[This is the second post about the creation of Ellen and the Winter Wolves. You can read part I here.]
After finishing the text for Ellen and the Winter Wolves, I thought I would simply crank out twelve to fourteen illustrations and be done. (I thought twelve to fourteen would be the perfect number because that seemed manageable with my schedule.) So I sat down and broke the text up, attempting to make the breaks at natural transition points. I ended up with fourteen pages.
A problem quickly became apparent to me, however. As I sat on the floor reading the pages aloud, I realized if I was reading this to a kid, each page would take way too long to get through. They would be bored. This story is somewhat text-heavy (at the time it was around 3,400 words) and so fourteen illustrations weren’t going to be nearly enough.
Over the years people have encouraged me to do a picture book. I love to paint and I love to write, so why not put those things together? And I’ve wanted to, but I simply haven’t. Other projects have crowded it out, or I’ve started and then given up, overwhelmed by the enormity of it […]
When Pete and Andrew approached me about the cover art for Everlasting is the Past, I was excited. When they told me they wanted a cover with a woodcut look in black and white, I was a little nervous. I hadn’t created a woodcut look before, though I had done quite a bit of pen and ink work, so I figured I’d give it a shot.
First, I wanted to come up with an idea that reflected Walt Wangerin, Jr.’s main theme. So I read the manuscript, and Pete, Andrew, and I kicked around some ideas. I sent them some sketches. This one is from an early scene in the book, where the author is driving into a storm. They liked it, so I kept working on it.
Mr. Wangerin is driving into a storm, but the storm is more than a physical blizzard. It’s symbolic of a spiritual storm, which was the reason I made the car about to drive into a tunnel. I was trying to communicate the unknown that was ahead.
But the tunnel didn’t quite fit, it wasn’t quite enough, so I changed the tunnel to a tear in the sky. I wanted to get across the bigness of this crisis, something existential, and nothing quite does that like ripping a hole in space.
Earlier this month I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for an arts festival. As I prepared my pieces for display, I tried to figure out how I could inject a little more story into my paintings. And so I decided to write a few lines that I would print on the back of the 2.5″x4.5″ title/price tags. These would be story seeds, words to stir the imagination, a few lines to trigger the mind of the viewer.
Well, they ended up inspiring me as well. These lines, written in haste, almost as an afterthought, have helped me (once again) to see that writing is not a massive and unmanageable undertaking.
And so I’m writing. I’m taking a couple weeks off painting (so my Instagram feed is going to be quiet for a time) and I’m going to get a story or two out that I can turn into a picture book. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite story seeds and the images they accompany.
Here’s a painting I finished last month, called The Voyage of the Peacock. It’s 20″x 20″. I shared an in-progress shot with you in January and so I thought some of you might be interested to see how it turned out. This isn’t really about how the idea of The Voyage came to be, but the formation of the painting itself. Basically I’m going to take you through the different stages of the painting and what went on in my mind as I was painting it. So let’s start, shall we?
(Click on any image below for a larger and more complete view).
This frigid January day finds me working on a number of pieces. I’m rotating them out to let the paint dry and to keep myself engaged. Doing this also gives me time to mentally work through any problems that I run into as I’m painting.
The detail of the ship is for an art festival I’ll be participating in. It’s in Albuquerque in March and I’ll be bringing this and a van load of other paintings to sell, many of which haven’t been completed (or started) yet. I’m having fun with these feathers. I think I’m going to carve up that wood, too.
These last two details are from a pair of constellations I’m working on for my church, and they’re supposed to convey the main themes of the book of Mark. I’m still not sure whether they’re going to work or not, but I think I’m getting close.
My idea is to illustrate the difference between the Messiah the Jews expected and the Messiah that actually came, highlighting those differences through use of imagery and color and line. I used the same star field for both of these paintings, but the oak and the acorn use different stars to make up their constellations – the larger, brighter stars make up the oak, and the smaller, less significant stars make up the acorn. As I said, a work in progress.
On a side note, after I worked up the tree I decided I like painting constellations and so I’m going to do a quick series of them. Not real constellations, of course. Fake ones.
Hey all! I wanted to let you know that those Topiary Christmas cards that I’ve been posting about for years are ready for purchase! Pop over to the Rabbit Room Store to get your Merry or Scary cards today.
Since Hutchmoot, I’ve shifted gears and have begun my next project. As you may have seen in a previous post, I’ve been doing paintings with Ellen for some time now. Her story has been vague and unformed, but is slowly taking shape with each new painting I do of her. This last month I’ve done a couple more and have decided that it’s time to tackle the story. This will help direct me with creating the remaining images.
I’ve also been getting ready for my first ever (and possibly last) House Show. My wife is graciously allowing me to clear out the furniture, put a bunch of nails in our walls, and invite a ton of people into our house to look at and hopefully buy some paintings, prints, and cards. This is happening on Saturday, November 15th. So if you’re in Wichita or the surrounding area, I’d love to see you at my house on the 15th. Details can be found on my Facebook site (link below).
Here’s a detail of one of the images I did last month – Ellen with a giant skeleton key. It’s called – you guessed it – Ellen and the Key. I’ll share more images with you as they come.
Here are the first few cards that I’ve painted. I took a lot of your suggestions and, well, take a look! This has been a fun project and I think I’m going to do more. One of the reasons for this is when I painted the squirrel, several people told me it looked evil—its eye creeped them out. But it turns out that its creepy eye is what made it a favorite among several other friends. You can’t please them all.
Or maybe you can. I figured, why not make another line of cards, a line of slightly odd and creepy Christmas cards for my friends who appreciate the slightly odd and creepy? And so that’s what I’m going to do.
I’ve been working on some sketches for a series of Christmas cards that I plan to make this fall. Here’s the first in my topiary animal series that I started this morning – I thought you folks might appreciate it. I’m open to suggestions for the other animals…
I recently had a conversation with my pastor about how visual art might be used to enhance or possibly expand the congregation’s worship experience at our church. He speaks to us every week, but what if I got up every once in a while to explain my visual interpretation of some of the themes that we’re studying? I already choose or create the artwork for our podcasts, so what if I talked about why I choose what I choose? My pastor thought this sounded like a good idea.
And so this week I spoke about this image (click here to see it full-sized). This is a piece I painted years ago, well before we started going through Genesis, and even though the painting isn’t about Genesis, it is about two of the themes that we’ve been studying. This was the first time I had told anyone what the painting was about, and I want to share it with you as well.
Here’s Ellen and the Peacock, a piece I did a while back. (See the full image below). It’s story-ish looking (as most of my paintings tend to be) and so people naturally assume there’s a story that goes with it.
There’s not. At least not yet. Ellen first appeared back in 2006 or 2007 when I painted her walking through the woods with a bear. I finished the piece and I wrote a little story that went with the image. Back then she was just “the girl.” But somewhere along the way “the girl” showed up again and she was Ellen, and this time she was carrying a suitcase through the woods on a dark and snowy night. I began to wonder if there was a bigger story here. I began to ask myself who she really was and what she was about.
I’m so grateful for the invitation to contribute to this community. When I learned what many of you write and listen to, what some of you sing about, I often think, “Yes! That’s what I paint! We mine the same material, plumb the same waters.” The themes of rebellion and redemption, brokenness and restoration resonate with me as they seem to with many of you.
And so it’s a privilege to offer you a glimpse into my world. I’m currently preparing for an art fair in April and so every few weeks I’ll update you on what I’m working on. I look forward to getting to know you all better.