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?
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.”
I wasn’t recently asked by talented illustrator Josh Cleland to participate in a blog tour sharing my work process and answering a few questions. As many of you know Josh is a rock star when it comes to working with Adobe Illustrator which is super cool because I love Illustrator too. Josh and I differ a bit when it comes to our style and how we use the program which is why I thought it would be fun to show a project I’m working on right now done almost exclusively in Illustrator. First however let me get to the questions that go along with blog tour
What am I working on right now?
I am working on a host of different projects, unfortunately many of the contracts I have signed keep me from discussing them until they are published. That’s the tough part of working in this industry especially because sometimes it can take up to a year for each project to reach the market. I guess those are just the breaks. So instead of getting into projects that I can’t talk about I’ll mention a few that I can. For many of you who are familiar with what I do when I’m not illustrating you may recall I have another site, BobTeachesArt.com, where I teach artists how to use programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Right now I’m in the process of putting together a very special new class demonstrating advanced line art techniques using Adobe Illustrator. The great thing about this class is you don’t have to be a rock star Adobe Illustrator user to take the class. It starts right from the beginning with each tool I use. I show how it works and how to combine them to create amazing results.
Why do I illustrate what I do?
It’s no big secret I’ve always loved cartoons. As a kid I learned to draw by tracing all my favorite comic strips over and over again. It kept my busy for hours. As I got older I knew one day I would find a way to draw cartoons for a living. It took me a few years to figure it out but eventually I found my way into children’s publishing and once I did I knew that was exactly where I belonged. Aside children’s books I also create custom one of a kind cartoon logos. If you asked me to pick one over the other I’d have to say you’re crazy. I love doing both. In fact just about anywhere I can find a market for my art is interesting to me …and that’s where you’ll always find me.
How is my work different from others in my genre?
Every artist has their own style. Cartoonists also have their own special sense of humor that shines through in their art. It’s kind of like a finger print and it originates from a lot of different things… Life experiences, artistic training, what happened on the way home from the grocery store that day, what the cat vomited up (art isn’t always pretty). You name it, it finds its way into a cartoonist’s art and that’s what makes it unique. My style is constantly evolving (and hopefully improving) but at this point I think it’s become pretty recognizable. There are a few other artists out their who have similar styles but in my opinion we are all very unique.
How does my illustration process work?
This is kind of a tough question because I don’t always work the same way or in the same style but rather than give you a long detailed explanation of my process I’ve created a short video that shows an actual project starting from a rough sketch. This is pretty typical of many of the projects I work on using Adobe Illustrator. The first thing you’ll notice is I’ve compressed the time for the video and done a little bit of editing. The things I’ve left on the cutting room floor is all the trial and error experimenting I do with shapes and colors as I work through a project. I am a visual person but I don’t always trust my first instincts so I often try many different color combinations to see if I can find better options. Sometimes it can be a tedious process which is why I’ve trimmed it from this video. Other times things just flow and I get it right the first time. It all depends on which way things happen to be leaning that particular day.
Ok enough with the typing here’s the video. Enjoy
Next up on the blog tour I’m inviting two amazingly talented artists and good friends:
Fian Arroyo, with his creative mind and quick draw, has been creating award-winning illustrations and character designs for his clients, including Fortune-500 companies, in the advertising, editorial, toy & game and publishing markets for over 20 years.
Greg Newman has been a freelance artist and illustrator, designer and developer since 2001. Newman now specializes in portraiture, uncannily realistic caricatures and wildlife illustrations, as well as design and development for the intertubes.
Wow, time flies. We’re already into our second week of #Inktober and I’ve seen some really amazing art out there. I’ve been a little bummed that my deadlines have kept me from fully diving into the fray. I figured I’d try and post at least a couple of drawings for the #Inktobers so I don’t feel like a total spectator. It’s looking like I’ll probably have to go the 5k route with the nondigital stuff this year. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about here’s a link that will tell you ever thing you need to know about #INKTOBER. Oh and by the way, make sure you check out the galleries from previous years on Mr. Jake Parker’s site. You’ll be glad you did, his work is amazing.
If on the other hand if you’re into Illustrator and digital inking I’ve got some fun stuff to show you. I’ve been working on putting together some new classes for the BobTeachesArt.com site and the first one is going to focus on how to create great line art using Photoshop and Illustrator, the main focus being on illustrator of course. This will be a soup to nuts course starting right from the beginning and working our way through all the tools you’ll need to know to make things happen. This is one I’ve been planning to get out there for some time now and have had many requests for it. If you think you might be interested or know someone else who is here’s your link!
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Ok Inktober fans that’s it for now see you all again next week.
Vanessa, Deb and I have come up with an amazing handout we will be presenting to all the illustrators who join us at the SCBWI fall conference in Charlotte. This thing has turned into quite a large project. It’s basically a guide to running your own art business. Working with Deb and Vanessa has been so much fun. I always look forward to our Wednesday meetings. Since we’re almost at crunch time this weekend was dedicated to getting the layout together. I’ve been capitalizing on all my mad InDesign skills to come up with a rocking layout for you guys. Can’t wait to share it with you.
Saturday as I was working on the design I came to a section where we focus on health, handling stress and taking care of yourself. Part of staying healthy means not spending marathon sessions at the desk without a break or exercise. That’s when I realized I had been sitting at my desk for a marathon InDesign session. I decided I should take my own advice and get outside for a run to enjoy the beautiful afternoon.
My favorite kind of running is on a trail in the woods where I can be alone and decompress. There are some great trails near my house at a huge park called Umstead. These trails go for miles. I planned to run for about a half hour…easy-peasy in and out then back to work. I love is to run trails I haven’t run before so I picked a new one that I hadn’t tried yet. I’ve only run at Umstead a handful of times so most of the trails are new to me. This one was amazing and started out by following a deep wide stream. Umstead is quickly becoming a favorite place to run.
Anyway to make a long story short I got a little turned around as I made my way along some very long unfamiliar paths. Not knowing exactly where I was I ended up running pretty deep into the woods and spending much more time there than I had intended. MUCH more time. In fact let’s just put it thus way if I had been in there any longer, I probably would have made the evening news as one of those, old guy lost in the woods search and rescue stories. It was a humbling experience but yes, I made it out alive and am all the better for it. By my best estimate I probably ended up running for about 3 or 4 miles and then walking around 63 miles. You would think I’d be discouraged but honestly I can’t wait to go back and run it again. Well, not the exact same trail but this time however I think I’ll print out a map before I go… and maybe pack a flare gun just in case.
Here is a little piece I’ve been working on to help promote Bob Ostrom Studio at the event. Once this campaign is complete I’ll post it here on the site for those of you who aren’t able to attend this year.