About Me

My photo
Indiana, United States
I have done pictures since I can remember. I took all the art classes in junior high and high school I could and naturally became an art major in college. I graduated with a BFA in art and writing and marry the two by writing and illustrating children's books.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How'd You Do That?

When people see my book, Drive, the first thing they generally ask is
“What medium is this done in?
“It’s all digital,” I say.
I usually receive a blank look.

It’s computer art. But that doesn’t mean I type into the computer,
“draw a big red truck,”
and voila: a big red truck.

I’ve had well-meaning folks press me on the issue if I am really doing art, since I get a lot of help from the computer. That’s actually the topic of my next entry. Here, I’d like to talk about the real process first and give you a look inside.


First of all, these pictures are not 3D renderings like Toy Story, Cars, etc. These are my drawings that are, well—painted on a computer. Each one is an original creation rather than a camera shot within a 3D scene. Call them Digital Airbrush paintings, if you will. See more.

In college, I struggled through two airbrush classes. I actually enjoyed the second one more, since I approached it as a free-form method. Airbrush, you see, is very tedious. You have to mask out everything that isn’t getting painted. Then, re-mask and paint the next object. The airbrush constantly gets clogged with dried paint and either stops working or splatters. If it splatters, your painting could be toast.

The computer has replaced all that with color blending and gradients within shapes.

That’s enough lead-in. Here’s how it worked. Once I had a story ironed out, I thumb-nailed a storyboard. Then, I found people who were willing to model for each character and had them pose for the camera. My brother was the model for the trucker. His son (my nephew, of course) was the inspiration for the towheaded boy; my mom was the café waitress.

Research is very important. I have several people to thank. I photographed Mack trucks several times to get the details correct. One day I spent in, out and around a truck owned by a friend, Tom. I also visited a Mack dealership where the actually pulled a truck out of the row and let me get into it and shoot it all around. Also, the sales manager, Terry looked at my story a couple of times to make sure that the story I was telling was plausible. I also have to mention my friend Jerry, who was once a driver. He also consulted.

Another fun thing I did: I bought 2 scale models of Mack tractor-trailers—one with a box trailer and one with a tanker. I set up dioramas and shot those too. Using my shots of people and blending them with my dioramas, I did my tight drawings. This is how I visualized many aerial views of the truck.

After my publisher saw these pictures and gave the nod, I scanned them and used them as templates for my final artwork.

I use a program called Adobe Illustrator. Maybe you’ve played around with a pen tool in a drawing program. That’s the same tool I use. Everything, every detail, is a shape. Then, I choose color and fill the shape. It can't end there, though. If so, it would have a flat graphic appearance. I wanted all the subject matter to have form, shadow and highlights. To get that, I had to create blends—one color gradually changing into another. But the coloring on objects doesn’t always just blend from one to another in a straight line like it’s following a T-square. Colors can meander around. For these instances, I created gradient messes within the shapes. This function creates a mesh work all through the shape (with as many meridians as I determine) with a point at each intersection in the mesh. Then, I assign a color to each point and the colors blend outward from that point and into the next color point. It’s a way to create more of a free-form appearance.

None of it is easy, if you’ll allow me to say so. It’s like trying to master any other medium such as pencil, pen and ink, a brush with oils or a brush with watercolors. It’s in fact, another medium altogether. The computer's job is to respond to the commands I set up for every point (and there are thousands) in every picture.

So, why the computer and not watercolor? It’s one approach that I’ve tried that caught the eye of a publisher. There’s not a lot of it out there in the children’s market yet. There’s plenty of 3D (which is tough enough as a medium, don’t misunderstand), but not a lot of people doing this kind of work. This approach may be seen more in the general market. Tomatoes on a jar of spaghetti sauce, something in a magazine, but not so much in kids’ books.

A second reason is that watercolor is a very popular medium in the children’s market and I wanted to do something different. And, since my topic was about something mechanical, it seemed fitting to use a mechanical illustrating medium. However, I’m thinking of another book in this style about vegetables…

A really big reason is: CONTROL. I have total control over my picture. I can color and area, change the color numerous times, until I feel like it looks right. That’s a lot harder in oils and almost impossible in watercolors. Watercolors for instance, are transparent, and you can’t just paint over an area you want to change. If you wanted to change a blue midday sky to yellow-y sunset, you can’t just paint yellow over it, it would turn green. And, if my art director asked me to redo an area, or make something bigger, I had total control over that. In a painting, particularly a watercolor, I would have been stuck basically starting over.

Thanks for reading.

2 comments:

Joyce said...

I am so amazed!

Nathan said...

Don't be too amazed over compulsiveness :-P