It is always an honor to work with the folks at Highlights Magazine. I read the magazine when I was a kid and it is such a thrill each and every time I am contacted for an assignment! Let’s go behind the scenes of my Sweet-Treats Schoolhouse assignment, illustrating a story by Maggie Murphy, which appears in the November 2017 issue.
After I’m contacted and accept the assignment, the first step is to create some sketches. Typically when I work on a piece for the magazine, It is 6 months out from publication. So I started working on this piece in May! If you draw palm trees in December and snowmen in July, a job in illustration might be for you!
First I read the notes from the art director, Patrick. Then I read the story and doodle a little bit thinking about the characters. The first big decision I need to make is about the “camera” angle. The setting is a classroom in a gingerbread house and there are several characters that need to be visible. Should I place the camera at the upper front of the classroom? I make a quick sketch. I don’t like this solution because Thumblina who is already small is going to even smaller being in the rear of the classroom. I decide to try moving the camera to the upper left which will show all the characters better and have them facing into the story.
I make a more refined sketch and decide to put some other eyes on it before sending back to Patrick. For that, I contact my good friend, crit group buddy and fellow illustrator Rob McClurkan. Rob and I Skype and talk about ways to improve the sketch. Rob gives me some good tips and I refine the sketch a bit more and send off to Patrick. Now’s the part where I hop in my Lamborghini and go have tacos with my friends.
Kidding! No, I must go to my next assignment that needs sketches silly! I’m so glamorous.
When I get feedback on the sketches, the first thing Patrick asks me to fix are the naked swine. Why are the pigs naked? I have no idea. They made perfect sense when I drew them. On top of that, the little bear needs some clothes too. So after the necessary adjustments, I get an approval from Patrick to proceed to final.
Which brings me to my next conundrum. Gingerbread. Lots of it. There is going to be a lot of gingerbread and chocolate which means brown is going to be a dominating color. I’ll need to find ways to brighten up the piece with the characters and the candy accents. And hope that when the ink hits the paper it doesn’t come off dark and drab. This is going to be tricky.
I do some studies on paper with ink, markers and colored pencils thinking about color and details. I’ll finish the illustration digitally, but I like to work traditionally outside of the digital tools when I’m thinking and planning. Little things often happen traditionally I like that I will try to recreate digitally in the final. I find this process both challenging and enjoyable.
With some studies done I begin work on the final art. Now I’m looking at layout as well. Highlights has very capable people in place with Patrick and the designer, Dave that can handle the layout. But I decide to make a suggestion. I am looking at vignetting the art around the edges to make way for the title and other text. Which could work. But I thought maybe having bite marks as if it had been eaten away may fit with the story.
There you have it! A behind the scenes in the Sweet-Treat Schoolhouse! Check it out in the November 2017 issue of Highlights Magazine!