February 24, 2021Experiments Gone Wrong Right!

Sometimes a work project can really go awry.

You're a professional. You know how to do your job. But for some reason, on some days, nothing is going to go right. It happens.

I've been telling you this month about what a time I had trying to put together Part 4 of the Planning Your Book series. Mostly it was because of the sheer number of scanned images I ended up with while trying to show every step and layer of the colored pencil renderings for the Gator Joe story. At one point I even crashed my computer, because I had imported so many high resolution scanned images into the graphics program I was using. It was the least fun article I've done to date. There will be one or two more to finish out the series, but they shouldn't be a problem. Part 4 just really had a lot of information packed into it.

But I got it done and was happy with the result! And, honestly, after 2 years of writing and drawing, if that's the only tough one I've had, that's not too shabby!

And there was one bright spot ... I found a place to use my poor neglected Black Cherry pencil!

It was on the three drawings where the black watery swamp appeared. The water in the Okefenokee is about the color of strong black tea because of tannic acid. When I color I like to build up the colors to make rich darks, and I knew the dark, warm purple of that Black Cherry pencil would be perfect.

That Part 4 article is all about the process I follow when illustrating an entire picture book. I get all the base drawings done. Then I go through and finish rendering everything. I usually begin with the characters, and go through all the illustrations and color every instance they appear. Then I pick another element, perhaps an animal, and go through and color every instance of that. Then perhaps all the similar backgrounds ... and so on.

It's a tedious process, but the results are fantastic! All the pictures really match up and it pulls the whole book together. And it's fun watching the different pages come to life. Little areas of color appear. When you go through the next time, there's a bit more color on those pages. A few more trips through and now one or two of the pages is complete! Then next trip, another gets finished! And then finally comes the trip through when, hey! The whole book is done! It was quite a journey, but you finally arrived at your destination!

The Gator Joe story only had 4 illustrations (actually, 4 spreads, which is two facing pages). Already on those pages, I had completed drawing the characters and the animals: an alligator, a turtle and a little kingfisher. The first illustration was complete. 3 left. It was time to do some backgrounds, the ground under the tree and the water. And when this part was finished, I'd have another illustration completed! The tiny book was taking shape!

That put a little wind in my sails and a bit of hope in my heart that I'd get my article done. Plus, I was going to actually use that Black Cherry pencil ... let's get it done! And I went to work ...

This part of the book took 8 layers of color. Do a layer, scan it into the computer. Do a layer, scan it into the computer. Because I was doing it for the article and I needed a picture of each step.

I wasn't quite sure how to render the water, but my style isn't photorealistic, so I just got artsy with it and felt my way through it. On two of the illustrations there's a dock and dark shadows on the water underneath ... I could hardly wait to pick up that Black Cherry pencil!

Finally layer 8 came ... Black Cherry! Time to do those shadows! Makes an artist's heart race!

And to add even more excitement, this last layer would finish up another illustration. Then I'd have 2 of the 4 complete! Halfway done! Woo-hoo!

I did the pictures with the docks first. With all those luscious dark shadows underneath. Black Cherry, why have I ignored you for so long? Just look at what you can do!

Then the last illustration. This one already had the group of boys and girls, along with Joe and Allison, all finished. And the alligator and turtle and the kingfisher. And the tiny little group of boys and girls running down to the water on the left page.

I still was unsure how to do the water ... no dark shadows here. Except for a few ripples around the alligator and turtle, there wasn't anything very distinct. Just wide open water. 7 layers were down, and I wasn't real happy with what I had so far. But here comes layer 8 ... Black Cherry, work your magic!

But no amount of magic was going to fix this! And it got worse with layer 8! It was too dark and heavy. It was flat and static. And on the same board with characters and animals and a grassy shore that looked just fine!! Aaaarrggghhh!!! This stupid article was going to be the end of me!!!!

But, of course, it wasn't. And in Part 5 I'll show you how I patched it all up. Everything is fixable. And when the dust settled, I was glad it happened. And glad to share it.

Because the process isn't perfect. If you expect to just skip through step by step with nary a bump, you can get derailed fast. But if you look at the problems and the work and the expense and the time, you might decide it's not even worth the effort.

Some folks never get started, because they see what's involved – the sweat, the time, the aggravation – and opt to just forget the whole thing.

Some folks get into it expecting fun and excitement, and quit when the tedium and the drudgery set in.

I'd say, if you've got words and images burning in your heart and you're feeling that nudge ... go for it! And brace yourself for a wild ride! It'll be fun and painful, backbreaking and exhilarating all at once!

Turn on the right side of your brain and consider the work and expense and time it will take. Find out if you can see it through to the end.

Then turn on the left side, and let the creativity flow, and make that baby beautiful!

And when those days pop up when you'd just like to scream – and they will – come back and read these blogs, and I'll help you muddle through!

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  • Dixie Cooley says:
    2021-02-27, 13:28:49
    Wild ride is true, but end is worth it.
    Also, your black cherry pencil helped me, too.
    Thank you 💗
    I was delighted to share!!
    So much fun doing art with you and Gerrie at the Gatherings!- Sherry A Mitcham
  • BILL MITCHAM says:
    2021-02-24, 10:36:14