“Flying” Penguins thumbs

  • Hi all! I’m working on an illustration for my very first postcard campaign!

    I’d like to re-do an illustration from 4-5 years ago that I did. I love the concept, but I know I could do much better on my execution.

    The idea I want to push is “flightless birds get to fly” - how fun would it be to be grounded Most of your life and then get to fly like other birds!

    Old painting:
    penguins in flight

    I’ve already done some brainstorming, and I think these three are the strongest thumbnails/concepts I’ve come up with (bonus of some characters, I’ve got some better versions of that character on another page)


    I’m trying to be conscious of leaving some space for my logo/site/name. Hot air balloons are really big! Bigger than I had originally thought, so they’re an interesting object to try and design around while still having a focus on the characters.

    1. Is probably the most straight forward, I’ve moved the camera down to give it a little more interest, but it’s mostly the same as the original (I’d actually most likely pull back a little bit if I take this version to comps) and the focus is more on the baloon itself.

    2. Is landscape, which is nice for a postcard. I feel I could probably push the balloon itself a little more, but I’m not quite sure where/how I could push it. Bonus to this one is I could add some other birds flying in the background.

    3. Still kinda boring, but the angle as if the balloon is being blown (I would back this up with some windy effects) is more interesting than the static balloon of the original. Top-down perspective on the basket allows for more focus on the characters rather than the balloon, but I feel like it makes the actual balloon hard to fit into the page without shrinking it down.

    The final piece will definitely be in watercolor! I plan on rendering out my nicest sketches of the characters as a b/w spot illustration on the back.

    I guess I’m not sure which direction to go/if I’ve pushed things far enough. I’ve been feeling like my illustrations are “phoned in” to a certain extent lately (could very well just be I’ve hit a skill ceiling again!), and this is such an important project - I want to make sure this illustration is super tight!

  • @handdrawnviolist thought I would chime in. I love the idea of flightless birds getting to fly. It is funny and creative.

    A couple of thoughts I had as I looked at what you were doing.

    1. Where's the ostrich? No joking, your birds are all the same size right now. I wonder if you added a larger bird (the ostrich) and then shrunk the kiwis so that you varied your size if it would feel more dynamic.

    2. Of the three thumbs, I think I like 3 the most. It has the potential to be the most dynamic without too much detail. If I were you I would take that one and do like 5-10 new thumbs with variations of it (a little closer, a little further way, characters bigger and smaller, etc.)

    3. I think what might spice up the picture would be to have one of the birds falling out. If the basket were tipping and one was falling out and the others holding on to them it would really provide story and energy to the concept. I think you would get more bang for your buck on the funny.

    Just my 2 cents hope it helps.

  • @theprairiefox Those are really, really great suggestions, thank you!! I'll sit down with my sketchbook later tonight and play around with some of those ideas!

  • I so did a bad and I closed this tab on my browser and forgot to post updates... oops!

    Anyway! Many, many, many iterations later, I've moved on to a comp sketch/doing some color studies. I'm still not super married to anything I have, I'm very willing to rip it to shreds to make it better!

    Things I'm most 'iffy' on are the colors on the balloon and maybe finding some way to make the action going on in the basket of the balloon more clear. I know I can rely on rendering and line work to un-muddify it a little bit, but I'd much rather solve it on the most basic level - I'm just not sure how or even if it's needed (this is the... quite large number, I haven't been keeping track... iteration and it's very possible I've just been staring at it too long).

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    The text of course will be nice typography, I just wanted something up there so I could make sure words wouldn't have too much/too little pull and that the image worked both with and without them!

  • After sitting on it for a day, I can't believe I didn't think to just move the action with the kiwi to the side of the basket instead of in the front. What do you guys think? Ready to paint?

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    I've also heard some mixed things about having the text on the front for something like this. I had heard when I was doing research on doing a postcard campaign that it's a good idea to put your name/contact info on the front so that if it's hanging, people don't have to take it down to get in contact with me, but I've also been told that it's a bad move unless I'd like to do book covers. My typography skills are fairly strong (graphic design background) so I'm not super concerned about there being a huge mismatch with an excellent illustration and poor typography, but I don't want to make a huge mistake either!

  • Hi Kori!

    Such a cute and funny concept! Love all the changes you’ve made to the original! There are two things that I think could make this image a little more clear. The ostrich’s neck is such an iconic feature, but its silhouette gets lost against the basket. I would love to see it’s silhouette more clearly against the sky or even the balloon. Secondly, the background colors seem too dark and since the birds are all dark as well, there’s not enough contrast between the birds and the background. I would make the background colors way lighter and less saturated so that the birds really stand out and shine (as they should!). Hopefully this helps! Good luck on your campaign! ❤❤❤

  • @handdrawnviolist I really like the changes you made. When I first saw your top three images I thought that it might be good to have a combination of the 2nd and 3rd images. I like the viewpoint on the 3rd image but maybe there could be more landscape, like they're a little higher? The changes you've made work well though, I'd agree with the above comment that you need more contrast in your colours and I would definitely change the orange balloon to something more traditional like a red and white stripey one? Look forward to seeing it finished!

  • @Rachel-Horne Red and White!!! THATS the answer I needed! Like moving the kiwi action out of the basket, I'm not sure how that answer wasn't more obvious in the first place, thank you SO MUCH for suggesting it!!

    Digital color is really hard for me, everything's always too dark and always too saturated! It's hard to keep to a "quick" mockup when I'm still learning my way around the tablet but also try and communicate what I really mean - I know roughly what it'll look like in watercolor but it's such a stark difference and I know y'all can't possibly be in my head to know how things will translate. I know how valuable (and quick! wow this is much better than doing printouts and coloring with pencils for mockups!) implementing the tablet into my process is, but boy has it been a rocky transition! I'll definitely keep working on it so I can better communicate these early/mid steps!

  • @aprilshin I think you're right about the ostrich - I made the decision I did originally because I wanted the balloon to be more of the star of the show but then my characters got a little lost and I think they're by far the more important piece! I've removed the ice from the bottom, which freed up some space to play and I think it's much better with the ostrich sticking his lil (big!) neck up there over the penguin!

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    I'm still iffy on scarf colors, but I think it's working a lot better now.

  • Do most people instantly know that Kiwi birds can't fly?

    Cuz I didn't. And I didn't put the piece together of 'flightless birds finally fly' until I read the text.

    if it was just penguiins, and the ostrich I probably would have got it.

    Overall it's pretty awesome though!

  • @Frost-Drive Oh really? Oops! I thought that was super common knowledge. I remember being taught in school about them, and I thiiiiiiiiink I had an illustrated book that talked about "the flightless birds" and mentioned penguins, kiwi, and ostriches. When I was doing research for the original piece, I found a TON more birds that I had never even heard of! Apparently there's this neat green parrot type bird from Australia (the kakapo) that can't fly either, as well as variations on the ostrich like emus!

    Looking at the piece on a different screen made me realize that our kiwi friend was getting lost again, so I brought some more ice down.

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  • @handdrawnviolist Oh great, I'm so glad it helped and it looks great now! Sometimes I think we look at our work for so long it's hard to see stuff that just jumps out to others, that's why it's such a good idea to share.
    I use the ipad to work on sometimes and I don't know what kind of pens you're using on your tablet but maybe try playing around with different ones. I personally don't like the pens or some of the paints but prefer using the watercolours or gouache? 🙂


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    I love this thread and think the work looks great. However, before you dive too deep into postcards, etc. I thought I would mention that Peter Brown has a very well known book with birds that can't fly (and these exact characters) traveling in a hot air balloon. It is an extremely well known book within the industry and so I thought I should mention it. People who see your postcard might reference the concept back to this book. Not saying that you shouldn't send it out, but just to be aware.

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  • @Lee-White Thank you so much for bringing this up, it's super good to know!

    I'll probably sit on the decision of whether or not to send it until I finish the illustration (I'm really excited to finally paint this thing!) - I've been working on a couple of concepts alongside this one ("pigeon professor" who definitely needs to be workshopped a bit, classrooms are hard! and "superhero service dog" (as a book dummy, but there's probably an illustration or two that I could pull and use)) that might be a better option.

    As much as I love these guys, they may be better as a portfolio piece than something I want to use as a "first impression." Looking at what I can find from the book (It looks amazing, I should pick it up!), it's both very, very different but very, very similar (I love the cassowary! It's definitely a bird I considered!). I've been working on a story with the flying penguins for a book dummy, but knowing this I think it's a good idea to steer away from that and pick another concept. Peter's book is so creative and lovely, and I'm not confident I could bring something different enough to the table yet!

  • I know it's been awhile (I fell off the illustration train for a little bit due to health reasons) but I wanted to pop back in and thank everyone for the feedback!

    And share the final, since I finally got it scanned in!

    flying penguins

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