Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Chill

Here's a cover and a bunch of interior illustrations I did with my friends at the Dallas Observer a couple weeks ago. The pieces were all a part of their Dallas International Film Festival guide and mostly featured a local mostly shirtless hero. Here's some making-of stuff.
Ideas for cover:
Cover thumbnails:

Rough pencil drawing:

Traced into vectors in Illustrator:

Output at 150% (on to 2 sheets of paper, tiled), then drawn on top of:

Lineart lightboxed and inked on another sheet:

Everything added together:
Addt'l fun stuff for the inside of the paper. Paper doll sketch:

Final art:

3 Visual Guides:

BINGO card:

Some ref. I collected along the way:

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Diagramming Illustrated Sentences

This "Figures, Story & Staging" project we're working on in WORD & IMAGE has got me thinking about a particular kind of narrative image that might be described as an "illustrated sentence." In these images there are clear characters (nouns), specific actions (verbs), helpful props (direct and indirect objects) and modifiers (adjectives, adverbs) that go with each.

We deliver a story prompt to each student, something like "Jewel Heist!" or "Family Canoe Trip", along with a set of constraints to create 3 illustrated sentences that will tell that story: multiple figures interacting, no setting save for that suggested by objects and costume, and use of a 2-color printing palette. These three illustrations by Jim Flora, excerpted from a 1954 alphabet book created for employees of CBS-TV, are perfect examples of these stipulations.
What becomes clear when developing "readable" pictures like these is how important the 2-D design is: how line and shape interact, how contrast and color create hierarchy, how negative space functions, etc. These 2-D concerns -- especially when backgrounds are removed from the equation -- may lead these kind of images to 'flatten' out into shallow graphic space, like this illustration I did a few years ago (prompt: "80's Dance Party!"):
That drawing, because of its pattern of interlocking figures, claustrophobic composition and vector style, functions a bit like the guts of a (day-glow 80's) swiss watch.  The same kind of constraints (full figure ensembles, minimal backgrounds) could lead to totally different images, like these classic drawings from Love and Rockets: The Death of Speedy by Jaime Hernandez:
The space is clearly deeper, implied mostly by scale shifts between characters. But the 2-D design of the panels is still doing most of the work: the functions of shape vs. line vs. "gray" texture, the heavy spot blacks, the angles found within the composition. Note the general vertical-ness of all the characters of all the characters in the drawing above broken by the chill-axed lean of Speedy himself. Or the contrast between the guitarists at this punk show:
Sticking with black 'n' white slice of life comics but going back a ways, here are some 1917 strips from The Gumps by Sidney Smith, reprinted in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, (Bill Blackbeard & Martin Williams, ed.). I like these strips because they have such simple communication goals: The Gumps try and move in. The Gumps try to fix a pipe. The Gumps try to hang a picture. Even though the poor Gumps fail at each domestic task (sort of a bizarro version of the happy household chores DB Dowd talks about here) the strips themselves achieve a schematic-like level of clarity.
The design of the full-bodied characters, their frontal staging, the repeated compositions in sequence, minimal background information, and the left-to-right axis of action all contribute to the momentum and readability of these slapstick illustrated sentences. Being part of a pre-cinematic tradition, comics from this era lean heavily on what might be called traditional theatrical modes of presentation. Here's a modern comic that popped into my mind as I was thinking about this stuff, Wally Gropius by Tim Hensley. Prompt: "Garage Band Practice."
Working in a mid-century style reminiscent of John Stanley or Dan DeCarlo (a favorite of Jaime Hernandez as well -- get a load of his 2-color gag cartoons for Men's Magazines), Hensley draws the most obvious inspiration for the style of Wally Gropius -- theatrical staging, rubbery character design, zany gags, no backgrounds --  are early Harvey Comics like Ri¢hie Ri¢h:

Looking at the construction of the jokes in these covers, and thinking about them as "illustrated sentences", I couldn't help but want to diagram them the way you would in 8th grade grammar class. If we think of that first cover as the sentence: Richie Rich floats in his comically fancy bathtub while his butler Cadbury patiently holds a giant toothbrush. It might be diagrammed like this (I think... It's been a long time since 8th grade):
It seems like an interesting experiment to try and diagram the images visually in a similar fashion:
I've focused on the major nouns (subjects and objects) of each sentence, and the axes of action that their associated verbs (predicates) take place along. I tried a few more diagrams on illustrations I've done, all of which fall generally in the same shallow space, theatrical modes. Since I've got more background info on the development of these images, I can look a bit further back into the process.

IDEA SKETCHES. These are the sketches that sold the basic premise of each. "Baby New Year cheats off Old Man Time", etc. You can see that the characters and basic idea is in place, but the design is fairly loose.
DESIGN THUMBNAILS. Even though these seem 'rougher', you can see that I'm using these to tighten up the composition:
DIAGRAMMED IMAGES. Note how I made most of these decisions during the Design thumbnails stage.
These diagrams of "illustrated sentences" each create a simple map of a constructed pictorial space. They show, at a glance at least, basic composition and hierarchy much like a diagrammed text sentence does. I'm not entirely sure of the value of port-mortem autopsies like this, but certainly considering the schematic structure -- or syntax -- of an image during early stages will provide solid footing.