Saturday, December 20, 2008
In the day-to-day operations of an illustration studio, there is rarely (if ever) an opportunity to re-execute a piece of final art. I've often thought this is one of the real joys of illustration- there is no time for second guessing and the ever pressing deadline reduces over-thinking your choices. But, the book I am working on right now, called John Brown- His Fight For Freedom has given me a chance to revaluate this conclusion.
A few years back, when the book looked dead in the water and before the amazing folks at Abrams picked it up, I wanted to draw two of my favorite images from the sketch dummy. Mostly so the work I put in wouldn't get lost forever...
Here is one of those images, as drawn in March 2006. It later appeared in the show "Dear Old Kansas" at Signs of Life Gallery in Lawrence, Kansas. At the time when I finished it, I really thought it was one of the best images I had made in many years.
But, it turned out the book was not dead. Finally, two and a half years later, that image was slated for pg 14-15, and needed some changes. The editors thought it was best to tone down his anger from 'seething rage' to 'passionate conviction.' Also, actually showing the sword used to commit the murders at Pottawatomie was too strong an image for children.
Also, I had to address the problem that no one seemed to like this drawing.
You see, I had entered the image into a truckload of shows in the uncommissioned category, expecting a landslide of acceptance letters. It did not do very well. My conclusion, after looking at the image many months later, was that the basic communication had broken down. What I mean is that the idea that John Brown was an angry tornado was not immediately clear. The enjoyment of investigating this image was interrupted by the trouble of working too hard to solve the complex space. There were two issues: shape and value. Let me demonstrate.
First, the classic tornado shape was broken and too wide at the top. His upper torso hid the edges of the funnel and the scroll that wrapped around obstructed the form. I would have to make it more narrow at the top and remove the scroll.
Secondly, and more importantly, the value difference between the scroll and the sky are too similar. The net result being that the scroll creates an ambiguous figure/field relationship. Said differently, it appears that the sky can be seen through the middle of the tornado, interrupting it's shape recognition.
The new version that will appear in the book is much clearer and therefore a much stronger image. Many problems in image making cannot be solved ahead of time, with cognitive analysis. The way I learn is much, much easier. You put the pen to the paper, and make a bunch of mistakes.