This is my first political cartoon. I began thinking about the issues surrounding the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and “Islamophobia” strikes me as one of them. I am bothered by the image of the Muslim culture to which the majority of Americans (including myself) often subscribe. We need to understand that violent extremists are not representative of the Muslim people any more than American serial killers are poster children for America (although both point to serious deficiencies in our respective cultures).

On a purely technical note, drawing in a cartoon style was hard! The extreme economy of line and anatomic liberties escorted me far outside my comfort zone. I tried to copy the style of Mike Smith, who draws for the Las Vegas Sun. Of all the editorial cartoons I looked at, I particularly fell in love with his line quality and the human appeal of his characters.

When it comes to political cartoons, the broad range of historical styles are interesting. I particularly noticed the changes in the way cartoonists tend to draw people. Is it just a tendency towards greater efficiency, or does the progression reflect something about the way we as a society see ourselves? Hm. Forgive me for not appropriately crediting these Google Image search results, but they quickly illustrate my point.

Fly Away Home, if you haven’t seen it, is gorgeous film about a father’s love, adventure, and emerging from loss. I’ve always related strongly to the heroine, and I wanted to see if I could communicate my love for this film in a poster.

I wanted make this poster strongly about positive and negative shape, but also capture the likenesses of Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels in an impressionistic way. I chose a rich fall color palette and had a blast with hand-drawn type.

Watercolor is still a relatively unfamiliar medium for me, especially this wet-on-wet approach. I had to paint it a couple times. The first time, I worked too quickly and didn’t give the layers time to dry. The second time, things went better.

Queen Elizabeth II is, in my opinion, one of the most unique women alive today. She is unconditionally revered and loved by millions, but her fame has nothing to do with her physical appearance, special talent, hard work, or anything else except who her father was. She didn’t choose this position, but she accepted it and has continually and selflessly risen to the occasion for 60 years. What would that be like? For your face to be familiar to the whole world, yet to have so few who truly know who you are? To live your whole filling an extremely important role, that being more or less all you know?

I took the occasion to read this book, which I highly recommend. A Year with the Queen by Robert Hardman. The content is great, but it also happens to be very well-designed! The publisher choose Baskerville for the body text, presumably because it has the nicest looking capital Q. And it uses Bell Gothic as a complement for headers and captions (exactly what I would have done).

I wanted the final portrait to feel a bit like a coin or a stamp come to life — to juxtapose her symbolic importance with the real person. I used colored pencil over a watercolor wash. I would have liked for the colored pencil to appear more smooth and accurate in the details… so I probably needed draw larger.

Our second project in Illustration was to create a conceptual image to accompany the first chapter of The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. It has a lot of nuggets about delayed gratification and growth through suffering. But like many of my classmates, I found truer inspiration from my own life.

I was going through a really rough episode at the time, but one day I noticed that the fear of what people thought of me was no longer taking up much space in my heart. I had been trying with mediocre success to get rid of that for years. If pain and conflict was what it took to free me from that fear, then – I decided –  it was completely worth it. “The greatest gifts come disguised as problems,” I thought (rather poetically). And behold, a concept for my illustration! A stack of presents ironically gift-wrapped in various types of pain.

Coming up with a good composition of packages was trickier than I expected. Sketching them from my head was problematic because the perspective became skewy. Photographing the real boxes that I had was too limiting (I tried, valiantly). So, Google SketchUp to the rescue! This free 3D rendering program let me make boxes, tweak boxes and rotate around them to my heart’s content. When I had a stack that I was happy with, I took a screen shot. Then I went into Photoshop and started on my wrapping paper ideas.

As you can see, the first pain I figured out how to represent visually was anger. Next, I did a study of some broken hearts….

I worked out physical pain next, then depression, and finally interpersonal conflict. Whenever I felt unsure what to do, I took a picture of my painting in progress and tried out several ideas digitally. For example:

Even after turning in my painting, I went back into Photoshop. Here you can compare my “final version” with the scene as I actually painted it. I wasn’t happy with all the colors and values, so I figured it was my prerogative to adjust. You can play Spot the Difference if you want!

Illustration class sounded to me like it was going to involve a lot of drawing, maybe even painting. Traditionally, these are things that scare me. Does that sound ironic coming from an artist?

I’ve never put much faith in my hands to accomplish what I see in my head. This might stem from having used the computer as a primary creative outlet for 16 years (and I’m only 22). So I sat in the first weeks of this class feeling like I had failed before I had begun.

Assignment #1 was to improve upon an existing album cover of our choice. I decided upon the soundtrack to 1995’s A Little Princess. It’s one of those albums that whisks me off to my happy place more reliably than almost anything else. And I felt that I could indeed improve upon this:

…which for me amounts to little more than an awkward Photoshop job. It doesn’t quite evoke the themes of identity, purity, and mystery in the face of trial — the ideas I wanted to be able to bring out in my design.

I began to think of more symbolic imagery, using the locket to represent Sarah’s strength of spirit. The jungle stands for her world of unknowns in which she sees great beauty.

But back to my little phobia. After talking to God about this general defeat I was feeling in the realm of traditional illustration, I realized three truths:

1. There is no right or wrong when it comes to illustrative style. On the contrary, it’s an arena of incredible freedom. Whatever style I end up with will be unique, so there’s no need to compare myself to others.

2. I can become better at drawing and painting if I practice. It’s not a question of having the gift or not. If I choose to develop them, these skills are totally within my reach.

3. If I don’t feel like an artist, maybe it’s because I’m not living like one. Why have I been relegating my creativity only to assignments? It would be so much fun to cultivate artistic exploration in my life, for me.

These might seem obvious, but they were complete epiphanies to me (especially #2). Because of them, I’m happy to say I tackled all my illustration assignments this quarter with fresh energy. I could probably add one more to the list that has been coming on slowly for the last year:

4. I’m in school! The goal is not to achieve perfection and wow everybody all the time. The point is to try new things, fall on my face if necessary, and learn stuff. (Again, duh… but it took me so long to figure this out.)

It’s vital to have good reference photos when doing an illustration. This was great news — nobody expects me to be able to draw all these things from my head. Taking my own photos is preferable to the seduction of Google Images, and puts me in charge of the creative process from beginning to end. Thankfully, I had items readily on hand to photograph for this idea.

And though it was not officially endorsed, I made full use of Photoshop in order to perfect the composition of my tight sketch, and then to try out color ideas. This is the digital rough:

At this point, I painted what you see at the top of this post. Or almost. I used Photoshop to fix a few color issues and, of course, to add the type. If I were to go back and redo the project, I would also shoot for a little more drama in value — the lights and darks. Since I didn’t take very many risks while I was painting, things became a bit middle of the road.

Thanks for reading! Now I would recommend listening to the soundtrack for yourself!