“How To” Library series published by The Child’s World.
I thought it might be fun show you a little behind the scenes look at a few of the children’s book illustrations I did for this series of “How To” library books. You might have noticed that one of the sketches still shows the colored line technique I used to use when I sketched on paper. It’s an old art guy trick I picked up many years ago while working with Disney designed to save time. I still find it useful even though I have drawn a sketch on paper in years. These days I sketch exclusively in Photoshop using a big honking Cintiq tablet. Not being able to zoom in on my sketch seems ridiculous. I image in a few short years as new technology replaces the desktop work station we’ll look back and wonder how we ever got along without it.
Every once and a while I climb up into the attic and grab a bunch of stuff to haul off to the Goodwill store or the recycling bin. Sometimes I get lost up there and start dragging out old boxes full of memories (think Chevy Chase, Christmas vacation). Today I found one full of old disks and drives. Most of them were CD’s or DVD’s but I found a couple Zip Drives in there too. Why I save those I have no idea, it’s not like technology is suddenly going to reverse itself. Anyhow this pile of disks was from many years ago right after I bought my second MAC. I think it was a Power Mac G3… one of those blue/green ones. It was about the coolest thing since sliced bread and I was right on the cutting edge when I got it. Leafing through the disks I found one labeled Rugrats. I had almost completely forgotten about this project but it was a huge milestone in my career.
I had only been using Photoshop for only a couple on months when the Rugrats book Back Off, Bully Boys came into the studio. Up until then it had pretty much been just Illustrator or by hand. If I remember correctly the publisher was specifically requesting digital artists. There weren’t a lot of artists offering digital at the time so it left a big opportunity those of us who were. Wow, have things changed since then but I think if there’s one thing to be learned it’s that there is always opportunity for those willing to put themselves out in front. I certainly wasn’t the first to offer digital illustration by any means but I was ahead most other artists at my agency and many others outside as well.
Digital art is pretty much required these days and if you had told me back then I would be teaching Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign now I would have told you that you were crazy. Digital has gone through quite a few changes over the years. Things have gotten much easier for users but at the same time the competition has grown very intense as well. Artists who don’t know digital art find themselves a tremendous disadvantage with the gap widening every year. The odd thing is that the industry, always looking for something new, seems to have come full circle and what’s old is whats new. In other words the slick highly polished look that comes so easily to digital art is less in demand today. Publishers seem to be leaning toward things that are digital but don’t look digital. So how does an artist find that look? Textures, brushes, combining digital with traditional, all of the above, none of the above?… it’s all out there for those willing to jump out in front and make it happen and lead the way.
Early in my career I got a call from my rep (at that time) asking me if I had ever heard of the Magic School Bus and if I wanted to illustrate a Magic School Bus book. Having no idea what I was agreeing to of course I said yes. As it turned out the animation series was just about to be released on PBS and things were really heating up for the publisher. They were looking for several artists to help illustrate books that would hit the market to coincide with the release of the PBS television show. It was about to go from a very popular book series to a very popular TV show to an even more popular book series based on the very popular TV show. How do you say no to that?
Continue reading “The Magic School Bus”
A Wild Thornberrys Book Illustrated by Bob Ostrom
When I first started doing children’s books I focused mainly on licensed properties. I did work for all the big guys… Disney, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and lots of others. It was a pretty sweet gig with the exception of one thing. Illustrators who work in the world of licensed art can tell you that it’s kind of a lonely business. Your work is everywhere but you are rarely recognized for it unless of course you are the creator. Unfortunately even creators are sometimes not given the credit they deserve depending on how the art was developed.
This art was from a Wild Thornberry’s book I did. Most of the books I did for licensed properties were a little stingy with the credits but not Scholastic and the Wild Thornberry’s. The first time I saw the actual printed book was in at Barnes and Noble on display and my name was right on the front cover in big 20 pt type. I wanted to run around the store flinging copies into the air and dancing like a fool but I figured that would just be bad form. So instead I high-fived my son who was about 4 or 5 at the time and did the dad-dance. He thought it was pretty cool too. He used to love it when I got books from properties he knew from TV because they always came with a video that we would watch over and over as I tried to get the poses just right. He would often run around the house quoting lines from whatever series we had just watched. As he got older the fun kind of wore off and the cool factor faded a bit but every now and then we’ll spot one of my books in the book store or at the library and it’s cool all over again.
(To begin slide show click on any of the images below)
Children’s book illustration – Working with Licensed Art
A few years ago I teamed up with a good friend of mine to work on some children’s book illustration for Random House and Nickelodeon. We were hired to create two different Umizoomi books, one for Christmas and one about a lost kitten. Umizoomi was completely new to me and when the request came in I actually had to look the characters up on line. When I was younger my children used to watch all the kid shows so it was easy to get familiar with them. Now that my kids are older I have to watch them all on my own. I must admit it’s not nearly as fun but I do still enjoy working on the books.
Putting together illustrations like these was a bit of a challenge because they were originally created in 3D animated and I work mainly in 2D. Even though we had to imitate a 3D look the creation process is basically the same no matter what kind of book it is, starts with sketches, ends with finished art. To build each illustration requires me to become familiar with the characters, the sets, their personalities, how they move, the mannerisms they use and all the other little things the animators masterfully build into the property to bring it to life. That means reviewing each episode over and over again until I’m sure I’ve got it right. By the time the project is complete I’ve probably watched each video 50 times or more but it all pays off when I get to see the printed book sitting on a shelf in the book store. I love working on licensed properties and am always looking for something new. Each one holds a separate challenge and requires a different skill set. My ultimate goal is for my work to match the original so closely no one can even tell it was illustrated by me. Unlike my other books the best compliment I can receive when I working with a licensed property is when someone looks at it and says, “You did that? That doesn’t look anything like your work.”
Well this week is all about the SCBWI portfolio. I’ve got the printer inked up and ready to roll. I have to admit I feel like I’m stepping back in time a little with an actual printed portfolio, its been so long since I’ve shown one I almost feel like a kid again. Twenty three skidoo!!!
Getting all this stuff ready is a lot of work so I decided to use InDesign to help make the process a little easier. If you’ve never used the program you’d be amazed at how well it streamlines a task like printing out a portfolio. As I was working it occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity to share how easy this program makes something like putting together a portfolio. So, as soon as I get back home next week I’m going to put together a little demo and pop it up over on BobTeachesArt.com. Those of you who have used the program know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of you who haven’t are in for a treat.
Zazzle Quality Question
Before I sign off just wanted to ask all my readers a quick question. Has anyone here ever ordered anything through Zazzle? Particularly a dark colored T-shirt. I got mine back in the mail Saturday and the quality on that thing is very poor. I’m really hoping they were just having a bad day and we can get this straightened out because if this is the quality they produce on a consistent basis I would be very disappointed and very surprised. If you’ve had a similar experience please leave a comment and let me know how you resolved it and or if you were able to find a better solution.
Thanks and see you in Charlotte!!!