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 writer and fine art painter.
• MFA, Syracuse University