Thursday, September 30, 2010

Overheard at Hipster Coffee Shop

"It's so sad really. Its not that she's socially awkward, exactly, it like she's the opposite of awkward."

"Well, maybe she's beautiful on the inside... right?"

"No, that's not it."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Op-Ed at 40

Those of you who get the Sunday New York Times probably saw the beautiful 18-page section dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Op-Ed page. In addition to that, the NYT also produced a really touching video about the history of the page and it's illustrations. As many of you know, I used to work on the Op-Ed page as the Assistant Art Director from 2003-2005, so I have a special regard for the Op-Ed page.

To my great honor, one of my drawings was included in the video along side some of the most seminal names in the pages history. I truly have no business beside some of these folks. You can see the video here, enjoy!

Friday, September 24, 2010


I'm happy to say that my newest book is finally done. With fingers crossed. It won't be out till January of 2011, but I'd like to give you a quick preview of Nurse, Soldier, Spy: Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero!

For those of you who are not aware of the story of Sarah Edmonds- she was a passionate woman who wanted to fight for the Union in the Civil War. But in order to enlist, dressed up as a man, Frank Thompson. In this book, we tell the tale of her enlistment, her exceptional abilities in the battle field and her adventures as a spy behind the Confederate lines. She went on many clandestine missions, but in this book we depict one where she dressed as a slave.

Children's books really rely on a warm and enjoyable main character, like this fellow, for example. In the case of this story, creating a look for the main character was challenging, she had to be both a girl and a boy. She had to look like a passable union soldier, but also feel a bit feminine, so the girl readers could identify with her as well. In some drawings Sarah started to look neither male nor female- just a poorly drawn figure.

My Sarah Edmonds, as Frank Thompson. 

The interior book art was finished in August, but the cover is hot off the press. As you might imagine, the cover is an essential part of branding and marketing a book. Because of the commerce part of this equation, the cover becomes the source of much hand-wringing, by artist, editor, art director and also the sales department.  

I completed the first cover way back in July (below) so that it could be included in the catalog. After I finished all the final art for the interior we all decided that it needed to change. The cover was nice but it didn't feel as exciting as the story itself. 

We were able to salvage the original cover, above, for the title page. Making for certainly the most elaborate title page of my book career. Once again, this is an example of a difficult change brought about by a good art director that resulted in a better final product. It is a hard thing to admit, but with good editing, most of the time your work will improve. 

Here is the full wrap of the jacket, the front, back and flaps (without copy on flaps). 

I've posted a few of the images from the book already, but now I'd like to give you a full sense of the books narrative by posting some of my favorite images from the story, in sequence. 

My color arc cheat sheet- a thumbnail version of the entire book in order.

Sarah wants to enlist... 

Sarah's journey from Boston as a woman to Canada as a man, and then to enlist in Michigan. 

She is rejected the first time she enlists- they think she's too young.

Sarah desperately wants to serve in the Union Army, and will try to enlist again.

As the war drags on, the Union starts recruiting young boys- and Sarah signs up.

The men in her company called the dainty "Frank" by an ironic nickname, "Our Little Woman" 

She worked as a field nurse, assisting in horrific surgery.

She also showed great heroism on the battlefield, pulling wounded soldiers to safety. 

Her bravery earned her the chance to become a spy.

Dressed as a spy, with her skin darkened with silver nitrate powder, she crept behind enemy lines.

In confederate territory, she meets a group of slaves working on the trench lines.

She tries to evade capture, but is sent to work with the slaves.

During her work, she meets other slaves who help her learn about the Confederate Army's movements.

At night, she sneaks out to scout their cannon positions. 

The work of the slaves is difficult, she trades jobs digging for carrying water so she can get close to the commanding officers. 

She recognizes an officer who was in the Union camp, posing as another peddler, but who was actually a spy like her. 

On her way back to the Union camp, she's caught by a guard. But he only tells her to take his position for the night - he even gives her a gun.

To get back past the front lines, she needed to say the password to the guards.

The process of working on a long term project like this is so different than a standard editorial job. Though the bulk of the final art was done between March and August, the entire process takes about a year. So, as I send Sarah out the door, it is time to start my next book, which will be out in January 2012 titled "A Boy Called Dickens" about the childhood of Charles Dickens. Time to start practicing my top-hats and crooked chimneys. 

A few shots of the cover design in progress on my drawing table...

Thursday, September 02, 2010

John Wayne's Best Scene Ever

American Cowboy Magazine, which I confess I'd never heard of before they called, gave me a great assignment last week. They wanted a drawing of the famous "Fill Your Hands" gunfight from the John Wayne classic True Grit. As any illustrator might know, when you get the assignment that aligns with topics or content that you already LOVE, the resulting drawing is most assuredly doomed. You can't get enough distance from your obsession to evaluate it. (Like a surgeon operating on his own wife, or something.) True Grit is one of those movies that my dad taught me to love at a young age... like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters and The Sting.

With the bar set appropriately high- I watched the movie again. If you don't know the scene or haven't seen the film, it offers one of the immortal lines in the Western patheon. Perhaps even more memorable is the way he cocks the rifle one-handed, by spinning it around the cocking bar. Translating this into a drawing gave me an opportunity to goof around and try a few methods that might be more at home in my sketchbook. I've attached a few of the color comps and how my first sketch looked in their layout, which was also in progress. Turned out to be a fun diversion for the week. And I did the whole drawing while wearing an eyepatch.