World touring sketchbooks

Have you drawn in your sketchbook today? It’s a question that humbles every aspiring children’s book illustrator.

But in our “high touch era” where the handcrafts site Etsy numbers near the top of online marketplaces and scrapbooking became so cool that it inspired the social media phenomenon known as Pinterest, sketchbooks and the art of filling them are no longer restricted to fine artists and commercial artists and hobby painters.

It’s a more general cause celebre and maybe even a craze, if popular blog groups like SketchCrawl, Urban Sketchers and Everyday Matters are an indication. Since 2009 the Brooklyn Art-House Co-Op has been gathering up sketchbooks and sending them on national tour in a traveling library. This year the effort extended across the Atlantic to include London. Hence the name,  2012 Sketchbook Project World Tour

“The Sketchbook Project is a global, crowd-sourced art project where participants from all walks of life are sent a sketchbook and have until January 15th to fill the pages and return it for inclusion in a traveling exhibition and permanent collection at The Brooklyn Art Library,” the co-op’s website says.

You can see some 500 photos on the Facebook page. And some more cool photos in this Instagram gallery on Tumblr.

Sketchbook Tour stops in Austin

Our children’s picture book critique group under the Austin (Texas) Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the Inklings decided to take part in this year’s tour with a group sketchbook mosaic.

It’s all explained (twice) in this riveting cinéma vérité documentary. Notice how the camera is not only hand-held in the respected auteur tradition, but often entirely neglected as the chronicler starts talking with his subjects and the lens tips to study T-shirts and shoes, picnic tables and dirt on the ground…

Austin (September 12-16) was the last North American stop before the books moved on to London. Starting from Brooklyn they’d already traveled to Chicago, Portland, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Oakland, Lynn, Portland (Maine), Toronto, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Orlando.

Co-Lab Project Space on Allen Street in East Austin was converted into a library replete with signage,  computers, workers, loaded bookshelves and waiting lines.  According to the Brooklyn ArtHouse archive, 2,435 books were checked out and viewed during those four days in Austin and 300 new Sketchbook Project library cards were issued.

The sketchbooks, new ones will be back in Austin next year — at Co-Labs again and at the SXSW Festival scene on March 15-17  for the 2013 World Tour.

Maury Tieman, Martha Carleton, Mark Mitchell, Joyce Chambers-Selber and Allissa Chambers of the Austin SCBWI Inklings — with “Willie Lisa.” Other “Inklings” who participated in the mosaic project included Margaret Jonon Buford, Martin Fry, Ann Hartman, Jeff Crosby and the late Louise Shelby.

November events

The biggest news of recent weeks? No, it wasn’t the U.S. presidential election. It was Disney buying LucasFilm/LucasArts and all Star Wars rights for $4 billion. Here’s a Forbes take on the purchase and more particulars and videos from Mashable. It means more Star Wars movies to come, a re-thinking and possible scrapping of Star Wars games currently on the boards and a new (apparently long overdue) Disney line for boys.

No, Star Wars didn’t start off as a children’s book, but it could have. The Disney purchase evidences the staggering value of an intellectual asset and of what sometimes can happen when a story with good characters ascends to the status of a meme.  This was not a freak occurrence, either. In 2009 Disney paid $4 billion  for Marvel Comics.

The other news of course is the publishing merger. Two of the “Big Six”, Random House, owned by the conglomerate Bertelsmann and Penguin, owned by publishing giant Pearson announced joining forces in a deal exptected to close sometime next year (to counter the threat of Amazon, some industry watchers suggest.) Combined companies willl have a fourth of the English-language consumer book sales, asserts the Publishers Weekly story on the announcement,

The merger takes the “Big Six” down to five:  Random House Penguin, Hachette, Holtzbrinck/Macmillan,  HarperCollins,  which is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and the CBS owned Simon & Schuster — with those pesky 21st century publishing upstarts Amazon, Apple and Microsoft nipping at their heels.

November is Picture Book Month and author Dianne de Las Casas with co-founding author-illustrators Elizabeth DulembaKatie DavisTara Lazar and Wendy Martin have assembled this this delightful blog where author-illustrators guest post and the joys and significance of this peculiarly demanding literary art form.

November is also Picture Book Idea Month, if you didn’t know. It’s what PiBoIdMo stands for, writes children’s author Tara Lazar. “Tired of novelists having all the fun in November with NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month]? That’s why I created PiBoIdMo, as a 30-day challenge for picture book writers,” she says.  “The concept is to create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes).” The PiBoiMo part of Tara’s blog  is  loaded full with super “process posts” and tips from practitioners, along with some great author-illustrator “war stories” that will move and inspire you.

On the storm front, Chronicle Books editor Melissa Manlove is offering what is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an aspiring picture book author — a FREE PASS to one of her company’s editorial meetings, along with a private  critique before yourstory goes to the meeting. It’s one of many neat auction items touted for KidLit Cares, a Hurricane Sandy relief effort. Read all about it on organizer and children’s book author Kate Messer’s blog.

E.B. Lewis to headline Austin SCBWI conference

Caldecott honor-winning illustrator E.B. Lewis will keynote the conference, Kick It Up a Notch as well as conduct a special illustrators’ intensive on Sunday after Saturday’s main event.

In the video below Lewis speaks compassionately on his painting exhibit Lotto Icons, which began as scribbled ideas in his (what else?) sketchbook.

Drawing in Photoshop

Steve Connor is an abstract fine arts painter, former art director, Adobe CS-6 certified instructor and CEO of Deep4D Digital Media & Training. He demystifies the PS tools and the difference modes of drawing and painting with them in this free 90 minute workshop, Vector and Paint: An Intro to Photoshop.

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Award-winning author-illustrator Mark Mitchell wrote this post. Get on the blog mailing list and see some short videos on  “the best secret” to good drawing.

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Baby steps

I’ll admit that I was floored by the quality of  the essays turned in for our “Epiphany” contest.

The deadline was Wednesday. Contestants were asked to compose an answer of no more than 400 words to a rather broad question, “What’s the major discovery you’ve made or the biggest insight you’ve learned this  year in drawing or painting, or marketing yourself as an artist in the children’s publishing field?”

The winning essay would net its author a terrific video course by illustrator and teacher Will Terry,  How to Illustrate Children’s Books.

Will Terry's course

Collectively the submissions gave me fresh insight into the readers of this blog. I already knew that many of you are illustrators or artists and love children’s literature.

I didn’t know that so many are writers — good,  analytical, thoughtful — eloquent in several cases — and practical-minded language handlers. These pieces were a pleasure to read.

The answers were so good that I can hardly wait to publish them all here.  I feel a pushing sense of urgency to get them out to you. But it will happen steadily over the coming weeks.

Tonight we’ll publish the winner, by Maya Scharke of Quebec, Canada with its theme of doing, but doing bit by bit.

Epiphany by Maya Scharke

A glimpse into the mind of an artist…oh how quickly the wings flutter, perhaps as  fast as a hummingbird hovering  around gooey artificial red syrup. It seems to churn in the middle of the night, in the early morning, over granola at breakfast, during quick skis in the woods, and most often in front of a warm fire with a glass of wine.

The flurry of activity in my mind is analogous to that of a newly filled bird feeder on a cool crisp day, it scurries, dips, dives, spins and circles. I have often found myself looking into my mind, or that blank canvas saying, “Wowza, what should I do next? I have so many things to do, so much to learn!

Do I develop my story ideas through gesture drawings, do I practice my perspective skills, do I work on character design, or value painting, or brush up on my figure drawing, or, or, um, or…oh boy, Wowza, what shoooould I do next?” I suspect these feelings of confusion that stem entirely from sheer excitement to ‘do’, often overwhelm many of my fellow artists in the same way. I have found it often translates into blocks of anticipation rather than productivity.

This can be stifling, especially when life doesn’t produce many windows of time to deliberate! This type of activity in my mind has forced me to step back, re-evaluate how I quantify my productivity, or should I say qualify my productivity. I mean doesn’t it all contribute to the ultimate goal?

The spinning and thinking and especially the heartfelt, ‘deep in your belly’ emotions experienced for loving the creative process, it has to count for something!?! It must, I really do believe it does! Therefore, in hopes to  practice what I preach,

I have made a pact with myself to approach my expectations of productivity differently, to focus on the overarching aspiration and contribute to that with baby steps.

Open my sketchbook every day, try out new techniques, plan time to move my creative projects along, engage in discussions about art, and really make the ENTIRE creative process a part of my everyday life.

So, that’s it, my epiphany, my insight, lift the pressure and just create! I encourage others to do the same. We don’t know what will come out of it but you can  guarantee satiation, sheer satisfaction, and contentment from fulfilling such an intrinsic desire.

A penguin who waddles in his sleep

Author-illustrator Sarah Ackerley signs "Patrick the Somnambulist" (Blooming Tree Press) for a young fan at Bookpeople.
Author-illustrator Sarah Ackerley signs “Patrick the Somnambulist” (Blooming Tree Press) for a young fan at Bookpeople.

The prose is just so beguiling that I want to quote the whole thing — word for word — the whole picture book up here on the blog.

The book would be Patrick the Somnambulist, published by Blooming Tree Press.

The author-illustrator would be Sarah Ackerley, a member of our Austin, Texas  SCBWI group (who recently moved with her husband to San Francisco.)

It’s about a normal penguin child — normal except for one thing: He gets into crazy  situations in the middle of the night.

His parents take him to a doctor who assesses his problem: somnambulism. “a fancy word for sleepwalking,” we are told.  With the diagnosis comes acceptance and with acceptance comes confidence, and — well, I’ve already given away too much.  Oh, well with confidence …let’s just say you too could end up on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Inspiration came from Sarah’s own husband who will sometimes do silly things while asleep, like look for his ‘missing wallet’ in the blender, or prepare a bowl of cereal for himself.

Loving Your Label” was the headline of a recent Canadian review podcast about Sarah’s book. Husband and wife/parent team Mark and Andrea  devote an entire six minute episode to “Patrick the Somnambulist” on Just One More Book :(A podcast about the childrens books we love and why we love them, recorded in our favorite coffee shop) .  “It’s an instant hit with everyone in the family,” exclaims Mark.

Andrea exults how a label and the understanding that comes with it can sometimes free a self. “It’s like I’m an introvert. I’m acting freaky because I’m an introvert,” she says.

You can listen to their fun conversation here.

Original sketch that inspired the story of Patrick

Original sketch that inspired the story of Patrick

While making ready to move from Texas to the S.F. Bay area,  Sarah graciously conceded to an interview by How to be a children’s book illustrator.

“The story started with a sketch,” she says. “The way I write is I usually have a mental image of the funniest page where it all grows from.”

You can see that sketch above. The parents discover the sleep-walking Patrick standing in the bathroom, a roll of toilet paper over one arm, a toothbrush in his hand, and a toilet plunger stuck on top of his head.

“The parents are looking up like he’s weird, and the whole story absolutely did unfold around that image,” Sarah says. “It took me like an hour to write. I was seeing the pictures as I wrote.  The words kind of poured out like I had the complete story. Then I just went back and crossed out the weaker lines.”

Drawing a Patrick character that satisfied her took a little longer. “I have all kind of images for him. It’s pretty funny to see where he started and where he wound up. He looked really bad for a while. He started out looking like a squash.

“I checked out an enormous stack of books on penguins and I started drawing them from all angles. I l looked at no cartoons, because I wanted him to look like a real penguin. HIs lack of personality is almost the point — I wanted to capture his animal ‘penguineness.'”

Sarah wanted Patrick to look more like a penguin than a cartoon penguin and to not have a cartoony 'personality.'

Sarah wanted Patrick to look more like a penguin than a cartoon penguin and to not have a cartoony 'personality.'

Sarah had not worked in watercolor before Patrick. But she knew a thing or two about the art making process. She’d earned a BFA at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in studio art. (She later finished an M.A. in Elementary Education.)

She’d never illustrated a book. “I thought every picture book was done in watercolor. That was the medium that illustrators used,” she says.

With a little guidance from a $5 watercolor ‘how to’ book, “I did these tiny, tiny images the size of my fist.. on cheap watercolor paper with blocks of typewritten text glued in…I scanned it in at Walgreens and had it bound with a spiral binder at Kinko’s Copies.”

She brought her creation to an Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) picture book dummy-making demonstration given by artist Regan Johnson.

Regan, who had just taken the job of art director for Austin-based publisher Blooming Tree Press, worked with Sarah to come up with a second, larger more professional dummy.

“I wasn’t straight up accepted,” Sarah says, “But it was, ‘Can you develop this a little further and we’ll talk?'”

"Patrick the Somnambulist" defining moment -- once a sketch, now a finished watercolor painting for the inside of the book.

"Patrick the Somnambulist" defining moment -- once a sketch, now a finished watercolor painting for the inside of the book.

For her finished art Sarah used professional grade Grumbacher watercolor tube paints. On 140 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper she painted  over outlines she’d made with a Calligraphy pen. The pen lines smeared a little because the ink was not waterproof, “but I kind of liked the results,” she says.

“I had a lot of troubleshooting problems that I solved in a round-about-way. But it worked out. Making the book was how I taught myself watercolor.”

Sarah’s busy on a number of great new projects, including a picture book about a delightful owl character  with…well, let’s just say a different sleep disorder.

See Sarah’s blog, and her website,  Sarah Ackerley Illustration.

Author illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog and offers an ongoing online course in drawing and painting for children’s book illustration.

When is it OK for adults to criticize other adults? Answer: At a portfolio critique session, of course.

Members of the picture book critique group, \
Some members of “The Inklings” picture book critique group review their portfolios at a pre-conference “emergency session” at Austin’s Central Market Cafe in April.  One of many critique groups in the  Society of  Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Austin Chapter, these “Inklings” were preparing to have their work examined by their peers and artists’ agent Christina Tugeau at the Austin SCBWI Spring Conference that Saturday. Left to right around are illustrators Martin Thomas, Diandra Schwartz, Amy Farrier, Austin SCBWI Illustration Chair Christy Stallop, Sarah Ackerley and Clint Young. 

 
Thumbs up, down or sideways?

It was the nonverbal language of the portfolio huddle. Christy Stallop, author, creator of humorous illustrations and the Austin SCBWI illustration chair initiated the Sunday morning “emergency session” review. It would be an RX for those with portfolio jitters before the regional Spring conference that was set for that Saturday.

All right, review may be too milquetoast a word for what came down at the cafe amid sleepy tables of taco breakfasters and laptop mullers. 

Thumbs up and thumbs down, of course, derived from the Romans deciding fhe fates of fallen gladiators. Thumbs sideways is Christy’s contribution to the vernacular. It means “Toss It.”  
 
“Get it out of your portfolio before it ruins everything !”

Sometimes she would say “Out” flatly while also gesturing thumbs sideways — a sort of combo-imperative.  (Christy is a very talented, “tough love” illustration chair.)

Great pointers from Christy and the group:                  

1.) Get a real portfolio at an art supply shop. It does not have to be large, but it should have pages with protective sleeves to slide your work into, like a photo album.  Never put original art in your portfolio. Only show reproductions — scans and transparencies are best. (See more on that below.)

2.)  Avoid a busy-looking portfolio with busy pages. I.e. Don’t stuff your portfolio — one piece per page is best. Then the viewer can actually see the artwork. Of course the corollary to that is the artwork you select for the page must have an impact and be unassailable. Ask yourself, “Is the piece good enough to stand on its own?”

2.)  Don’t worry too much about “rules” of portfolio presentation or format. Use your common sense.  But do find a way to present and organize your portfolio so that it makes good sense for your work. For example, have all of your art pieces lining up the same way in the album so the viewer doesn’t have to turn it this way and that way to examine pieces right side up.  

Grouping  is nice. It breaks things up in a nice way for a better read and gives the viewer a bit of a rest, too, going through. 

Christy suggested that I group my portfolio into two sections — one for color and one for black and white, with each section prefaced by a title page with some spot art (either B&W or color, suggesting what’s to follow.) 

3.) Get business cards professionally printed before an event such as an SCBWI conference. (Christy expressed this a little more emphatically  to me than that.) If you don’t have a print shop handy and you need the cards fast, try a place like Overnightprints.com They have plenty of templates on their website that you can use to hastily throw together your card — and still it won’t look like an amateur effort. Yes, you will pay to have the cards sped to your doorstep. 

4.) Yes you may include a few of your “tearsheets” or color photocopies of your published work. 
But carry some of your best original art to a print shop and have it professionally scanned there. 

If you’ve scanned your own artwork at home (make sure the resolution is nothing less than 300 dpi) bring your flashdrive or  CD to printshop to have the piece professionally reproduced.  Choose a matte rather than gloss finish. Yes, it is expensive to make these professional scans. If you must economize, use just a few as your portfolio showstoppers.

5.)  Remember you’re showing your art to editors and art directors in the children’s book industry. So consider this in your selections. Kids, animals, people — especially in action. are good. Duh.

Industrial art, however well done, should probably go.  Same with the techy-looking digital game art, graphic design, most cartoons, album covers, machinery, cars, monsters, sci-fi, architecture (real or fantasy), space ships, nudes from art classes… Thumbs sideways.

And now for something completely different:

The How To Be a Children’s Book Illustrator  blog is offering four months of free online instruction for anyone who clicks here  — and answers the survey question they see on the screen. 

Good deal, huh? The offer is only good through June.
So click now if you’re interested.
The first lesson goes out about the end of the month.  
 

Diorama to the rescue! Creating your own sculptural reference

A clay-sculpted cat plays with a paper moth, diorama for sculptural reference created by Theresa Bayer  
Theresa couldn’t find reference of a cat in the pose she imagined for this scene, so she made her own cat of clay, and her own moth of paper and string. She assembled her own little stage set, replete with twigs and texture, to place her critters in.  After creating her world in 3-D, she felt comfortable recreating it in 2-D as an acrylic painting. 

Illustration, diorama and mini-lesson by Theresa Bayer

When I used to do a lot of clay sculpture, I got to the point where I didn’t need much reference. Over the years I developed the ability to sculpt something straight out of my head. When I started painting, I tried doing it purely from my imagination, only to find it much more difficult than sculpting that way. With sculpture, I didn’t have to deal with foreshortening, chiaroscuro (light/shadow), and composition. When I started painting from my imagination, these three aspects of painting confounded me, and I realized I was out of my depth, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Conversely, I found painting from life the simplest way to go. Easy enough to find reference by setting up a still life, or going outdoors to paint, or painting from a live model. But how to tie this in with composing from imagination? Photographic reference was good, but didn’t supply everything I needed for each project. Sketching from life was good, but it still presented some problems: it’s really hard to draw something that doesn‘t hold still, and I’m not skilled at photographing such things.

My answer came in the form of sculptural reference, ie., creating a little scene, or diorama, and painting from it.

I wanted to do a small, whimsical painting of a cat playing with a moth. I sculpted the cat from sketches of my two cats, plus photos I found of cats. I picked out a moth from Animals, by Dover Publications. This book has copyright free reference for artists– although whenever I am using reference such as clip art or photos I always change it around to keep my work original. I made a model of the moth using a clay body and cardboard wings. I set up the models in a box, and added some greenery–the boxwood hedge from our yard had tiny leaves, just the right size. I added a small pan of water for the pool. I painted directly from the diorama; the photo above is strictly for illustrative purposes.

Theresa Bayer\'s painting from the diorama she created
Here is the finished painting.

There are three kinds of clay that can be used to sculpt from: pottery clay, which is water based, poly clay, and plastiline clay, which is oil based. The advantage of pottery clay is that it can be kiln fired, making the model permanent. Poly clay can be made permanent too, if it is oven baked. The advantage of plastiline clay is that it never dries out, so the same figure can be adjusted. I use both pottery clay and plastiline clay.

Creating your own models saves time and frustration. Last year I had a 24 hour deadline for an illustration of a hang glider.  The photo references baffled me; I did not see how I could use them without running into copyright issues. I accomplished the task by making a model of a hang glider out of cardboard and wire, with a tiny clay figure of a man. I used several photos for reference for the model, and ended up designing my own hang glider (I have no idea if my design would actually fly). The model was fun to make, and easy to draw. I made my deadline.

Commercial figurines and toys also make good 3D reference (again, they should be changed for the sake of originality), but there’s nothing like sculpting your own models. Your own style comes through, reiterated in your painting or illustration. You can light sculptural models any way you want, and reuse them for other projects. To sculpt from any kind of clay, all you need is a book to inform you of the technical aspects of that kind of clay, or take a sculpture course or two. Once you’ve made the models, placing them inside a diorama makes it easier to come up with a good composition. 

Theresa Bayer Theresa Bayer received her B.F.A. from the University of Texas at Austin.  See examples of her watercolors, acrylics, sketches, sculpture, caricatures, professional illustration, ceramic art, including ocarinas at her website http://www.tbarts.com.
And check her three blogs: 
http://tbarts.blogspot.com (fine arts),  http://tbarts2.blogspot.com (fun arts) http://waterlark.blogspot.com (watercolors)

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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.