I once got to illustrate one of his poems for Highlights, the most recognized and respected kids' magazine in the galaxy.
If it's not my all-time favorite book (and yes, it probably is) The Hobbit is surely one of the greatest, most charming, most delightful, frightening, and exhilarating stories ever told by a human. And the chance to illustrate any scene from it is an illustrator's dream come true.
For this project I got to work again with Barbour books. They've always been a great, collaborative client. In my experience, they're one of those great clients who art direct really well and know why they've hired you.
The initial idea was to show Bilbo displaying a little grit, some kind of determination. I knew would best suit that request was the moment after killing the spider, by himself, in Mirkwood. Even so, I wanted to explore.
Here's are the thumbnails as well as the thoughts I sent to the AD.
Overall I tried to keep close to actual moment in the book as well as nail the tone for the cover that we talked about perviously.
A. A moment in Chapter 8 where Bilbo climbs to the top of tall tree to see where exactly he and the dwarves are in the forest. He's struck by the beauty and sunshine. It's the first time he's seen the sun for a long time (as they have been traveling through Mirkwood for quite some time). I've always loved this and I think it could do well for the cover. This small moment of joy in the midst of the deep dark of Mirkwood.
B. This one is my personal favorite and the strongest of the three, emotionally, and I believe it comes the closest in tone with the original ideas for the cover. The turning point in Bilbo's journey was killing the spider all by himself. To quote,
"Somehow the killing of a giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of a wizard or the dwarves or anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into its sheath."
This I believe would be the first moment in the book where we would see a look of determination on Bilbo's face (all before he was always thinking about breakfast). A look like that at any other time doesn't work, I think. I think this is the right moment. However, I would understand about not exactly wanting to show a big dead spider on the cover. I would handle the spider without any blood, and the leg shapes would look tree-like, mixed in the trees in the foreground and background. Almost as if you wouldn't notice the spider at first, but only on a second look would you realize what's in the background. The focus would be on Bilbo and his new found courage and determination. It would be tasteful and not too dark. And with the title and text laid on that would further obscure the spider, drawing even more attention to Bilbo. Plus, the faint, pale blue light coming from the sword could look amazing.
C. This one is a little more simple, Bilbo wandering through Mirkwood by himself. At this point in the story he would have already killed the spider and lost the dwarves, though he'd be wearing the ring (so he'd be invisible, but I could take some artistic license!) After he killed the spider he went looking around so that would be this moment and one where he would look determined, or at least cautious.
|The other ideas.|
Ultimately we went with B. Good for the tone but also this afforded me the chance to draw a giant spider.
|The working thumbnail!|
From there I took the drawing to finish.
|The finished drawing!|
Next time, color!