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.  

Illustrators’ round-up

Gustaf Tenggren “Tell It Again Book” illustration
 Swedish folk art-inspired? From “Gustaf Tenggren’s Tell It Again Book” courtesy of ASIFA- Hollywood Animation Archive

Now that we’ve got the elephant in the room (the year’s Caldecott winner) out of the way,  we can talk of other children’s illustration news.

School Library Journal serves up coverage of the National Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 2007 Golden Kite Award winners and runners-ups, as does SCBWI’s own  website

“Little Night” by Yuyi Morales  Little Night, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales,   published by Roaring Book Press – Holtzbrinck (designed by Jennifer Browne) won the Golden Kite Award for best picture book illustration.  
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April’s The Artist’s Magazine  (F+W Publications) features an interview with Jan Brett (33 million books in print and still going strong.)

Funny, I was reading The Mitten to my three year old-granddaughter just the other night and we were both enjoying this book very much.

Brett’s only formal art training came from museum art classes when she was young.

She works with a very dry (watercolor) brush technique, “almost like a colored pencil,” she tells interviewer Paula Theotocus.  

Loved as much by booksellers and librarians as by children, she  travels the world  researching the locales of the stories she works on, accompanied by her husband, Joe Hearne, who is also her business manager and webmaster.   
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In recent weeks Cynsations, the blog of teen and children’s author Cynthia Leitich-Smith has featured interviews with children’s books folks in anticipation of this month’s SCBWI Bologna Conference 2008

And it has not neglected the art end of the industry, with interviews by guest writer Anita Loughrey  of Caldecott winning illustrator Paul O Zelinksy, French comic author-illustrator Emmanuel Guibert  and Harper Collins executive art director Martha Rago.

For Loughrey’s question, “What makes an artists illustrations stand out for you?” Rago had an interesting answer:

“I would not underestimate technical skills, which are very, very important: anatomy, composition, and perspective, good use of color and line, and effective use of materials,” she said.

“But I am always looking for someone who has not just the technical skills but a distinct individual style, a clear voice and images that suggest narrative through context,emotional tone, and the way they relate sequentially.”  It’s not often you get to peek inside the mind of an art director at a major children’s publishing house. Read the full interview with Martha Rago here.

Rago, Zelinsky and Guiberty are among  the 31 scheduled to speak at the conference set for March 29 and March 30 in Bologna, Italy.
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Speaking of SCBWI, the Austin chapters of SCBWI has been preparing for its Spring conference “Write in the Heart of Texas”  on Saturday April 26 at the University of Texas Club. 

The line-up of expected prestenters and critiquers includes artists agent Christina Tugeau , along with Deborah Wayshak, editor at Candlewick Press, Alvina Ling, editor of Little, Brown and Co. and artist-illustrator Christy Stallop and other special guests.  
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Tenggren’s “Rapunzel”

Courtesy of the ASIFA – Hollywood Animation Archives

Check out the March 11 post: Illustration: The Genesis of the Golden Book Style  in the Animation Archive website. The Archive is part of ASIFA-Hollywood, which is part of the International Society of Film Animation. 

The post,  by the society’s director Stephen Worth, focuses on the towering (see above, pun intended) work of Gustaf Tenggren.

The Seven Dwarfs from Disney’s “Snow White”
Hey, who are these guys?


I stared, mouth open at the work of this Swedish born artist who had worked on the Disney classics Snow White, Pinocchio and Bambi,  before storming off to basically create the look and feel of the Little Western Golden Books of  the 1950s. 

Reading Worth’s insights and devouring his digital feast of Tenggren images, I realized that I already knew these.

 Pokey Little Puppy  Poky Little Puppy, which launched Golden Books. Yep, Tenggren’s art illuminated Janette Sebring Lowrey’s text.
 

Tenggren’s “Sleeping Beauty” 
Courtesy of the ASIFA – Hollywood Animation Archives

I never had any idea of who Tenggren was but, clearly, his images have never left me.  They must have been everywhere in my childhood and somehow imbedded themselves in the deep recesses of my psychic tissue. 

This made me think of a storybook that stayed on a shelf  in my little brother’s room. Everytime I opened the book its illustrations cast a spell on me.  Hmmm. The style was like Tenggrens!

Could it be? I Google-searched the title that I remembered for it, Pirate Ships and Sailors  (I was never able to forget that either.) Up popped a certain Golden Book by that name, written by Byron Jackson with Kathryn Jackson and illustrated by Gustaff Tenggren – 1950!

I always remembered that Pirate Ships and Sailors  was not your ordinary pirate book. 

Now I know that it was because of Tenggren’s hypnotic artwork — sweetly beautiful and hauntingly disturbing at the same time.  Great for the Grimm bros, right? In fact Tenggren was the ultimate Grimm’s tales illustrator.

Clearly, his pirate pictures had traumatized me at some level.  I remember one in particular of some emaciated old sailors chained up in a dungeon.

Steve Worth discusses in his post how Swedish folk art probably influenced Tenggren, particularly  in the golden Golden Book days, when he often placed his figures in silouhette-like vignettes against the blank background of the page — perhaps to save labor and time. But it sure made for effective design (as it did for those Swedish arts & crafts folks of earlier generations.)

The ASIF -Hollywood Animation Archive features vast stores of images and scholarship on Tenggren and hundreds of other illustrators, animators and cartoonists. It also makes available courses and tutotials, such as the Preston Blair animation course.
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Speaking of cartoonists The Boston Globe ran a review by Daniel Akst of a new book about comic books, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, By David Hajdu (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) “My mother didn’t like it, but the children’s books of the time were thin gruel if you were accustomed to the thrilling life-and-death adventures of Spiderman, Batman and Robin, and the Fantastic Four,” Akst writes.

“A key thing to bear in mind about all this is that the primary market was children. And in those days comics weren’t just about superheroes fighting injustice. Two of the most popular genres were horror and crime…” 

Hajdu’s book brings home how “New York was the epicenter of this [comic books] creative ferment, just as it was for painting, baseball, and musical theater,” Akst says.

“Everyone knows about Jackson Pollock, Jackie Robinson, and ‘Guys and Dolls,’ but few appreciate the role comics played in American culture. In those days the industry put out perhaps 100 million copies a week, each of them passed among several readers. Producing this colorful weekly avalanche required a small army of artists, writers, letterers, and others who grew out of the Depression and leapt at the chance to work at the intersection of art and commerce.” See Akst’s review.
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Mark Mitchell writes for the new webzine How to Be a Children’s Book Illustrator. He is the author-illustrator of the nonfiction children’s book Raising La Belle, which has a few pirates in it.  You can download it for free right  here.