Monday, December 24, 2012

Sendak's Nutcracker

A little while ago I got an email from Random House asking if I'd like to review Maurice Sendak's illustrated Nutcracker.

I jumped at the chance and I'm very pleased to be able to talk about it with you here.

The book is, as you might expect, lovely. Sendak's take on the E. T. A. Hoffman classic is surely the best and brightest, darkest and most imaginative version of the story. 

Many others will be able to explain the story, the music, or indeed the production design of the ballet better than I can. What I hope to be able to provide you with here is a little of the history and the feeling of the book from a life long follower of Maurice Sendak's work. 

To set the scene, here's look at the official book description.


"A classic, new and complete. One of the ten best illustrated children's books of the year." 
New York Times Book Review.

The tale of Nutcracker, written by E.T.A. Hoffmann in 1816, has fascinated and inspired artists, composers, and audiences for almost two hundred years. It has retained its freshness because it appeals to the sense of wonder we all share. 

Maurice Sendak designed brilliant sets and costumes for the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Christmas production of Nutcracker and created even more magnificent pictures especially for this book. He joined with the eminent translator Ralph Manheim to produce this illustrated edition of Hoffmann's wonderful tale, destined to become a classic for all ages. 

The world of Nutcracker is a world of pleasures. Maurice Sendak's art illuminates the delights of Hoffmann's story in this rich and tantalizing treasure.


This book's history is two-fold; it was born of the 1983 stage production where Sendak served as the production designer.

A quick Google search yields a few pictures of the ballet.

I love hearing Maurice Sendak in his own words and the book benefits from having an Introduction by Sendak himself. Here he provides insight into the characters, the designs, and how he and Kent Stowell even came to partner on the original production. Characteristically Sendak, the first line of the Introduction is, 
"My immediate reaction to the request that I design Nutcracker was negative." 
Throughout the Introduction, Sendak tells how he warmed to the project, overcoming his initial distaste for the play ("I didn't want to be suited to the confectionery goings-on...") and how ultimately the production culminated, for him, in a "superb moment" at the premiere.

Sendak thought of this book as being comprised of "two separate entities" with the costumes and designs from the production making up the one half and the other being the new work he did specifically for the book. 

Here he speaks to retracing some of his steps and adding new work for the book:
"In changing hats from designer to illustrator I have been faced with a curious dilemma. After all, there are whole sequences in the tale itself that never appear on the stage. Rather adjust these designs to fit the book, I decided to completely illustrate 'The Story of the Hard Nut'. Because of this decision the pictures for this book are composed of two separate entities. There are the designs and costumes from the ballet version and then the fresh pictures done specifically for the tale. In addition, there are a few to animate the original stage designs and a few more that I could not or would not resist doing."

What draws me, and I suspect many others, in to Sendak's worlds are his treatment of children. Speaking of the heroine Clara ("Marie" in the book)
"I endowed her with the wisdom and strength I conjure up to endow all my children and then surrounded her with a minefield of problems."
And very like a certain Max, 
"The stage became her half-real, half-nightmare battleground. The drama grew naturally as we watched Clara, frightened yet exuberant, cross that battleground."
The sprawling spreads found in The Capital are some of my personal favorite examples of Sendak's haunting, lyrical work which meshes so well, in my estimation, with the poetry of the story.

"Who is this on the rosy waters?
A fairy or fairy's daughter?
Bim-bim little fishes,
Sim-sim golden swans.
Faeries come hither,
Fly through the spray
Splish splash, splish splash
The rosy spray."


The book is a delight. And comes well recommended from me.

Again, an image from the ballet itself, not from the book.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Spectrum 19!

I'm so pleased to once again to be able to say that I'm a part of the most recent Spectrum

I scored two pages, one full and one quarter.

Many thanks to the judges and The Fenners!


The Elf Mother, from The Hidden People.
ÉowynMy series of process posts.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Illustration Friday: Tree

I couldn't resist this one.

The Walking Hill.

Prints available from my shop.


Check out my new digital shop! There you'll find free stuff, eBook editions of my sketchbooks, wallpapers, a photoshop painting demo and more!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Digital painting demo


2 hour painting demo (sped up to 1 hour). 720p HD. (1GB)
Includes the file + bonus layered file.

A look at my basic digital painting process. Adobe Photoshop CS5.

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Here it is! I recorded this whole thing back over the summer (pre-LPG) and just now got some free time to edit it together and do the narration. I'm very excited to finally share it with you. 

It's a look at what I've learned over the years working in Photoshop, just some of my basic process.

The first 10 buyers will get a free download of the eBook edition of Menagerie.


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This video is part of my new digital shop! Check it out for some free stuff, eBook editions of my sketchbooks, wallpapers, and more.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Last year, 2011, I did two conventions. By the end of this year I'll have done eight.

Between speaking engagements, film festivals, and conventions, I've burned through many more business cards and postcards that I have in years past.

So! I decided to put together some new ones for late 2012 / early 2013.

Here's a peek at the new work.



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fire sale / embers

Because of you guys my second fire sale was a raging success! Thank you so much. Most all of the proceeds go right back into making more work: reprinting sketchbooks, convention expenses, and all. I can't thank you enough for supporting my work.

More than half of the drawing have sold, saved from a fiery fate, but there are still some cool things left.

Some of my favorite work was snapped up right away but I managed to get a couple screen shots to commemorate them.


And so here we've got the first piece sold and then the whole collection packaged up and ready to go!

Thank you again for supporting this stuff!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Hobbit week pt. V

And now comes the scene which I have imagined time and again since I read the first read The Hobbit so many years ago. Smaug. Smaug the Golden. Smaug the Magnificent. 

For the back cover of the book I got the chance to illustrate Bilbo's conversation with this last dragon. 

My goal was to follow Tolkien's original painting as a guide (as far as overall dragon design and color work).

Tolkien's original illustration.

From there I arranged my figures and figured, since there wouldn't be too much room on the back cover, that I would vignette the image somewhat, keep the edges in shadow to help out the designer.

The thumbnail.

The finished drawing.

The watercolor.

Working in the final, digital color.

The finished piece.

Smaug, detail.


I hope you've enjoyed Hobbit week! 

If you'd like to catch up on all the posts, you can find the collection below:

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Hobbit week pt. IV

Previous entries in "Hobbit week."


The finished piece.

Bilbo, detail.

All of this leads us to the finished piece. I had such a good time on this project. But wouldn't you know it, just like so many good adventures, I wasn't finished yet.

. . .

There was room in the budget for a piece for the back cover. And what a back cover. It's scene I have imagined again and again ever since I first read the book in high school. Tomorrow's post will cover this back piece in detail but until then here's a teaser:

Fire and water.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Hobbit week pt. III

For the actual color work on this cover I did things a little differently. Each piece, each project, each series I work just a little differently. I'm constantly refining my method and tinkering with the process.

Things were especially different in that I was under a time crunch to get this and Archaia's Free Comic Book Day Labyrinth story done at the same time. Also I was obliged to be out of my studio and work on the road. I ended up getting a MacBook Pro to work on the go (and it's turned out to be one of the best things I have ever gotten.) Yes, things were done a little differently this time around.

Finished drawing.

Some of the difference shows up in the coloring progress and textures. I tried a few different methods of flatting and blocking in shapes.

Flatted color.

This lead to some interesting (and strange) textures when a few of the other layers were turned off.


One thing that you are especially not supposed to overlook in Tolkien are the details. The books are all details so you have no excuse to not know how a particular character is dressed, what they just ate, what phase the moon is in ... the list goes on. All that to say, when dressing Bilbo I forgot his vest! Vest missing the little brass buttons. I drew it seperately and photoshopped it into the drawing before I began the final cover.


Hobbit week.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Hobbit week pt. II

Illustrating anything from Tolkien's writing, in any official capacity, has always been a dream of mine.

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!


Hobbit week.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Hobbit week!

A little while back I got to do cover for a new book about The Hobbit. If you can't do a cover for your favorite book directly, a book about the book is the next best thing.

This week I'll be walking through my process for the cover (with a grand, old surprise on Friday!)


Bilbo in Mirkwood!

Bilbo, detail.


The final cover.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Illustration Friday: Book

It's been a good long time since I've ever posted to IF, a couple years maybe! I used to post every Friday back in the early days of my blog. Well, I'm pleased to make a contribution once again.

"Book" brought to mind this recent piece from Menagerie, the gryphon with the troll kids.

Troll Children with Gryphon. 

I'm sorry (but a little pleased?) to say that the first print run of Menagerie has just sold out but I just released a series of prints from the book.

Thanks for taking a look!

Friday, September 21, 2012

New work! New prints!

Finally! I've got a ton of new work to share.

All of these new pieces are from my 2012 sketchbook, Menagerie. Enjoy!

Note. Some are available as matted 8" x 10" prints (total size 11" x 14") others as both a decoratively matted 8" x 10" OR miniature. Some are only available as miniature. All sizes are noted and linked below.

There is also one special charity art print I hope you'll see at the bottom.

Thank you for supporting my work! To visit my shop and see everything that's available, prints and sketchbooks alike, you can visit here.

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Operatic Dragon. Gioioso.
Miniature print.

Operatic Dragon. Dolore.
Miniature print.

  * * *

The Games of the Tiger King.
8" x 10" print

Fox River Holiday.
8" x 10" print

Troll Children with Gryphon.
8" x 10" print

8" x 10" print

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Two sizes available. 
A decoratively matted 8" x 10" or a miniature 4" x 6" print.

Renaissance Baire I.
 8" x 10"

8" x 10"

8" x 10"

Renaissance Baire II.
 8" x 10"

Tiger King.


Tiger, profile.
8" x 10" print

All proceeds from the sale of this print will be donated to
the World Wildlife Fund's Save Tigers Now campaign.

Over the course of reference gathering for this project
I came across a statistic that I couldn't ignore.

A hundred years ago there were 100,000 tigers in the wild.
Today there are as few as 3,200.

NOTE: Print appears without logo and text.