The Mystery of the Small Town Ruby

Click for larger image. You know you want to.

I've done a lot of work for jewelry magazines - something I never planned to do, but it just kind of happened and I ran with it. This particular jewelry-oriented article was about the history of one little ruby, which went through a series of wacky The story was kind of like The Red Violin, except you can't play the ruby, because it's a precious stone. I mean, I guess you could, but it would sound pretty bad.

Original sketch, done with a real pencil. Sickly green tone added in Photoshop.

I took a couple risks with this illustration - minor risks, maybe, but I did stray from what I might typically do. For one, because of the episodic nature of the article, I decided to include three thought balloons in the illustration. I don't believe I've ever done this in an editorial illustration before, but it seemed to call for it. So in they went, next to the fictional investigator I created to symbolize the searching element of the piece. I am all about symbolism - me and Dali.

These are lines. Thick black lines, made with ink... digital ink, that is.

Then, to emphasize these three word bubbles, and to prevent the background from competing with them too much, I gave a very heavy greenish-brown tone to the background, only letting a tiny bit of the color details there to come through. I also thought this would let the ruby itself - shown in four places - gain more emphasis. So down went the color in a fairly heavy manner.

Detail of the hapless private eye. The man has no hap.

I think it worked. The story went back to the late 1700's (where the ruby was thought to have been first sold), and I felt like the kind of dark, slightly grungy greens, yellows, and browns all lent a feeling of that era's mood. I even added a greenish-yellow layer in Photoshop over everything, which made the skin colors and other hues a little queasy-looking.

I liked it - it was a change for me, but a change determined by an unusual subject and article. However, I'm not sure if the magazine liked it. This was the last piece I did for them (back in 2007), and unlike every other piece, I never heard from the Art Director after the issue was printed. Usually he'd e-mail or call to let me know how good a piece looked printed, or how happy the editorial staff was with the illustration - but here, nada. Maybe I pushed it too far (or maybe I'm just being paranoid) but I'm still pleased with how the piece turned out.

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