Tommy “Buttface” Jones : Process

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Here is a sneak peek into the process behind one of The Daily Mobster characters and a quick tutorial/explanation of how I work and how to design a character.

1. I, of course, start with a sketch which are usually smaller thumbnails on a scrap paper until I find an acceptable shape and basic look.  Because of the nature of mobster characters this often revolves around exaggerated features or an interesting shape.  This rule works pretty well for non mobsters as well.  If you can create a silhouette or a shape that is instantly recognizable to that character you are already on our way to great design.

2. Then I do the light  sketch with all the details fleshed out; this allows me to give a little extra focus to certain areas like hands, belts, buttons, or others that need extra attention. This is also the step where you can focus on contrast, as it is the first thing the human eye notices, it is important to decide where heavy blocks of color/black will be and where dense detail will be.  A general rule of thumb, when certain areas are very large in area (such as a belly or a chin) give them less detail as their size will attract attention, and when they are smaller or require extra focus fill in the detail (faces, hands, accessories of interest).   Use the lines and shapes to help direct attention as well, notice the tie points to the chin and continues the crevasse in his chin.

3. Then I simply start inking over the pencil.  Sometimes I ink over the entire drawing with a single width then fill the blacks and weight the lines afterwards and other times I do the complete process little chunks at a time (as seen here) moving across the drawing.  The contrast between full black, white with hatching/textures, and full white is very important in a black and white illustration; luckily suits play a big part in the mobster world.  If the background is dark, realize that a heavy black suit will act as a subtle part of the character and his face will stand out.  If the character has dark skin, often you want to put him in lighter color costumes, unless his environment will be mostly light.   I usually try to balance out the black and the white to create a focal points.

4.  Once completed, I erase the pencil lines that poke out.

5.  The final step is to bring the scan into the computer.  Since the original ink is fairly clean there isn’t really any digital treatment of the character itself other than to overlay it on one of my backgrounds and apply some simple shadowing/lighting effects behind him.  I hand draw the background designs as well (I may post a tutorial about how to make repeating wallpapers from drawings like this) in line format, then scan them in, convert them to white and overlay them on grey repeatedly.  Tommy will be posted on Thursday, so be sure to check out The Daily Mobster and read his story.

40 Mobsters for The Daily Mobster

Who knew I could make it this far with just a silly mobster theme?  I have to admit that I worried, I cried, I even confessed to “Mad Ma” Johnson that early on,  I would run out of ideas and she might have to break my knuckles.  But, I am quickly finding out that just about anything can be turned into a goofy character; I mean, there is a character based entirely off of neckties, and looks like a necktie!   The Daily Mobster has just reached 40 mobsters and is quickly nearly the 50 mark!  I have a special announcement to make when we reach 50 so make sure to stay tuned, and share with a friend.  New readers are always welcome and if you have ideas, thoughts or comments, share them!  Thank you all for the following and support.

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The Man in Black

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I like Johnny Cash; I also like the way he looks.  His appearance and personality make for a great caricature.  Here is an original ink drawing I did (before) and then a treated poster print (after) of Johnny Cash as “The Man in Black.”  It is actually available for iPhone skin and poster print, but I am wondering what I might ultimately do with some of these caricatures.  They were on Etsy as cards a while ago, but I guess cards aren’t the best application for a caricature.

Dear Crazy Illustrator

Normally, when I check my stats page in the morning the usual search terms that bring people to my page have been “Django Reinhardt”, “Django Reinhardt Cartoon”, “Book Layout”, and “Black and white characters.”  Today, however, I am delighted to say that I come up under “crazy illustrator.”  I am not sure what this means.  Am I crazy creative, crazy good, crazy bad, crazy crazy?  Anyway, thank you for making my day fellow searcher.

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This also begs the question why “Jack Benny’s Suit” leads people here.  “Magneto’s Helmet” seems to quite popular as well.  Regardless of all this, thank you all for each and every visit, no matter how you get here, really! Thank you!

“Salvador” Character Concepts

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This is the very early part of the process where I begin designing the characters based off the rough outline I have for the story.  I usually write the story in conjunction with the design/illustration phase because they feed off each other so well.  The raw idea sometimes comes from an image or a drawing of a single character or it can come from a single sentence, or verbal conceptual idea.  The writing then instructs the drawing and the drawing feeds back and instructs the writing.  I suppose this is the benefit of being the writer and the illustrator as usually the writing is completed and illustrations are filled in after the fact; however, this can pose a challenge as well being that the writing is not in stone and allows for much variation and meandering.  I think the visual aspect of illustrated stories (hence being illustrated and not novels or short stories) plays a stronger role than many give it credit and needs to inform the very construction of the story.

Here are the first few pages of the Captain character.  Like I said in my previous post, this story has some of the same themes as “The Island and the Plough.”  The main characters are going through a similar sort of learning, exploring the world around them, but yet have a bit more wisdom than the naysayer villagers.  That said, he needs to be reminiscent of a boat captain, but not too stereotyped.  He also needs to seem wise, but eager to learn anew as well.  He is not hardened by the bitter landscape or the cynical villagers so his face needs to be somewhat kind.  I fear already that he begins to look much like the character from “The Island and the Plough” so it may be that the beard needs to go.  This is one of the most fun parts of the design phase, but can also be fairly frustrating.  These are just four of the twenty plus character pages I have done for him.  If the “what I think I want” phase does not work, then I often go in a radically different direction, maybe tall and thin, or short and beardless, perhaps younger even and begin to veer far away from what I had originally envisioned.  That type of process usually helps to refocus what is working, what is not, to bring a vision of it I may have yet thought of but also help show me from what to stay away.

I will post some concepts of the village and landscape next.

The Casual Hunter

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I recently completed a custom commission illustration.  It can be really fun doing commissions because they usually lead to something or some topic not normally in the usual repertoire.  I can’t remember the last time I drew a hunter, if I ever have!  Not knowing the full extent of the client’s relationship to the idea or the meaning of the characters can be fun because it still leaves me open to my own interpretation and style while maintaining the requested qualities.  The only requests were to have a very casual hunter (almost as if he is not actually hunting) with a big feather, carrying a coffee, and a deer in the background.

If I were to make many prints of this, it would be a great candidate for screen prints.  In this case I just painted the white with acrylic white paint and hand inked the black (plus the client wanted the original, not a print).  The image provided was the digital version (scanned the ink drawing,then the white done digitally) which was printed on a greeting card to match the original print.  I just quickly dropped it into a stock image frame to show what it might look like in the client’s pre-provided frame.  Fun!

Happy Birthday Charlie Dickens

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Happy 200th Birthday Charlie Dickens!  He is probably my favorite “classic” author.  The imagery and moods he builds are so robust, not to mention the themes and brilliant characters he designed are right up my alley.  London, smokestacks, chimneys, murders, dry humor, smart humor, dark humor, despair, hope, fear, shadows, chases, rooftops, thievery, spying, seedy underworlds, gangs, wars, and ghosts, all in tailed coats and top hats; what’s not to love?

Miniature

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“Mush, Mush! Forward! Forward!”

We have a little mouse that lives in the bush outside.  If you look carefully between the branches and leaves, there is a whole little maze world he has built.  In one respect it looks totally alien to everything we know but also strangely familiar.  He seems to have gathered every bit of twig, leaf, fur, hair, paper and discard to assemble an elaborate labyrinth.  It runs eight or nine feet across and doubles back and down, wrapping on itself.  Scale is a funny thing.

I’ve always found miniature things very intriguing.  Things follow all the same rules and laws as we do on our scale of life, but there is something very alien and eye opening about thinking about the world on a smaller scale.  The construction of objects from our everyday are viewed in a completely different light just by changing scale.  Thread becomes rope and needles are large dangerous objects much likes swords.  The miniature world has been much played in the story telling world, mice especially, but simply thinking about the many little objects on your desk or table, or the many components that make up many of our more complex objects reveals a whole additional dimension when thinking about it at scale.  Creating scenarios of small characters using out of scale objects is always a fun exercise, and though much played out, offers an unlimited array of stories and characters.

Imagine what a creature one hundred times our size would think of the way we utilize the many things in our lives.  What objects around you would be wonderfully utilized to advance you forward on a smaller scale?

Illustration Friday : “forward”

The Island and the Plough : Contact Sheets

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I am quite excited to say that I am nearing the very last stage of “The Island and the Plough.”  Editing and formatting proves to be quite an arduous process.  I had a first round of contact sheets proof-printed and had a few people review them.  One person in particular who is a writer/director (on the film side of things) had some really great final editorial remarks.  I decided to take a few into account and rework some small things here and there, adding one extra idea right at the climax of the story which I think will really accentuate the central tone and punctuate the climax better than what I had.

Here is my nearly completed, revised set of contact sheets.  I apologize for making them so small, but being so near completion of this project, I still don’t want to give away the story.  But there is something very interesting about viewing the pages at this size.  It gives a very clear sense of the progression of tone, contrast and balance, not to mention a great macro view of each page’s composition.  It brings the process to a full circle back to a “storyboard” format to really review it once again.

I am still in the throes of deciding how exactly to distribute this project as contacting/meeting with agents and publishers is a very slow process.  Many of the people I have talked with, even in the publishing industry, still suggest self publishing.  At some point I will be doing a small run of prints for proofing purposes as well as for family and friends, which I will make available to sale.

The Angler Boys

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Lament the story of the Angler Boys.  Surprise and joy befell the Angles household when Mabelle and Hank Angles announced she was expecting.  The excitement grew further when Mabelle learned it would be twin boys.  But, at birth, something was revealed as strange.  The doctors called it “Acute Lophii-deformes” and it would seem the bouncing baby boys shared undisputed features of the Anglerfish.  The Angles were advised to shut them away, home school them, and to investigate special therapies and operations to remove them of these “features.”  Mabelle and Hank didn’t feel right about shutting them off from the world, so they decided to go on as if nothing was the matter.

Things were rocky, here and there, but the two boys lived together in a happy, loving home.  It then came time to enroll them in school.  Little Luke Angles did quite well; the other children thought his “lightning ball” was cool.  He was the best to have sleepovers with because he could keep the blanket fort lit nicely.  The girls thought it was cute too and they would sigh and dreamily stare, saying, “To be with Little Luke Angles was like being under the twinkling stars.”

All was not so well for Young Leopold Angles, who inherited the unfortunate features of an anglerfish teeth and tail.  The girls were all scared of him, and the boys called him snaggletooth, jaws, and walrus.  He was a favorite target for the bullies and often found himself escaping to the far end of the playground to be alone.  Luke would try to stick up for him and include him in their games, but no matter his efforts, the other children would shove him away.

One day, Mabelle Angles came to wake them for school, but Young Leopold was gone.  Hank, Mabelle and Luke looked all over town and asked everyone around, most of whom just laughed.  Days passed, weeks passed.  Leopold was nowhere to be found.  Luke would search through the night with the help of his lightning ball.  And thus, began “The Riveting Adventures of Angler Boy.”  (A follow up to “Flashback: Angler Boy“)

Gypsy Jazz

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I have long been inspired by the “Gypsy Jazz” musicians of the twenties and thirties, specifically Jean “Django” Reinhardt.  One might say he invented the Gypsy Jazz style (sometimes called “Hot Jazz” stemming from his home venue, “The Hot Club” in France) and it could very well be all because of his handicap, which I think is quite incredible.  As a young man, he was in a fire which literally seared the last two fingers of his left hand together, fingers that are obviously very important to a guitarist.  Being greatly inspired by Spanish Folk, Gypsy music from eastern Europe, and American Jazz which was in full swing at the time seemed to have helped lead way to his two finger quick style; it is unmistakable and often replicated.  The fact that he worked with his handicap rather than letting it overcome him, much like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder, is simply astounding.  If you have yet to hear any of his music, you simply must.  Below I have included some of his songs as well as other artists like him including the new wave of more eclectic gypsy jazz revivalists such as Caravan Palace and even DeVotchKa.

 

Django Reinhardt: “Belleville”:

Django Reinhardt: “Minor Swing”:

Opa Tsupa: “Les Deux Guitares”

And something a little more contemporary:

Caravan Palace: “Jolie Coquine”

Caravan Palace: “Suzy”

The Daily Mobster Process : “Prepare”

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   Several have asked to see and learn more about the way I work and how I prepare for drawings;  I hope to post additional drawing processes in the future.  Here is an example from The Daily Mobster in which I prepare a concept which is usually a character name or an exaggerated feature I want to focus on and begin generating the look.  I can usually come up with a name, but I also wrote a little script that will generate random names and nicknames for me if I get stumped.  Some occasions produce the drawing first and the name afterward, but that is usually an exception.

   I begin with a flurry of rough shapes and mood arc lines; in this case the mood line was straight as this guy is pretty somber and straight-edged.  When dealing with exaggerated characters, especially ones that will only be seen in black and white and have no obvious color to define them from the others, shape is very important.  It is the second thing our eyes process after contrasts.  I play around, drawing and sketching various shapes, silhouettes and sizes until I find one that captures the personality and allows for the details I want to include.

   Once I choose a sketch concept that seems fitting, I may do a quick study of a specific spot or detail that needs further revision or attention.  In this case it was the hand holding the scissors.  Then I draw the to-scale underlining sketch.  I will ink directly on my sketch, so this is drawn very lightly and somewhat loose as I already have the thumbnail to guide me.  The first line of ink goes on, directly over the pencil, which defines all the major lines and I do the small detail accent lines with a different weight ink pen. Then I block in the blacks with a heavy pen or ink brush (if I am at work or traveling, ink brush is a little too messy).  After all the blacks are filled, then I do the line weighting and the line shading/hatching.  I prefer to control the line weight by simply inking in more lines next to the originals rather than using a brush pen with pressure or a heavier pen, which would be faster, but I feel I need more control over the exact thickness.  Finally I fill in the hatching for the fine details or denote key shadows that help to give depth or define shape.

   The last step is to do a quick composite on the official mobster background and paint in some shadows on the wall.  Preparation in any project is important.  Sure there have been several drawings that are really just sketches and turn out great, but as soon as something expands to more than that or has an ultimate goal preparation helps a lot, thumbs and rough ideas are always the way to go.

Linked to Illustration Friday’s “Prepare”