• Mr. Tom

Projects and Process

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

UPDATED: December 7th


A short story, made longer: About once a month I make the "Agent Run." The dream is to break into the world of children's literature and live happily with paint on my hands everyday, loving what I do. Sounds easy.... but nothing could be further from the truth. Its a field thats very competitive, FULL of amazingly talented artists and overflowing with creative geniuses, so how do you join the ranks of the elites? For me, I think my invite comes from finding an illustration agent. So every month I do the "Agent Run" I made a list of agents / agencies that I really want to work with. Its pretty similar to choosing a college you want to go to mixed with a job interview with a dash of dating.

Every agent / agency has their own guidelines for submissions. You don't want to be the person submitting the same portfolio month after month. You have to rotate who you're sending your submissions to and, if you can, rotate your art. I set up an excel spreadsheet to help me keep track. Now, before the 'vid you'd send out your postcards with your artwork and info, but since everyone is working from home no one is getting mail at the office where the postcards normally go. I know I sent out 53 postcards the week everything shut down so many months (years?) ago.

OK. There will be rejections. Tons. Sometimes it has nothing to with your talent or skills. Timing, current projects, artistic fits, wrong portfolio picks all play a part in acceptance or rejection. I'd love to say it gets easier, but when you wear your heart on the sleeves of your sensitive shirt.... like me.... its hard every time.


BUT....


This "agent run" I got a nibble. Instead of the copy and pasted "Thank you but..." letter, I got an actual response, from a human. They want to see my take on a classic fairytale, which is a fairly common request. So, worst case scenario I put my best foot forward and they pass, I'll be no worse off than I was before. I'll have a new portfolio piece and with SCBWI Winter Conference Illustrator Showcase around the corner, that's not a bad thing. Best case scenario... well, we'll see.


Since I've been getting some questions about my process, I think I'll take this opportunity document the whole process. Buckle up, cause here we go: 3..2..1...


Step 1: Pick a Fairytale.

We went with Red Riding Hood. Its got animals, people and backgrounds and every chance for me to flex and shine. If this is going to be my take on a classic I'm adding a twist. Instead of grandmother getting eaten by the wolf and the woodsman coming in to make the save. I'm going with Red liking the "new" grandmother and wanting to be more like her, while the wolf is settling comfortably into her new role.


Step 2: Sketching:



I want Red to be a little rough, leaning on the edge of feral. Fake ears, tale and homemade fangs to be more like "new" grandma. I like the crouching idea but I want more motion, so we're going with the prowling stance. Toyed with the idea of a non traditional hood and cape but I'm already messing with the story enough, I want it to be visually recognizable.



I like the wolf style, but the perspective is off and I'm not liking the angles. I want some depth in the room and I don't think I'm getting it in this view. BUT I'm super into the props and tiny visual jokes. Wallpaper, doilies, grandma stuff and the portrait with wolf's face taped over grandmas.







I REALLY like doing an outdoor theme BUT there's not a lot in the story to tell here. I feel like I could have really flexed on the fauna in this scene with some dynamic lighting this could have been visually awesome, but its a slow part of the story, and not a lot of room to add personal flair.







MAN. Almost there. I "found" Red here, all the visual jokes are here, loving the wolf, angles feel better, but... I didn't plan the layout well. Too much stuff happening near the "gutter" which is the space where the left and right side of the pages meet in a book.










Boom. I'm happy. I have to resize Red and add her in Photoshop, but I love this. I wanted depth in the room before but now I'm opting for space. I want the wolf to look comfortable in her new setting, I want her to look warmly at Red while she's knitting, I added a "home sweet home" cross stitch with a doghouse, and I love the wallpaper. the room is going to look tall, but thats the space I'll use for text so everything has room to breathe.




Day 2:



Settled on the overall design and layout, but I need to fix some proportion issues. I popped everything into Photoshop, and scaled everything. Now its time to transfer everything to tracing paper. Ultimately that will be used to get the image onto watercolor paper.







Tracing paper, the unsung hero of the art world. This is the carbon copy of my final artwork. I'll use this and a light box (light table) to transfer the image onto cold pressed watercolor paper. I really prefer the texture of cold pressed paper, I think it adds some personality and uniqueness to the final art that you can't reproduce digitally or with hot pressed paper. Overall, I'll draw this same scene about 5 times. From sketches, tracing paper, pencils on watercolor paper, inking and finally digital "fixing." It seems like a lot, but its really great line work practice.


DAY 3:


All cleaned up, lined up and taped up. The tracing paper from yesterday is the hero of today. I put it on the backside of the watercolor paper and use my light table to trace it out. Super happy with the lines and layout, its almost time to paint. But first...








MASKING FLUID. I can't sing the praises of this magical stuff enough. For the uninitiated: its liquid latex that acts as a barrier to paint / pigment. Its like brush on painters tape. Its like my favorite thing and the most satisfying thing to take off. I only masked off enough to paint the wall paper, I want to give it a warn mottled look so I'd have to use a lot of water and that can be hard to control and maintain long straight lines.




DAY 4: Paint

PAINTING!!! I LOVE painting, if nothing ever comes form this hunt for illustrating kids books, I will still love doing this. Order of the day: blocking in some color. Tans, browns and khaki type stuff. Tomorrow: MORE colors! I'm thinking some pastels and other "grandma" shades.







Day 5: MORE paint


More Paint. I didn't get as much done today as I would have liked, Mrs. Mr. Tom worked the odd day shift so my schedule with the tiny humans went all whacky. Still, I managed to find the "right" red for Red, I sometimes struggle with getting reds right. There are some colors that artists struggle with and my arch enemy is this particular shade. I should finish painting tomorrow and I'm hoping to get my line work done too. Fingers crossed.



DAY 6: Even MORE paint.


Paints all done. Now its time for line work. Normally that means I break out the Sakura Microns, but there are a LOT of straight lines here so I'm going to pop this into Procreate and go to town. Which is awesome cause that means I can take my ipad and work next to my happy place... the Christmas Tree.




DAY 7: The End


C'est fini! I opted to do all the line work in Procreate after all. Given that at any time my studio can be invaded by wild feral tiny humans I didn't want to take the chance with a ruler and fine lines. I dropped it into Illustrator to line up the book titles and Photoshop for some minor edits. Last steps: attach, send, wait. Sink or swim I like how this turned out, I hope they like it too, we'll see. Fingers crossed.



Thanks for following along, if you have any questions along the way please feel free to ask!

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