Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Scene or Story?

I had some free time over the holidays to work on a personal piece. I have always wanted to illustrate a scene from my childhood. My family is Italian, so I have many memories of making meatballs on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Well, the artistic side of my emerged early when, as a child, I thought to myself, “Why make meat BALLS when you could make a meat DINOSAUR!?”

I actually did two versions of this piece. In the first, I was very focused on the scene and capturing the memory. However, when the piece was complete, I felt dissatisfied with the result. It was missing something. I posted the piece on the SCBWI critique forum, with the intention to gain feedback, and rework the piece. Thanks to the members who replied, I realized that I was holding the SCENE so near and dear to my heart that I had forgotten to make the piece tell a STORY – which is the essence of illustration.

So, back to the drawing board. This time, I approached the piece as I would an assignment – a concept to be illustrated. I moved the camera angle to create more visual depth, and to focus on the girl making the meat dinosaur. This also created a visual hierarchy, which helps to make the mind read the elements of the composition in a particular sequence – creating story. I also tried to envision what led the girl to begin sculpting with the meat. I imagined her lining up the meatballs, and suddenly realizing that she was making a caterpillar. From there, she got the idea to make additional animals. By putting in these details, we can infer a sequence of events leading up to the moment pictured.

From a technical standpoint, I pushed the background back into the background by non underpainting the “far away” elements. This kept the colors more washed out. In the foreground, I underpainted the characters and objects, to give brighter, richer color. This helped the main actions pop visually.

I am much happier with how this second version turned out. It was great to have a reminder that drawing from experience is excellent inspiration and makes for unique concepts, but that those concepts must be woven into a story. Now I have a fun promotional piece, as well as a beautiful illustrated memory from my childhood. As for the first draft? My mom loved the scene, and has the piece hanging in her kitchen so that she can look at it while she rolls meatballs.

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