Different versions of one illustration

I've blogged before about the editing process that an illustration can go through from start to finish, and I wanted to post about another example of it today.

I recently did an illustration for The New York Times, which I thought was going to be a simple, straight-forward breeze of a job when I first started sketches for it.

The story was about a woman who decided to leave the path toward studying medicine to practice Jainism.  A big part of the religion itself is to simplify life to it's purest form; owning very little possessions, (a shawl to meditate in, a bowl to eat from, and a broom to sweep away other living things from your path, so that you don't kill any living thing).  I figured this would be a great chance to keep an illustration simple and clean, so I chose to illustrate a draped robe with just a hint of a foot showing, a bowl and broom.  Keeping this illustration simple proved to be far harder that I'd thought.

Above is the first version I came up with, but it needed a bit more contrast and warmth in the bit of foot showing.

After adjusting the tone of the foot, it was apparent that the rest of the body wasn't very visible underneath all of the fabric, so I got to work adding more of the foot within the frame.

Even after adding a full foot in to the painting, the broom was distracting and it was still tough to see form of a body underneath the folds of fabric, so I added the other foot to the composition.

This is the final version of the illustration with both feet and no more broom to distract from or cover up the rest of the body.  

This illustration definitely ended up being more of a challenge that I'd initially thought, but after some serious revisions, I'm really happy with the finished illustration, (and that new foot is my favourite part!).

When I was a student and newly starting out, I had romantic ideas about trying to keep things as traditional as possible with my work.  I worked in watercolour and oils, rejected digital illustration, and even thought I could get by with minimal use of the computer to edit finished artwork.  Over time, I've accepted it as a pretty helpful tool, especially when tight deadlines are looming.  I'm able to paint a new section of painting and add it fairly seamlessly to an existing piece.  That's a pretty helpful and exciting thing.

Patisseries of Toronto

I was recently commissioned to do illustrations of pastries, (yes please!), found in Toronto patisseries for Toronto Life Magazine.  I had a ton of fun, and got to paint some pastries I'd never heard of up until then.  If I'd had more time, I would have gone out and did a little research beforehand.  

You can find these illustrations in the newest issue of Toronto Life, (which is a particularly great issue because of the cover story written by Desmond Cole).

Paintings of Vehicles

Something you may not know about me or my work; I love painting vehicles.  I love painting structural things, because working in watercolour is such an organic, fluid thing, objects with straight lines and form are a great challenge.

I've recently had a couple of opportunities to work on truck paintings for a couple of different clients.  The first was for a local wine distribution company, The Vine, for their annual wine catalogue.  It's a view of their Piaggio Ape from the front for the first page of the catalogue, and the back view on the final page.  I was really happy with how these turned out.

Another couple of illustrations I've worked on of vehicles recently where both for The New York Times Magazine's Lives section; both accompanying great short non-fiction stories.  The first was a story about a man taking his young son on a ride in a cab in Tel Aviv-

Watercolours are a very loose, unrestrained medium, and it's quite difficult to get accurate straight and curved shapes out of the paint.  I love using them for this reason; because the mistakes are often the most beautiful parts of a painting.

A New Print with Magic Pony/Narwhal Contemporary

Years ago, back in 2006, I did a painting for a show at Magic Pony called 'Paddestoelen Stad', (which translates to 'Mushroom Village' from Dutch).  It was the largest watercolour painting I'd done up until that point, measuring in at 18" x 24".  I remember spending many hours working on it at a table in my tiny bachelor apartment at the time; (the tabletop was only just bigger than the  watercolour paper I was working on).

I was speaking with Steve and Kristin at Narwhal, a contemporary art space opened alongside Magic Pony, where I first showed this painting.  They expressed interest in turning this painting in to a print edition, so we got to work getting the image ready.  I stopped in to the gallery last week, and we printed off some artist proofs to see how they looked, and I'm so happy with the way they printed up.

They're now available through the Magic Pony website, but if you're local and would like to see the print in person, visit Narwhal on Dundas West here in Toronto to have a look.

A few words on process

Sometimes when I'm given an illustration assignment, I'm being asked to create an image of something that I can reference directly from a set of images I'm being given.  And at other times I'm being asked to create an image or scenario that doesn't exist, so I have to fake it a little bit.  This is a post about how I sometimes go about making up reference for myself.

Quite often, especially for the illustrations I've been doing for Real Simple in their monthly feature 'Things Cooks Know', I'm being asked to do a set of instructional illustrations.  They often include hands making and doing things, and it requires me having to take photos of my own hands doing these actions to get the image just right.  Whether it's a hand flipping a tortilla in a skillet or shucking an oyster, I have to use objects around my studio to make my reference.  (I once used an oyster-shaped rock in place of an oyster in a 'How to Shuck an Oyster' piece).

Below, I've got a set of three images.  They were used to paint an illustration for The New York Times a couple of weeks back.  The story required images of a wallet with California ID, Mexican passport, and a set of keys set out on a kitchen countertop.  Since I don't have either a California piece of ID or Mexican passport, I printed life-size versions of these off and stuck them to my  drivers license and the cover of my Canadian passport.  I also used my wallet, set of keys and some American change I had from my last trip to the States, and placed them on to the counter to look like they'd been tossed there.  Then I took a photo.

Next, I did a sketch from the photo I'd taken, changing a couple of elements like the keyring.

And this is the resulting illustration.

I have loads of photos like these saved from past jobs that I had to stage for reference, and they always crack me up a little bit.

The Voynich Manuscript

While looking up image reference one day, I stumbled upon an article on the Voynich Manuscript. I wasn't familiar with it when I found the article and images, but immediately wanted to know more.  

The book is full of the most wonderful and strange drawings.  The paper looks like tissue, and the writing throughout is indecipherable to date.  It's been studied for decades, after being discovered by a book seller in 1912, and contains elements of botany, astrology and cosmology.  It's believed that the manuscript was created in the early 15th century in Northern Italy.  

You can find a full scan of the manuscript archived online.