Bling It On!, a new adult coloring book that I designed and illustrated for Crayola is now available for purchase. It's the second in the Art With Edge—Just Sayin' series. Some of the pages have really cool gold foil and gold ink.
I wanted to tie the inspirational words into the glamour aspect of the book by including lots of jewels and diamond shapes. To me, the book has a fun high school vibe to it with quite a bit of visual variety. That's what made it really fun to work on. It's out now, so go get one!
Designing the Cover for the "Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney" Coloring Songbook by Crayola
Covers are very important. And in the long line of books about The Beatles, you really want to stand out. The first draft for the cover of the Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney Coloring Songbook was an internal mock-up by the Crayola Design Department using a rough sketch of my Good Day Sunshine illustration. Later, this sketch was taken to a full finish for the inside of the book. It's typical for publishers to get the general look of the books ready in order to present the proof of concept to potential resellers; that, being a coloring book of Beatles lyrics. Much like toy packaging box art, I don't always work on the cover for the books I illustrate. This cover became much more of a collaborative effort between me and the designers at Crayola. Sometimes these first or second drafts make their way as sales samples or as online images prior to the completion of the book. In this case, the cover went through several revisions, ultimately becoming a collage of images from selected coloring pages.
The first cover I worked on prominently featured Prudence (from the song Dear Prudence). It was the last part of the book I had worked on, having completed the 40 interior pages. You can see that much of the art on this early cover was rough sketches, but it was enough to get the ball rolling. The next several covers became more and more complex — just to see how much we could fit in and still make it look really nice. Lots of back and forth with the art director at Crayola, it got pulled together into design with a strong focal point. I sent the final artwork to Crayola with all the Photoshop layers intact, knowing they would need to adjust the art in case of any production changes... the biggest change being the hierarchy of logos and titles. The primary name of the book became The Crayola Signature Coloring Songbook in order to accommodate future books in the series, whether it be Lennon & McCartney or other musical acts.
The cover and the back of the book were completed in-house at Crayola. When I got my first copy of the book, I was so happy to see the great job they did adding hand coloring to the cover. I don't think I would have done it any better!
1964 - The Beatles Official Coloring Book by The Saalfield Publishing Company
The first licensed Beatles coloring book came out in 1964 by Saalfield Publishing and was intended for an American audience. The coloring pages focus on the Beatles' first visit to America, the products kids could buy, and promoting the American versions of their albums. Some of the pages are actual photographs of the Fab Four. The book is very straightforward in its design, with simplistic but well done inkings meant for very young kids. I love the cover — the colors, the fonts... it really stands out. Printed before I was born, and I finally got my own copy a month ago. A few pages in the book were beautifully colored by some young Beatles fans back in 1964.
1969 - The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics by Alan Aldridge
This book was and is a major influence on me. Alan Aldridge was an amazing artist who illustrated and designed rock posters, magazines, books, and record album covers for or about The Beatles, Elton john, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan to name a few. The way he interprets the lyrics is a uniquely psychedelic approach that is his alone. I was about twelve years old when I got a copy of this book. If my mom had any idea how truly "adult" most of this book is, she would have probably taken it away from me. I'm glad she didn't. In high school, I tried to paint a copy of the cover. I failed miserably. Alan Aldridge is a tough act to follow.
Besides being influenced by Alan Aldridge, I had other images in mind for the Crayola book. The first Beatles record I ever bought was an UK import called A Collection of Beatles Oldies. I was in seventh grade. I bought it mainly for the cover art. The sixties borrowed heavily from themes and images from the 1890 (often giving them a "groovy" feel) as well as surrealistic artists like Magritte and Dali. Yellow Submarine was, of course, something to keep in mind as well. How do you top that?! You don't. You can only add to it. By the way, Crayola also has two licensed Yellow Submarine coloring books available that are very cool. Then add all the fun television shows like Laugh-In, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Get Smart that defined the look of the mid to late 60s, there was a lot to get excited about. With everything that had come before, I went out of my way to make my interpretations of The Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney as unique as possible. It was quite the challenge!
To see pages from the Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney Coloring Songbook, click here.
To purchase the book, go to Crayola.com
Crayola Signature Coloring Songbook: Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney
36 premium 8” x 10” line art coloring sheets plus a full color, 4-panel wall art piece.
The book is available exclusively from Crayola.com.
Also as a specially priced bundle with a 50 count Signature Blend & Shade Colored Pencils tin.
When Crayola contacted me to ask if I'd interested in working on this book, I practically jumped out of my chair! Are you kidding?! I was on cloud nine. About a week later, I received all the specs from the licensing agency and I was ready to go.
The challenge creating the art for this book was the stipulation that I couldn’t use any preexisting Beatles imagery or likenesses. Everything had to be my original interpretations — something less common for officially licensed products, especially for a project of this size. I embraced this "restriction" as it allowed me to take the book in a direction that totally new. What I learned about the lyrics of Lennon & McCartney is that there are so many numerous ways to depict them. I could have done twelve different illustrations for each song!
I was given a list of 50 songs to pick from. The book is made up of 37 Lennon & McCartney songs — All You Need Is Love is a full-color, four page wall mural! I wish I could have illustrated the almost 180 songs they had written together because when I got to the last few pages, I was sad that this project was coming to an end. It was so much fun to work on, and all the people at Crayola could not have been more supportive and enthusiastic about this book. I wanted it to go on forever! There's also four pages — Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, Yellow Submarine, and Revolution — that are color enhanced for even more coloring fun!
To say I'm a Beatles fan is putting it modestly. I bought my first Beatles record when I was in fifth grade, and for four more years that's all I bought. I listened to the Beatles, I drew pictures of the Beatles, I basically thought about the Beatles every day. I listened to some of those records so much, I had to buy new copies because they were getting worn out! I still have all of them. I think I'll go play some now. I hope Paul McCartney likes the book. I hope you like the book.
Here's the stories behind eight of the illustrated pages:
I AM THE WALRUS
There were so many ways to illustrate this song. I was quite nervous working on it, since it’s such an amazing musical achievement. In the end, I decided to go for a theatrical feel. This song was first released in 1967 as a double — A side single with HELLO GOODBYE by The Beatles.
WHEN I’M SIXTY-FOUR
This was the first page of the book I illustrated. It has a Victorian feel to it, which was very popular in the 1960s. One of the first songs Paul McCartney wrote, when he was only sixteen, it was reworked by John and Paul in 1967 for the album SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.
I wanted this page to have a real hippie, nature feel to it. This song is from The Beatles’ 1968 WHITE ALBUM and is based on Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow, who was with the Beatles in India while studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
This is definitely the one the of the strangest illustrations in the book and one that was a lot of fun to work on. Lennon started this as a campaign song for Timothy Leary's run for governor of California against Ronald Reagan in 1969.
“The thing was created in the studio. It's gobbledygook; Come Together was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn't come up with one. But I came up with this, Come Together, which would've been no good to him - you couldn't have a campaign song like that, right?” ~ John Lennon
DRIVE MY CAR
I wanted this page to be like one of those “WIN THIS BICYCLE!” sweepstakes that appeared so often in the back of comic books. The swirling hair that becomes part of the floor, the smile and eyelashes on the car, were all meant to imply the car and the girl are one in the same. Written in 1965, McCartney said this song was lyrically "one of the stickiest" writing sessions he and Lennon had worked on.
Most of this book stayed very close to my original vision. PENNY LANE started out as mostly text and a small scene of stores and street lamps. I gave it some serious thought and decided all the characters should be a part of the nurse’s “play” that is going on in her head — “she feels as if she's in a play / she is anyway”. I posed my wife for reference and I ended up with one of the coolest pages in this book. McCartney wrote this song based on scenes and characters from Penny Lane, an actual street in Liverpool. Originally intended for inclusion on the album SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, the song was released in 1967 as a double — A side with STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER.
This is possibly my favorite Beatles song (which is why I drew myself as the main character). It was fun to include as many references in the song as possible. The two-finger typing method depicted in the illustration is a nod to author Mickey Spillane, famous for his Mike Hammer crime novels. It’s a song that starts and just keeps going! McCartney wrote PAPERBACK WRITER in 1966 after he read an article in the Daily Mail about an aspiring book author.
TICKET TO RIDE
I saw this one visually more surrealistic than the song actually implies. I focused on the lines "living with me is bringing her down", "she would never be free" and "she's riding so high" to depict her as an uncaged bird. It has a nice comic book romance feel to it. Although the song is obviously about a relationship that has ended sadly, there are several conflicting interpretations of the song that you can research online for yourself. Released in 1965, TICKET TO RIDE became the Beatles' seventh consecutive number 1 hit single in the UK.
BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE
John Lennon wrote the song in 1967 based on an actual circus poster from 1843. I paid homage to this by including the same classic Greek styled border around the page. It was my first choice to be one of the four color enhanced pages from this book.
LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS
I wanted to do a kind of Art Nouveau style on this illustration. It's another page in the book that does not have the title of the song in the picture and because of this, it's more about the scene and what is happening. I never planned on putting as many references into the picture as I did. Wish this page was a poster! i could have done all of them! John Lennon said his inspiration for the song came from a drawing his son Julian brought home from nursery school and that much of the imagery was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books. The song was written in 1967 for the album SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.
"Listen to the color of your dreams" ~ Tomorrow Never Knows / Lennon & McCartney
Here's one from the vault that has always held a sentimental place in my heart - a full page spread that appeared in Sesame Street Magazine entitled S Family's Spring Day for Children's Television Workshop.
I had just begun work as a regular contributor to Crayola Kids Magazine and had a few jobs under my belt. Around this time, the magazine stands at bookstores and grocery stores were filled with kids magazines. With a pen in hand, I jotted down the names and addresses of the art directors from the magazines I liked.
Next, I did what every illustrator is told NOT to do. I went home, folded an 8.5" x 11" color photocopy of an activity page I had done for another magazine and stuffed it into a white envelope with nothing more than the addresses on the outside and my name on the inside. When doing promotional mailers, artists should, for the most part, always send postcards. Art directors don't want to waist time opening envelopes. Most of the time they never even look at your post cards!
One week later, I get a phone call from the art director at Sesame Street Magazine in New York City. I was expecting to be commissioned for a small spot illustration or some supporting art, not a full two-page spread. Not a bad return on investment for a stamp and envelope! My contract arrived with the most whimsical cover letter:
"Sesame Street Magazine is guaranteed to be a smash hit now that you've agreed to do an illustration for it!"
There were little to no changes to the art, but there were some changes to the content as the sketches evolved. Since it's an educational magazine, the games and activities are developed and reviewed long before they reach my desk. I received a very detailed list of what to include in the illustration and how the overall feel of the page should be presented. Beyond that, the characters and style were up to me. The art was hand-painted with airbrush and gouache on bristol board. At this time, I was transitioning into digital art, but still producing a fair number of illustrations in traditional mediums. It's cute little illustration, and I hope it made the kids happy.
Original hand-painted art and the printed page as it appeared in the magazine.
Pencil sketch stages.
Let's Go Digital!
Print magazines were having a digital revival in the '90s. Crayola Kids Magazine, published bi-monthly by Meredith Corporation, offered a variety of art styles, games and stories for young readers. It was my first foray into this type of publication and I absolutely loved it! Every couple months, I worked on anywhere from one to three activities, spot illustrations or promotional web items.
It was also my first step into the world of digital art. I remember the day I walked into the Crayola offices and saw all the drafting tables, drafting arms and markers being pulled out and replaced with computers. I was very young and out of school, but thought, "Uh, oh... this looks like trouble." I asked everyone I worked with, "Would you like it if I got a computer and started going digital?" Crayola said "YES!", Fisher-Price said, "YES!" I thought about it and then Bob Riley, the art director at Crayola Kids called.
My phone conversation with him went something like this, "You can do the art any way you want, as long as it looks good, but we'd prefer digital if you can do it, and we need it in one month." I said, "Sure! I can do it digitally." I hung up the phone and went out and bought a Macintosh Quadra 605 computer, Photoshop, Freehand and Adobe Streamline. I had one month to figure all this out.
The game was What's Different? to be included in the upcoming dinosaur issue. Hand inked on vellum, scanned and converted to vector. The art was very simplistic compared to the art I am doing today, but at the time, there were so many obstacles, beyond frequent computer crashes, tube-styled monitors and using a mouse. On top of this, I couldn't email the file and the file had to fit on a 1.4MB floppy disc (Syquest and ZIP Drives were still out of reach). And these limitations went on for quite a few years. It was a golden age for FedEx. The job got done, I figured out how to make an illustration in the computer, I sent off my invoice, and more digital work rolled in soon after.
Bigger And Better Things!
I worked on the magazine for about five years, writing and illustrating games. Multiple computers and programs later, the illustrations were getting more complex. Some being built entirely in the computer. Many, still being hand-inked, scanned and added on from there. The ROW, ROW, ROW series as we referred to them, were some of my favorites. I became the "go-to-guy" for these, writing and illustrating about twelve in all. Here's one I always liked, 9 Shipmates In A Row.
Eventually, I began getting commissions from Sesame Street Magazine, Kid City, Scholastic, Better Homes & Gardens, and even Esquire to write and create children's magazine activities. It became the stepping stone for my future work with corporate promotional books and kids restaurant menus.
I remember the day I received an email inquiring if I would be interested in taking on an assignment to illustrate a poster about "The Dimensions Of Computational Fluency". At first I thought, "What is this?" and then I thought, "There's no way I want to take this job!" But then I read further and discovered that the poster was going to be a circus tent with clowns, animals and performers! How cool! A chance to take a very serious and often dry subject such as math and make it visually appealing to grade school kids. Of course I accepted the job!
The poster is a 16" x 21" stapled pull-out inside a quarterly classroom magazine for the National Council Of Teachers Of Mathematics. The basic layout for the poster was supplied by the client and followed an established design for computational fluency. Sometimes, it's really nice to have a structure in place while working out the look of an illustration, especially when it involves technical issues. Other times, it can be challenging or even burdensome. In this case, it just made my work a lot easier, so I was grateful to have it.
I started with a very small thumbnail sketch just to get thinking about it. I often do more thinking than rough sketching and like to have a solid visual in my head before I start any serious sketching. Next I did a rough sketch on tracing paper in marker. Marker? It's one of the few times I ever did a rough sketch using marker. Not sure why, but there it is!
I sent the marker sketch to the Senior Designer at The Magazine Group in Washington, D.C. and it was approved with a few minor changes, primarily the banner at the top. I thought a big waving banner with the words FLEXIBILITY, ACCURACY, and EFFICIENCY would look neat being hit by the spot lights. This was nixed, for good reasons. The new layout with each word inside the light beams was a lot better! There were a few character changes, clowns were to be less "hobo" looking, and gender and racial representations were discussed. I was ready to work on the tight pencil sketch.
The tight pencil sketch went through with no changes that I can recall and I was ready to create the flat color layout in vector using Adobe Illustrator. I make flat vector art for two reasons: 1) It gives me a close to finished look in color and layout that I can send to the client for approval, prior to starting the painting. 2) I can create each piece of the illustration in layers and easily move or scale things as needed without any destruction of the images that can occur in Adobe Photoshop when painting with pixels. The final art was digitally rendered using Photoshop.
You can click through the gallery of images below to see the progression of the art.
I was really happy with the final production. The printing came out spot-on and the colors were incredibly accurate. The Dimensions Of Computational Fluency math poster was a big challenge, but a very rewarding project to work on and I'm not clowning around, either!
• Publisher: The Magazine Group of Washington, D.C. • Senior Designer: Janelle Welch.
• Poster front design: Janie Schielack and Tim Boerst. • Illustration: Joe Lacey.
On a side note, shortly after I had completed the poster, I was contacted by a music band in Spain called La Herejia asking if they could use one of my clowns for their new CD "Malabares". Since I owned the rights to the images, I agreed. Funny where things end up. A veces, la vida es un circo ambulante.
Harcourt Books Robot Illustrations
Each picture started out with rough thumbnail sketches. The book covers were 3/4 page wraps - a full cover with spine and about 1/3 of the art wrapping around the back of the book. This always adds a challenge, as I can't let important elements fall off the main page, I have to be aware of the title placement and the spine needs to be kept clean of detail.
When the thumbnails are approved, I draw tight pencil sketches. I like sketching by hand on paper. It's often quicker than trying to sketch on a digital tablet (although, depending upon the illustration, I sometimes do just that). The sketch is scanned and used as a guide to make the flat color vector art in Adobe Illustrator. I send a screenshot to the art director to see what the colors will be, but more importantly the positioning of the illustrated elements. Sometimes, there are unexpected changes in size or direction. It can be very easy to move or scale the vector art to correct these changes.
The final art is painted digitally using Adobe Photoshop. For these illustrations I used a WACOM digital tablet. It would be near impossible to this kind of art using a computer mouse, never mind the damage you will do to your hands and wrists! Today, I use an interactive pen display and "paint" directly on the screen.
Digital painting is a lot like traditional airbrush. I select areas to paint, adjust spray pressure, and manually apply the digital paint using a stylus. I try to avoid using too many preset textures and effects, trying to keep the art looking as hand painted as possible. The art is either sent of flat or with editable layers still intact, depending upon the client's needs.
Nothing beats a robot that looks like it was made out a tin can or three cardboard boxes! This is why so much of my inspiration comes form older toys, movies and TV shows. The trick is to make it look updated without being derivative.
My original vision for The Wacky What's-It Machine was inspired by Ideal's Mr. Machine with little alien helpers. I loved it! The art directors did not. I was sad. So, the second one was more of a Wizard Of Oz inspired robot with munchkin styled aliens. I loved it! They did not. Again, I was sad. OK, third time's the charm. Let's think Robbie The Robot from Forbidden Planet. Yay! That one worked! They loved it! Everyone was happy and I was able to go onto the finished painting.
The machine is a Dr. Seuss Meets The Wacky Races with a touch of Rube Goldberg sc-ifi tossed in for good measure. I wish this had been turned into a toy! Illustrating all these crazy and colorful gears and gadgets got me ready for the Crayola factory themed Maker Kits that I illustrated several years later.
I produce illustrations and creative idea solutions for toys, packaging, publishing and advertising. I'm also a painter and educator with an MFA from Syracuse university.