Wednesday, November 25, 2009

John Manders & Vince Dorse : Two Bad Pilgrim Illustrators

Above is page 16 (page 12 for normal humans) of Two Bad Pilgrims, written by Kathryn Lasky, Illustrated by John Manders and colored by yours truly, Vince Dorse. This is how the page appears in the printed book. But I'm going to break down some of the illustration/coloring process so you get an idea of how John and I worked together on the project.

Being so close to Thanksgiving I thought a post about our little pilgrim project would be appropriate. And, at this special time of year, what could be more appropriate than a childrens' book page with the line "There was another bundle in the grave that included the bones and head of a small child." Pass the cranberries and follow along with me, won't you?

The first step in the illustration process was John laying out and illustrating all the pages. Let's make no mistake: John did all the heavy lifting on this project. What I did was little more than what a child does when he's handed a coloring book and a box of crayons. Really expensive, digital crayons. What you have here is a photocopy of John's pencils that he's loosely painted over (gouache) to indicate what colors he envisions. These were little roadmaps I could follow when deciding how to color the final piece.

The all-important linework. John usually paints his childrens' books in gouache, but this project called for a comic book style illustration. So he used brushes to ink over all of his pencil lines in a style that seems to be a combination of classic comic art and John's signature childrens' style.

I love looking at inked, black & white comic art, so it was a real treat to open my email every few days to see the new inked pages. Much like Elton John and his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, John and I never set foot in the same room during the creative process. Maybe one day John and I will write a Broadway musical together.

After I get the inked pages, I can start laying in basic, flat color blocks based on John's color notes (and using his linework as a guide). John encouraged me to experiment and "go off the map" with this project. He wanted me to treat his color notes as a jumping off point, but not to get too bogged down trying to duplicate his work. So it was a lot of fun experimenting with custom brushes in Photoshop, creating a digital palette from which I could draw, laying down colors in different ways to achieve different texture effects.

This is also the stage where I'd have phone conversations with John that went like this:

V: What is this...a pile of old cigars?

J: No, that's black sassafras root.

V: do I color that? What do they look like?

J: Kind of like a pile of old cigars.

Once the flat colors were laid in, I went back over each shape with highlights, shadows and various texture effects. This is the step where I start to develop things like the grain of the wooden knife handle, the pitted surface of the stone knife, the rough appearance of the dirt mounds and the colorful chaos of the autumn forest floor.

After that, I'd send them off to John, via email, for approval. Everything about this project from day one was done via email. I've never even seen John Manders. Some say he's a 10-foot giant that lives in the woods of Western Pennsylvania, but few souls have dared to enter his domain.

Finally, this is what we end up sending the publisher. I've basically liberated John's inks from the white paper so that they will lay transparently over the colors I've put down. After that the lettering goes in (see image at top of the stack), the book gets printed, bound and it gets sent to bookstores where, yes, you can now purchase it for holiday gift-giving.

I've put some links below to the book on Amazon, my earlier post about the coloring process and John Manders' blog where he is constantly giving out immeasurably valuable illustration advice for free. What a chump, you say? No. He just cares that much. And, really, you'd expect a heart that big in a 10-foot giant. -v

Two Bad Pilgrims on Amazon

My earlier post about creating this book

John Manders' Blog

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