An author friend of mine and Sara’s got in touch with me a few weeks ago and asked if I was available for a commission. Eager to throw myself into some work, I agreed. She’s creating on a series of books about a dog, Sugar, and her best friend Clive, a barn swallow. She was in the process of putting her website together and wanted to know if I could create an illustration of them that would fit in the header area (and possibly elsewhere on the site). I’m not amazingly practiced at drawing animals, but I knew that if I could capture the essence of them in a rough pencil sketch, I’d be able to build on that and create something worthwhile. So I agreed.
The next step was perhaps the most harrowing — I’d never had to put together a freelance contract before, all of my previous illustration work has either been my own or on a handshake agreement. I knew though that if I was going to start making my living on freelance artwork, it was something I’d have to get used to, so I went with it. Fortunately, the Graphic Artists’ Guild Handbook provided some excellent sample contracts in the back that I could build upon, which I did. Signed contract in hand, I was able to get to work.
Okay, okay. I actually got started before the contract was signed. A bad habit to get into, but I was a little excited and I had a good picture in my head of how it should look. Alexandra had provided me with a lot of good initial reference and background on the characters, so I sketched around a bit and came up with about three sketches that composited well together into a good full rough. If you look closely, you can see that Sugar’s lines are much thicker — I drew her a lot smaller than Clive and had to blow her up to get the proportions right.
The biggest hurdle here was that she wanted a Garth Williams feel to the work. His lines are nice and loose, almost sketchy-looking. My own style is different, my lines are more controlled and stylized, and my colors are flatter and hardly blended at all. So I had to try and create final art that was much more loose than I’m used to. I tried to loosen up the lines, but it was difficult. However, when it came time to color, I found myself painting a lot more than I usually do. I used brushstrokes to darken fur tips, give highlights, suggest feathers, and blur boundaries. The resulting brushwork helped loosen up the feel of the overall image, accomplishing with color what I thought I’d have to do with ink lines. I got it to a place where I felt like I could present it for comment, but Alexandra loved it and didn’t have any changes to suggest. Huzzah! First freelance success!
As usual, I recorded a timelapse of myself working on it. This helps keep me focused, knowing that I’m watching me work. I capture a frame every two seconds, which winds up being about an hour of elapsed time for every minute of video. Not everything is shown, but most of it is there. Please enjoy!
(p.s. this story and video is also hosted at Plongitudes, my professional site)