Tag Archives: September Slam

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Eleven

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

Now you’ve seen the entire process of illustrating a literary competition as I experienced it. I think working with Laura Black and Fictive Dream was one of the most interesting, educational, and challenging art experiences I’ve had. Plus it was just a lot of fun.

I’m inspired to do more work like this – pen and ink drawings, I mean, and also more illustrating/real life sketching. I’ve got lots of sources – the whole world around me, for one thing, and my own writings, for another.

I want to thank Laura for her faith in my work. At all times she was unfailingly professional and supportive, she listened to my opinions, she respected my work, and I feel I have made a friend through this process.

I would also like to thank the authors for all of their kind comments. Suddenly, deep into the process, it occurred to me that not only did Laura’s opinion matter, but those of the authors – well, I had never thought about how it might feel to have your story illustrated, and what if I didn’t do it in a way they liked? Thankfully that did not happen.

My perspective on the illustrations was very ground-level: I thought about only each picture as I worked. I never considered the overall view. Here is what Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black said about the process from her perspective, and I think it’s very interesting and revealing:

In commissioning illustrations for September Slam my prime considerations were:

1. for the project to have an identity and for the Slam stories to be differentiated from the standard stories;
2. for the text, ‘September Slam 2018’ to be incorporated into the illustrations as part of the identity.

Your artwork, including the two images you created early on for social media, achieved all of this. The Slam has a clear identity and the intricate pen and ink style is just right. I think the text is incorporated superbly. It catches the eye but never dominates the image, which I like.

Once the project got started I soon learned that there were other considerations. Chiefly:

Choosing the right image for each particular story.

I didn’t have any knowledge of how you would work and as the project progressed I became increasingly grateful that you offered multiple options per story. That said, the choice wasn’t always easy for me. So often I could have gone either way, but this was the fun part without doubt… But when it comes to how I made the choices, for each story I pretty much followed this procedure: I uploaded all your options and I’d try each image on the story. One day I’d try one image, the next I’d try another. I’d re-read the text with the images in mind. Eventually, I’d make my choice. Sometimes I’d change my mind and start again. Primarily, I was trying to choose the image that best encapsulated the theme of a piece.
Variety in the artwork

By this I mean variety of scene and, for me, this was achieved very well. The restaurant scene was important in the two earlier images (social media) but for the actual stories I was keen to move away from this. Only two stories took place in the restaurant… Your idea that I send you the original unmarked story, as well as a marked copy was a good one.

In terms of the stories, I was very keen to find the best writing I could among the submissions and to offer readers a variety of genres. So there would only have been one war story, for example. It was also necessary that not all of the seven stories began with the prompt. The categories I worked to were: opening line, opening page, mid story, and end story. But good writing was the main criteria, which is why the first and last stories both begin with the prompt.

Overall effect of the artwork

By this I mean the overall look on the Home Page (thumbnails views in my case). Specifically, how would the colours sit alongside each other? Would there be a balance between peopled images and unpeopled images? And all the while I had to make sure I didn’t interfere in your creative process. It was an interesting exercise because when I search photographs for the standard stories, these considerations figure very little.

Colour: I find that in terms of colour there’s a harmony between the seven images. They sit alongside each other very well. Ideally, I should have placed one of the images from days 6,7 or 8 further towards that beginning because they are particularly strong in colour but the position of the prompt (and also gender of the writer) were uppermost in my mind.

People: stories are all about people and their relationships but I was so pleased we have two images without people. In fact, there’s wonderful range from the density of Helen McClory to the emptiness of Rachel Stevenson. The green coloured artwork for the unused ‘Ypres’ has a pair of boots to represent the soldier. I found this very moving.

In terms of tone I think the separate artworks form a unified whole. The overall appearance is balanced and there’s nothing that might be described as discordant.

This is the first time that I’ve commissioned artwork for Fictive Dream and I’m so pleased that I did. I think that having its own identity has made all the difference to the project. And I loved the collaboration.


I felt the same way. Thank you, Laura.

 

 

 

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Ten

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The final story I illustrated was Farewell to Europe, by Adam Kotlarczyk.

The scope of the possibilities for illustrating this story was overwhelming to me at first. First of all, Pyle was a real person with a known appearance. The larger events of the story were all true. The setting, wartime France, was a real time and place with its specific look. Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black had chosen one passage for illustration and I agreed with her. Choosing a second image was of course not necessary, but I was not quite satisfied with stopping at one – why, I don’t know, keeping with the pattern, or did I feel there was another slant to the story I could work with?

I decided to start off with the chosen passage and see how that went.

Drawing #1:

The passage Laura and I both chose involved the men watching this scene outside the restaurant window:

“As if on cue, a convoy rolled through the narrow road outside, rattling the dishes and the mirrors for a full ten minutes. In another life, the scene would have been absurd, us looking away and checking our watches. But absurdity had become our reality, and we accepted it and waited, with slight annoyance, for the long drab line of trucks and tanks to pass, like a motorist waiting at the tracks for a freight train.”

In order for me to depict this scene, I needed reference information. I had only a vague idea of what WWII trucks looked like, or how a convoy might be composed. I will say I have childhood memories of driving with my grandparents through rural Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois on various trips along two-lane highways; we’d often encounter convoys transporting soldiers from local bases and we’d weave in and out of the line as I waved out the back window. The memory, while pleasant, was not enough to draw a real war scene! I therefore spent some time poring over Google images photos of WWII in Europe to gain a good understanding of the vehicles, soldier uniforms, and so on.

Here’s the image I did to illustrate this passage:

Fictive Dream Farewell to Europe image 2 flattened 9-18 small

Drawing #2:

Now for the second image. I researched Pyle’s life in images and was stymied. Nothing epitomized the overall themes of the story. I was also not satisfied with taking another quote from the story, for the same reason, though there was plenty of visual information.

I came upon a photo of one of Pyle’s typewriters and then – inspiration hit. Here was my subject, the typewriter itself, symbolizing Pyle, journalism, writing, and war. But could I draw a typewriter?

Referring to the photo, I started to work on a sketch on white paper. Just for practice. But as I went on, I realized the sketch was turning into a drawing. I let myself finish it up with the idea that I could set it on a painted background as I had done with elements in other illustrations.

I chose a bold painted background. I had done it earlier and had it in inventory, but never thought I’d use it because it was such a loud presence on its own. For my purposes now, though, it was perfect.

Farewell to Europe Full size image 1 background 9-18 small

Next I had to deal with the typewriter. In the other illustrations with superimposed elements, I had just cut out the part I wanted and attached it to the actual background. This technique would not work here – when I cut out the typewriter, it looked too big. Hmmm. So I scanned it. This illustration would be different from all the others. It would not exist in real life.

First step was to separate the scanned typewriter from its background. I accomplished this using the tools in PhotoShop Elements 15, so that I had a free-floating typewriter.

Farewell to Europe typewriter small

I took the scanned background, typewriter, and text, layering them in PhotoShop Elements 15. Once they were in position, I was able to shrink the typewriter to the size I thought looked best and to position it and the text on the background. And then…I had my illustration.

So here is a great example of how the illustration process differs from creating an artwork for physical sale. And I was glad and relieved that I could do it this way, because I really was happy with that typewriter drawing and I am not sure a re-do would have had the same life to it.

Fictive Dream Farewell to Europe image 1 layers and text flattened 9-18 small

From the Editor:

Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:

The final choice of image for Farewell To Europe was difficult to make because I liked both pieces of artwork very much. Among the Slam submissions there were several that were about the First or Second world wars – unsurprising given the prompt’s geography. I was keen to include one war story and when Adam Kotlarczyk’s story came in (towards the end, I think) I knew I’d choose his.

Your image of the army trucks passing by the restaurant window is a clear signal to readers that they’re about to embark on a war story. I love the movement in the image and details like the army helmets. That said, the story is also about writing and journalism. In fact, it gives a fictional encounter between a writer and the real life war correspondent Ernie Pyle. In addition, the typewriter symbolises what September Slam and Fictive Dream are about. This image really struck a chord with me. Of all your images, this is my favourite.

Just as with The Albatross artwork, the subject is presented in white and therefore is prominent. Interestingly, in The Albatross the white figure takes centre stage and the background recedes slightly. Here the image of the typewriter is strong but the colours on the right really do hold their own. And what beautiful colours. I don’t know if they’re pastels but that’s what they remind me of. What a way to end!

 

So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look:

Farewell to Europe, by Adam Kotlarczyk.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Nine

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The next story I worked on was Chemical Cosh, by Cath Bore. This story involves an encounter at a party that makes an indelible impression on the narrator. It’s a very sensory story, with many images and smells and tastes; to me, the story occurred almost as a series of moments, each with a highly-detailed and fully formed existence on its own. There were many things I could have illustrated, but there was only one that to me exemplified the whole story. Both Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black and I picked out the same passage for illustration. This was the only story where I made just one drawing, where we both felt so strongly it was the right way to depict the story.

At the beginning of the story, the party that begins the encounter is described:

“The party is full of laughter and chatter and elbows and jostling. A friend of a friend of a neighbour has moved into a flat four roads up from mine, and all are welcome. Open bottles of wine and craft ale, and party nibbles from the frozen food shop on the high street are laid out on a table covered with torn lengths of kitchen paper.”

I had a vivid impression of the scene in my mind – I’ve been to many gatherings that reminded me of this event. Between the quote and the memories I knew what I wanted to draw, but once again, I needed some visual references for the people – it’s a young crowd and I wanted to make sure of getting clothing and hair details correct. Once again Google images came in handy – I searched under the term “young people at a party”, and after eliminating a few toddler birthday bashes, I had a good idea of who was attending the party in Chemical Cosh.

I painted a bright orangey background to evoke a warm crowded party mood, adding a bit of black spatter – I think a little spatter adds a sense of motion and excitement to a drawing. Then I filled in the occupants. After the people were done, I drew the room around them. Here’s the image I came up with:

Fictive Dream Chemical Cosh image 1 9-18 flattened small

I figured that if Laura didn’t like it, I could draw another party scene with a different focus or angle. Luckily, she was happy with this first attempt.

From the Editor:

Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:

We both agreed that there wasn’t a better influence for an illustration that the opening paragraph. This is a story rich in vocabulary and after the opening scene at the party, it all takes place inside the protagonist’s head. Your image perfectly encapsulates the first line. ‘The party of full of laughter and chatter and elbows and jostling.’ The colours are of food and wine and heat. I love the figure on the right with his shades and check shorts. Perfect.

So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look:

Chemical Cosh, by Cath Bore.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Eight

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The next story I worked on was “Eat to Live”, by Sarah Daniels. The story is a study of excess: food, of course, but also of the effects an excess of a single focus can have on people and the actions they will take as a result. The story was strong stuff and for me, hard to read, which I think marks the author’s success in telling it.

Here I’ll digress into what I found to be the most interesting thing about taking on an illustration job – the need to enter the world an author has created, one that might be very different from my usual thoughts or themes.

In any commission work, of course, the artist is presented with a subject that is not of their own choosing – I’ve done plenty of this kind of work in the past, but it was pretty much related to depicting something visual – a house portrait, for instance. Illustrating written stories, though, required me to create a visual from the very thoughts of someone else.

In previous stories, that challenge for me had been more focused on getting the scenes correct – France, trains, Lisbon, ruins, World War I clothing, etc. The emotions of the characters had come more naturally to me or were something that I could find a parallel in my own experiences. In this story, though, I was out of my depth – these people were thinking in ways I would not.

It was a fascinating challenge – how to reveal character and support the story in a visual sense? The answer was of course right in front of me. The words of the story, as in all the other projects, told me all I needed to know to do a good drawing. I’m not showing people what I think about France or trains, or World War I in these drawings – I am showing people what the author thinks and says.

Ahhh. Now I was able to go to work.

Drawing #1:

For the first drawing, I chose the description of the meeting of the two characters. Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black had not marked this passage, but it immediately stood out to me, and I had a clear idea of what I saw:

I met him in a faded restaurant in a small, rainy town on the main line between Brussels and Paris. There were mirrors on the walls all around the room. My face reflected back a thousand times, vapid grey and waxy from every angle. I folded another stick of peppermint chewing gum into my mouth. Dreamt of the bottle of antacid I’d left on the sink in my hotel room.
Roy Ogram sat across from me. Four time Competitive Eating World Champion. His famous mouth was wide and turned down. Tiny nostrils on a flattened nose.

You may notice this quote includes the prompt wording. I had a vision of what the restaurant looked like already – remember my drawings from the beginning of the project?

I envisioned Roy Ogram surrounded by food in this restaurant. In order to draw him, I needed a reference – Roy is a large man. I turned to Google images; by this time I had learned that pretty much whatever I asked for, I could find. I searched under the term “really fat man”. Yes, I did, and I found images that helped me develop the characteristic postures and look of a very overweight man. I drew quite a few sketches to get the image I wanted.

I also wanted to draw a LOT of food. Once again, Google images brought to me many photos of party tables groaning with food.

I created a painted background especially for this image – the colors prompted by the “vapid gray” in the story as well as the word “faded” in the prompt.

Here is the drawing I did:

Fictive Dream Eat to Live Image 2 text flattened

Drawing #2:

Laura had marked two passages from the same section of the story. They both involved the birds. I considered her suggestion of the point at which Roy eats the bird. I just could not do it. Plus, as a practical matter, I thought it might be a spoiler. However, we both had chosen this line:

Half a dozen gulls hopped down onto the concrete. They pecked at the fries. Cocked their heads to watch us.

I thought it had great possibilities. It included both characters and marked a pivotal point in the story. I did some photo research on gulls and did more sketches of the two people, then I set all these characters into a rather vague plain setting so that they would stand out. I used a similar background as I did in the other illustration. Here’s what I came up with, and it’s the one Laura chose for publication.

Fictive Dream Eat to Live Image 1 text flattened small

From the Editor:

Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:

I know that you found this a difficult story. There’s no doubt that it’s disturbing. I think you were absolutely right in not showing a bird in Roy Ogram’s mouth. In fact, your image – the one I chose – could be of a benign scene and it’s only when you read the story that it takes on a more sinister meaning.

I made the final choice at the very end of the procedure. In fact, this was my final decision on the artwork side. In the end, I chose on the grounds that the image shows both characters’ distrust of each other. He is eyeing her with his piggy eyes, and she, young and vulnerable, doesn’t really know what to make of him.

I also like the fact that it’s less colourful than the other images. In fact, the colour you chose engages with an early line in the text: My face reflected back a thousand times, vapid grey and waxy from every angle.

What I enjoyed about the alternative image was that it brought us into the restaurant with the mirrored walls, and having one out of the seven in the restaurant wouldn’t have been a problem at all. I like the young woman’s many reflections. But, I had to make a decision and finally opted for the gulls on the bench because it engages with what we know is to come.

So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look:

“Eat to Live”, by Sarah Daniels.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Seven

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The next story I worked on was The Albatross, by Steve Carr. This story, set in Lisbon, captivated me with its wry look at the intersection of travel and human relationships. Its focus is the predicament Peter finds himself in when his easygoing ways run up against somebody who takes advantage of them. We’ve all experienced such a thing at one time or another, but how will it be resolved? That is what appealed to me about this story, the human interactions, and that is what I wanted to emphasize.

Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black sent me the two versions of the story and once again, we agreed on the topics for illustration.

I then had to deal with the fact that the story takes place in a very real location – near the Monument of the Discoveries beside the Tagus River in Lisbon. Anything I did had to reflect this reality, correct in the details. I’ve been to Lisbon, about twenty years ago, and I visited this location and remember the city well; however, I did not have any of my own reference photos that were useful.

So once again I did quite a bit of internet searching and in the end found good photos that allowed me to draw the locations with some feeling of certainty. I even used Google map images to “fly” over the location to make sure I had a good idea in my mind where these characters found themselves.

Drawing #1:

I chose this passage to illustrate because it shows all the characters together. At the end of the story, Peter and the fortune-teller come to the heart of the matter:

“You’re persistent,” he muttered, and then said to her, “Sim.” He took 10 Euros out of his shorts pocket and handed it to the woman. He then held his palm out.
She studied his hand very carefully for several moments, and then said, “Você deve fazer sua própria fortuna.” She stuffed the money into a skirt pocket and walked away.

I set the characters against a plain white background with just a little bit of paint in the upper section to suggest a sky. I wanted them to stand out; I felt the arrangement and attitudes of the people was visual information enough. First I drew the people. I wanted to show all the various emotions/interactions/implications in their body attitudes. And I especially enjoyed the wild card addition to the group of the fortune-teller.

Fictive Dream The Albatross 8-18 #3 small

Then I gave them a suggestion of the characteristic Lisbon wavy mosaic pavement. In PhotoShop Elements 15 I added the text in a layer, floating it in the sky. Here’s the final image:

Fictive Dream The Albatross 8-18 #4 text and flattened small

Drawing #2:

For the second drawing I chose a passage at the very beginning of the story:

He had a pair of binoculars to his eyes and watched as sailboats, cruise ships, barges and cargo ships, traveled the glassy, blue water. He then scanned the 25th of April Bridge that connected Lisbon to Almada, and watched as traffic hummed across it. A slow-moving train traversed its lower platform.

The location is very specific and I wanted to make sure the viewer saw it as it was in the real world. As I said, it took some research to get things right. I decided to depict Peter with the monument and bridge in the background. I painted a yellow and blue background especially for this illustration, looking for a warmer tone to go with the hot day in the story. I looked a lot of photos of the monument area, including some of the bridge and the types of boats that were on the water; I even researched binoculars and how to hold them.

I placed the monument and the bridge so that there would be a lot of room for the figure. I offered Laura two options. I did one image in which the figure was drawn directly on the paper as part of the image:

Fictive Dream The Albatross 8-18 #1 text and flattened small

and I did another one in which the figure was drawn on white paper and superimposed on the picture, which is the one that Laura chose to illustrate the story:

Fictive Dream The Albatross 8-18 #2 text and flattened small

From the Editor:

Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:

In The Albatross the protagonist’s state of mind is a key aspect. He is utterly frustrated with his travelling partner Lloyd. Who wouldn’t be! I’ll repeat here what I said on your website, that is, the emphasis of the white cut out made the protagonist the focus and for me that was important. The story keeps us pretty much inside his head which is why I wanted him to have centre stage. I realise I looked at your images having already read the stories but still, I think you get a sense of man with a burden. I think it’s in the downward turn of the mouth.

The alternative image was attractive because it had an almost all-white background. I particularly like the way the traveller is drawing away from Lloyd. Still, the cut out image did it for me.

So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look:

The Albatross, by Steve Carr.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Six

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The next story I worked on was “On the Brussels Train”, by Rachel Stevenson. This story is about loss, grief, and the acceptance (or not) of the loss. It seemed important to me to convey feelings of emptiness, confusion, and a certain disorientation in the midst of a world that is going on about its business and taking no notice.

Drawing #1

As always, Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black sent me the two copies, marked and unmarked. Once again, we each pinpointed the same passages for possible illustrations. This first drawing I made was derived from this sentence in the story:

He hasn’t heard the news. His mobile is on silent. He’s in a meeting. He’s lost his phone, the network is down, he’s in hospital with concussion and his ID is still on the train. He has amnesia and is wandering the streets, trying to remember where to go. He has used the attack to disappear and start a new life in Brazil.

I am unfamiliar with Brussels, so I turned to the internet for reference images. I found that the city has a resemblance to my own city, Philadelphia. Visitors often remark on how European our city appears, and I’ve never given it a thought – it looks like Philadelphia to me! – but I have many local street images to use as references. Here is an example (Chestnut Street at 18th):

Chestnut Street 11-25-16 #901

I drew in the street scene directly on the multi-colored (painted in acrylics) background I chose from inventory. I left room for the figure of the man. I wanted him to stand out and be somewhat separate from the street, befitting the fact that his presence was a conjecture, a hope, and not a reality. I decided to draw him on white paper and superimpose him on the scene – I think it worked well for my aims. Here it is before text was added:

Fictive Dream On the Brussels Train full size no text01

Now that we had determined that the text must fit into the middle of the image, I had adopted the practice of lettering “September Slam” on a separate piece of paper painted to coordinate or match the main image.

Using the layer function in PhotoShop Elements 15, I was able to move the lettering around to find the best spot. Then I softened edges, adjusted color, etc., until it fit well with the image. Here is the final version of this picture.

Fictive Dream On the Brussels Train #1 8-18 small

Drawing #2:

The second image was derived from this sentence in the story:

I had taken the train from the Gare du Nord through a rainscape of pylons, farmhouses, horses in fields, wheat and corn and poppies drooping in the drizzle. The sky was bruised, black and blue, the clouds as full of portent as they were of water.

This passage was very colorful and full of elements to depict. I made a background especially for this image, using acrylic inks and mixing the colors, especially for the sky, to get the right effect. (I feel I succeeded in giving the sky “bruised” effect – reader comments mentioned it, and that made me feel very good about how this worked out!)

I was clueless about the rest of the picture. I’ve been to France, one time, 35+ years ago, and I didn’t remember anything about the countryside. I did not know what the author meant by “pylons” as they appeared in France, and I needed an idea of what a train looked like. And I’ve seen poppies in gardens here in the US, but they do not grow wild – is it a different flower in France?

Once again I turned to the internet and researched all these topics. This process took some time, more than probably any other image I did. I had to build up this picture from a combination of sources and preliminary sketches.

In the end I enjoyed the challenge of creating a fictional landscape. I felt the vastness of the scale emphasized the lost feeling grief had created. I gave Laura two choices as to text position; she chose the second image, which was one that was published.

From the Editor:

Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:

I remember making the final choice for On The Brussels Train relatively easily. This story is about grief and being unable to manage the loss of a partner. The protagonist has become an empty shell of a person. I chose the image of the countryside for these reasons:

1. I felt the absence of people in the artwork reflected the emptiness in the protagonist’s heart.

2. For me the colours you chose absolutely reflected the tone of the writing. As one of your readers so cleverly observed last week, the colours are the colours of bruising.

3. There’s a stillness in the piece that I really like. And is a wonderful representation of the countryside especially with the pylons and the fields of wheat.

4. You offered two countryside options, each one with the ‘September Slam 2018’ in different locations. I found the option where the texts sits in the sky gently following the curve of the pylon line more visible.

By the time…you’ll know that I’m a fan of the cut out…The alternative image was lovely for its colours and movement but I thought the woman’s state of mind a more important aspect than an image of her deceased love.

 

So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look:

On the Brussels Train, by Rachel Stevenson.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Five

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

Interlude:

I’m going to show you illustrations I did for two stories that did not ultimately appear as part of the September Slam. In both cases, Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black sent me the two versions of each story and I progressed through the same process as with the earlier ones. Here’s what I came up with.

Story # 1 was set during World War I in Belgium. The setting and time period meant that I had to do some research. The story involved soldiers and a wartime romance. I had only a vague idea of what soldiers wore in that time, but I needed more detail, so I turned to the internet. I used Google images and searched under various terms, looking at picture after picture.

For my first picture I depicted soldiers in a field at night. I wanted to convey the sense of how large the war was and how small each person was in contrast. I painted the background especially for this picture.

Fictive Dream Ypres full size 8-18 #1 small

For the second image, I illustrated a passage in the story by suggestion: I did not include the people involved, only some of their possessions. Once again I did research into WWI uniforms and came up with the idea to depict the set-aside boots with special care, as they symbolized the temporary respite from war.

Fictive Dream Ypres full size 8-18 #2

Story #2 was a reunion story – a man and a woman resuming a relationship that had begun in the past and had been let go, with many years in between then and now.

For the first image, I chose to depict their reunion dinner. I looked over various photos I had including elements of the scene – the sea, the balcony railings, the table with food on it. For example, I referred to this photo of a derelict mansion located a couple of miles from my house for the railing, though what I drew didn’t end up looking much like it!

Lynnewood Hall - right side close up 3-18-15 small

Here is the image I came up with.

Fictive Dream Bloody Meat Image #2 text and flattened small

For the second image, I chose a scene where the woman sees the man at the train station, catching sight of him as the train comes in when he is unaware of her, and she is taken aback by how he has changed. I painted a background specifically for this picture – I wanted to convey a subdued feeling. For a reference photo, I used a picture (I have many!) of a local commuter rail station at Glenside, PA, a couple of miles from home:

GL train #5 8-26-1803

And here is the illustration:

Fictive Dream Bloody Meat Image #1 text and flattened small

Here’s what Editor Laura Black said about the illustrations for these two stories:

Of the images you created for (story #1) my favourite was that of the two soldiers under the moonlight. The black and pale brown complement each other so well. And I like how small the soldiers seem in comparison to the moon.

The green image I liked for two reasons: firstly, it was an example of artwork without a character being present. The boots represent the soldier in a very poignant way. Secondly, I loved the green you chose.

There was something rather lovely about the railway station you created for (story #2). The blue with the odd dot of rust ink is really attractive.


Though these pictures did not ultimately see publication, they were important to my process. I gained practice in drawing, literally and figuratively, from an author’s words to make a scene come alive in pen and ink. And I also became aware of the internet as a great image source of information about places in time and geography that I didn’t know much about or about which I needed a specific detailed understanding.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Four

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The next story I worked on in the series was “Dear Damien”, by Dave Wakely. Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black sent me the two versions of the story, unmarked and marked, and we both chose the same sections as illustration material. To me, the story was about relationships, how they grow and how they are cultivated over time. The characters are loving and not afraid to show it. I wanted to depict these feelings and the challenge for me was that I had to figure out a way to make emotions visible.

Drawing #1

The first drawing I worked on came from the beginning of the story.  George, the writer, introduces the premise of the story – saying to Damien:

…I write to you now that you’ve left home, ready to start University…

I decided to illustrate the writer in the act of writing. I used a quiet mostly blue background to emphasize the nature of the writing process. I drew on my own house, my imagination, and some photos of objects I’ve taken as part of my visual inventory to make this illustration.

Ink 4-1701

Once the drawing was done, I scanned it, as I did all the drawings. Let me take a quick aside to describe this process. My scanner only handles items approximately the size of an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet, so I scanned the drawing in two pieces:

 

I then combined them in PhotoShop Elements 15, using the Guided Menu, Photomerge selection, then Panorama, then Reposition. Click, and the pieces are magically turned into one image, which I cropped, flattened, and saved.

I have been scanning and merging images for decades using various PhotoShop versions, and doing it manually is tedious and difficult. This feature made it possible for me to give Laura good images every time.

Once done, I had the final image of George sitting at a desk, writing. I wanted to depict the quiet, the thoughtfulness, and the emotion of a person communicating with another on paper; in a letter, there is time to reflect and choose words. I felt that this story epitomized the nature of letter-writing at its best.

Fictive Dream Dear Damien full size 8-18 #1 small

Notice that the “September Slam” is in a non-safe-zone position – this illustration was done before we discovered the need to keep text more centrally located.

Drawing #2:

The next drawing, the one Laura chose,  featured the two men and the boy at the moment they met:

And then you thrust forward your hand and shook first mine and then Frank’s. Except you didn’t let go of his.

I chose a pre-painted paper in pink and yellow colors because it was light, gentle, and reminded me of a garden. I did some preliminary sketches of how the three people should be positioned. Once I came up with that, I filled in the rest of the illustration around them, from my imagination and from various garden and house photos I had in my image inventory.

 

The garden was particularly important to me – I felt it symbolized not only the growth of the relationship and its cultivation but also the fact that plants and people die and yet live on in the lives and memories of others.

As George said:

A garden not only gives you fresh herbs and vegetables: it teaches you patience. Even if the only thing you plant for the next few years are kisses, don’t expect a harvest overnight. Everything valuable in this world needs time, care and attention, so learn how to provide them: if you find love, nurture it.

Here is the illustration I ended up with (as it appeared with “September Slam” in its original position):

Fictive Dream Dear Damien full size 8-18 #2 small

 

and as it appeared in final form:

Fictive Dream Dear Damien full size 8-18 #2 adjusted text small

 

From the Editor:

Here’s what Laura Black said about her thought process in choosing the image for the story:

Either of your images would have worked very well with Dear Damian. It’s a gentle and charming story and I thought both images charming also.

There was no reason not to use the image of the older man imparting his years of wisdom in a letter. None at all. I chose, however, the image of George, Frank and Damian as a young boy because, by the final paragraph, they have all grown in significance. Without Frank, George’s experiences and perhaps his scope of wisdom would have been different. Without Damian knocking on their door he wouldn’t have had the memory he describes. And Damian would not have become a friend in later years.

The final paragraph is the point at which the characters connect and your image reflects this. At this moment all three are happy, the garden is lovely and as you said yourself, it’s about the cultivation of relationships.

So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look: Dear Damian, by Dave Wakely.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Three

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

The first story I worked on was It Seems Impossible It Could Ever Begin, by Helen McClory.  To me, the story was poetry, the wonder of many worlds, possibilities, and existences, operating simultaneously, maybe, or maybe not, but all of them living breathing entities that we as readers got just a glimpse of. I looked over the unmarked copy of the story, made my choices, and then looked at the copy marked-up by Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black. Our choices coincided because, well, I had marked almost every paragraph. The story was highly visual.

Drawing #1

But, choices had to be made. I drew two images. The first one concerns just one of the scenes:

“I met him in the ruins. It was a winter day, and the light was glinting low between the leafless trees.”

I used two photos of my own for references. Now, let me give you some background. I have almost no visual memory. I cannot hold an image in my mind and draw it. I usually can’t even describe it. Because…I don’t see it in my mind!

Therefore, I take photos, collect pictures from other sources, or make quick sketches, so as to have something to look at when I draw. I use only my own photos or sketches as references for my own artwork.

This project, though, required me to depict the thoughts of others, and they  usually included places or scenes I have not seen. So, whenever possible, I drew on my own photos or sketches. And if not, I looked for other sources. You’ll see that in later stories and their illustrations.

I had just the right photos for this picture, though.  I used two photos. The first one is of the Coplay Cement Kilns in Coplay, PA. These structures, from the 1890’s, were used in the production of Portland cement and are 90 feet high. I think they are beautiful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The other image I used is from the Moravian Tile Works, Doylestown, PA. You may remember I make clay tiles and attend a festival on the grounds of this building each year; it’s part of a complex that is a noted historical site.

2nd floor MTW 10-16 #501

Here is the drawing I came up with. I painted a background especially for this piece – I liked the yellow sky in contrast with the dull blue of the buildings – it seemed otherworldly or out of normal time. It also fit the way I feel winter is – dull, often drear, but with a certain kind of pale light. As I said, the story was very visual, and the writing evoked many memories or imaginings for me that I could draw on in this illustration.

Fictive Dream It Seems Impossible It Could Ever Begin full size 8-18 #2 Adjusted and text small

Drawing #2

The second drawing came out of nowhere for me. I was planning to illustrate another single paragraph, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head of all these realities and possibilities mixing together. Quickly, I pulled out a pre-painted yellow paper and got to work. I started in the top left-hand corner and worked my way across and down the sheet, fitting in little drawings corresponding to various scenes in the story. I relied totally on the author’s words, translating them into not only drawings, but numbers and words. I liked the idea that this image expressed the vision of the story as a whole.

Fictive Dream It Seems Impossible It Could Ever Begin 8-18 #1 adjusted flattened yellow text small

From the Editor:

Laura has very kindly written her thoughts as to how she chose artwork for each story for me to include in these posts; her comments appear below. I’d like to take this opportunity to say how much I enjoyed working with her. She was very thoughtful in her process, treated me with consideration and respect for my ideas and my work, and allowed me a lot of freedom. That meant a lot. This project extended over several months, and I finished the work feeling sorry that our association in this matter had to end.


All right. Here is what Laura said about how she, as the editor, chose the artwork for this story:

I ought to say at the outset that choosing between the options you provided was never easy. For each story I pretty much followed this procedure: I uploaded all your options and I’d try each image on the story. One day I’d try one image, the next I’d try another. I’d re-read the text with the images in mind. Eventually, I’d make my choice. Sometimes I’d change my mind and start again.

More specifically, with the artwork for Helen McClory’s story this is how I arrived at the final choice:

1. The blue image: the higgeldy-piggeldy building with its turret gave the artwork a beautiful fairytale quality. I loved the blue and this could easily have been my choice. Here, however, the focus is on a couple.

2. The story is rich and abundant with details and the alternative, yellow image reflects this richness. Both artwork and story remind me of Renaissance paintings that are full of objects each symbolising something. Although the blue artwork could have easily been used, I felt the yellow image was a better match.
It offers a sense of possibilities for the protagonist; a sense of her past relationships; it is more peopled than the blue image and I felt this was important. On the point of the people, no one character is privileged over another which is right for this story, I think.

So that is how this story received its illustration. If you haven’t read it, take a look: It Seems Impossible It Could Ever Begin, by Helen McClory.

Secret Project: The Backstage Story – Part Two

You’ve seen the published stories and their illustrations in the September Slam at Fictive Dream, an online magazine focusing on the short story.  Now, in a series of posts, I travel through the project from my perspective as an artist, covering the creative process, physical and mental – from the tools I used to the way I approached the various stories.

For other posts in this series, search under the term “September Slam”.

Now it was time to get down to some actual work. But wait – once I got started – some other questions had to be resolved, questions that arose with the first stories I received and worked on. In this post I’m going talk about several things (and I warn you, it’s a lot of talking and not a lot of pictures, but I promise you’ll understand a lot more about the illustration process for the September Slam when you are finished, yes, I do!)

  • how to decide what to draw
  • aspect ratios 
  • the role and application of the digital fix-it process

Part I – What to Draw?

The first two stories Fictive Dream Editor Laura Black sent to me were It Seems Impossible It Could Ever Begin and Dear Damian. In our preparatory discussions Laura suggested that she would mark up the stories with the passages she felt were visually appealing and important to the story. I asked her to make an amendment – send me both unmarked and marked copies, I said. I wanted to read each story and have a clear idea of what images stood out to me before looking at it from her standpoint.

Laura said one of her prime considerations for the Slam artwork was “for the project to have an identity and for the Slam stories to be differentiated from the standard stories” featured in Fictive Dream.

In this way I was able to understand what Laura saw in the stories as well as being able to form my own ideas. This project obviously required me to be sensitive to what she wanted from the art, something I never think about when making my own pieces just for myself. In comparing our selections, we almost always chose the same passages as being illustration-worthy. It was very good for me to have confirmation of her thinking – I could set to work with confidence.

On my own, I decided to make more than one illustration for each story. I work best when I have not got everything riding on that one egg in the basket – I know this from past commission work. Laura could then select an image that would fit the story and fit the overall Slam look. I felt much more confidence working this way – the possibility of disappointment or rejection is lower with more options offered!

Here is what Laura said about Choosing the right image for each particular story:

“I didn’t have any knowledge of how you would work and as the project progressed I became increasingly grateful that you offered multiple options per story. That said, the choice wasn’t always easy for me. So often I could have gone either way, but this was the fun part without doubt. ..But when it comes to how I made the choices, for each story I pretty much followed this procedure: I uploaded all your options and I’d try each image on the story. One day I’d try one image, the next I’d try another. I’d re-read the text with the images in mind. Eventually, I’d make my choice. Sometimes I’d change my mind and start again. Primarily, I was trying to choose the image that best encapsulated the theme of a piece.”

Part II – Aspect Ratios 

All right. I looked over the two stories and I decided upon the content of my illustrations. (I will describe the specifics of particular stories/illustrations in a later post – for now I’m sticking with the general issues). As said in the first post, I was working with 1200 wide px x 750 px tall, and I had determined, using the aspect ratio (width to height, 1.6: 1) to go with drawings 12″ x 7.5″.

I got to work and produced these images:

If you compare them with the published images:

You notice the text is in a different place.

Laura said another of her aims for the artwork was “for the text, ‘September Slam 2018’ to be incorporated into the illustrations as part of the identity.”

What we hadn’t thought of was that while the main illustration had certain measurements, the thumbnail image that appeared on Fictive Dream’s main page was proportioned differently. Laura got in touch with WordPress, and the dimensions were set and could not be altered – 800 x 400, or an aspect ratio of 2:1. Any image in the thumbnail would be cropped if it did not meet the standard. So when I sent the illustrations to Laura, she found that the text was cut off in the thumbnails.

I did some calculations. To make things work for both main image and thumbnail, the width of the picture was fine, but the height was not. All the important information in the illustration needed to be in the middle section – nothing at the top or bottom edges. After doing some math, I calculated that the middle 5.5 inches was the “safe zone”.

All right. Complicating factors were:

  • in the meantime I’d received and worked on several other illustrations
  • I’d put the text outside the safe zone and worse, I’d lettered it right on the image.

Part III – I Fixed It! So There, Aspect Ratios!

At first I was afraid I might have to redraw quite a few images, and that filled me with trepidation – usually, my first attempt is my best attempt. Freshness is lost in copying over something I’ve already done. So I thought hard.

I use PhotoShop Elements 15 for all of my image processing and I am very familiar with it. I decided I could manage the changes digitally. I took the original  images and copied plain areas of color to layer over the text. Luckily I was able to find compatible sections and blend them in by adjusting color and opacity.

I had composed the images with the text being an element in the composition, so moving it made the images off-balance to me, but no one else would think so, I felt. I copied the text and an area around it, and added it as a layer to the image. In this way I was able to move it around until I found a good spot for it. I kept two copies of the final image – one with the layers still active (just in case) and the flattened one to send to Laura. It worked!

Fictive Dream It Seems Impossible It Could Ever Begin 8-18 #1 adjusted flattened yellow text small

Image used

 

Fictive Dream It Seems Impossible It Could Ever Begin 8-18 small #1

Original

Fictive Dream It Seems Impossible It Could Ever Begin 8-18 #1 adjusted flattened text small

Another version – not used

I learned several things by taking this tangential path:

  • when making art to fit more than one viewing aspect – arrange the elements so that the important parts show and work well in all cases.
  • do not write the text directly on the image – in fact, leave yourself options for any items not part of the main image
  • don’t give up – you will find a way to make things work!

After the Slam, Laura sent me some comments which included this:

The Slam has a clear identity and the intricate pen and ink style is just right. I think the text is incorporated superbly. It catches the eye but never dominates the image, which I like.

I really appreciated that she said this – I very much wanted to do a good job and putting in the time and effort to get the text situation visible and visually appealing made me feel I had done good work for her and for her authors. Which is the whole point!

Next time – I’ll begin talking about and showing you the creation process for all the illustrations – reference materials, computer techniques, my own thoughts about the images I created. Thanks for reading!