USA Today Holiday Promotion

Click for larger image. You'll be able to see the doggie's nose in more detail.

I've shown examples of two fairly recent illustrations that I said I felt pretty happy with, in terms of using Photoshop and my Wacom Intuos graphics tablet. I mentioned that in the 90's up until around 1999 or 2000, I was using only traditional materials - brush-tip pens for linework, which was photocopied and then colored with PrismaColor markers. Then I plunged into the world of digital illustration in the late 90's, first using a $99 Wacom Graphire, which was still totally fine for my purposes. I was really happy with how close I could come to my traditional style, even after only a few weeks, but in retrospect I think I sacrificed some of the imperfect qualities of natural media (especially the coloring) in these earlier digital pieces.

I did the piece above in 2000 for an agency who were developing an online campaign for USA Today. They just wanted a simple illustration that would look good when reduced - a little scene that promoted the newspaper's doorstep delivery service. I did a sketch, it was approved, and I proceeded to create the digital rendering.

Detail of the lady's face. Pretty smooth colors - maybe a little too smooth?

It took me a few illustrations to get the right feel for creating linework with the Wacom. I also remember messing up many times, not locking layers and creating nice, solid black lines... in the sketch layer. I got over that pretty quickly. I like some random, chunky variation in my lines when working with a brush-tip marker, so it was fairly easy to replicate that feeling with the Wacom.

The only real issue I had was what I call (in my head) "pulling" - there are some directions that, when I'm inking on paper, don't feel natural when the page is oriented perfectly vertically, so I rotate the paper a bit to get into a better position. I can't do that with the Wacom, so I found myself at times (especially on big, round shapes) drawing some of the lines at the wrong angle (but one that felt oh-so-right), then cutting, pasting, and rotating that linework to make it blend. That was pretty painful - over time, I got better at making it work without using that technique.

Awwww! This guy was modeled after
my Mom's dog Bandit at the time it was drawn.

Coloring with the Wacom allows for a lot more experimentation, which is not necessarily a good thing. In the "good old days", I'd lay down color with my PrismaColor markers, which I knew intimately in terms of their blending qualities. In the very early days - say, up until 1996 or so - if I made a mistake, I'd have to live with it or start the coloring over. Then at some point, I had a computer with a scanner and I'd sometimes recolor part of a piece I wasn't happy with on a separate photocopy of the linework, then use Photoshop to meld the two pieces together. Ouch - that was even more painful.

By the time I was able to color digitally, it felt like taking the training wheels off - it was freeing, but possibly a bit too freeing. I was putting a lot of color elements on their own layers, allowing myself near-endless amounts of time to adjust colors. And that's time I did spend, tweaking things a bit, then tweaking other colors to fit the newly-adjusted elements... I was taking days on just color. Also, it was too easy to keep darkening and lightening without using different colors for the shadows and highlights, so elements weren't varied in hue as much as they would have been with markers.

Most significantly, I was able to create totally smooth color transitions, highlights, shadows and gradients, which winds up giving the piece a very airbrushed look. I liked that look back then, ten years ago - probably because it wasn't a look I could get with my markers - but now it looks too smooth and perfect to my eyes, especially when combined with my idiosyncratic linework. It wasn't messy enough, to put it simply. I remedied that over time, but this piece is a little to stiff for me.

Oh, and the lady has man-hands - I must have been watching Seinfeld when I was sketching this one out.

The offending digits.

So there you go - some self-criticism, just like you requested (not really). I have to use it in moderation, in case my clients begin reading this blog - I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, especially anyone who hired me to complete a job - one they may still be happy with. I don't hate this piece (I don't expect I'll be posting anything here that I've come to truly loathe - those pieces do exist, though) but I think it could have been improved. That's a pretty common feeling when looking at old work, though. I am large; I contain volumes. And trebles.

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