In October of ’03, I was asked by the Cricket magazine art director to illustrate a couple stories for their older ‘teen fiction’ digest, Cicada. The first one was a fantasy/sci-fi piece about a future/alternative reality world in which various ‘human/animal’ races coexist, and a young ‘bird man’ is put in charge of a special ‘egg’ that somehow has great hope and promise for the future of his kind. I remember being very frustrated by this job, especially in the sketch stage. I kept thinking that it is rather easy for an author to simply say ‘bird man’ or ‘lizard man’ and leave it at that, but that taking that simple idea and fleshing it out was another thing entirely. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to portray costumes or architecture, since there weren’t many clues in the text, and I was uncomfortable with how my ‘bird man’ was turning out visually.
I finally hit upon an idea that seemed to work. Since the descriptions were so ‘sketchy’, I decided to plan out the illustrations in a similar ‘sketchy’ manner, doing a lot more implying than laying it all out in concrete form, using a lot of shadows to leave some of the anatomy problems to the mind of the viewer. I used a rare departure for myself stylistically, by doing the finish similar to how I do my rough sketches, very quick and rough (but with a certain controlled quality that I usually forgo in the sketch stage), and lots of chiarascuro technique with regards to positive and negative tonal areas.
What started out being a job that I wasn’t looking forward to, ended up being a lot of fun once I got going on it, and was a welcome change of pace from my usual editorial work. Looking back at these now, after almost 4 years, I am struck by how fresh and interesting they still look, while my scratchboards are still trying to find their way out of their straightjacket of comformity. I need to find this source of creativity and vigor so I can tap into it again when I need it.
Another fiction piece for the same issue of the same fiction digest was the illustration pictured below. This was a Kafka-esque mood piece about a lonely office drone in a filing labyrinth who gets mysterious faxed messages that he has trouble finding a home for (somewhat reminiscent of that scene in Orwell’s ‘1984’ where Winston Smith is handed a simple three word note from the mysterious female character). The editor wanted a style somewhat different from the style of the other story, so I chose to do this one in scratchboard, however trying to make it a little less ‘rigid’ than I usually do.