An amazing way to learn illustration

So what is musician-performer-dancer-composer Lindsey Stirling doing on this blog about children’s book illustration? She’s an artist but she works in a different medium. She hasn’t published a children’s picture book. (Not yet, anyway, but give her time.)

I’m sharing this video of her 2011 tune Shadows, because twenty-two million YouTube viewers are not wrong — it’s a great music video. It also helps me to make a point about something I see happening that I like to call:

Are you ready?  (It’s a big phrase.)  Ahem... The toppling of the hierarchy of learning.

Lindsey has studied classical violin since age six. Private teachers for 12 years.

But my question is…

Where did she learn to dance like this?

Answer: YouTube! She says so here on her website. She analysed music videos, studied the footwork of the dancers, put her own moves together and practiced in front of a mirror.

So my next question is:

If Lindsey can learn her choreography from the Internet, do you think you can you learn to design and improve your drawing and painting similarly?

I  certainly think so! Good thing, too because in recent weeks four new art courses have launched online. Two of them, focusing on illustrating children’s books start next month (June, 2013)

Mira Reisberg (aka: The Picture Book Whisperer) is offering The Craft and Business of Children’s Book IllustrationJune 3 — July 15.

Will Terry and Jake Parker are offering Illustration for Storytellers, June 10 — July 10.

Last week I interviewed these teachers to discover more. We decided to open up our discussions so that anyone watching could ask questions. You can catch the replay of our session with magical Mira here or by clicking on the graphic below. (You’ll be asked for your e-mail address. It will be worth it.)

The Picture Book Academy

Mira Reisberg’s Picture Book Academy

Mira’s class promises a full-immersion experience into the world of children’s publishing, with her own video interviews with editors, art directors and author-illustrators. There will also be wide-ranging lessons on craft/technique and the business/career-building side of being a children’s book artist.

Will’s and Jake’s training will take you through design, draftsmanship, painting and building flowing storyboards and successful full-colored final art. They’ll cover how to prepare your art for a traditional print book, e-book, story app, help you to understand traditional vs digital illustration, file types, pagination, pacing, layouts — and how to build your online presence as an artist. The live interactive class is already full, but through July 15 you can still register for the lite version, to receive the recordings.

You can access our amazing two-hour session with Will and Jake here or by clicking on the graphic below. Will and Jake each taught a very cool, generous lesson that you won’t want to miss.

Mark Mitchell, Will Terry and Jake Parker

Mark Mitchell, Will Terry and Jake Parker

Of the two classes, which one should you pick? It’s a no-brainer! Take both!

They’re by gifted people, professionally experienced artists who are also natural teachers (as you’ll see in the replays.) Their curriculums are different and as rich and rewarding as any you’d find at a brick and mortar campus. (This is not surprising, since Mira, Jake and Will all teach or have taught at brick and mortar campuses.)

And when you finish their classes, consider taking my Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks! online course, too! It’s also about children’s book illustration. Online art classes like these rock! They’re fun. They’ll make you better. And they’re re not as difficult as teaching yourself to dance while playing the violin.

At author-illustrator Mary Sullivan's launch party for her one word picture book "Ball!" (Houghton Mifflin) at the Writing Barn. Left to right Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor and author-Illustrator shelley Ann Jackson, Austin SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier, Mary Sullivan, author-illustrator Mark Mitchell, author Julie Lake, author-illustrators Erik Kuntz and Jeff Crosby. Photo by author Bethany Hegedus.

At author-illustrator Mary Sullivan’s launch party for her one word picture book Ball! (Houghton Mifflin) at The Writing Barn, in Austin Texas on May 4. Left to right Austin SCBWI Regional Advisor and author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson, Austin SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier,  author-illustrator Mary Sullivan, author-illustrator Mark Mitchell, author Julie Lake, author-illustrators Erik Kuntz and Jeff Crosby. Photo by author Bethany Hegedus. To see a recent post and video interview featuring Mary, go here.

A spread from Mary Sullivan's "Ball!"

A spread from Mary Sullivan’s new picture book Ball! published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

From Mary Sullivan's new book Ball!

From Mary Sullivan’s new book Ball!

Julie Lake reads "BalL!" at The Writing Barn.

Julie Lake reads Ball! at The Writing Barn.

Bethany Hegedus with page proofs of her new picture book "Grandfather Gandhi"

During Mary’s signing party at The Writing Barn, Austin SCBWI Illustrator Coordinator Amy Farrier, authors Greg Leitich Smith, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Bethany Hegedus, author-illustrators Jeff Crosby and Erik Kuntz and author Julie Lake review the early page proofs shared by Bethany from her upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Arun Gandhi and illustrated by Evan Turk. Due out in March, 2014.

Cover of the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk.

Cover of the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk.

From the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi,

From the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-authored by Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi and illustrated by Evan Turk.  Scheduled for publication 3/11/2014.

From the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi,

Illustration by Evan Turk from the upcoming picture book, Grandfather Gandhi by Bethany Hegedus and Arun Gandhi.  Scheduled for publication 3/11/2014

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Post by Mark Mitchell.

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Should you advertise in an illustration directory?

For some children’s book artists this interview might be a little hard to hear and to bear.  For others it could offer new hope.

Jo Ann Miller of Serbin Communications’ Directory of Illustration suggests that illustrators think a little bit outside the book.

Jo Ann Miller of Sebin Communications' Directory of Illustration
Jo Ann Miller of Sebin Communications’ Directory of Illustration greets a Transformer at this year’s San Diego Comic Con

You’ve seen artists’ directories —  glossy annuals combined with online portfolio galleries where artists or their reps buy display ads. The Directory of Illustration is the dreadnought battleship of illustration directories, aiming its marketing guns at the entire waterfront of graphic arts, not just children’s publishing. That means children’s products,  fashion and cosmetics merchandising, corporate promotions, retail advertising, medical illustration, the animation industry and even landscape design — to name a few.

With the Toy Industry Association as a partner, the Santa Barbara, Ca. based publisher also produces Play! “Illustration for Toys and Interactive Games — a website for hiring toy and interactive game artists.
Best of Photography Annual, the Medical Illustration Sourcebook and Designer Jewelry Showcase are some other annuals from Serbin Communications.

The Directory of Illustration is going on its 27th year. It’s not cheap being in a dominant industry directory . $2,500-$2,600 gets you a full page with 30 portfolio images. Artists re-up year after year, sometimes sharing pages with others who have the same art rep or agent.  Program benefits include, hardcopy distribution to 20,000 illustration buyers and art directors, national online advertising, free website design and cross promotion with Contact, a leading talent directory in the UK and Europe.

If you’re like me and many freelancers who keep a death grip on their wallets,  you might question spending the equivalent of a small book advance every 12 months to participate in a showcase with a few hundred of your keenest competitors.

Why do it when you can upload  images for free to your Flickr page, WordPress.com  blog,  SCBWI portfolio,  or favorite art web ring. Or mail out your own printed Christmas postcards to the small ranks of active children’s book editors?

You can do it to  reach markets for your art that you might never have thought of,  says Jo Ann.
So lets let her talk us through some of this.

What does the “Directory of Illustration” offer artists who have their hearts set on illustrating children’s books?

I love children’s book illustration and I work with many children’s book illustrators in the directory, but they also do other things.

The children’s publishing market can pay very well but advertising and design generally pays better. The market for children’s book art ebbs and flows.  The in-between target group — ages 12 – 15 (particularly girls)  — based on what iour clients tell me, happens to be very active.
So the first question I always ask illustrators is,  ‘Who is your target audience? What is your age group?’

Illustration by Lisa Falkenstern
Illustration by Lisa Falkenstern

New York illustrator Lisa Falkenstern generally works in oils, but also in egg tempera, acrylic, and digitally. Here’s her directory portfolio page. After 20 years as a professional illustrator,she’s just finished illustrations for The Busy Tree, by Jennifer Ward for ages 5-8, published by Marshall Cavendish.  She’s also written and illustrated her own children’s work that is currently in production.  Treat yourself to a look at her magical website.

Is that what you told aspiring illustrators in the Portland chapter of  SCBWI, when you were invited to speak to them recently?

We discussed how the art buyer looks at the target audience and the age group within that target audience, and things like color — the palette. Right now purple and magenta colors dominate in advertising, so  illustrators showing a lot of purple in their portfolios are getting looks.

I can remember a few years ago when the Razor Skooter first appeared in stores — if an illustrator had a child on a razor scooter, he was appealing to art buyers who were looking to market to that age group.

When Starbucks was ready to launch its franchises around the country every illustrator who had an image of a coffee cup on his page in our directory was getting calls.

So you’re saying it comes down to the marketplace.

Yes. So if you understand how to tell a story and emotionally connect with people in the pages of  Scholastic magazine or a picture book —  can you make the attitude shift to collaborate with an art buyer or a designer to put together a product or package?

If you can, if you can interpolate the needs of the art buyers and you’re  not afraid of taking art direction or design direction, you’ll strengthen your repertoire and make a little more money.

Your children’s illustration on a children’s clothing hang tag.

Tom Kerr illustration
Tom Kerr illustration – a mother bunny

Tom Kerr,  a directory artist based in Omaha works in acrylic, colored pencil, watercolor. pen and ink and digital media. Here’s his directory portfolio page. His light humorous  style has found its way into newspaper editorial cartoons,  magazines, animation characters and 25 books, the most recent being “Math Wizardry for Kids” by Margaret Kenda and Phyllis S. Williams (Barron’s Publishing.)

New meadows to graze

So your message to artists is,  try to expand into different venues?

Over the years I’ve seen illustrators getting their names in editorial publications because they were doing storytelling art for merchandise packaging. I’ve seen it work the other way, too  — illustrators’ success grow from the editorial audience to the design audience.  That’s  because the same age group that buys a book will buy the game, the cereal, the clothing and the McDonald’s happy meal set with the character toy and all the packaging.

The art buyer looks at the children’s market as being intertwined with comic books, graphic novels, sci fi market and merchandising and advertising. I  don’t think illustrators are always thought of as having a style.  They’re thought of in terms of solving a problem.

You put an image on a book to sell the book…the magazines…
the product… the ad campaign.

So it’s not just storytelling, but it’s also selling a product.

If  you can show the skill set beyond storytelling, you broaden your appeal to the ad agencies and design shows. That means if you can illustrate a story, but you also have certain digital skills, some animation or flash, or modeling and 3-D skills, you’ll often be considered for a variety of products.

Is there a  place in this commercially driven universe for the traditional illustration, rendered with real paint on real paper?

Digital art  seems to get more attention than traditional art. It’s very popular for packaging and creating characters.  It’s used to communicate just about anything. Digital artists get a lot of people looking in their portfolios.

But there are always people — right now especially — looking for that nostalgic, hands on feel in the art. Watercolor, draftsmanship, the simple pen and ink line have a more important place than they had three years ago.  Everybody’s been touched by someone who’s lost a job. People are going through a tough time. They want an emotional comfort level. That means  images that strike an emotional, warm and fuzzy feeling, that appear hand-made rather than in your face and MTV-like.

Would you want your child, your three year old exposed only to  that hard edged computer or  Disney- look?

No!

There’s always a  need  for the humaneness  in visual images particularly  in an economy that’s struggling. And it’s often found in pictures done in the very traditional mediums like watercolor and  pencil. I think artists of that old school style have shied away from promoting themselves.
When they should be embracing opportunities to showcase their art.

So we have artists in the directory like John Parra whose fine art/folk art traditional style finds outlets in  many kinds of publications — including children’s books.

Gracias Thanks by Pat Mora with Illustrations by John Parra

Gracias Thanks by Pat Mora with illustrations by John Parra
who works in acrylic, oils and digitally. See his website.

How to tout one’s own horn in the arts?

In her own life Jo Ann ran up against this vexing question.
At age 18 she became a national dance champion (having studied dance since the age of 5).
She won the title of Miss Dance of America, which led to an invitation to enter the Miss America Pageant, where she tied for 11th place.

At 19, she won Miss New York  State. She entered the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City with her scholarship from the pageant.  “I wanted to dance but I never knew how to promote myself except to audition,” she says. “My father wanted to help.  He was an engineer. He put together a business card for me that said ‘dancer, beauty pageant winner.'”

After college studies in marketing she worked as a Ford Model in New York City.  But an injury while filming a TV commercial forced a career shift — she launched a public relations firm on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California.
Her client base came to include Vanessa Williams and President Ronald Reagan.

Over the last 17 years  Jo Ann has worked matching illustrators and  designers with buyers and art directors, first with  the now gone artists directory American Showcase, then Serbin Commuinications and The Directory of Illustration.

Tom Kerr illustration

Page illustration by Tom Kerr

Page illustration by Tom Kerr from the Directory of Illustration

Jo Ann, is it true that the Directory of Illustration is not  for everyone?

Not every children’s book illustrator will be right for the Directory of Illustration.
Not all illustrators have the ‘want to’ or the ability to understand the buyer’s needs.

And if the illustrator doesn’t get it and  he’s not seasoned enough to deal with a call like that then it’s embarrassing for us.  Our job is trying to  match qualified art buyers with qualified illustrators. If they don’t match, we’re not doing our job.

If the illustrator is too amateurish or hasn’t developed his  ‘voice,’  he’s not ready for our program.
We don’t want artists spending money for a program they’re not ready for.

We’re not the vehicle to ‘break in’ with.

I’ve turned so many people away, but with generous insight. Part of the consulting I’m doing is guiding these artists. Most want honest feedback, some idea of how they fit into the industry.

If someone wants a discussion prior to investing in the directory or any kind of marketing  program — I can consult with that person and help them out a lot.  When I work with an illustrator, I make recommendations depending on the artist, trends and many criteria. I don’t tell someone what to do. I guide them, and send them back to the drawing board again and again.

She offers one on one consultations  — usually  in the summer months.
Illustrators are welcome to contact her by e-mail at:  joannmiller@serbin.com
She recommends that they send a short introduction and an image or two ( jpgs or a site link.) And she encourages all artists to check out the Directory of Illustration website .  “There’s a lot to be seen there,” she says.

Painting by Lisa Falkenstern
Painting by Directory of Illustration artist Lisa Falkenstern

Don’t forget two big Texas conferences!

Austin SCBWI comes first with Destination Publication set for Saturday, January 30, 2010.
The one day event features  a Caldecott Honor Illustrator (Marla Frazee) and Newberry Honor author Kirby Larson. The lineup also includes the wonderful  illustrator Patrice Barton doing portfolio reviews, Mark McVeigh an agent who represents authors, illustrators and graphic novel creators for the adult and children’s markets, and editors Cheryl Klein, Lisa Graff and Stacy Cantor (who did work on all of the Harry Potter books!)
Read more about everyone here. Get the the registration form here.  Hurry, the event and only a few portfolio
review sessions are left.

Houston SCBWI has set its conference for Saturday, February 20, 2010.  Headliners include  acclaimed author of short stories, funny picture books, Native American fiction, and YA Gothic fantasies, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Creative director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers Patrick Collins and editors  Ruta Rimas, Alexandra Cooper and Lisa Ann Sandell.  Download their bios, conference info and a registration form here.

P is for Pinata
P is for Pinata
by Tony Johnston and illustrated by John Parra,
courtesy John Parra and The Directory of Illustration.

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Check out the great drawing instructional videos by Matthew Archambault at Drawing-Tutorials-Online.com

Mark Mitchell teaches children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School and online The next semester of classes begins at the school’s Laguna Gloria campus next month, with Children’s Book Illustration I, January 27 – March 10, 6-9 p.m.

Children’s Book Illustration II March 23  — April 20,  6-9 p.m.

Mark teaches an online course on drawing and painting for illustration “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!” that is self-paced and starts whenever you’re ready. Learn more here.

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Laura’s Medieval Menagerie

 

Laura Jennings drawing for Shard Studios

Laura Jennings drawing for Shard Studios

Laura Jennings grew up surrounded by animals in the Texas Hill Country town of Kempner.

“I trained my first dog, a Rottweiler for obedience when I was 12,” she says.

Maybe that’s why the dynamic animals she’s created for the role playing game Shard  look like people you might  know — almost  old friends you wouldn’t mind going with you on a harrowing adventure.

 Oh, humans played their parts in her youth, too, and books — fantasy novels mainly — and video games.  “I used to sit and watch my brother play Zelda and Mario for hours,” she says.

After studying fine arts at Central Texas Community College and Texas Tech University, Laurie enrolled in the design art  programming and animation sequence at Austin Community College, She has set her sites on the fields of video game art and character creation.  

Character from "Dardunah", a land where armour is made of crystal, a Shard RPG game, drawn by Laura Jennings

The Lion King changed my life.  I loved the action, the movement.   I don’t have the patience for animation, but that’s what I’m into,” she says.

“At school we’re doing the old  pegboard animation, like the crews did for Bambi , they still ask for the same kind of detail in the industry. 

“Everybody going into this wants to design, do storyboards and be a lead character artist. It’s the very first graphic the public sees.

“I do go for games, and it is pretty astonishing — the emerging media and the economic growth that’s been predicted for games and computer art in the next 50 years. 

“Austin has something like 50 studios; they’re mostly small. In this room there’s an animator and you can walk right next door and take it to the programmer.”

“Video game art is  a combination of animated movie and comic book and it’s  interactive. Some of the most gorgeous art I’ve seen has been in the animation of Nintendo and Capcom games, such as Squaresoft Final Fantasy series and Legend of Zelda.    

 

"Dardunah" character by Laura Jennings

Laura also feels pulled by graphic novels and children’s books and attends meetings of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (Austin SCBWI). 

“People think children’s book illustration is easy. It’s actually cutting edge. There are similarities to game art, such as the storyboarding and the composition and how you have to know your story visually so very well. The work of James Gurney holds its metal against any fine art happening today and he (and others like him) have chosen literature, which I thank them for.”

"Puffy pants" character from the Shard land, drawing by Laura Jennings

"Puffy pants" character from the Shard land, drawing by Laura Jennings

Laura “liked the idea of puffy pants” for her fantasy
character for the game Shard, designed by art director Scott Jones.

 “I was trying to turn a lot of the animal motifs on their heads.  So I wanted to make this Aesop’s-like skunk a bit coquetish, like she’s waiting for Pepe Le Pew.”

 Shard is a table-top  role playing game “of heroic fantasy, set in the Realm of Dardunah, World of the False Dawn,”
the website says.   “Players may choose from a wide variety of animal  people who are the main cast of the many adventures the world offers.” 

Dardunah is a medieval Shangrila, far east of Middle Earth. (I spent some time poking around the site. I must say I’m ready for the movie to come out.) 

Laura recalls, “I don’t know what it was that got their attention, but they saw some of my art and told me, ‘We see that you’ve done a bunch of animal creatures.'”

“Actually there were  three of us working on the game’s characters. We had to make it look like all of the illustration was done by one person. We each worked in our own category — I didn’t want  the insects, snakes and reptiles so I raised my hand and said, ‘I’ll take the mammals!’ ”

One of the animal people drawn by Laura Jennings for the RPG "Shard"

One of the animal people drawn by Laura Jennings for the RPG "Shard"

 She had to research animals in their natural settings, and come up with props, costumery and accessories that  “fit” into this world with its Persian and Asian flavors, she says. 

“I had to find out what old armour looks like, leggings and foorwear, what kind of robes students of a temple would have worn.” 

Shore dweller of "Dardunah" by Laura Jennings

For the fellow in the game at the right, a seashore dweller, she found photo reference of an otter, stopping by a river, panting.

Pencil drawings were scanned and values were added in Photoshop using the smudge tool and the dodge and burn tool.

“I had a lot of fun with the textures in Photoshop, learning to push things around.

“I was asked to  re-do a squirrel monster because the armor looked too much like beat-up metal. Metal is a material of our world  — whereas in Dardunah, the armor is made of crystal.

 “The  foundation was in natural media,” she says. “But there was a little bit of cleanup in Corel Painter 9, which replicates whatever natural medium you’re using — in this case it was pencil. The art  was finished and polished in Corel Painter 9.

 “There’s a lot of movement and dynamic in my own work,” Laura says.

“I’ve been very gestural for a long time. I’m only just now starting to work on the edges, the contour.

“My sketches are half reference — half imagination. Many of them are just from little thumbnail sketches. As I look at these  I’m seeking that pose that speaks about inner character. I’m asking, ‘What has punch. What is moving, or defining,” Laura says.

“In video games, the silhouette is so important. Their silhouettes define who they are in the game.”

Wolverine warrior by Laura Jennings,from the role playing card game

Ursine warrior realized by Laura Jennings. He's a character from the role playing card game, Shard.

Laura Jennings’ fun blog  is now on our blogroll.  You’ll find her art there, too and on her Deviant Art gallery page, where she’s posted some graphic novel panels, backgrounds and more of her exquisite characters.  Deviant Art features concept art by teen and young adult artists from around the world.

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Mark Mitchell hosts How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator. 
Check out the free lessons of his short course, Power Color: The Keys to Color Mastery  here.  

A new milieu for an old art form: Erik Kuntz and a spellbinding (kid-friendly) “Hex Libris”

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Who is the creature lurking in the library in Erik’s Webcomic? I think I know, and I’ve entered Erik’s contest, but I can’t share my guess with anyone. But I will say this much — it’s a character from a book we know. After all, the strip is Hex Libris, in which Kirby, the main character is charged with taking care of a ginormous enchanted library. 

Ever read a novel that just comes to life before your eyes? Well, Hex Libris seizes that theme and runs down the field in an unexpected direction with it. The webcomic by designer- writer Erik Kuntz of Austin, Texas began as a New Year’s resolution. So did his illustration blog A Dog a Day Project  that features Erik’s unstop able canine imagery — with doggy bites of daily commentary.  But that’s a subject for a future post. 

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Erik was thinking of the classic Nancy Drew stories of the 1950’s, mulling  how they compared to and contrasted with the Nancy Drew graphic novels being created for today’s teens.

“I wondered, ‘What if there was a place where characters could wander out of their books?’ ” Erik says. “‘And what would happen if the real Nancy Drew ran into the punky Manga style Nancy Drew?'”

Our hero Kirby meets them both as a result of his new archival responsibilities. And so it is inevitable that the trio and who knows who else (stay tuned…) join forces to solve a mystery or two.

Kirby’s story unfolds in  semi-weekly panels that move us cleanly, easily — even sweetly —  through space and time.  We care about Kirby and Amy (a girl who likes him) and teen girl detective Connie Carter ( the “original” Nancy Drew) and even the little old lady (or is she a witch?) who leases Kirby the uptown apartment that, somehow, magically contains a Library of Congress-like basilica within its tiny walls.

Erik hatched the idea at last year’s Summer Arts Workshop at California State University. He studied comics and animation in the summer program.  He knows and adores comics.  He’s studied under Scott McCloudthe author of Understanding Comics, Re-inventing Comics and other titles all about the ‘language’ of an art form that goes back to well, let’s just say paintings on cave walls. 

One of the teachers at the summer workshop, comic book writer-illustrator Trina Robbins encouraged Kuntz to see it through  — his Hex Libris storyline.

“I’ve done so much study over the last few years as to what makes a comic a comic as opposed to an illustrated story,” Erik says. “It’s a constant struggle between what needs to be put in the picture and what needs to be said ‘out loud’ in words.”  For inspiration, he looks to the late “father of MangaOsamu Tezuka and the late  E.C. Segar, the creator of Popeye and Thimble Theatre.

Kimba the White Lion  was my favorite show as a kid,” Kuntz says. “It was cartoony without being overly simple.”

“I like the older style of newspaper comics, where the adventure strips had a more realistic look.”
As much as he enjoys comic books,  Erik says, “it’s the comic pages in the Sunday paper that I most enjoy and try to emulate here — their sequential nature and the art style and sense of humor — especially from the 1940s to the 1950s, where they could work bigger and there was more possibility.” 

Alas, the gorgeous graphics of Prince Valiant (Gary Gianni carries on with the storybook imagery first created by Hal Foster in 1937) and For Better or for Worse  (Lynn Johnston) have been scrunched to near-insignificance as newspapers continue to shrink their content. 

Newspapers themselves seem to be folding (no pun intended) as a mainstream media and the ultimate cartoon delivery vehicle. But perhaps the World Wide Web can do for the old newspaper “funny pages” what Manga has done for comic book and graphic novel publishing.

“I think every artist who does children’s or cartoony stuff would do well to look at the web as an opportunity.” Kuntz says. “There is a huge number of people publishing strips. Often the content is poor. You won’t ‘get’ it if you weren’t out drinking with the cartoonist and his friends the night before. Other webstrips cater to extremely specific readers, such as Penny-Arcade.com.  “If you don’t know anything about video games, you’ll be mystified by the strip,” he says. 

“There is a stunning amount of good work out there. There are quite a few brilliant child-friendly comics.  More kids are reading comics on the Web. Half of them are newspaper strips in syndication — the traditional old newspaper strips like Calvin and Hobbes, which is being run again and again on the Web. That’s where kids go now to read Calvin and Hobbes.  My browser opens all the comics I want to read each day in tabs. I don’t read them in the newspaper any more.

“I decided some while back that the Web would be an ideal way for me to do an old fashioned serial strip.  It’s an inexpensive way to put work out there and a much easier way to get in front of somebody. With the Web and the 2.0 social networking, everyone’s sharing things, pointing their discoveries out to each other.  It’s a new milleu. It’s an old art form, but a different way of delivering it.

Some cartoonists endeavor to make an income from their sites. “The business model is web advertising, or accepting donations or sale of merchandize, such as T-shirts, mugs or print versions of their work. Others are willing to do it for free,  for the artistic expression or to have an online portfolio or as just another way of posting,” Erik says. “It’s an interesting way to get people to your site. ”

 February panel of \

 He begins by writing a synopsis of what’s going to happen in the chapter, without the dialogue.

“With a serial strip, just like in the Sunday funny papers, you kind of need to have a stop every day. You want each page of the comic to be a beat  Each one has to be a sort of mini cliff hanger. And each chapter must have its own arc. That’s the other thing I work with to get right.”

Then he sketches in the panel and the individual frames. Once upon a time it was pencil on paper. “But now I’m working directly on the computer, starting with rough sketches in Corel Painter using my Wacom Cintiq tablet monitor,” he says. “To be more precise,  I use Painter’s Mechanical Pencil brush set to a light blue color.”

“They look a lot like my traditional sketches look, since I use a col-erase blue to do my roughs on paper,” he says.  “I’m most of the way done with this roughing, I have some poses to adjust, some faces to finish and I’ve got to fix the perspective on the backgrounds, which are currently just scribbled in.  Oh, and I need a background in the final panel. Painter has a perspective grid,  which is useful for simple 2-point perspective, so I’ll be using that to get the kitchen sorted properly.”

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Erik’s ‘pencil rough’ for the March 13 panel of “Hex Libris”, except he’s done it digitally, using the “mechanical pencil” brush  (set to blue) in Corel Painter.  

“I stay with Painter through the inking process. Then I bring the whole thing into Illustrator to do the lettering. Once in a while when I’m out and about with my sketchbook, I capture a pose I want to use and scan that in and mix it in with my computer sketches.

“When I ink, I use a variety of Painter’s Ink Pen brushes — mostly the Smooth Round Pen one. For the next one, I’m going to experiment with the tools that more closely imitate traditional comics inking brushes. It’ll be looser and I am not certain whether I’ll like it. I’ll know in a day or two when I get to the inking.”

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Erik incorporates a slight shading  – a barely perceptible yellow layer — behind his “inked” panels.  The off-white tinge “warms up” the strip and maybe subconsciously evokes the nostalgia of newsprint, Erik believes. “That kind of pulls it together for me,” he says.

He imbeds his URL on the bottom left and his copyright information on the bottom right. 

Erik and his wife, writer-actress-comedian Maggie Gallant own 2 Bad Mice Design in Austin, Texas. He teaches classes (for children and adults) in animation, digital art and digital cartooning at the Austin Museum of Art Art School.  The “Hex Libris” webcomic can be found at http://hexlibriscomic.com/

Mark Mitchell writes for How to be a Children’s Book Illustrator and The Admiral’s Blog    An award-winning author illustrator, he also teaches classes (for adults) in children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School.