Thursday, February 28, 2013

Character Development: Using What Worked in the Past

For a long time, I've needed to develop a witch character for my upcoming eBook, "Bladimir Blarfarg and the Worm Wire Glasses". Making a good cartoon witch character isn't easy, especially when its a story for children.

The character of Witch Nazel needs to be a kind, helpful and happy witch. She is a crucial character to the story so she can't be too ugly because children would hate her. She shouldn't be too cute and pretty - that would make her more of a fairy then witch.  And since I always want to write humorous stories that make children laugh, she MUST be funny. Knowing these features I needed for the character, I still struggled to put it all together and get the right look.
One of my many Witch sketches: This one was too thin and lanky to use.
I noticed I was making my witch sketches too thin and tall. Thinking how Witch Nazel would interact with Bladimir, (who's a short stocky monster), I realized the layout needed to be more compact. Most picture book eBooks are read horizontally then vertically. So I needed short, stocky and funny . . . that's when I remembered an old favorite character of mine: Chef Gordon Baloo.
The transformation of creating Witch Nazel from key features of an old favorite, Chef Gordon Baloo.

Chef Gordon Baloo was a character I created long ago. I have always loved the look of this character and have made cartoons, animation clips and one of my old website's used him as a company mascot. So the answer was easy, take Chef Baloo's best features and dress him up as a witch.

Witch Nazel was born . . .

Monday, February 18, 2013

Design Process: SCBWI contest

Below is the entry image I sent to SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), which is one of the largest existing organizations for writers and illustrators of children's books.

Final illustration submitted to the SCNBWI contest

I became a member of SCBWI last December and was sent an email about an illustration contest for New Jersey members. The rules were: 5" by 5" black & white image with one color showing a kite (which is the group's key logo element.) It was also suggested to not get too detailed, since the image would print small . . . (but this was concept I thought of when I first heard of the contest. Couldn't help myself!)
Below, I will show my process for developing this concept, how I technically do projects like this and the changes that occurred along the way.

1. The Concept Sketch (Getting It on Paper)

The first thing I do is quickly doodle what I'm thinking. The image doesn't need to be clean, neat or even recognizable -- at this point I just want to get the image in my head down on paper.

First pencil sketch of the initial concept

2. The Main Focus
The concept here was to have many characters of different genres coming out of a giant book and looking up at a kite. Since the kite represents the SCBWI group, it should be the main focus of every character. The most prominent character was going to be the book. Its important that the book be the "leader" whose eyes make you, the viewer, look up to the kite. Knowing this, I created huge glasses to exaggerate the book's eyes . . .

Pencil sketch of main central character

3. Fine Tuning the CharactersNow that I know the characters I want to place in the image, I focused on each one as an individual. This way I don't have to worry about the layout or composition to the image yet. I can just make sure that each character is clearly seen, understood and detailed to represent different genres in children's book.
Original ink sketches of characters for the image

4. Putting the Puzzle Together
Now that I have all the pieces needed -- I start to re-arrange, re-size and change the characters trying to give each one their proper spacing so not to crowd too much in one area of the image. This is where it all starts to come together. You'll notice the changes being made: like the monster in the book, deleted one of the flowers in the lower corner and the princess (who just wasn't princess-y enough.)

The basic layout for the final image

5. Going Vector

I bring the image into a vector program. {CorelDraw X6 was used in this case.} The image needs to print in black and white . . . so there can be no grey (like a pencil sketch) because details would fade/smudge in print. Creating the work in a vector program will give a bold, clean look.

One should keep in mind that doing vector images can something feel too mechanical and cold. So to create more of a natural pen flow, I constantly altered the thickness of the pen lines to give a more freehand style to the image.

The entire concept image is being recreated in vector format

The concept sketch is laid and locked on the bottom (or base) layer. It is then toned down to a faded/ghosted image which makes it easier to redraw over. To make it easier to arrange and control, each character/element is created on a separate layer. You'll notice above, I don't bother to create the eye focus on the kite yet; Since items and the kite itself are being moved around, it's best to change the eye focus when everything is in place.

6. Final Tweaking

Once each of the characters is re-drawn in vector lines, many things were re-sized, altered and shifted to create a more balanced spacing. Then, all the characters eyes were fixed to focus on the kite.

Finalized black & white image