simply fly out the door. No explanation required.

This gouache painting uses the Zorn palette (yellow ochre, vermillion, lunar black, and white). No photoshopping for this one.

The villain enters the story


The fireplace and its chimney are the villains of my story. I needed a model for this character, so I talked my fireplace into posing. My fireplace is actually used for storing my overflow books, but for simplicity’s sake I decided to leave them out.

I’ve been painting for the last week using only the Zorn palette and I like the restrictions it places on me. Since I’m just learning about color mixing, working with only three colors and black and white is actually liberating. These few colors have become almost comforting, whereas my bigger palette with 32 colors is scary.

Character concept: little boy alarmed


My goal for this painting was to practice using the least number of brush strokes possible to apply the color to my sketch. My gouache and watercolor paintings suffer from my tendency to use too many faint-hearted little strokes but today I really piled on the gouache in a series of single, heavy strokes. I gave myself a pat on the back.

I did all of the line work in Photoshop and also touched up the stray paint and other marks. This character is the little boy who lives in the house with the chimney that animals like to fall down into every year. In this picture, the boy, who doesn’t have a name yet, is pointing to the chimney and yelling to his grandmother that there’s something inside the fireplace. I’d like to get more feeling into this gesture, and more alarm into his face. It looks like I’ll have to photograph myself yelling with a little fear in the eyes, or maybe Muybridge can help out.

Jimmy Jay and Topaz make eye contact


I spent my painting time putting together the sketch and color layers I created yesterday. I thought it would take about an hour, but it took much longer. I spent more time on the digital compositing than on the actual drawing and painting. Photoshop is an awesome and seductive time sink. Still, I like what I can do with PS. I’m happy working in a hybrid way, using traditional media to create and digital to get it ready for publication.

The final image of two day’s labor… One of the problems with animal characters is what to do with their tails. Notice that Jimmy doesn’t have a tail, but Topaz does.

Hmmm. It looks like I’ve mislaid Topaz’ eyepatch.

Sketching, painting, and compositing

Today I started a painting that I couldn’t finish in one hour. It was a somewhat complex painting of two of my characters passing each other on the street, Jimmy Jay and Topaz the feral cat. So far I’ve got a sketch and some colors. My contract says that if I don’t finish in one hour, I have to post the work in progress.

I scanned the sketch before I started painting. Too many times I’ve been lazy and didn’t take the 2 minutes to scan and have regretted it.

Off to a good start. Gotta work on the extended arm perspective.

And the colors.