Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Illustration Correspondence Course, Week 2!

Tippy says put on your virtual thinking caps- it's time for Week 2 of the Victoria Jamieson Correspondence School of Illustration! This week's lesson: Color. Or as I like to say...


(*I am saying this in a Jerry Seinfeld "NEWMAN!!" voice if that wasn't apparent)

Some people are natural colorists and have an innate sense of color balance and composition. Some people also maintain a size 2 dress size while eating whatever they want and not exercising. To those people I say: something not suitable for a children's book blog. For the rest of us I say: There is hope! There are certain rules of color that can make the transition from black and white drawing to full-color paintings a little easier.

So, in class I discussed some of these rules: 

1) warm vs. cool colors
2) complementary colors
3) tertiary colors, or as I like to call them, "those weird no-name neutral colors that make up most of the natural world".

First up, warm vs. cool. Warm colors are generally thought of as reds, yellows, & oranges. Cools are greens, blues, purples.

Easy enough. But guess what, there are more sub-categories. There are warm reds and cool reds, for instance. Personally, I primarily (ha!) paint with 6 colors: a warm & cool red, a warm & cool yellow, and a warm & cool blue. Why, speak of the devil, here they are!

The cool red (alizarin crimson) looks a little more purply than the warm red (cadmium red). The warm blue (cerulean), on the other hand, is a little more yellow-green than the cool, purplish Ultramarine blue.

I did a little Bob Ross-type demo in class (a lifelong dream fulfilled) demonstrating why black is not necessarily the best way to add shadows to a color. Black can dull down shadow colors- there's usually a more interesting color choice to make for shadows if you experiment a bit. For instance, adding a cooler alizarin shadow to the warm cadmium dot. Or, adding some alizarin to the shadows of ultramarine.

I also don't buy tubes of brown. You can make your own browns by combining the 3 primary colors- and this way you can control how warm or cool your browns are.

Next up: Complementary colors! Basically, they're opposite one another on the color wheel. They are:

Blue & orange, red & green, purple & yellow. You'll see these colors a lot in packaging & advertising- complements placed next to one another are visually striking and tend to jump out at us. It's no coincidence that red & green are "the colors" of Christmas, purple & yellow the colors of Easter, blue & orange the colors of the University of Florida (Go Gators! Actually, I'm more of a 'Noles fan- family ties, and all).

Here's something fun that complementary colors do:

Do those two small squares look different to you? SYKE! They're actually the same color, but the background changes how we perceive them. Purples tend to make other colors look more yellow, whereas a strong yellow can make colors look more purple. 

And last rule: tertiary colors. Most things in this world are not pure red, pure blue, etc. That's part of the reason that red poppies or yellow sunflowers are so attractive to us- they're bright colors in a sea of a more neutral background. That may sound discouraging to an illustrator- the prospect of painting a largely neutral painting- but it can actually help in using selective bright colors to draw our attention to something.

Now, some practical examples. How do these rules of color translate to actual children's books?

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiffany Beeke, is such a beautiful book, and a great example of the effect color palettes have on us. Most of the pages in Fletcher are a warm, rosy, comforting Warm Palette, like the one above.

Check out the difference in mood to the spread above. Now, the colors are much cooler- primarily shades of blue and green. Look at the difference in the color of the grass, for example. Here, we get the sense of a storm, something slightly menacing.

Cool colors don't necessarily mean gloom and doom, however. Above is the final spread in Fletcher, and the cool palette this time creates something mystical, mysterious, and glittering. Especially in comparison to the warm palette of the rest of the book.

I found this beautiful rendition of Hansel and Gretel at the library, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Jen Corace. Yes, the Jen Corace of Little Pea and Little Hoot. Whoo whoo whoo knew? I love how the entire page is made up of subtle variations of beige, brown, earthy greens-- very neutral colors. This allows the blue of Gretel's coat to stand out like a jewel. It's both a beautiful way to compose a picture, and a way to draw our attention to the important part of the scene.
David Small is another illustrator who is a fan of selective color. In this scene from The Gardener (written by Sarah Stewart), he's using a few of the tricks we've seen before. The figures in the back have the glowing orb/white halo thing going on to set them off from the background. The lines of the table, floor, window & ceiling all lead us back to those figures. And now, with color, Mr. Small draws our attention to the bouquet of flowers, as they're the most colorful things in the very neutral page. As the book goes on and more and more flowers are introduced (it is called The Gardener, after all), more and more color is also introduced. It's a really beautiful progression.

"Ok", you say (I can hear you). "But don't kids like books with bright, bold colors?" Good question. I took the brightest, boldest book that came to mind:
Look, there's that green/red combo going on! It's fun to look for those complementary colors, once you're thinking about it. But even with that bright green and red combination, we're not overwhelmed, because of all the subtle variations going on within those greens and reds. It's not like he took some sheets of construction paper and glued them down- that would be every art project I completed in 1st grade. His paper has those beautiful nuances that balance out the bright hues and bold shapes.

Last but not least, I expounded upon my firm belief in the practice of drawing from children's books. There was much pounding of tables & shaking of fists. Artists go to the museum and draw from paintings- illustrators can do the same thing, drawing from great books. I decided to put my money where my mouth is and try this exercise at home. I took out one of my very favorite books, Oh, What A Busy Day, by Gyo Fujikawa, and set out to copy this illustration.

The point isn't to worry about getting an exact replica. Rather, it's a good way to really look at an illustration. I know of no better way to really look at something than to draw it.

I've been having a problem with my dark colors getting too saturated and heavy- and copying someone else's work lets you play around a little bit, and not get so concerned about screwing up your own piece. After all, if you ruin it, who cares- it's not your illustration, anyway.

Oh, I could go on and on-- I do love to talk about this stuff. But I'll end it there. Later this week I'll post the notes from last night's class- Character! Get the inside scoop on Olivia! Lilly! Skippyjohn Jones! And all your faves!

Until next time!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Illustration Correspondence Course

Can you draw this turtle?
That is my oh-so-clever introduction to a new segment on Victoria Jamieson Illustration that I'm calling:

Illustration Correspondence Course

Regular followers of my blog (Dad) will know that I am teaching a Continuing Ed class at PNCA in children's book illustration. I thought I'd do some posts on what's going down in the classroom! I hope to get some feedback on what folks out there would find useful in such a class- and also to have a place for participants who miss a class to see what we talked about.

So, week 2 tackled the weighty subject of composition in illustration. I started with an old ditty you might recognize:

I said, and I'm sticking to it, that The Old Masters were illustrators in a way, as their paintings had to convey stories from the Bible to make them accessible to the illiterate masses. Therefore, it was important to be able to tell those stories visually. In this case, it has to be clear to the viewer who is the most important figure in this painting- who the story is revolving around. I talked about 2 ways DaVinci did this:

1) With contrast of dark and light (Jesus is the darkest dark, and the window is the lightest light, so your eye goes there first). We learned in one of my painting classes at RISD to look for contrast in a painting using what I like to call The Squinty Eye Test. You squint your eyes until you can't see colors anymore, just the contrast.

2) And two, with lines. Nearly every line in this painting points, literally, at Jesus' (s?) head.

Contrast is an important thing in establishing importance in a painting, and if it's not there, you can make it up. Using The Squinty Eye test, I see this:

Seurat practically drew a halo around this kid, and I'll bet my granny's eyeteeth that the model did not have a glowing orb around him in real life.
Moving on, I tried to demonstrate how The Olde and Newe Masters of illustration pull the same tricks! And how the rules of composition can translate into the children's book realm.
Quentin Blake pulls that old Glowing Orb trick A LOT! 
And perhaps more subtly, the lines and the 2 blocks of dark draw attention to the relationship between Sophie and the BFG.

Tasha Tudor don't play around with subtlety...

she shines a frickin' spotlight on what she wants you to look at in a painting.

I don't think it's an accident that Max's suit is white- he stands in high contrast against the dark skies throughout the book. Also, take a look at the goat guy- he is also white, but not quite as bright as Max. This tells us, visually, that Max is the key figure in this scene- basically, a "Hey, look at me!" move.
Marla Frazee, you daredevil, you!

She adds so much drama and movement with the simple yet daring act of tilting the earth just so.

I love this piece by Shadra Strickland. And it demonstrates so well the ways that composition can work to tell a story in an illustration.

Next week (aka, tomorrow night), we'll be taking a look at my old nemesis, Color. I'll post my Cliff's Notes later in the week!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

For all you Portland illustrators & authors

This one's going out to the illustrators in my class at PNCA, if'n anyone has stumbled upon this blog. I wish I had known about this yesterday, I would have mentioned it in class! Anyway, GALA EVENT this Saturday, March 13th at the Barnes & Noble at Clackamas Town Center. Sixteen local authors & illustrators will be speaking & signing from 3-6. A nice way to meet some of the local illustratin' community!

Here are the details!

Millions of Pigs

Dear readers, I will tell you a secret: I am not 100% completely satisfied with my usual painting techniques. As I've been preparing for the continuing ed class I'm teaching (2nd class last night! I will talk more about this in other posts, because it has been SO fun and such a great experience). Where was I? Oh yes, so I've been thinking a lot about what I learned in art school. One of my favorite teachers at RISD was Ellie Hollinshead. She was truly interested in what her students were trying to say, she was passionate & inspirational, and her classes really got me fired up about narrative painting- which eventually brought me to illustration.

Anyhoo, in one class I remember her coming up beside me & saying, "You know, one of the hardest criticisms I ever received was when someone told me my drawings were a lot more alive then my paintings." And I think I said, "Wow, that is way harsh! You must have felt terrible!" It took me months- years, maybe?- to realize, "Wait. SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT ME!" Because I have felt, in recent years, that my drawings have a vitality that seems to greatly diminish in my final paintings.

So this is something I've been struggling with. I tend to think of drawing as fun and free, while doing the completed paintings is more serious and laborious. So I'd like this to change. The first thing I decided to do was to NOT transfer or trace my sketches when I'm getting ready to do the final pieces. The drawing process- the scratchy lines & the sussing out of where everything goes- is a big factor in creating some vitality in my sketches, I think. When I trace my sketches, something already looks stilted & not quite right.

So I decided to have some fun in the studio these past few days- just to experiment & to try to have as much fun painting as I have drawing. I decided to try a page from Olympig- this is the sketch in my dummy:

I just played around with different materials. Acrylics, pens, colored pencil. I also experimented on papers. I usually work on a gessoed surface, which makes the paint kind of "sit up" from the surface of the paper. I did some experimenting with un-gessoed paper, and I like how the paint "sinks in" and allows the original drawing so show through a little more.

I wasn't exactly happy with any of the results I was getting, so I moved on to just a regular ol' glamour shot of Boomer:

This last one ended up being the painting I was most pleased with. I tried using watercolors and then acrylics on un-gessoed watercolor paper, and I liked both the process and the results. It's closer to the blend of drawing & painting I was trying to achieve.

More experimentation to come!