A while ago I was asked by Sean of the Brothers Hilts if I wanted to join in a blog tour that’s going around, which you may have seen here and there. The idea being that we answer some questions about our process and then pass the baton on to two other people. So here goes!
1. What am I currently working on? At the moment I’m illustrating a picture book for Schwartz & Wade. It’s been quite fun so far, although I am making things rather difficult for myself by painting the whole thing in separate little elements, which I’m putting together and colouring in photoshop. This is what that looks like on paper.
And eventually it starts to look like this.
I’m also still working on the jacket for the last book I illustrated. I can’t show you much of it, but here’s a detail.
And when I have some time left over I’m trying to work on a picture book project of my own. That looks sort of like this.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That’s a somewhat hard question to answer; the spectator sees more of the game than the player, and so on. But if I were to give it a try, I would say my work possibly stands out as being rather mid-atlantic, by which I mean: it falls somewhere in between American and European styles. In so far as I’ve heard comments back home that my stuff looks quite American. And conversely in the US my work has been considered European. A term that usually means not commercial. Apart from that I think my work might differ by generally being different from what I’ve done before. But perhaps that’s more my experience making it, than that of viewers.
3. Why do I write what I write?
I can’t help feeling like a dilettante answering that question, as though I have any authority or knowledge of writing. While I have written things, I’ve not been paid for it, so talking about something that would constitute ‘my writing’ feels laughably pretentious. All qualifiers aside though, I write generally because I want to articulate certain moods, ideas and settings. That’s rather vague, so here’s an example. The story I’m currently working on came out of missing friends back home, visits to the Oregon coast and a childhood vacation to Finland. Something about those things just sort of stuck together in my brain and lead to some sketches. Which gave me an idea for a story, so I started sketching more.
I feel I’ve wandered into the fourth question.
4. How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?
I suppose this is the same for everyone, but it starts with sketches, completely unintelligible thumbnails to be precise. I like to cut those out so I can shuffle stuff around, swap out different sketches and get a good view of the book as a whole. Like so.
Then I move on to actual sketches, where you can tell what’s going on.
That’s when you usually get a lot of feedback from your editor and designer, so you do another round of sketches. I like to think of that second round as a practice run for the final illustrations. I generally have a pretty good idea of what I want those to look like, but I don’t always know how to achieve that. So the sketches can be helpful is figuring out the right techniques. The thing I’m after with the final illustrations is getting the mood just right. That often means that I switch up the way I work, trying out different things with pencils, inks, paints and photoshop to get the desired look and feel. And not unimportantly, seeing if I can’t speed up the whole process as well. The tricky part though is bridging the abyss between what I actually make and that ideal in my head. Probably that’s not actually possible and the most creatively rewarding thing to do is to just embrace the abyss. So, who’s next? I asked Emily Hughes, who made my favourite picture book of last year: Wild. And Phoebe Wahl, who makes pictures I want to live in.
Because I was lazy and insecure. I didn’t do enough promotional work to get my stuff seen by people who could pay for my work and I was an ass who didn’t get himself a shitty day job until I was super broke. So learn from my mistakes kids; sometimes you have to do stuff that you don’t like.
Are you still starving after 11 years of being a graduate?
Fortunately no, my midsection is approaching a jolly level of rotundity. Mostly I owe my full larder to moving to a country with a more professional publishing industry and getting an agent. Incidentally, it’s been only ten years since I graduated.
How did you get those nice textures on your recent drawing of those pink foods and pots and things?
Basically by doing two things. The first is using custom brushes that I make by scanning random splotches of paint, so I can colour things in photoshop essentially with real brushstrokes. Or, to put it slightly differently, stamp textures and colours on things. Secondly; a simple texture layer, set, I think, to color dodge.
Roman Muradov is an illustrator and cartoonist who barely needs an introduction here. Originally from Russia, he has been making his fellow illustrators and doodlers sick with envy over the past few years with his incredibly inventive and constantly elegant work.
Here he shares his choices to listen to again and again if he found himself chained to his desk.
My appreciation of the Fall follows a standard pattern of “it’s repetitive and the singer can’t even be bothered to sing, is it even music?” to “it’s repetitive and the singer can’t even be bothered to sing, why do I listen to anything else, ever?” I’m into C.B. is one of Fall’s finest creations, and possibly my favorite song of all time. The dense pummeling rhythm, repeated with hysterical insistence throughout the song is given central stage, unhindered by fancy melodies or excessive production. Lyrically, it’s balancing between the straightforward narratives of Grotesque and marked obscurity of Perverted by Language, complete with MES’s signature attention to mundanities, sharp phrasing and self-referencing. When I try to figure out why I prefer the Fall to any other music, I think it fall back to the initial reaction: it’s borderline not quite music, yet it’s laden with distorted pop artifacts, scattered among the profound strangeness of Mark E.Smith’s delivery.
Here’s a little thing I thought up recently after listening to Desert Island Discs for too long. If you don’t know Desert Island Discs; it’s a bbc-radio program that’s been around for ages, where famous people get interviewed and share their music choices to listen to if they were stranded on a desert island. Between the actors, writers and politicians however, there are precious few illustrators. So I thought I’d remedy that a little bit by having illustrators, cartoonists and other doodlers share their 8 music choices if they were bound to their desks forever (As if that is not a situation they haven’t chosen for themselves already).
Anyway; click through to listen to all of Roman’s choices. I’m going to try to make this a weekly thing, provided I can get people interested.
Hi Chuck! What kind of paper do you recommend for line work like ink or pencil? thanks! (:
I would say, you should try out a bunch of different ones and go with the one that gives you the best results. Or the one that gives you decent results but is pretty cheap. I don’t believe there are universal answers for these kinds of things. Everyone draws differently, and everyone will have a specific paper they prefer. In my case, I like to do a lot of my drawing on card stock, because it’s nice and smooth. It’s horrible for ink or paint though, so I generally have some smooth watercolour paper around as well.
Do you have any "go-to" brushes? And do you have a favorite?
I have a couple of brushes that I use a lot, they’re all made from scanned paint splashes. My favourite brush is probably a variation of a chalk-brush with some texture and stuff added to it. I can use it for almost anything.
This detail from a larger thing is probably a good example. For textures and colouring I like to use washes and random splashes of paint, that I scan and turn into brushes. And lately I’ve become enamored of a sponge brush that gives a nice effect (basically, like so many illustrators I’m trying to get the same effect spongy dry brush effect Annette Marnat is so good at).
I really really really love your illustration style! How long did it take you until you were comfortable with specific styles:)?
Honestly, I don’t think you can really speak of specific styles in the plural about my work. I just like to find something that feels right for each project, and I’m far from ever comfortable with it. But I think that’s a perfectly healthy attitude to have. Keeps one on one’s toes.
Hello! Was wondering, with a majority of your work, do you prefer to color traditionally or digitally? I'm really interested in your coloring process and wondering how you do it! You work is some of the best I've seen.
Hi, and thanks!that’s a hard question to answer, really. My process varies from project to project in all sorts of small ways. I outlined the general process here once: http://chuckgroenink.tumblr.com/post/35522740506/every-now-and-then-people-ask-me-about-my-process But almost every assignment is different, depending on how digital or traditional my technique is. I will say that I always use photoshop to determine the final colours, because it allows me greater control and because I don’t trust my eyes. When I use colour in painting, etc, I like to mess around with it to see if I can get something nice unexpected results to offset the complete predictability of PS. At the same time, photoshop allows me to get colours I didn’t originally plan to use, or to bind a pallette together better. The fact of the matter is that I’m not that good with colour on paper, and used to avoid it altogether, but photoshop has given me the means to not screw up all the time.