Dancing Gator

This dancing alligator started with me doodling some random shapes in my sketchbook. I just started moving my pencil around , and after a few shapes I tried to determine if the shapes looked like anything, in the same way that we look for shapes in the clouds. In this case, the shapes started looking like an alligator, and I began moving the sketch in that direction, settling on this dancing gator with a cane and top hat:

Before inking, I made a few small changes, such as closing his eyes, making the cane topper a duck instead of a fish, and adding an old fashioned Victrola record player:

I messed up my first attempt at painting by, on a whim, adding music notes to the background despite the fact that I know basically nothing about music. I re-inked the image and looked up sheet music for a song I like so that I could reproduce a sequence of actual notes. The result was much better, and I really like the result. I think this image has a very New Orleans feel to it, which was exactly what I was going for.

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Not a morning porcupine

porcupine fb

This image started as a quick sketch of a porcupine I did after seeing one in a zoo. As I was drawing, I started thinking about what a porcupine would look like with bedhead, and then I drew the hairbrush stuffed full of big quills, the way that many hairbrushes tend to gather and hold hair:

I took this sketch and did a refined sketch where I tried to give our porcupine friend a little bit of environmental context. I initially pictured him in a bathroom, and tried to indicate that with a sink and vanity mirror stand (because I didn’t want to draw a whole bathroom). Here’s that sketch:

I wasn’t satisfied with the look of the bathroom background though, and though I kept trying to change it, I couldn’t get it where it looked right to me. Eventually, I decided to change the background to a bedroom, to emphasize the bedhead nature of the porcupines wild quills. This felt better to me; more visually self-contained:

The inks and colors went pretty smoothly once I had finalized my pencil sketch. I think we’ve all had the experience of being up earlier than we want to be, and realizing that our normal morning preparation instruments need maintenance before we can use them. I really enjoyed creating this image and I think it turned out pretty well.

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Puppy chasing butterfly

Several months ago I drew this happy little puppy while doing some warm up sketching:

I liked his head-to-body ratio, his flapping ears, and his determined expression, and decided to turn him into a watercolor painting. As it turned out, I wound up doing six versions of this painting because each time there were things I liked and things I didn’t like. Here are some of the versions:

Eventually I was able to take all the things I liked from all the various versions, and put them together into a final version of this painting. I’m pleased with how it turned out. Thanks for reading!

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Roller skating elephant

rollerskating elephant fb

I was recording a podcast for a friend of mine (the audio was messed up, so don’t go looking for the interview) and we were discussing how I can pretty much draw any idea I can see in my head.

He said, “So, if I gave you an idea, like, an elephant rollerskating through the park, you could draw it.”

“Yes,” I replied, “In fact, that’s a great idea, let me right that down!” That was the beginning of this image. Here is my first sketched out idea:

This drawing was ok, it is definitely an elephant on roller skates, but it had no energy. I wanted to capture how easy and light on his feet this elephant would be on roller skates, and it just wasn’t happening. I spent a lot of time redrawing things in this image, trying to make it better, more right, but eventually I gave up and decided to start again with a simpler sketch to try and better capture the energy of a roller skater:

This loose prelim sketch perfectly captured the feeling I wanted. The pose is more open and natural feeling for rollerskating, the action feels forward moving, and the closed eyes bring a feeling of comfort and ease. Here is my cleaned up pencil drawing:

I stripped some things out of my original sketch, like the ipod and the earphones, as well as the wrinkles on the skin. They seemed unnecessary, and I didn’t miss them. I eventually added a second tree to make the setting seem more park like. I painted this elephant with red shorts, and then began to second guess my choice. Through the incredible technology of Photoshop, I was able to shift the color of the shorts through the whole color spectrum, and I opened up this image for comments from my friends on Facebook:

I tallied up the votes, and red slightly edged out blue (people didn’t really seem to care for green), however, the reasons people gave for choosing blue were more convincing to me than the red, so I went with blue. Blue made the image feel more peaceful, and was a lower visual anchor to the blue sky. As you can see in the final image at the top, I changed the color of blue slightly from what you see in this comparison image, making it a little lighter and shifting the color slightly toward green-blue. I really like this painting, I feel like it succeeds at everything I was trying to capture, and it makes me smile when I see it. Thanks for reading!

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Wild birthday party

birthday party fb
A friend of mine pointed out to me that I should have more images of groups of people in my portfolio, which is largely images of one or two figures. He also suggested that I should look at the portfolios of other illustrators and find an image to sort of recreate in my style while keeping the general content and feeling of the original image. I chose an image of a very chaotic birthday party with lots of kids running around doing stuff, a dog, a toddler, and a slightly overwhelmed parent. Here is my first sketch:
I felt like this conveyed the action and feeling I wanted, so I tightened up the pencils and in the process, made a few changes. I added a couple more kids to the background, sort of reposed the Mom so that it seemed like she was in danger of being tripped as she moved through the kids with the cake, and I decided that the kids would be playing with balloon animals and objects. Here is my tightened pencil sketch:
I then made a few more changes after looking at the image with fresh eyes, such as changing the position of the Mom’s legs, the position of the baby, making the pairs of balloons asymmetrical in relation to each other, and making some of the balloon strings more curly, which added even more to the feeling of movement and chaos.
I inked this image traditionally, scanned the inks, and added colors in Photoshop using  a brush that simulates the look of traditional watercolors. I think this image turned out very well, and was a good exercise for me.

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Dapper armadillo

armadillo blue fb
My wife suggested to me that I should draw an armadillo in a bowler hat. Why a bowler hat? I’m not sure what her reasoning was, but for me it was an opportunity to create a reason why he would be wearing it. I began sketching out ideas, and on this page you can see me working out several ideas for this fine armored fellow. Eventually I put him in a sport coat, holding flowers, and checking his pocket watch (because if you have a bowler hat and a sport coat, you definitely are carrying a pocket watch!):
You can see that I played around with the angle of the flowers and his pose until I hit on what seemed to be a good combination. You’ll also notice that I ditched the bowler hat in favor of showing off his ears, which make him look distinctly like an armadillo. When I painted him, I painted his jacket brown, because that is the color I think of when I think of a sports jacket (and I’m not sure why that is), but once I was done painting, I decided that the brown was too close to the color of his body, and I also realized I had missed an opportunity to use the jacket color as the center of attention. Enter the incredible technological power of Photoshop, with which I was able to create some other color options for the jacket while maintaining the watercolor textures and shading of the painting:
With some help from my friends, I decided that I liked my navy blue option the best, and so that is now the final jacket color in my illustration. I’m really happy with how this turned out, and every time I see it, I wonder if he made it to his date on time, and how it went. I’m definitely rooting for this little guy!

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Duck and hound

duck and hound
This image was originally done as a black and white illustration for a book of short stories about a very precocious basset hound. In this story, the dog makes friends with a duck, and they would often fall asleep snuggled together. I thought that my drawing of them turned out very sweet, and after turning in the finished illustration, decided that I wanted to do a watercolor version based on my pencil sketch. Here is my pencil drawing:
This is the vector line art of this image that was printed in the book:
beagle3I did three versions of the watercolor version, trying to get the gradient of the sky and the shadows on the dog and on the ground to look right. I used some masking fluid create the moon and stars. This third attempt felt pretty good, and I’m pleased with the result.

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Pig in stroller

stroller pig
A few years ago my niece delightedly told me about going to the park and seeing a pig that was being rolled around in a stroller. I thought that was an engaging visual image and decided to try and turn it into a painting. I drew a girl who sort of looks like my niece, timidly approaching a pig in a stroller. I decided that I would have her holding flowers, as if she might be thinking the pig might like to smell or eat them. Here is my first sketch:
I decided that there wasn’t enough context for where this was happening, so I added some background that looked like a park:
I felt like the park bench was sort of crowding the scene, so I changed it around and added a tree:
I decided to paint the pig brown instead of the standard pink, largely because pet pigs tend to be colors other than pink. Over all, I think this one turned out pretty well.

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Girl with pinwheels

pinwheel girl fb
A few years ago I was watching my nieces from Alaska running around a park with some pinwheels and decided that I should paint a scene like that. I loved pinwheels as a kid and even when I pick one up now, there is a particular pleasure in moving it around and seeing that wheel turn. I decided to draw one figure instead of two, but gave her two pinwheels. I also decided that her emotion would be one of unbridled joy, with the wind in her face and leaves flying past her. I added the leaves in particular to reinforce the force of the wind, as does her scarf and hair flying around. Here is my basic sketch:
In the inking phase, I decided that instead of loose ‘gusty’ wind lines, I would ink bands of the sky behind her that look reminiscent of wind, but not in the traditional sense. This also allowed me to give the sky an interesting look when painting it. I chose sort of warm pastel colors, with a couple slightly cool ones in there. My final touch was to add white lines for some extra wind, and to help sell the idea that the pinwheels are actually spinning around. I really enjoyed working on this piece and am pleased with how it turned out.

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Waltzing penguins

dancing penguins fb
I was watching Planet Earth 2 around the beginning of the year, and was struck a segment involving a huge colony of penguins living on a big frozen lake. For some reason, later that evening the image of a penguin couple waltzing around on that frozen lake popped into my head and I thought it would be fun to paint. Here is my page of sketches:
I liked the lake that I drew, but wasn’t satisfied with the initial sketch because instead of looking like the male was dipping the female, it looked like he was keeping her from falling down. I decided to rework the pose so that it looked more like dancing. Here is my refined sketch, combining the best parts of my initial sketches:
You can see that I refined the shapes of arms and legs, and clarified their expressions. I am really pleased with how this image turned out; this penguin couple looks like they are having a lot of fun. Thanks for stopping by!

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