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So I dreamt I signed up for a swimming marathon…

For the past two and a half months I’ve been colouring colouring colouring. And now, it’s all done. Hurrah! Crack open the virtual champagne, there’s also some digital soft drink around here somewhere if you’d rather, there’s microchips and dips, make yourself at homepage. Sorry, I’m a bit low on sleep at the moment and the filter in my brain has decided to conk out.

This book-making process began on the 7th of June 2009 , so it’s very exciting (and a great relief) to finally see it done. If all goes to plan The Last Viking will be out in the middle of this year.

As I type this I’m in the midst of getting ready to take a break- I’m traveling to New York for the Society of Children’s Book Writers’ and Illustrators’ annual Winter Conference. I’ll set up some posts for the next three weeks that will take you through the process of designing the cover of The Last Viking.

In the meantime, here’s a teaser- it’s the colour for one of my favourite scenes in the book. And when I say colour, it’s just the colour- I’ve removed the linework and the background and the borders 🙂

p21-colour-onlyOnward to Glory,

James

P.S. you may be wondering what the title of this blog post is about. I completely forgot to say. A few weeks ago I had a very vivid dream in which I had signed up for a swimming marathon. I am not a particularly strong swimmer, so this was an odd thing for me to do. Even odder, it was a tandem event- you swam with a partner the whole way. Even ODDER- I had signed up to swim two races at once- one tandem, one solo. I was bumping into friends on the way to the start line and couldn’t stop to chat, because I had to get started on the race, everyone else had already gone, quick rush do it do it do it! Only thing was, I kept trying to get to the starting line and I could never find it.

So. Before we get too deep and psychological, I’ll tell you what it meant to me. I have been finishing this book with Norm. It’s been a tandem marathon. I’ve also been trying to get another book started, one that I’ve written and will illustrate myself. It will also be a marathon. And lately I haven’t been able to catch up with people as much because I’ve been head down bum up. It’s one of the few dreams I’ve had in my life where the meaning was completely obvious to me when I woke up.

And now that I’ve finished the illustrations, I can finally get some sleep 🙂

Colouring a scene

I’m in the midst of colouring. It’s going well, but I’m realising that there’s a lot more too it than just filling in the spaces between the lines… the colour contributes to the mood in just the same way that facial expressions, body language, point of view and composition do. Why do people make picture books?? I’m loving it, but the more I go the more I find how complicated the process can be.

Continuing on from last week, here’s how I’ve been colouring a scene.

I start off with the pencil lines:

new bullies scene linesNow I do a bit of planning. Where will the light source be? What time of day will it be? This little panel is part of a series where the backgrounds all join up. The sky will change from overcast in the left hand panel to stormy in the right hand panel. When it’s overcast the sunlight is diffused through the clouds and the light source seems to be coming from everywhere at the same time… shadows on the ground become lighter and softer. I’ve tried to do this with the panel on the left below, but it’s very hard to paint. It’s easier to define the objects in your scene if you have one clearly defined light source (see the panel on the right).

p14-15-colour-testsI do these colour tests in Photoshop because it’s very quick and easy to do so. The colour test is very important for me, because it gives me a plan. I’ve decided where I want the shadows to fall, I know what colours things will be (roughly), and I know that adjacent colours complement each other (or clash, if that’s what needed).

Continue reading “Colouring a scene”

Sketching a scene


Norm, Cate and I met up a few weeks ago to discuss the scene where Josh meets the bullies. We needed a new approach to the scene,  as the old way wasn’t working.

We sat in a cafe and threw some ideas around; in the end, we’d come up with this.

new bullies scene ideas

Doesn’t look like much, I’m sure- let me zoom in a bit…new bullies scene first thumbnails

The idea was to have a number of tall panels with a continuous background, and different scenes playing out at different times.

Continue reading “Sketching a scene”

How text and pictures interact (and sometimes don’t)

After finishing all the pencils outlines for the book, Norm and Cate and I stumbled on a problem.

One of the most important scenes in the book wasn’t working. We couldn’t decide if it needed text or not, and when we tried to add text it wouldn’t fit.

Here’s the draft version of the sequence- it’s where Josh meets the bullies for the first time.

pg14 - pg15, draft with colour
pg14 - pg15, draft with colour (click to enlarge)

There’s no text. The pictures can hold their own, mostly- there are some problems though. It’s a little hard to read in between the panels. The fact that each panel is the same viewpoint gives the sequence a plodding feel- there’s no excitement. It would have been great to have the bully skateboarding in from left to right (the same direction as we read words)… but then he would have to reappear from the right and chase Josh towards the left, which would look odd.

Norm thought some text would help, so we tried it as another option. You can see Norm’s love of Westerns in his choice of words (…in an earlier draft we had a town hall clock off in the distance showing the time as High Noon).

pg14 - pg15, draft with extra words (click to enlarge)
pg14 - pg15, draft with extra words (click to enlarge)

I felt that the division of the panels, coupled with short snippets of text, gave the sequence a plodding feel. It’s a little like watching a silent film, where the text and pictures are divided. The actors move, then a slide with the dialogue comes up.

I did the final version of the pencils anyway, hoping that we’d come up with a solution. Norm and Cate worked on some shorter text.

pg14 - pg15, final pencils with shorter words (click to enlarge)
pg14 - pg15, final pencils with shorter words (click to enlarge)

We still weren’t happy with it- it was too hard to tell who was saying what, and was even more plodding.

Time for another try. We cut out the text entirely, and grabbed a bit of Odin’s dialogue from the previous page instead. It seemed to fit the images better. However, it was a bit hard to tell that it was Odin speaking when he wasn’t on the page.

pg14 - pg15, final pencils with Odin text (click to enlarge)
pg14 - pg15, final pencils with Odin text (click to enlarge)

A font change made it a bit clearer (…we’d like to have the Norse Gods speaking in a different font throughout the book if possible).

pg14 - pg15, final pencils with Odin text in different font (click to enlarge)
pg14 - pg15, final pencils with Odin text in different font (click to enlarge)

I still wasn’t happy with the images- they weren’t dramatic enough. This is the crux of the book, this is what makes Josh go off on his adventures. The bullies have to be mean enough to set the story in motion- and the meaner they are now, the sweeter Josh’s victory will be at the end.

So. It was back to the drawing board for me. I met with Norm and Cate and we sketched a new sequence of images. I’ll show you some next week.


Quokka- my last covers

You might have noticed that the cartoons on the front of the Quokka have changed. I resigned from drawing their covers a few months ago, in August, so that I could focus on picture book projects like this one.

My 1st cover was in June 2003… my last cover, Aug 2010. It’s been 7 and a bit years, and it has flown by.

It’s been strange not drawing the covers any more, but it’s also been nice not having the weekly deadline. I do miss drawing the little guys.

Thanks to Quokka Press for giving me a space to practice and learn. And thanks to the people out there who’ve sent me comments and encouragement over the years.

I didn’t get around to posting my final lot of quokka covers, so here they are.

Quokka, issue 728, July 22 2010- beach
Quokka, issue 728, July 22 2010- beach

Continue reading “Quokka- my last covers”

A murder of ravens up for retrial

The ravens in the book are haunting me. I hear them rapping at my chamber door:

Yo there Poe, there’s a raven atcha door

One of those eeky-freaky spooky birds of yore

All the ravin’ ladies getcha tails onto the floor

When ‘m I gonna stop? Gotta tellya Nevermore

No, not ‘rapping’- rapping, as in ‘tapping’. As in the famous poem… anyway. I’ll get on with it shall I.

My point is, the ravens are in the back of my mind a lot these days. I recently finished all the pencil lines for the book. Hurrah! The next step is all the colouring. But before I move on to that, I looked back on the pencils, checking for little issues. And I found inconsistencies in the ravens I’d been drawing. To start with, I’d only looked at a few reference photos, then made it up as I went along. ‘That looks about right,” I’d think to myself. But the ravens didn’t look quite right at all. They looked a little too fluffy and friendly- more like dirty pigeons.

p20-21-20101015

When I drew the last few ravens in the book, I worked from reference photos, and the difference was huge. So I’m going back page by page and redrawing the earlier ravens, using the most excellent reference photos known to man.

Where did I find these most excellent reference photos, I hear you ask? Why, on the website of Paul Lantz, a photographer in Canada. He happens to have a passion for ravens, and has collected dozens of high-resolution photos of them in all sorts of poses and situations. It’s absolutely brilliant. Here’s the gallery.

My favourite series of photos shows a raven being accosted by three crows. There’s one photo where it looks like the raven is exploding.

Using these references, I’ve been able to go back and make the ravens look more realistic. Here’s my more recent sketches – still roughs at this stage.

raven-fixups-2
I’ve been looking at ravens more closely than I ever have before in my life, and it’s made me appreciate them more. Sure they’re a bit creepy. Sure their beady eyes seem to stare into your soul and say, ‘if I could eat your soul, I would.’ But hey, the way that light shines on their black feathers and goes all purply- that’s really beautiful. And the way their feathers stretch out mid flight like razors- just awesome. Ravens rock.

Recent Developments

As I’m currently busy with final artwork, I thought I’d take a different tack for this week’s post- rather than focus on a specific character and their development, I’d show you some more recent sketches and sculptures.

I’ve been looking more closely at ravens lately- though I wish I’d done it sooner. I’ve almost finished all the pencil outlines for the book, and I’ve realised that the ravens in the first three-quarters of the book look like dirty pigeons. The ones I’ve drawn more recently are looking much more accurate, because I’ve been looking at reference photos. Who would have thought that drawing from life was the way to go.

Here’s some studies and some final artwork for the ravens on page 28… (when pages have been tricky, I’ve sometimes been drawing the backgrounds and characters separately, then stitching them together with photoshop).

p28-20101024-ravens-scan

I’ve discovered that ravens have very complicated bodies, and their bodies look different all the time- they can hunch their back, pull their shoulders up, bob their head up and down- and then of course you have all the different movements involved in flying (and then, how to show those movements from different angles). Without reference photos I’d be stuffed.

Here’s another raven drawing- this guy goes on page 25.

raven

I’ve made another Josh sculpture too- I was having trouble getting his profile right, so I put this guy together. He’s more accurate than the previous sculptures I’ve done.

Knut-head-sculpture

At one point I was feeling very stuck- I didn’t know if what I was doing was good enough, and I was fussing over unimportant details. One of my illustrator buddies, Karen Blair, suggested I pull the stick out and draw with some charcoal. Here’s the result- it’s just over A3 size. After doing this sketch, things got a lot easier and much more fun. Cheers Karen.

Josh-charcoal-20100911

Charcoal helps me loosen up my drawing. Here’s a more realistic Westy sketch I did recently in charcoal.

Westy-commission-20100921

And finally, as a super special treat, here’s another sketch- but it’s not by me, it’s by Karen. It’s her take on Josh and Wolverine. Josh’s rosy cheeks looked a little like he’d spent too much time in the sun, hence the caption.

severe-sunburn-boy

Designing the Norse Gods- Forebodin’ Odin, Therious Thor and the others

First off- apologies for missing a week! I’ve been pushing through the final artwork and attending family weddings. Busy busy busy.

The original story mentioned quite a few Norse Gods- Odin, Thor, Sigurd, Freya and Hemrod. Our brilliant editor Cate helped to whittle the text down, removing supplementary characters to focus on Odin and Thor (Check out this post by Norm for more info on Odin and Thor).

Here are my first sketches and notes on the Gods.

http://knutthelastviking.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/odin-the-norse-gods/
Thor on the left, Sigurd on the right
first-research-sketches-2-v2
That's Odin right down the bottom, with some lumpy crows
p13-v1
Odin looked a bit like a pirate here

After a bit of research, I found out that Odin is an old old man. So the black hair wasn’t going to look right for his character. Also, Thor is his son, so they have to look similar.

Storyboard sketches began to take more form…

Continue reading “Designing the Norse Gods- Forebodin’ Odin, Therious Thor and the others”

Designing Odin’s Ravens, Huginn and Muninn

I thought people were hard to draw. Turns out ravens are impossible.

Okay, I’m being melodramatic. They’re not impossible- just difficult. I’ve never made a habit of drawing birds before, so I’ve had to start practicing.

I’m paying attention now. In the last year whenever I’ve seen crows or ravens about, I’ve stopped doing whatever it is I’m doing and I’ve stared. I’ve chased crows around the park with my mobile phone, trying to take videos and pictures. I’ve sat on the grass with my sketchbook and tried to draw them as they hop around, then inevitably fly off, their opinionated squawking trailing into the distance. And my drawings have gotten better (mostly).

Ravens are incredibly intelligent birds, capable of logic and problem solving- I had no idea how intelligent until I started researching on youtube.

There are two ravens in Norse mythology- their names are Huginn and Muninn, which mean Thought and Memory. They belong to Odin; every day they fly around the world (the land of humans known as ‘Midgard’) and note the events taking place. Then they fly back to Odin to report.

So in our story, the ravens provide a vital link between Josh’s world and the world of the Viking Gods. When the ravens turn up, the Gods aren’t far away.

My first sketches in the storyboards were merely placeholders- rough ideas of where the ravens would go, once I knew how to draw them.

ravens-1

Many sketches later…

ravens-recent-sketches-1

…and I’ve learnt to draw some better looking birds.

ravens-2

Random facts about ravens:

  • You’ve probably heard that a group of crows is called a ‘murder’. The same name is used for a group of ravens, but there are some other suggestions floating about too : a conspiracy, an unkindness, a storytelling, a congress and a parliament are also used. (Or at least, that’s what a quick google search told me).
  • Ravens were used as symbols in Viking times, and can be found on flags, in the Bayeux Tapestry, and on helmets.
  • There is an Australian species of raven, found in WA (around Perth and on Rottnest Island), and in much of the eastern states.
  • There isn’t much difference between a crow and a raven. They belong to the same family of birds. Ravens are usually bigger.