Q and A: How do you address the daunting nature of doing a picture book?

I got an email the other day from a Mr. Nathan N. who says:

I do arts and crafts as a hobby. I just wrote a children's story that I would really like to illustrate and self publish. It is something I've been wanting to do for a while.

How do you address the daunting nature of doing all those spreads? Especially if you're totally amateur?

Good question. I thought I’d share my response here since it might be helpful to other people in Nathan’s same position.

Here’s what you do:

1) On a couple of sheets of paper make 18 rectangles with lines through the middle. Make them small enough that you can fit 8 per page. These all represent the pages of your book. 

Underneath each page write “endpapers,” “title page,” “copyright page,” “page 01,” “02,” “03,” etc. If you’re not sure what pages to include, look at a published children’s book to pattern this after.

2) On each of these spreads just draw the stick figure version of what you think should be illustrated on each page. This is the hardest part of doing a children’s book. So don’t worry if you get frustrated or overwhelmed by this. Don’t forget to leave space for where your words are going to go.

3) Now that you have a loose idea of all the illustrations you need to do, begin roughing out more detailed sketches of each spread. These should be done at the size you’re going to actually draw it. Add the words to these pages as well. 

4) You’ve got an entire children’s book sketched out! Pat yourself on the back. Now start chipping away at each illustration one drawing at a time. Start with the fun one first, then do the hardest one second, then do an easy one next, and keep going in that order until the book is finished.

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It also helps to make a checklist with a box for each page. Cross off each page as you finish. Seeing the progress this way helps you realize how far you’ve come and have a realistic idea of what you still have to do. Plus it’s so satisfying to cross things off as DONE.

DINO-FORCE

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As long as we're adding more massively funded bureaucratic agencies can we please have a dinosaur branch of the military?

Finally saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom with my wife and A) I loved it way more than it's predecessor, and B) couldn't stop think about where this franchise is going next.

When you've invested half a trillion dollars bringing dinosaurs back from extinction and then weaponizing them every unit counts. So when D-103 lost her leg from an IED they replaced it with a fully functional cyber limb. Good as new in a few days and back in the field in under a week.

This image: All digital. Drawn in @adobe Photoshop, on a @wacom Cintiq when I should've been working on something else.

- Jake

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Abe Washington Eagle

Last week it was Independence Day here in the United States. It's probably my favorite holiday. I usually spend way to much money on fireworks and put on a show for the neighborhood kids. Which would be good enough by itself to celebrate the holiday, but the city I've been living in for the past 7 years really knows how to do the 4th of July right. There's the Freedom Run first thing in the morning with thousands of participants, a hot air balloon launch, my neighborhood has a pancake breakfast in the church parking lot, there's a giant parade, and then a huge fireworks show at the stadium with an F-22 flyover.

Oh, and my neighbor has a replica revolutionary war canon that he fires off at 6 AM to wake everyone up.

In that spirit, for the last 5 years I've done a ridiculously over-the-top illustration staring Abe Washington Eagle, a character I made up that embodies the patriotic soul of my country. Here's the drawings from the last 5 years:

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Hope your 4th was explosive!

-Jake

Attack of the Commissions!

A couple weeks ago I went to the Denver Comic Con and here is my report:

1) I did ELEVEN commissions. I love doing these at shows because:

A - I always end up drawing something, or being exposed to something I never really new that much about (i.e Modok?!)
B - I love seeing people's faces when they see their commission.
C - It's a great way to make some extra cash at the show.

Here they are:

Hellboy Mech

Hellboy Mech

MewTwo Mech

MewTwo Mech

Hyper Light Drifter

Hyper Light Drifter

Gordon Freeman

Gordon Freeman

Kraven the Hunter

Kraven the Hunter

Invincible

Invincible

Nightwing Mech

Nightwing Mech

Howl and Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle

Howl and Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle

The Roll Out Rangers

The Roll Out Rangers

Modok

Modok

C'Thulhu Mech

C'Thulhu Mech


2) I made about 20% less money at this show than the last time I went to Denver and I think it's because:

A - I went from selling $30 prints to small $20 prints
B - I had only one table instead of two. It seems like having two tables demands more attention and invites people to inspect your wares. Plus it displays your artwork a lot better. I have a friend that calls it the gauntlet. As people are walking by they see image after image, and if it's just one table they can easily get their attention pulled away by the next table. But two tables has a way of sucking them in by the time they get to the end of it and they have to stop and take a look.
C - Con-fatigue. I talked to a lot of other exhibitors and they said their numbers were down too. I think maybe the good people of Denver are spending less money on things they might not need, or their money is being spent somewhere else at the show. I don't know. Just a theory.


3) Recommended books

I went to an after-party for the book awards that the Denver Comic Con gave out. At the party I met a bunch of Librarians who were flown in to be judges for the award. So I asked them for book recommendations for summer reading. Here's what they said I should read:

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

The Tea Dragon Society

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

Daytripper

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World - This was the one that sounded the most interesting to me!

-Jake

The most ambitious crossover event ever?

With SkyHeart at the printers I've been thinking about doing a couple smaller comic stories before I start the second chapter of SkyHeart. One idea I had was to pair these two up. What do you think?

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My intern did an incredible job updating my website the last few weeks. There's a few pages he made devoted just to these guys:

Skull Chaser Comic

Skull Chaser Development Art

Missile Mouse Comic

Missile Mouse Development Art

I really think I should do something with Missile Mouse. I've got two more great graphic novel ideas. I just need a couple of free years to draw them. haha.

New SkyHeart Cover

I'm wrapping up the loose ends with my SkyHeart project before I send it off to the printers. This week I finished the cover!

I had already designed and illustrated a cover for the book. However, I did it BEFORE I ever drew the book. I created it for the Kickstarter to show people what the finished book might look like. I had just barely figured out the designs for most of my characters, and I hadn't finished the story yet.

After I had finished the book, I revisited the cover and realized the character designs were off, and there were elements on the cover that never ended upr in the book. I felt like the cover could do a better job at reflecting what was in the books pages. 

The original cover design was more of a mood piece than anything. It was meant to capture the feeling of what I wanted the book to be, and to try and sell that idea to potential backers. Now that the book was finished I realized I needed to redesign it. I really liked the vibe of the first cover so I pretty much stuck with the same composition and color palette.

Here's a comparison of the two:

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I think it definitely gets the designs for Wake and Mal Threck right. And I like what's going on with the tengru better in the background. Yahna's character pose better reflects her attitude in the book. And the ship at the bottom is the right color. There's some color stuff that I couldn't quite repolicate with the second one. Sometimes illustration is just alchemy and I have no idea how I get a certain effect. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the revised cover.

I'm launching a pre-order for the book on May 21. So if you want to get in on this print run be sure to pre-order then.

If you'd like to be notified when that pre-order launches, just click here to sign up for the list.

-Jake

Why I made a Podcast

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I've been an avid podcast listener for the last 10 years. I discovered podcasts around 2008 when I was working on my Missile Mouse graphic novel. Much of the work was tedious, often grueling.

I had a day job for an animation studio and then at nights and weekends I'd come home and work until about 1AM, alone, in the basement. I calculated that I spent about 12-14 hours per page. At 170+ pages you can start to see how much time this book took.

After the excitement of working on a graphic novel wore off (which was like 20 pages into it), one of the biggest battles was overcoming fatigue and giving myself an instant gratifying reason to sit in a cold dark leaky basement and ink a page.

What got me down there was podcasts. I knew that an exciting/interesting/engaging story was waiting for me if I sat down and got to work.

My first few podcasts that I listened to religiously were Hard Core HistoryRadio Lab, and Stuff You Should Know.

These podcasts saved me!

Over the years more and more podcasts became available and they niched down to pretty specific topics like comics and children's books. Pretty soon I found myself being invited to come on podcasts and talk about my work as an artist.

(Here's a few I've been on: Bancroft Brothers, All the Wonders, Art Side of Life, Your Creative Push, Dan Blank.)

But in all those years listening and participating with podcasts, what I never thought I'd do was start my own podcast.

You see, in my mind podcasts were something that (and this is going to sound stupid)...they were something that podcasters did. Somebody who has a great voice, an ability to talk interestingly about a topic, and they had the time and resources to record, edit, and publish online.

I am an illustrator. Illustrators illustrate. They don't podcast. (see, stupid. Right?)

Then this last year I was looking for podcasts specifically about illustration and all I could find were just a small handful, many of which had ended. (Bobby Chiu actually has a pretty good one, which you should listen to if you don't already).

That got the gears in my noggin rolling. I had an idea for a podcast where you get 3 illustrators (with different backgrounds and approaches to their art and careers) and you have them all discuss a single topic each episode.

Then I realized that if this was going to happen I'd have to start the podcast myself. Sometimes if you want to see a thing happen YOU have to be the one to do it.

And here I am, doing something I never thought I'd do, PODCASTING.

I'm really pumped for this new podcast. It's called:

3 Point Perspective: The Illustration Podcast

This is THE podcast about illustration: how to do it, how to make a living at it, and how to make an impact in the world with your art.

Each episode me and my two cohosts (Will terry and Lee White) tackle a subject related to illustration from 3 perspectives. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we argue, but everytime you learn something new.

All three of us are professional illustrators and for the last 25 years have worked with every major publisher and publication in the biz. We’ve published over 50 books, and have all taught illustration at different universities.

You can subscribe to it on iTunesGoogle Play, or listen on the website. (Spotify coming soon)

We've already got 7 episodes in the can. The First episode dropped Monday. It's called: My Art Is Great! Why Won't Anyone Hire Me?

That episode is well stocked with actionable advice on how to get your work seen by the right people and get hired. Other episodes get into all the other nitty gritty stuff about being a professional illustrator.

I think you'll like it. Please subscribe so that you don't miss our episodes!

My hope with this podcast is to:

a) give someone a reason to get down into their leaky basement and work on that project that seems too big to ever finish.

b) give actionable advice that could point someone in the right direction with their career in illustration.

You can use the image above so that if you wanted to share it online you'd have a picture to go with you post. I'd love it if you told at least one other artist in your life about this.

All right, thanks for reading all of this. I need to get back to work on this book cover I'm finishing up.

- Jake

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The Hero We Need Right Now.

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Superman turns 80 in a couple weeks, and I thought I'd share why I think Superman is not just the greatest superhero but the hero we need right now.

I understand why most people don’t get Superman. This is no fault of the character. I put the blame on most writers of Superman. I think the common mistake is to make him relatable by giving him weaknesses that he has to deal with. The writers of Superman give him kryptonite, or they give him a love interest, or a family, or an inescapable past. All of these are designed to be pressure points that a villain can manipulate him with.

Something like kryptonite makes him weak, but it isn't his weakness. This misses the mark, because Superman already has a built in weakness that should be exploited in every story.

 His true weakness is the fact that he can't be everywhere at the same time. He can't save everybody. A frustrating thing for someone who is a Christ figure, a savior of the world. He came from another realm not to rule the world, which he could so easily do, but to be one of us and to save us from ourselves.

How do you save a planet that’s hellbent on destroying itself from the inside out? And how do you approach a character that has already fulfilled the needs of safety, acceptance, self esteem, and self-actualization?

A Superman story shouldn’t be about super powers, or secret identities, or being the sole survivor of the planet krypton, they should be stories about him having more faith in us than we have in ourselves.

Every person Superman encounters in a Superman story should inherit his values of truth, liberty, justice, and life just by being in contact with him. A Superman story should be about how we can be better, how we can find safety, how we gain acceptance, how to build our self esteem, and how to achieve self-actualization. A Superman story isn’t about his character growth, it’s about our character growth.

That’s Superman’s true power. Not leaping over buildings, melting steel beams with eye lasers, or flying faster than a speeding bullet. His power is changing people. One man can’t save an entire world, but one man can inspire a world to save itself.

And that’s the story we need to hear right now.


If you're interested in reading a handful of really good comics, here’s four of THE BEST Superman stories. These are the ones I keep coming back to:

Superman Birthright: I actually bought this book for the art but stayed for the story. It's a great origin story of Clark Kent taking on the mantle of Superman. Maybe the first time I read a really good explanation of the "S" on his chest.

Superman for All Seasons: A quiet Superman story that narrated by those who knew Clark Kent the best and how they impacted his life, and in turn how he's impacted theirs.

All-Star Superman: My favorite of this bunch. This takes a bunch of the crazy Golden and Silver-Age Superman characters, experiences, and set pieces and weaves it into a serious story about the Man of Steel's last year on earth. It was heartfelt, engaging, and fun. Plus the art is incredible.

Superman Secret Identity: An alternate universe re-telling of the Superman origin story. I didn't know what to expect when I bought this, I just heard it was really good. Took me by surprise a little, but I enjoyed it. Also, really great art. 


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Roald Dahl, Double Barrel Cannons, Yaretas, and Breaking into Comics

I like keeping my creative bank account full and fresh, so I'm always on the look out for cool/interesting/thought provoking/inspiring stuff. To keep track of it, I'm posting it here on my blog, so that a) I can access it easily, and b) so you can benefit from it too. 

In that same spirit, if you run into anything you think I might like please share it with me, either in the comments or via my contact page. Thanks!

Okay, here's 5 cool things that came across my screen recently:

1) Roald Dahl’s Letter of Advice to a Young Writer.

Always interesting to see what advice successful creative people have for amateurs. Lessons learned from this brief exchange:

1 - Don't ask too much of them. You should have already studied their work, and the work that they studied to get where they are. Once you've done that, if there's any gaps in your understanding you can ask for them to fill that for you.

2 - Do your homework on the person you're contacting so you don't ask them for information that is already readily available. When you only have one shot to talk to someone you look up to you don't want to waste it on something that you already had access to.

2) Double Barrel Cannon

I had no idea these things actually existed. What a brutal weapon! The ingenious part is connecting the cannon balls with a chain. Might be cool to put something like this in SkyHeart...I'm thinking on a bigger scale. Maybe the tengru use a massive version of this to level cities?

3) Yareta, the 3000 years old plant

Another thing I never knew existed! This was brought to my attention by Rebecca Dart who shared this on her twitter feed. Pretty cool to know that stuff like this grows on our planet. Might be good reference for an alien civilization. I can imagine tiny villages built on these plants, with little alien farmers harvesting them for food.

4) "I feared releasing something unimportant, so I didn’t release anything at all."

Short read about allowing your ego to get in the way of you putting something out into the world. I think they nail it. If you haven't created something and shared it with people in a long while, could this be the reason?

5) How to Work in Comics? The “Don’t Break In” Panel

I was a part of a panel at Emerald City and Comics Beat did a nice write up of it. In the panel we unpacked the idea of making comics on your own as a way to "break in" to the comic industry. Jason BrubakerLucy Bellwood, and I have all had success self publishing our comics. A great discussion, and really nice to hear three different perspectives on this topic.

That's it for this week. See you next time.

Jake


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