Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Dray Of Squirrels by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Daily Doodle: Demon Squirrel
As some of you may already know, I've been working on a squirrel picture book in addition to my other projects. Yes, I know there are already squirrel picture books out there! But this is a book that I -have- to write. And illustrate, of course.
As I work on the story, I've been doing a lot of squirrel sketches. A "dray," by the way, is the term used for the collective noun. And no, I had no idea until I looked it up just before I wrote up this post.
Demon squirrel strikes again!
Many of my friends know that I have a love-hate relationship with the neighborhood squirrels. Well...mostly hate, but still. It's inevitable that I'd eventually want to draw them.
One of the best-known squirrels in children's lit right now is the Scaredy Squirrel picture book series by Melanie Watt. As cute as Scaredy is, it's clear that Melanie has not encountered the type of squirrels that live in MY neighborhood!

We've lost power and Internet access because of squirrels. I'm sure they do it on purpose, wanting to foil my mission to warn the world about the Evil Of All Things Squirrelly.

They pull up seedlings I've lovingly nurtured through early spring, tossing them aside to shrivel in the sun. They nip the blooms off my bulbs. They dig deep holes all over the garden as their microscopic brains struggle to remember where they buried their nuts.

Bad Squirrel
I've had squirrels invade my office space, skittering back and forth along the duct work in the ceiling above my head, chewing for hours on heavens-knows-what (though some kind of supporting structure, I'm sure).
Daily Doodle: Squirrel Attack
Anyway, squirrels have certainly inspired much of my artwork. While 99.9% of my work is digital, I've actually been motivated to do an actual Real Life (*gasp*) acrylics mini-painting:
Bad Squirrel
Squirrels have also infiltrated my webcomics! Here's a strip from my semi-autobiographical comic, My Life In A Nutshell:
My Life In A Nutshell
And I think that's enough squirrel images for today.
Next time: a post from the fabulous Fred Koehler!

-- Debbie Ridpath Ohi

p.s. I started a Facebook Fan Page on the weekend! I'd be tickled and grateful if you'd consider adding it to your Facebook Likes list: Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Author & Illustrator.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Remake of Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel by Russ Cox

Like Hazel's posting last week, I redid a classic children's book cover for the NESCBWI conference over the weekend. It was very difficult to choose a cover from the thousands of possibilities. After doing some searches on titles to jog my memory, I rediscovered the classic Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton which I loved as a kid. Seeing the original cover after all of these years brought back many fond memories of the book. I thought the story was also a good fit for my style.
©2011 Russ Cox/Smiling Otis Studio

   ©2011 Russ Cox/Smiling Otis Studio

 What I am going to fiocus on this week is how I developed the cover concept. I start out with a few quick thumbnails to get some form of visuals and composition flowing. Since we had to deal with the book title, we had to incorporate that into the cover redesign.
  ©2011 Russ Cox/Smiling Otis Studio

 What I did next was to to take a thumbnail that I liked and do a larger rough. This helped me define placement of the objects while continuing the development the composition.
  ©2011 Russ Cox/Smiling Otis Studio

Originally I had Mary Anne facing to the right but I did not want the book title on the left of the page. I flipped the image and thought the overall layout had a friendlier look. Adding some of the modern equipment looking up at Mary Anne helped keep the focus on her face.
 ©2011 Russ Cox/Smiling Otis Studio

  Now that I had the composition to my liking, it was time to focus on developing and fine tuning the characters. As you could see in the the thumbnail stage, I had started thinking about Mary Anne's face during the process. I wanted to keep her antique and rustic looking with just a few touches of wear and tear but still happy to be working. She was the hardest to get just right since she is an iconic character and the focus of the book. Mike and the boy were a bit easier.

  ©2011 Russ Cox/Smiling Otis Studio

I like drawing the fine tuned elements separately so when I scan them in, I can move, resize, flip, etc. without having to redraw each time. This always saves me time but continuing the development the illustration. The above sketch was finally to my liking so it was brought into Adobe Illustrator and used as a template. I built the illustration in layers for easy editing and if I want to move things around.

   ©2011 Russ Cox/Smiling Otis Studio

This was the final piece.

Come back next week to see what the wonderful Debbie Ohi has created for you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Charlotte's Web by Hazel Mitchell

This weekend it's the New England SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference in Massachusetts. Every year there is a Poster Showcase Competition. This year the challenge is to redesign a landmark children's book cover. It was hard to choose! I decided on Charlotte's Web, because it involves animals and children in the drawing as well as being one of New England's most famous books.

GULP! There is, of course, a lot of responsibility that goes with reworking an already great cover. So I apologize to EB White and Garth Williams.

I decided to go for a much more emotionally driven version in an interior to create more drama. Here's the finished product:

It is created in pencil and then coloured in photoshop. I have also tried to stay much looser on the pencil work itself to create more feeling of movement - a trend I am working on in all my current illustrations.

Here's the process ....

First rough draft ....

More careful drawing ... note Fern's face shape changes and Wilbur is more pig like.

This is the the finished pencil drawing, then scanned into photoshop ...

Here it is during colouring ... I work as I would on a water colour from light to dark with few layers. I prefer to use the multiply setting on airbrush mostly and dodge/burn tools.

After feedback from crit friends I worked on the eyes, changing them back to my initial idea that she is glancing back. Also I got rid of her marshmallow mouth (see finished piece at top of this post). I also enhanced the shadows on the right with an extra layer.

The text was created separately in pencil, traced from a printout of a setup of the text on computer.

On a separate layer I dropped it in position and used the overlay and screen settings on brush to add colour and highlight the webs.

Here is the wonderful, wonderful original! I can't hope to come close to this classic, but I very much enjoyed working on the piece and will be interested to hear the reaction at NESCBWI.

Thanks for dropping by Pixel Shavings. Did you receive one of our postcards in the mail? If not please send us a message at and we will get one in the post to you.

Call back next week to see what fab illustrator Russ Cox is up to!

Toodle Pip!
see more of my work online at
copyright Hazel Mitchell 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Taking it Easy by Sheralyn Barnes

I've spent the last month or so trying to sharpen my computer illustrating skills. I've really wanted to learn how to make the process feel more like real painting and thanks to some great advice from (the amazing illustrator) Will Terry, I've learned a few tips that have really opened up the whole world for me. In fact, I've been a bit obsessed, so that's a good sign. It's a technique in Photoshop that involves creating your own personal brush textures and then using layers, allowing you to construct a painting on the screen just as you would on a canvas or panel. I'm eating it up and just loving it. Many, many thanks to Will Terry and his videos for introducing me to it! I still have much to learn, but am so excited to start my next piece.

I do have to apologize,'s another sheep. As I said before, I'm many ways. My plan was just to play around with the technique with a sketch that I had already done. So I just grabbed this sudsy guy out of the sketch files and started playing. 

...and playing

...and many many hours later, I now have this.


So, in a nutshell, that's what I've been doing with myself for the last month.

Thanks so much for checking in again. I promise to surprise you all with something non-wooly one of these days!

Be sure to check in on Hazel's lovely work here next week!

©2011 Sheralyn Barnes