Introduction & First Commission (for a friend)

  • Hi lovely people of SVS!

    I've finally decided to take the plunge and introduce myself having been hiding in the background for a while... I'm James from the UK. I decided to take up art as a hobby fairly recently having done a little bit of graphic design in the past... (By day I'm actually a research scientist).

    Having watched a lot of the fantastic YouTube videos of the masters Jake and Will I came across SVS Learn, and have slowly been working my way through a few of the classes.

    So... as part of the Inktober challenge I started developing a few characters and some story ideas. My personal challenge is to attempt to write and illustrate my own book - a little optimistic maybe but I like a challenge. Anyway, as a result of these characters a friend of my wife commissioned me to create an illustration for her soon to be born child's nursery. The request was for a monochrome illustration with a camping/hiking theme.

    I thought I'd share a preview of the piece here - although I don't have much time left to complete it any feedback would be very much welcomed, for future works if not this one. (I already know my composition and values need improvement - hoping this will develop with practice).

    With that I'd like to introduce you to Steve McBear, George Thomas Nuts, and friends... 🙂




  • I like this composition very much. It definitely has a very unique feel that blurs the lines between animation and PB illustration. I can tell you have some sort of background in drawing animation, no?

    My only critique, and this is something I struggle with myself, is that the characters all seem to be in their own worlds, because there is no eye contact, even though it somewhat works, it is still the thing that pops out to me. It probably is because it is something I struggle with.

    Welcome to SVS!!!!! You will love it here.

  • Hi Eric,

    Thanks so much for the reply and critique! You are absolutely right they each one is in a little world of their own... probably says a lot about me 🙂

    If I am remembering correctly I think that was advice on a 3rd Thursday video as well...

    I actually don't have any background in animation, other than growing up watching a lot of Disney, Garfield, Peanuts and Hanna Barbera 🙂

    Thanks again!

  • Pro SVS OG

    Hi James and a big welcome! Did I read right, you are a research scientist by day? Urrah! I thought I would never find someone with a similar story as me! I was a research scientist for nearly 16 years - 5 in academic research and 11 in private research. I am a pharmaceutical chemist by training - my first training. I went back to university to study illustration in 2011 - while I was studying I found a job as art director in corporate marketing so I ended up dabbing into design, photography, video production, animation and all sort of mix-and-match. I still work as art director, but I have kept only a 20-hour contract, so I can concentrate on illustration and trying also to write and illustrate my own books. So great to finally meet someone who has a similar impossible-to-write bio.
    SVS is one of the best resources for visual storytelling - I find it immensely useful.
    Regarding your image: I love the characters and the action, but I would re-think the composition (if not on this piece, then for the future). The three trees in the background are all exactly the same shape and size and are equally spaced. This flattens the space and makes for a very stiff composition. The characters are also almost all the same size and there is nearly no overlap - so it has a collage feel to it (as @Eric-Castleman said, they seem all to be in a separate world), like you carefully placed them so as to equally occupy each section of the image. Also, the horizon neatly separates the image in two halves - this also makes for a flat composition: it is generally better to place the horizon above or below the centre (one of my teachers used to say: "decide whether you are going for sky or dirt"). I am curious why your client wants it to be in black and white? It is an unusual choice for a nursery, i believe...

  • Pro SVS OG

    I forgot to mention: The book "Creative Illustration" by Andrew Loomis is not only one of the best books on illustration ever written (despite being good 80 years old) but has several very enlightening pages discussing composition:

    alt text

    And is available for free on the internet.

  • @smceccarelli said in Introduction & First Commission (for a friend):

    Hi James and a big welcome! Did I read right, you are a research scientist by day? Urrah! I thought I would never find someone with a similar story as me! I was a research scientist for nearly 16 years - 5 in academic research and 11 in private research. I am a pharmaceutical chemist by training - my first training.

    I guess SVS has a few researchers here. I have my PhD in social psychology (research). Although, I've been "out of the game" for several years now. Thinking about returning to teaching sometime in the fall. We'll see...

    @JamesH I think the easiest thing would be to re-size some of the images. The sameness of everything was the first thing that popped out at me as well. Monochrome is a fine choice but, like @smceccarelli mentioned: maybe not B&W. You could see what the colors of the nursery are (or what the mother's favorite color is) and go with that.

    Welcome to SVS!

  • Pro SVS OG

    @mattramsey That is so cool - I so often feel as a lonely wolf because I do not fit in with my old tribe anymore but it took me a long time to feel like I belong with the creatives - and sometimes I feel they still regard me with skepticism. Maybe it is only a skewed perception.
    But every time I have to write my bio or talk about it I tangle myself up - I always end up leaving out some 37 years of life, so as not to confuse people...I wouldn't and couldn't go back (in science, when you're out of the game for more than 1-2 years you're out - three is just too much to keep up with) - but I often think about writing and illustrating materials to teach science to children - that would sort of close the circle.
    I am curious about other people's experiences and feelings about this - I have not had a chance to meet many "career-jumpers" here. I think in Europe it's a bit less common and the culture is that you stick with what you started with....How was it for you?

  • Well for me I always wanted to be an artist until my brother (who imho is a phenom of a painter) told me not to waste my time trying to go into art, because he felt it was filled with pretentious people who weren't any good and they held all the position of power lol, though his view has changed over the years, it did steer me away from perusing it, because I felt I could never be as good as he is, and if he had a hard time then so would I. I got married at 23 and started working in fabrication. I was a welder, and wanted to move into aerospace. After years of rejection I finally got in, only to have a ton of drama and me deciding to leave. This was around this time last year. So after all these years of putting up with the blue collar jock attitudes and potential injuries, I threw my hands up in the air and decided to finally do what I have always wanted to do, which is write and illustrate books. All of my family is behind me in this, but I so wish I would have done this before having a kid, because it would have been so much easier. It is also crazy hearing from people my age who have many years of experience and here I am just starting out.

    I feel like @JamesH invited us to his party, and we just started drinking out of his cabinet 😉

  • @smceccarelli and @mattramsey Thanks for the reply and critiques! It's the thing I've been so impressed with at SVS – it's such a positive environment here!

    The horizon being in the centre is something I should have probably spotted myself as I've done a fair bit of photography and I'd only ever put the horizon in the middle for very specific compositional situations... I must remember knowledge from other mediums and skill sets are not mutually exclusive.

    I probably would have preferred to have done the piece in colour although it's quite a good challenge for using values... The nursery is very neutral in colour and so I got the impression their preference was for b/w. I've used Sketchbook Pro for the piece which has built a built in Copic colour library so I had used one of the slightly warmer grey colour sets, but as suggested I might try some other colours as well.

    @Eric-Castleman it's absolutely fine – I like a good party! Drinks all round!! :). It's brilliant to hear you've decided to do something that you have always wanted to, and with what I've seen of you're work it's a good choice! I absolutely love your library/dinosaur piece!

    In all seriousness I actually find it very encouraging to hear these kinds of stories. Not to bore everyone with the details but I'm currently contemplating a career change. With my current skill set I think I'd be better placed to switch into more of a graphic design role at the moment, but that's a bit of a change from 17 years of geology... Basically I'm trying to work out if I'm not enjoying the science any more, or if it's just my current job. I'd agree with @smceccarelli that career changes in Europe don't appear to be particularly common. Or it might just be the british not talking about it – stiff upper lip and all that 🙂

    Thanks again all!

  • @smceccarelli said in Introduction & First Commission (for a friend):

    I think in Europe it's a bit less common and the culture is that you stick with what you started with....How was it for you?

    I do miss it (pretty much just the teaching part). I definitely agree with your point that once your out of it for a couple of years it almost impossible to get back in. If nothing else, prospective employers will want to know why they should hire someone who has done zero research work the last X years when they can hire 100 other people who are coming off a post doc (for example).

    What makes it a lot better is the fact that I'm able to support my family with my current day job whereas it would have been a struggle if I was still in academia. The base pay in many academic fields doesn't seem at all commensurate with the education requirements. I find irony in the fact that my current job doesn't even require a high school diploma.

  • I love the facial expressions, and I feel like you've really made the characters likeable. I guess my biggest issue with the image is that there's no definitive light source. Overall, the image is well-lit, and yet it's night time. If the primary light source is the fire, then I'd like to see the image being darker overall, with more confident shadows to reflect that. Consequently, I'd probably tone down the rim lighting on the bushes in the background. Hth.

  • Whoooo hoooo! Welcome! This is a fun illustration with really well crafted characters. Your rendering is quite good with the trees, and all the details. applause

    You mentioned that you knew there were composition issues and some values that need tweaking. I thought I would lend some TOTALLY unsolicited critique of just the composition of the piece.

    Since it is a wall mural (or is it not?) I know adding details is a giant pain... so I tried to keep this fairly simple but more complex than it was.

    First off, whenever you have more than one character in a frame, you are implying a relationship of some kind. So I looked at your story here and found some ways to group the characters.

    The tent pitching guys were feeling distant and maybe unconnected _ I feel moving them closer and fixing the squirrel's eye line made it a little more readable. A little scaling up of the size too.

    The little mice with their own campfire seemed distant as well and I imagined them trying to be like the dog and bunny with their big fire, so they set up shop on the opposite side of the fire. Now both groups are looking at one another. Similarly, I flipped your monky to be facing that direction. Flipping the monkey solved the relationship issue and also the readability of the ice chest vs. 2 Litre bottle conundrum. WIth those elements separated, the monkey stands out more and the ice chest has its place as well.

    As you can see, I added more trees. The three that you proposed were equidistant and the middle one just about bisected the frame evenly - this lends to a more predictable and somewhat boring composition. Adding more trees and sizing them up and down makes the forest feel homey and wooded (though I would still move that center tree out of the dead center of the piece). Also, having the one tree go off the frame on the bottom right makes it feel almost like we are an observer without interaction to the scene. Like we are peeking in on an adventure or moment.

    Lastly, your shrubs were all the same height (relatively) across the back of the image. That stripe was hiding the monkey and the tire swing - so I gave the hedge a little more randomness and dropped the tire a bit to start jogging the composition back and forth a little for more rhythm.

    I know you said it was probably too late for this piece to change, but I really liked it so I thought I would add my two cents. Good luck with this and future pieces!

  • @Rapteev

    Hi Rapteev, thank you for the reply and comments! Yes I think I was somewhat shy with the shadows as I was worried about making the piece very dark overall. Following the suggestions about compositions from others as well I'll have another go at lighting as well and try to be more confident as you suggest...

    Thanks so much again!

  • @Bob-Crum

    Hi Bob, Thank you so much for your welcome and detailed critique! I feel very humbled that someone what go to the time and effort to rework my illustration!!

    The final piece isn't actually going to be very big, going into a 14" x 11" frame, which I feel makes it a little easier with regard to detail – much bigger and I'd probably be going nuts over how much detail to include 🙂

    I love your suggestion for the composition and I think it would also make it easier with regards to lighting the scene as per @Rapteev comments above – really get that fire as the focus of the light.

    I think I'm going to keep working on this beyond the commission and maybe colour it up for myself – maybe it'll even be my first proper portfolio piece... 🙂

    Thank you so much again!

  • WELCOME to the forums. I hope you enjoy your stay. Refreshments are by your left, and critical advice is by your right! I agree with @smceccarelli on composition. I'm pretty sure on future works you could improve on depth and perspective I have a nice commentary speed paint right here
    The guy hasn't been on any form of internet in 7 months, but still a lot of other videos on his YouTube that are inspiring and really helpful. I wish you luck!

  • @JamesH Tag me so i don't miss the final!

  • SVS OG

    @JamesH Welcome to SVS! It's a great place here for advice and chat, I'm sure you'll love it. I'm also from the UK, and also came to art in a more roundabout way (I used to work in magazines) so I empathise with all the stories here from everyone who's taken the career change/leap of faith towards the creative side 🙂

  • @Bob-Crum Will do 🙂

  • @Ben-Migliore

    Hi ben, thanks for the reply and link - going to check out the video now 🙂

  • @Dulcie

    Hi Dulcie, Thanks for the welcome and encouragement! It seems like there are quite a few of us from the UK here which is great! Should try and get the SVS guys to run a UK workshop sometime 🙂

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