This summer I got to work on a really fun project for the Jewish Community Center's new J Swim School. I was contacted to illustrate a gator at different age and skill levels to be used on various collateral by their in-house designers. Let's dive in!
I Googled “baby alligators” and familiarized myself with the shapes. I’ll be caricaturing the gators, but getting a sense of some of the forms and little details will help me start sketching. There are some artists who use Pinterest to set up boards for reference and I want try doing that sometime. Usually, I just make a folder called Reference in my project folder and put images in there. This way, everything for my project is in one place. Now that I have reviewed some reference and made some reference sketches its time to get started designing the gator character.
There really is nothing better paper and pencil. No batteries, no configuration, no software to update, no notifications or beeps. I have a pad of paper that I really like that I got from my local print shop that has really nice smooth paper and a wide orientation (8.5”x13”).
More often than not, I start a project and do my planning traditionally. Traditional art tools aren’t internet connected which helps me focus and think about the work. I’m starting to sound like a Luddite! I’m not at all opposed to digital tools–my final work is almost always done digitally–but I like planning my work with traditional tools. I think it allows me to focus and I enjoy working with the materials.
I began roughing out some little gators. The gator is going to be drawn at different ages and skill levels so I think about the poses I might need. One decision about the character comes to mind that I need to make: do I put the gator in a swim suit? If I draw a swim suit the gator would be viewed as a girl or boy depending on what I drew. I decided to not put the gator in a swim suit and any gear I did use would be used by both girls and boys.
After a while I start to get some drawings that I like. I’ll scan and email these to the client for feedback.
Next, working with ink and brush, brush pens, markers and colored pencils, I begin creating the line art and color palette for the gator.
Time to scan in my refined sketches and color references into the computer! Early on in my conversations with the Marketing Director we discussed vector art as the final file type. This would offer the designers to scale up the art if needed. Using Adobe Illustrator, I mimic my ink and marker work done outside the computer. Avoiding the pen tool altogether, I accomplish this by using the brush and blob blush tools with the pressure settings turned on. Working this way (with a Wacom Tablet) in Illustrator is closer to a natural way of working than clicking and dragging with the pen tool.
And here are the final gator illustrations! I had a great time working on this project. I miss summer already!