Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Graphic Novel Composition

One of the ways that working on a graphic novel is different than a picture book, is that there is a ton more composition work in making a graphic novel.  While illustrating a picture book, I might only have to do one illustration for a two-page spread.  Which means, there is only one rectangle I have to worry about.  Ah, the luxury!

from Monkey Ono by J. C. Phillipps,  Viking 2011

Here I have one nice, big rectangle to work in all my visual information, as well as my text.  I have three characters balanced on page page, opposite the sketchbook with three key points in the plan. 

I can have a two-page spread in a graphic novel, but it's not the normal, so a scene needs to be pretty important to warrant that much space.  It needs to be a really big deal, like an intro into a new setting, or a big dramatic scene ... something major.  Something you want the reader to pause on, and take in.  Most of the story in a graphic novel takes place in smaller panels.

But all the same rules of composition to a graphic novel as they do to a picture book.  They just apply to each panel.  So, in the illustration from Monkey Ono above, I have to think about character placement, clarity, scale of characters, characters spacial relation to one another, and an overall aesthetic that is appealing to the eye.

I have to do the exact same thing for a panel in a graphic novel.

from Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker by J. C. Phillipps, Random House 2020

Here is a panel from Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker.  There is a decent amount of text here, so I chose to use a long panel.  I wanted to break the text up a bit, so I put Pacey in the middle of her text.  Since I have the space and we are in a new world, I added the background.  Slasher, who is about hip tall, stands a little ways away.

That's the composition of this single panel.  That's not too hard.

But now I need to do that to every panel on the page, as well as the page as a single unit.  And by that I mean, I have to apply the rules of composition to each and every panel, but the final page has to be balanced as a single composition as well.

from Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker by J. C. Phillipps, Random House 2020

Then - because in a graphic novel you don't view one page at a time - I have to consider the double-page spread as a whole composition as well.

from Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker by J. C. Phillipps, Random House 2020

When composing the double-page spread, I am usually looking where to end the scene, or if I should use the page turn as a way to build drama.  (In this case I ended the joke at the bottom of the second page.)  I also try not to have the same panel composition two pages in a row.  This spread is pretty evenly balanced in that both pages have 3 rows,  but then I altered the panel structure.  On the first page on the first page, I went 2 panels, 1 panel, and then 2 panels.  And on page 2 I did the opposite:  1 panel, 2 panels, and 1 panel.

It's a lot to consider (and in my first run of composing, the drawings are very loose and I erase a lot. 
I'll talk about that more in the next post.)

This is a super light overview of composing a graphic novel.  Proper composition is a skill to be learned.  For a more in depth look at the whole process, I highly recommend Scott McCloud's Making Comics.  It's a wonderful resource.

Thank you for stopping in!
Have a great week!

Friday, June 15, 2018

My First Celebrate West Hartford

This past weekend was Celebrate West Hartford.  Celebrate is a super fun weekend fair in our town.  There are rides, games, food trucks, community booths, and lots of art.  It’s actually a very impressive art fair. People who know that I’m an artist will often ask, “Are you doing Celebrate?”  And I always say, “No.”

For one thing, I don’t have a tent.  It’s an outdoor fair and you need a tent.  (Tents ain’t cheap.) And the other reason is that I like to attend it as a patron.  I like to see the art. You can never attend an art show if you’re working one.

But this year one friend talked me into it.  “Do it. Do it. Do it.” I succumbed to peer pressure.  And another friend loaned me a tent. So fine. I signed up for Celebrate West Hartford.

Me in my Handmade by Julie Phillipps booth.    2018.
Then, when it was over, all my friends asked, “How did it go?!”
It went fine.

The weather was great.  Partly sunny and high 70’s - low 80’s.  It really couldn’t have been nicer.

Free tent.  Tents aren’t cheap and my friend even had art walls so I could hang stuff.  So my cost was a little lower.

Seeing friends.  It’s always nice when friendly faces stop in to support you and say hi.

Selling art.  I make a lot of stuff, so it’s always good to be able to unload some of it and make some money.

The black-and-white wall.  Lots of Steampunk Flying Machines.
It’s long.  On Saturday I was there from 8am to 6:15pm.  And when I say “there” I mean in a 10X10’ white tent.  At a certain point, time began to lose all meaning.

Too much smiling.  It really is exhausting to have to be pleasant for that long.  Sometimes, I would duck behind my card rack just to frown for a minute.

Cost.  The pay-in for Celebrate is the highest I have ever had to pay.  That’s not to say it is too expensive or that they don’t use the money well to advertise.  I think they do. But it is a lot for an artist, and the most I’ve ever paid.

I missed the experience.  I really love going to art shows.  And I could tell they had a lot of great artists this year.  I would have preferred walking around with my husband and son, looking at the art, and having a great time.

So it was fine, I made money, and I’m glad I did it.  But next year I think I will attend as a patron.

One last thing, when you’re sitting in a 10X10 tent for hours on end, it’s fun to notice what people are attracted to what items.  It did not surprise me to see that a number of men liked the Steampunk Flying Machine series. But it was hilarious to see the people who were drawn to the cute stuffed animals.  I had a burly guy with tattoos and face piercings come over and pick up a stuffed llama. “Look at the llama!” he said to his girlfriend. That just makes me smile.

Thanks so much for stopping in.
HUGE THANKS to anyone who's reading this who came out to Celebrate West Hartford!
More on the graphic novel experience next time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Putting Together A Graphic Novel Submission Package

Hi all!

Someone recently asked me what materials I needed to put together to show my graphic novel to editors, so I’m going to cover that in this post. I want to point out that I don’t think there is an exact way to do this.  Basically, you just want to convey your vision as completely as possible. For me, that included a completed manuscript and a 20-page finished-art dummy (in pdf form.)

Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker is a middle grade novel for grades 4 - 6.  The manuscript is about 22 pages long, and that turned out to be roughly a 120-page graphic novel.  It’s really important to know what age group your story is for. That will have a lot to do with how many panels you can put on a page and how much text.  (Not to mention the tone of the story and how your characters will speak and think. But that's writing. This is more about formatting.)

This is a page of my manuscript.  

Again, there are different ways to format a manuscript like this.  I like the TV script way of centering the characters name and putting their line of dialog beneath, but that would have taken up an extra line. So I went with the more economical way of putting the character’s name on the left, tabbing in, then adding the dialog. Art notes are indented about 3 inches in.

I wasn’t sure if I was expected to pencil in a whole dummy when I started.  I couldn’t really find any finite information on this. One site said I should have character sheets like this one:

Character Sheet from Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker by J. C. Phillipps

(My agent didn’t feel that was necessary for our submission, but I recommend taking the time to make these. It's good to know what your characters look like from different angles, and you should do at least one that has all the characters standing in a line-up so you can be consistent with size.)

Really, what I wanted to do, was show the way I break a story down into panels, how I use the page turns to build tension, and draw a few different locations so editors could see how I envision the art. Here’s a page.

Page from Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker by J. C. Phillipps

I opted to go with black-and-white.  Color printing for a 120-page book would be very expensive.  I figured if a publisher wants to buy it and make it color - great!  But I thought it would be best to show them a cost-friendly version first. (The more you can think about production and marketing, the better.)

Also, you have to pick a size.  I just went with my gut, knowing full well that the dimensions would probably be changed.  And they will be. But you have to start somewhere. I would recommend finding a graphic novel that is similar in age and subject matter to your project and looking to that as a format guide.  

So that’s what I put together.  Then I sent it to my agent and he sent it out to publishers. (Also, if you have an agent, they can help a lot in this process. It's their jobs to know what editors want to see. So always check with your agent.) 

Thanks so much for stopping in!
I’ve taken a week off from Pacey to get ready for a big art show in town, Celebrate West Hartford.  I’m sure I’ll have some pictures to share next week. (I fear Saturday will be rainy and gross.  Arg.)

Have a great week!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Writing A Graphic Novel: Crafting the Tone.

Hi All!

I've been spending the last month sketching out pencils for my first graphic novel, Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker (Random House, Spring 2020.) But before I got to this point, I had to write the darn thing.

This is a project I have been working on for a long time.  For years, it was a side project while I focused on picture books.  But when things started to dry up in the picture book department (meaning, no one was buying what I was making) I started thinking more about the graphic novel and a genre jump.

My earliest draft of the story is in June 2011.  The basic plot remains the same; Pacey is babysitting her little sister, Mina.  They have some conflict, as sisters tend to do.  Mina flies off on a real-life unicorn and Pacey - and the stuffed unicorn Slasher, who is actually alive -  go to the magical land of the unicorns to get her back. 

Over the drafts there was a lot of difference as to who the unicorns were, what they wanted Mina (and other children for) and a lot of secondary characters changed along the way.

Early character sketches for Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker

Here's a sketch of the characters from an early version of the story. The unicorn queen was cut and replaced with a similar character.  Dave got cut completely.  R.I.P. Dave. 

I spent a lot of time crafting of the tone of the relationship between Pacey and Mina.  In general, I think the older sibling is usually annoyed by the younger sibling, especially is they are the same gender.  So Pacey is pretty annoyed by Mina most of the time.  But, Pacey was coming off as unlikable.  That's not so great in a lead character.  So I had to increase the annoying qualities of Mina, and calm Pacey down so she was really trying to get along.  That made Pacey a nicer, more likable sister.  But there still needed to be some conflict, and Pacey is not a perfect person.  She likes to be in charge.  So instead of using the time with Mina to play with her - like Mina wants - Pacey uses the opportunity to play more of a care-giver/mother role, and that drives Mina crazy.  Mina wants to be like Pacey, she wants to be equals.  When Pacey treats her more like a baby, Mina freaks out and leaves on the unicorn.  (You may be asking, Is there a unicorn readily available, like a taxi?  No.  It makes sense in the book, tho.)

Once I got the sister relationship down, things went smoother in the character development part. 

Then I had to nail down the tone for the plot.

Why would unicorns take children?  Well, I knew I wanted to steer away from a My Little Pony sensibility.  So the unicorns are not awesome, fun characters who bring love and friendship.  In an early version, they were taking kids and forcing them to work in mines.  That was probably a little too harsh.

Then I went the other way.  I made it very silly.  Unicorns were out scouting children to perform in a talent contest to amuse the royal unicorns.  But the stakes were not high enough to cause a full rescue.

Eventually I settled on a unicorn population that felt a little more high society.  The unicorns of the tapestries. 

Image result for unicorn tapestries

Unicorns are the national animal of Scotland, after all. 

So I wanted to create a group that saw themselves as high status, cultured, and intelligent and did not appreciate how children have turned them into rainbow-maned cutie dolls with hearts on their butts.  So when the unicorns find a child - like Mina - who is particularly guilty of this cultural offense, they do something about it.  (I won't say what.)

The balance there felt correct.  Then I proceeded to scene work.

In the next post, I'll talk more about the format of writing a graphic novel.

Thanks so much for stopping in!
Have a great day!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

New Project!

I'm very happy to announce that my graphic novel series, PACEY PACKER: UNICORN TRACKER books 1 and 2 have been picked up by Random House. 

This will be a major project for me.  If you ask me what I'm up to for the next year or so, the answer will be Pacey Packer. 

The first book is about 118 pages long.  It's already written and roughed out, although I haven't received my editorial notes yet.  (Fingers crossed that the edits won't be too major.)  I'm already starting on the nice pencils.

When that's finished in a couple of months, I'll move onto the final art. 

Basically, I'm expecting each book to take me about 7 months to make.  It'll look kinda, sorta like the image above.  We haven't finalized the exact art yet, but I think we're aiming for black and white, with purple.

I'll chronicle the experiences as I go through them.  By the time it comes out in Spring of 2020, you should have a pretty good idea of what it takes to make a graphic novel.  (As will I.)

Thanks for checking in.
It's finally starting to feel like Spring in New England.  I hope the flowers are blooming wherever you are.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Watercolor Animals


Since my last post, I have been busy filling out my solo show that will take place in August and September in West Hartford.  I actually went into a bit of a panic because when I was figuring out how many pieces I had ready, I realized it was far fewer than I thought.

I still had a lot of wall space to fill.

I had decided a while ago that I wanted it to be an all-watercolor show.  I wanted it to look good and cohesive as a exhibition.  But now I had to think about what watercolors I wanted to include.  Since all the pieces I had so far featured animals - or some other kind of life in it - I decided to go that way.  No barns.  No trees.  No landscapes.  Everything had to have some kind of animal (or insect) life in it.

With that in mind, I cranked out the watercolors.

Green Toad Mellows          2018        j. c. phillipps

Grey Ghost           2018         j. c. phillipps

Java Cat        2018        j. c. phillipps

Small Green Frog           2018          j. c. phillipps
Small Green Frog started out as a bigger painting, but the mushroom turned out awful.  Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes it just goes south and there's nothing you can do about it.  So I cropped it.  It's a small little painting now, but it has become one of my favorites.  I love that little frog.

Texas Longhorn             2018          j. c. phillipps

Smudgy Bee                2018               j. c. phillipps
I call this one Smudgy Bee because after I was done painting the bee, the edges were too rough and solid.  The bee didn't blend with the background.  So I took some clear water and smudged up the edges, I let the colors bleed into each other a bit.  I like it so much better now.

Winter Sheep                  2018                   j. c. phillipps

The show is ready now.  The pieces are matted, framed, and wired.  I have them packed away until August.  Now my biggest task is figuring out what to name the show.  I'm playing with Watercolor Kingdom - like Animal Kingdom but I don't want people to go in there thinking they're going to see knights and such.  Watercolor Creatures is another idea.  Watercolor Life.  Anyway, nothing has clicked so far.  We'll see.

Thanks for stopping in!
I hope your Spring has less snow than mine has had.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Big Blue Octopus Tutorial

Hi guys.  Last week I painted a large octopus watercolor.  I thought you might like to see my process, so I took photographs along the way.

Phillipps working on watercolor.  2018.
 This is me working on my painting, Big Blue Octopus.  I know, I know.  What a deep, poetic title!  What can I say?  I am very boring and matter-of-fact with my titles.  I do this so I won't forget which painting is which. 

This shot was taken towards the end of the process.  Let's go back to the beginning.

After deciding on the size and sketching out an octopus, I do a small color test.  I knew I wanted the octopus to be blue, but I wasn't sure what color to make the water.  After this color test, I decided l liked the all-blue palette.  In some ways, that will be more challenging, making the some of the blue pull forward and other parts recede.  But I liked the limited color palette.  And I love blue.

Next I took a piece of large, clear plastic and traced my octopus.  This will be the mask so I can loosely painting the background and not worry about covering over my subject.  I cut it out just inside the lines...

... then I glue it to the paper with liquid frisket.  Liquid frisket (a.k.a. masking fluid) is something watercolor artists use to cover a portion of their paper to keep it white.  By cutting my plastic a little thinner and smaller than my actual octopus, I can paint the frisket over the edge of the plastic and onto the watercolor paper.  That way I am creating a seal between the paper and the plastic and I'm filling out the rest of my subject.  Now the octopus is completely masked off.  (I could also paint over the entire octopus - that that would be a LOT of masking fluid.)

When I am painting a subject that is underwater, I like to be very loose and wet with my background.  I will throw a bunch of water and paints on the paper.  I'll swish things around, turn the board left and right, splatter water on there.  I'll just get really loose and crazy until I think it looks good.  (Remember to keep areas light and paint others darker.  Even though it's loose, it's it still requires composition.)

Good thing I masked that octopus out, right?  Look at the mess!

When the background is completely dry, I carefully pull up the masking fluid and plastic, revealing a nice, white octopus.

Ta da!

But I can't paint it yet.  Now I need to go in and mask out all the little suction cups.  It's tedious, but careful work and planning help to make the painting good.  If I didn't do this part, I'd have to paint around all the suction cups, and then I'd get weird drying and inconsistent paint colors. 

Notice that there's a blue smudge on my nice, white octopus.  Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes some paint seeps underneath the masking.  I lightened it up a bit with water and I don't worry about it since I'll be painting the octopus blue anyway.

This is a first pass at painting the octopus.  While the paint is wet, I add in some dots and spatters that will soften and bleed out.  This gives the illusion of texture on the octopus's head.

Here's a detail look after a couple more passes over the head.  I've worked on the eye a bit, adding shadow to the bottom and leaving the top almost white.  And I've gone over the lower head with paint, leaving some dots blank.  You can see that the masking is still on the suction cups.  Also, notice how I'm able to distinguish between the front tentacles and the back tentacles with darker colors and shadows.

When I'm happy with the blues and the purples under the tentacles, I lift the liquid frisket off of every suction cup.  It's important to make sure all of the paint is dry before you do this or else you'll smudge paint on the clean paper.  That would be a big bummer.

Then I go in and paint the soft pinks and purples in the suction cups.  It takes a little while to do all the detail work, so I put on a good podcast or some mellow music and enjoy the process.  Then I need to add in shadows to the edges of the suction cups and to the tentacles, below the suction cups.  The shadows really makes the painting come alive.

When it's close to being finished, I take a lot of time to observe the painting and pay attention to where my eyes go and if any area looks lacking.  Sometimes I soften hard lines.  Sometimes I add deeper colors.  Sometimes I lift colors out.  When I'm 90% happy, I stop.  There's a real danger in over-painting or working something to the point of ruining it, so I try to stop before I do that.

Then I sign it and it's done.

Big Blue Octopus                  2018                      J. C. Phillipps
I should also note that I use Arches paper.  For this painting I used 140 lb cold press.  It's important to use a good paper, because quality paper can take some abuse without ripping.  I'll use cheaper paper for smaller, dryer paintings.  But when I work wet and large, I like to build it up on high quality paper.

Thanks so much for stopping in!
I hope you enjoyed a peek into my process.
Have a great week -

Monday, February 5, 2018

Jewelry Making Mode

I go through creative cycles.  I'll sew a lot for awhile.  Then maybe I'll want to sit and do needlework for a month.  Maybe I'll get seriously into drawing for a bit.  But now I am coming back around to jewelry making.

I don't like to go to the craft store and buy a bunch of stuff and then simply assemble it.  I mean, I do like that very much, but one of my creative goals is to make some of - or all of - the beads that I use.  I found a tutorial on making "turquoise" beads with polymer clay, so I spent the weekend working on these.  (And I like the look of the turquoise beads mixed with a red/orange coral bead, so I just applied the same techniques to creating orange clay "coral" beads.)

After I roll them and bake them, I like to give them a nice thin coat of varnish.  Here they are drying in the sun.

The next day, when the varnish was dry, I began stringing.  I'm using a thin hemp cord to connect them.  I'm very bad at winding wire and making clasps, so I really like making long necklace with no clasps.  (I need to work on that.)  You can see my sketchy plan beneath the beds.

The above necklace is all "Turquoise" and the below one - the half moon - has the coral beads mixed in.  I'm really happy with how they turned out.  I'm going to crank out some more for the Spring and Summer craft shows.

Winter is still bitter cold here, but the snow is gone.  I am ready for the buds of Spring to come and bring some warmth and color to New England.  But until then, I'll just have to make my own.

Thanks so much for stopping in and checking on me.
Have a lovely week!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Women's March, Hartford 2018

This Saturday was the one-year anniversary of the Women's March, so I put on my pink pussy hat, made a new sign* and was proud to march again.

*I didn't actually make a new sign.  This sign reading, Keep Your Laws Away from Our Hoo-Has! is actually from last year's Planned Parenthood march.  That one was cancelled due to snow, so this is the first showing of this sign.  It still works!

Stefanie - my art buddy and protest pal - made a very cool pink pussy power parasol that her daughter carried around most of the time, but I snapped a pick with her holding it.  She's also wearing her Pussy Power shirt that she designed. 

We marched in front of the Capitol and under Hartford's Soldier and Sailor Memorial Arch.  We marched with men and women of different colors and ages.  We chanted.  We sang.  We stood for something good - and it was awesome!

Basically, the same thing happened this year as happened last year; we couldn't get close enough to the front to hear any speakers.  I think they had another technology issue.  But we were still there: still strong, still proud, still ready to use our minds and our voices.

It was a wonderfully kind and encouraging experience that I know was shared across the country.

And, of course, the signs are always awesome.

I hope you are feeling empowered wherever you are.
Thanks so much for stopping in!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Flying into 2018


2018 is well underway here in Connecticut.  It has been bitter cold, but is a balmy 30 degree day today.  Woo-hoo - break out the bikini! 

It will be calmer in my art room for a few months.  No imminent shows.  Which means I'll have more penciled-in self-imposed deadlines, rather than black-ink calendar deadlines.  I'll be busy - but a manageable kind of busy.

One of the first things coming up is a group show at the Spicy Green Bean (a lovely little restaurant in Glastonbury, CT.)  The theme is FLIGHT.  It took me a little while to settle on what I wanted to do.  I tend to like birds and bugs and things of the like, and I was getting a little overwhelmed at some of the possibilities. 

But then I focused on the venue.  My best show there - to date - has been the Black-and-White show.
I think the black-and-white images look very sharp against the red walls there.  Also, my drawings (rather than paintings or collage) reproduce very nicely and therefore I can have more prints available.  This is a restaurant, after all.  People go in to eat, not to buy art for their mansions.  So more reasonable priced reproduced art sells better than higher priced originals.  Gotta know the market!

So I decided on Steampunk Flying Machines. I don't normally love drawing cars and planes and mechanical things, but Steampunk incorporates a lot of imagination, so it was pretty fun.   I sat down with my pencil, Sharpies, and my Copic greys and got to work. 

Here's the collection.
Airship Zero in the Sky      2017     j. c. phillipps

Bubbleship B           2018             j. c. phillipps

FishCopter               2017               j. c. phillipps

Flying DoDo               2017             j. c. phillipps

OctoBalloon          2017           j. c. phillippps

Snailship 7                 2018                 j. c. phillipps

Steampunk Flying Machines           2018           j. c. phillipps

Twelve-Thirty Blimp          2018          j. c. phillipps  

The ones with the white background are straight up marker drawings.  The ones with a little scenery were put into Photoshop and manipulated there.  FLIGHT doesn't go up until mid-February, so I'm well ahead of schedule - which is much better than being caught up in a last-minute scramble.  :)  Maybe 2018 will be the year of efficiency.

Hope that you all are feeling good at the beginning of 2018!
Thanks so much for stopping in!