I thought I would start by telling you about Mark Teague’s Workshop, which was titled “Drawing interesting characters”. Many of the things he spoke about relate to my portfolio critique.
- There are no rules. This is an important one for me, and part of the reason why I feel confused. I will expand on this later.
- Start with a Character. This means that if you are also an author or if you are working with a manuscript, you need to start with a character before you can start with anything else. Some of the techniques for developing a character are the same techniques writers use to develop a character. They key is to find the voice of the character and you can only achieve this by drawing the character more than 100 times from all different angles, capturing expressions and moods. Mark Teague has many drawings of many characters that were never used on the final art but were part of the discovery process.
- Read a lot. The more you read the better you become at story telling. He said that he became a better illustrator once he had kids because he read so many books to them and used them as a learning tool.
- Once you have the character then you can think about the story-telling part of the story. You can look at how other illustrators carry a character through a 32 page book.
- Choose and artist that is close to your sensitivity/style and study them.
- About your own style – He said: “Don’t worry about developing a style, do your work and the style will come out organically out of you. It is an extension of who you are.
- Illustrate an older story to show an editor that you can take a character all the way through the story (32 pages). Pick a story that when you read it you can visualize what is happening like a movie playing in your head. Then, begin to develop the characters. Doodle, doodle, and doodle! Keep it private. Don’t worry about messing up, but doodle and doodle a lot! Until something (magic) happens.
- Get the character right. If you are drawing a dinosaur or a car, etc. Do your research and get all the details right. Gauges, lights, etc. Kids love details and they will notice if they are not believable. Getting it right helps keep a kid’s fantasy real!
- Honor the text that you have. Don’t violate something that is important to the author.
- Play it BIG! Big emotion! Big Energy! Pump it up! Find energy with the character. (This reminds me of something I was taught in school when I was studying graphic design…if something doesn’t work; make it big, if it still doesn’t work, make it red! Funny, that’s a tip that almost always works!)
- Kids don’t get nuances or subtleties. You need to be straight up and emotionally honest with the illustrations. You don’t illustrate a mad kid. You illustrate a REEEALLY MADDDDDD kid! Exaggerate energy and emotion. For example straight lines on a speeding car don’t have the same energy as curved lines on that same car.
- Play with perspective and point of view. It’s always a child’s world. Get in touch with your inner child. The emotional center of the illustration is always with the child (audience).
- Story-boarding helps composition. Identify the main focus on each page and add no distractions, but add things that help tell the story.
The subject of ‘there are no rules’ came up again. He mentioned how he loves the work of Barbara Coonie. However, he could never do her work, nor do many of his recommendations apply to her work or many other successfully published artists, yet their work is brilliant.
This was his workshop in a nutshell! This post is soooo long. I hope I’m not boring you if you are still reading…wow!
Now I am going to share some of the comments that he said directly about my work, and I’ll try to be specific, only because you may get something out of it:
Let me say first, that he was incredibly nice and I could see that he tried to be as thoughtful as possible to make comments that would be really constructive and not demeaning or over critical and I really appreciated that!
- He saw my character study of the little witch girl and said that it was nice, but needed to push it further (no more specifics!)
- By page 4 he said my work was weak in character development (not in those words exactly). I soon realized that I had not mixed up all emotions the right way, and had too many smiling children in the beginning of the portfolio. He reiterated many of the things I mentioned earlier from his workshop.
- On the next page looking at the boys playing with the paper boat, he said that they were so calm. I then added (thinking this was a positive trait from my work and part of my unique style), that most people always commented on how soothing and pleasant my work was. He said that this is not helpful when you are trying to carry a character through a story where there are many emotions.
- Then there was the piece about ‘going back to school’ He asked me what was happening there. I explained why the mother was upset, hoping to highlight the ‘emotion’ in my portfolio. Then he said, well this is a mother’s point of view and a child is not interested in a mother’s point of view. This is his world (referring to the boy in the bus) or the sister’s not the mother’s. Then he expanded by saying that my work was all a mother’s point of view and pointed out at some other illos. He said the work has to be interesting for children to look at. I guess it is part of what he spoke about the emotional center of the piece has to be with the child.
- His last suggestion was for me to draw lots and lots and know my character inside and out…then we were out of time. He only got to see half of my portfolio.
In the end, it is about finding your voice, believing in yourself and your work and continuing to strive to improve on your work based on YOU and not someone else’s formula. There’s no such thing as a guide or a rule-book to go by. It just works or it doesn’t. I also think that the success of an illustrator is somewhat tied to trends too. Graphic styles, illustration styles change and some go in and out of fashion. I think there’s some truth in the idea of having a marketable style.
I am in a strange place, because I felt very strongly about my work prior to the conference (I guess that’s part of it, you need to believe in yourself or no one else will), and after Mark Teagues’ input, I realize that his comments come from what he does with his work and what he believes in, and has worked for him. However, it doesn’t mean that I need to start drawing with crazy perspectives and curved lines, and blow everything out of the page because then I won’t be true to myself. On the other hand, he did offer some great advice, but I’m not sure how to make it my own yet. All of this makes me question who I am as an illustrator/artist? Where do I fit in? and where I should go from here?
Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful to you if you are in a similar journey or even if you are already published. As always, I welcome your comments!