This week’s Sketchbook Skool Storytelling assignment was to pick or make up a book and illustrate its cover. As a boy I loved reading my father’s books such as Treasure Island, Mysterious Island, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Some of them were illustrated by the great N.C. Wyeth. For a while I contemplated doing a small oil painting in Wyeth’s style. This seemed a bit ambitious. So I decided to do a watercolor.
I thought about it for a couple of days and did these thumbnails and an initial pencil drawing. The first four thumbnails were for “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and the last thumbnail was for “The Mysterious Island”. I picked “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and did a larger pencil sketch of the idea.
I didn’t want to hand letter the cover because coloring in around letters with watercolor would look messy.
I did this mock up in GIMP (the free open source image editing program). As usual it turned out to be more complicated than I anticipated. I wanted the title to be red with a black outline around the letters and the authors name to be black with a red outline around the letters. I tried a number of methods all of which didn’t work. Eventually I figured it out. You have to select the text with the text tool, convert the text to a path, and stroke the path and make sure you select the right foreground color before you do it. LOL. Well I learned something extra in Sketchbook Skool. I liked this idea. However, I thought I’d sleep on it.
The assignment called for doing research on the details. I Googled “weird deep-sea fish” and “giant octopus movies” and “1880 sailor uniforms”. While researching underwater scenes, I looked at Finding Nemo backgrounds (which are beautiful) and got the idea to include Nemo the clownfish in the scene. I then remembered the storyline of Finding Nemo. The movie is really about Nemo’s father, Marlin, as he searches for his son, Nemo. Then I got the idea to have Marlin find the wrong Nemo, Captain Nemo, on the Nautilus. Brilliant! Better ideas really do come with persistence.
I drew the illustration again on a larger piece of paper with pencil. I drew and erased at least six versions of Captian Nemo. It didn’t look right. I couldn’t find any reference photos showing him from the back. Finally I had to photograph myself in the right position to draw him as I couldn’t quite get the the head and legs right.
I inked the pencil drawing while lounging on the futon with my feet up and a heat pack on my back. I had thrown out my lower back while working in the yard. Sitting at the table bending over a drawing was not a good idea.
After dinner I painted the scene with watercolor. Strathmore 300 Bristle vellum paper holds up well to multiple erasures, but it does not handle watercolor well. It buckles and tiny pieces of paper ball up if you scrub it while wet. I photographed the painting and transferred the file to my iMac. I used GIMP to drop the image into the book cover design and changed the text to read “The Wrong Nemo by James Blodget”. I uploaded the image to SBS at midnight. Done is better than perfect.
I learned a lot from this assignment. I really enjoyed doing the research and discovered that it takes more time than doing the finished drawing. I was also reminded how important it is not to settle for your first idea. Allow yourself time and trust that the process will reveal a better idea.
Doing an illustration is about creating your own world. You decide what to put in and what to leave out. It’s all in the details. There are things in this drawing that I know no one else will notice like the gauge in the shadows in the upper left hand corner or the bit of yellow glow around the angler fish’s antenna or the blue reflection in the window sill or the blood shot eye of the octopus or the fact that his legs have two rows of suckers instead of one or that the first mate is barefoot. It’s all there because I thought about it and put it there. I now really appreciate the work that goes into a good illustration.