Thursday, October 8, 2009

Serendipitous Ewe -Vector Illustration

I was recently commissioned to do an illustration by Serendipitous Ewe, a company that specializes in hand dyed quality yarns.  It was a fun project and I thought I would share the process.  The brief supplied by the client was for the illustration to be of a sheep whose wool was unraveling and was surprised to see the multicolored ball of yarn.

To begin, I did a series of sketches in pencil.  I did approximately twenty quick sketches and picked out the ones that I liked the most (with some input from my wife and a neighbor).  These are the pencil sketches that I presented to the client.

This one was my personal favorite but the client liked the third option the best.  The next step was for me to make a cleaner drawing.  I did this by transferring the image onto bristol board by using my light box.  

A light box is a great tool to have.  It is very similar to the tool you see in the doctor's office to view x ray film.  I placed the original rough on the lightbox and a clean piece of bristol board on top.  The light coming from below makes it easy to trace the image.  The benefit of this is you have a very clean drawing on professional quality paper.  During the sketching stage, I use a much lighter weight paper since I do so many of them and most end up not being used.

I usually use Adobe Photoshop in most of my artwork because I like the painterly effects that it gives you.  When I do illustrations for clients that will be utilizing the artwork in a variety of different sizes (coffee mugs, business cards, up to large banners) I use Adobe Illustrator instead.  The reason is Photoshop is a bitmap program while Illustrator is a vector program.  With Photoshop, when you enlarge it to a certain size, it begins to pixelate (you can see the little blocks) and lose quality.  Since Illustrator is a vector program, you can enlarge or reduce it to virtually any size with no loss of quality making it ideal for commercial purposes.

With Illustrator, I work from back to front.  The key to both Illustrator and Photoshop is to use lots of layers.  The more layers you use, the easier editing is.  You can make changes to a select area without negatively impacting the other areas.  This is not meant as a tutorial on either program, just sharing my work process.  There are lots of great tutorials out there from talented artists and when you purchase the program, Adobe has a great selection of tutorials to use and get you up and running.

I scanned in the pencilled image an pulled it up in Illustrator. First step was to create the wool.

Next comes the head, the ears and the bottom lip.  The ears and the bottom lip are two separate layers and are located behind the head.  The original pencil drawing is behind the whole drawing and I turn it on and off to make sure my placement is right.  I also put a gradient on the shapes to give it some sense of shape and color.

Next comes hair, eyebrows, nostrils and of course the eyes.  These are all separate layers.  The pupils are individual layers.   

Next comes the rear, and the legs.  The rear is tucked behind the wool on the sheep and each set of legs (front and rear) are on separate layers.  

Now is the time for the yarn.  The other parts were relatively straightforward.  With the yarn, I tried several different approaches and just was not happy with it.  I even contemplating doing it in Photoshop and live tracing it in Illustrator.  Ultimately what I did was draw it in Illustrator using strokes and deselecting each line to make it look like yarn.  A little tedious but I think it works. 
Now for the coloring process on the yarn.  The client wanted it to be multicolored like the beautiful yarn that she sells. Tried lots of different techniques and ended going with this. I also dropped a couple of gradient shadows under the sheep and shadow to give the image weight. Under the image is a screenshot of the coloring of the yarn with the yarn strokes hidden.

The image was then presented to the client who loved it with one small request...a tail to be added.  I was able to accommodate the request and here is the final image.
As for my equipment, I use a Macbook (pictured to the right), Adobe CS3 and a Wacom tablet to do the digital side of my artwork.  I prefer to use a laptop and the smaller wacom tablet because I travel quite a bit and prefer to be as portable as possible.  

Friday, September 25, 2009

Win a Free Autographed Copy of Karate Dottie and a Sketch!

Observation Paper recently did an interview with me as part of the Creative Process series. You can read it at Creativity Profile: SF Varney

If you leave a comment on the article, you are automatically entered to win an autographed copy of Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse with an original sketch on the inside cover.

Karate Dottie,SF Varney,Illustration,Book Covers,Manga

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Digital Books vs Traditional Publishing

There is a great debate going on concerning the impact of digitally published books on those that are traditionally published.  Many people extol the virtues of feeling the weight of a book in their hands, the ease of sharing a book while reading to their children at bedtime, and the ability to loan out the book to friends.  Some authors and publishers are concerned about ease of piracy and the cannibalization of the traditional sales since most eBooks are priced significantly below the price of traditionally printed books.  Those who favor digital books cite the lower prices, the lower environmental impact (although that also has been debated), and the ease of carrying around a library in a digital reader approximately the size of a legal pad.

The two main readers currently out there are Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Digital Reader

 There are a lot of great reviews out there on both and if you are in the market I would encourage you to check them out before you purchase.  This post is more for the producer of content and less for the consumer.

I personally feel both formats are valid.  I love books and have a large collection of them.  I have no issue telling my children "no" when they come up to me wanting me to purchase a new toy or new video game, but it is a different story when they want a book.  I also, like many others, cancelled my newspaper subscription long ago since I get most of my news instantly from cable news and the internet (although I still enjoy reading the Washington Post with my coffee on Sundays). 

Recently I wrote a book called Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse.  It is an illustrated children's chapter book targeted towards children aged 8 and up.  As an afterthought, I decided to publish it digitally on Amazon's Kindle.  The process was fairly easy and it went live about a month before the paperback version was published.  The book can be purchased as a download to be read on Amazon's Kindle or Apple's iPhone or iTouch with a free Kindle app installed.

I was not sure how it would do considering I personally do not know any children that have a $299 Kindle.  I was pleasantly surprised.     

In thinking about it, I shouldn't have been.  My wife recently purchased an iPhone and really enjoys it.  She especially enjoys the downloadable apps to add functionality.  Two apps she recently purchased are simple games for our preschoolers which she paid $1.99 each.  Why would you let a preschooler play with a $200 phone?  For those without small children, let me just say there are times when you need something to occupy them (like when they are bouncing off the ceiling in a grocery store).  

As a retailer, one of the most important things you need to know is who is your customer.  Unfortunately, Amazon has the customer information regarding who is buying the digital books but I do not.  I would assume it is people with digital readers who are downloading books for their children to read.  Although I have seen many commuters in the Washington DC area and other major metropolitan areas use digital readers, I have not seen them show up in my children's friends backpacks.  

If you are a publisher or producer of content, you cannot ignore this important market.  It adds an additional revenue stream for your company at very little cost and there is a great deal of evidence that points to a tremendous amount of growth in this category.  As a creator of content, your product will reach new viewers and open up a worldwide market.  As technology improves, it may even create a more interactive reading experience and open up possibilities that we cannot even imagine at this point. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009


This is the first post of my new blog, TradigitalART.  This blog will primarily be focused on what is currently on my drawing board/computer screen, TradigitalART techniques, and profiles of the talented artists that inspire me.  I intend for it to be an open dialogue with other artists so feel free to comment. 

About me, I studied art and graphic design in college, worked in the comic book industry as an inker for a little while and illustrated a few books along the way.  Most recently, I wrote and illustrated my first children's book (chapter book for middle readers) called Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse which is available as an eBook and in paperback.  I am currently working on the second book in the Karate Dottie series.

This is a painting I did a few years ago called the Pedestrian.  It started off as a pencil sketch and then was painted in Photoshop 7.  It was originally created as a cover for a comic book series that I wrote but the story changed a bit and it was no longer relevant so never used.