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A Beka Book Illustration Styles

When I worked at A Beka Book, I employed a variety of styles.  Each story seemed to demand a unique treatment.  The color choice, "medium," and level of representation changed depending on the kind of assignment.

Because I use many different styles, I view stylistic variations differently than an artist who has used the same style for his entire career.  Some feel that a style is a unique way of working which separates one artist from his competition.  I view style more as an aesthetic choice.  I try not to make styles in a scientific way, but instead use them intuitively to reflect the mood of the story.

The following illustrations span my 6 years in A Beka Book.  They highlight my experiments and successes in the art of stylistic expression.

When I first started, I used colored pencils because, even with my training in acrylic, oil, and other mediums, I could create the illustrations faster with pencils.


After my publisher had their quota of colored pencil illustrations, I tried watercolor with mixed success.  Line and wash could be very fast, but I never entirely mastered it.


Then I discovered the computer.  I could create the line and wash with a great amount of detail in a relatively short amount of time.


Of course, by minimizing the amount of detail, a clean style could result.  This illustration is based on a style that a coworker, John Ball, liked to work in.


Though I enjoyed the speed of the computer, I realized that traditional media had a visual integrity that was missing with the streamlined flat computer art.  I began to try to capture some of the vitality of traditional mediums with texture and brush effects.  For this illustration, I painted under a pencil sketch, preserving the sketch in the linework and texture.


For this series of illustrations, I tried to make the artwork look like an old watercolor sketch illustration.  I did the linework on the computer using a custom brush that lent itself to an older look.


With line and wash, the line defines the artwork, and wash beneath the line can be almost anything, as evidenced by this donkey shaving illustration.  For this illustration and its companion illustration, I used edited photographs for the "wash" under the lines.  The unique style helped set the story apart as a fun departure from reality.


Medium impossibilities become possible under the guise of digital painting.  In this illustration, I tried to mimic pastel under the linework.  Practically an impossibility in real life, it works out beautifully in this ode to intergenerational involvement.


I used the same pastel and line style for this illustration, but whereas the previous illustration depended on the linework, this illustration depends on color and value to define the shapes.


Ultimately, I wanted to mimic the look and feel of oil paint.  It's great that a fast, forgivable medium can mimic the grand look of some of the great masterpieces of art.  The oil-paint appearance creates a professional look with which only photographs can compete.

The "oil technique" can be created even with a normal Photoshop brush, without any texture at all.  For the "clock" illustration, I just used color, value, and brushstroke variation to create that slick "oil" look.  Illustrators J. C. Leyendecker, Haddon Sundblom, and others employed the same techniques in their real oil illustrations.


As I searched for a faster medium with the visual integrity of fine art, I developed a new technique.  The illustration above is the first to use the technique.  I created black color fill layer over the white background and into that layer I erased and painted until I had the final drawing.  I then added three color adjustment layers to "stain" the drawing, thus colorizing the black fill layer.  I worked very hard in this style for a while and most of my work from this era is in the style.


This illustration is more refined in it’s use of the new illustration technique.  The style has the potential for quick detail, however I abandoned the style in favor for more traditional looks.


As a parting illustration, this is as close as I ever got to achieving the look of watercolor.  The process took too long, so I abandoned the style.  Still, what I learned from this illustration helped in later illustrations.

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