Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Mysteries Unraveled Series

I haven't been able to post much artwork on the blog lately, but believe me I have been drawing every. Single. Day. Some of it is a new project that I'm really excited about but can't share online just yet. Hopefully soon!

In the meantime, I realized that I never showed off this 12-book cozy mystery series for which I did all the cover illustrations. I've showed a few of the covers on this blog, but not the entire series altogether. This is the Mysteries Unraveled series from Annie's Publishing.

It may not be as dramatic as my Bible illustration commemorative photo, but still it's satisfying to see all these covers collected in one place. I didn't realize until I saw them all together that they ended up with a really consistent green-purple color scheme!

I was right out of art school when Annie's Publishing contacted me about doing this series. I had never even heard of the "cozy mystery" genre before. I was extremely lucky to have such a patient, communicative, and kind publisher as my first client. They give me a LOT of artistic freedom and that makes it fun. I've done over 30 book covers with them now. In fact, by the end of the year I will have finished all the covers for a 24-book series, the "Amish Inn Mysteries"! And yes you BET I will line up all the books and take a photo when it's finished. That's kind of my thing now, I guess.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Helpful Links for Illustrators, July 2017

Every few weeks I post a bunch of links related to illustration, publishing, self-employment and personal motivation. I collect these from all over the web and hope that you find them as helpful and inspirational as I did.
  • Corarda - an amazing resource website with curated lists of art-related blogs, podcasts, events, education, communities and more. Basically, it's the ultimate version of my "helpful link" posts. If you're struggling to find a way to get started as an artist online, you'll find something helpful here.
  • All About Running An Online Shop by Fran Meneses - a video log about the nuts and bolts of how Fran runs her very busy Etsy shop. Fran's whole YouTube channel is great stuff.
  • How I learned to Draw by Kiri Leonard - On Kiri's brand new YouTube channel, she shares some of her early childhood drawings, weird teenage drawings, and how she became the working illustrator she is today.
  • What Game Recruiters Really Think of Your Portfolio by Gavin Goulen - if you're aiming to become a character artist at a game studio, this is a very honest, thorough, and informative read!
  • Abandoning the Preciousness by Stephanie Law - an inspiring blog post about overcoming "artist block" and developing the habit of drawing every day.
Do you have a blog post that you think might be useful for aspiring artists? Have you read any good articles lately you think I should include on my next list? Please leave a comment!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Ranger in Time #6: Interior Illustrations

I drew 16 black-and-white illustrations for the interior of Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake. As I said in my last blog post about the process of creating the cover, this was one of the most challenging assignments I'd ever received. Although every Ranger in Time book has lots of action and danger, this one, set during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, was packed with a lot of city scenes and crowd scenes - both particularly difficult to draw.

In the sketch above, the main characters are dragging a cart down Market Street. While I was attending the Academy of Art University I often walked down this street and sometimes rode the the ferry to Larkspur from this very pier building.

This was a challenging piece to do because of the perspective. First I downloaded a 3d model of the pier building in Google Sketchup and set it up at the perspective I wanted.

I cross-referenced the pier building with some pre-earthquake photos. Then, I looked at photos of the earthquake to inspire the buildings on the sides of the illustration and the crowd in the middle.

Here is the finished version:

And a closeup:

For other scenes, instead of using 3d models I took my own reference photos. In one chapter, the main characters have to pull a boy out from some wreckage. I took pictures of myself pretending to lift up my couch.

And....being stuck...I guess.

Next I looked at photographs of Chinese children from the turn of the century, taking note of their outfits, hairstyles and shoes.

Check out this kid:

Clearly he's one of the gold miners.

Ba dum ching!

Anyway here's the sketch:

Did you guys know I studied Chinese for a year in college? Well I did. It was very hard. One of the few things I can still say is "我不會說中文." However, I did get to use a little of that education in this scene by writing the words "rice" on the bag on the floor and "seasonings" on the shelf.

So...worth it, I guess?


I don't want to give away too much of the book, so if you want to see more, order a copy of Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake, written by Kate Messner, available June 27! The paperback version is only $4!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book cover: Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake!

Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake, written by Kate Messner and published by Scholastic, comes out on June 27. In this episode of the series, everyone's favorite time-travelling golden retriever goes back to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, where he helps a lonely Chinese girl navigate the chaos of the disaster and find a new family.

I was really excited to work on this book because I grew up in the San Francisco area, and Chinatown was one of my favorite places. I was always asking my mom to take me there to look at the shops, eat dim sum and drink tea.

I quickly realized though, that as sentimental as the setting was to me, it was going to be a huge challenge to illustrate. The last Ranger in Time book was fairly easy to draw because it was set in the desolate landscapes of Iceland. But for this book, the Ranger in Time team was demanding my A-game: they wanted CHAOS! FIRE! DESTRUCTION! CROWD SCENES! BUILDINGS!



The team asked for Ranger, running through the rubble-strewn streets of San Francisco, with the main character behind him. These are my three roughs. The team decided they liked the middle one the best, but asked me to put the ruins of City Hall in the background.

The team liked this rough and asked me to add in a smoky sky, and then to send them a color rough.

Here's where I started to run into some problems. I was looking at many, many black-and-white photographs of post-earthquake SF, and I think my brain was just stuck in black-and-white mode. Smoky skies are grey. Ruined buildings are grey. Rubble is grey. Ranger in Time covers are usually super colorful - how was I going to work color into this scene?

My first idea was to have a bright orange sky, lit by the fires that charred the city after the earthquake. But I quickly learned...

...that an orange dog and an orange sky do not mix. Thankfully I never sent to the above color rough to the publisher, because I knew it was no good. I started to get frustrated, and I started throwing all sorts of crazy colors at the scene, just to see what would stick. (Insert angtsy artist montage here. Crumpling up papers and tossing them on the ground. Rubbing tired eyes. Drinking, smoking, toppling over easels in fits of rage.)

What emerged was a yellow-purple sky. Bizarre, but it works.

The Ranger team asked me to amp up the chaos by adding in fire to City Hall, a crack in the street, more toppled telegraph lines, and bigger smoke. (I can hear my art professor's voice telling me "more drama, Kelley! More drama!" When will I learn, Julie???)

This is one crazy cityscape! Good luck out there, Ranger, you're gonna need it!

Here is the complete cover, designed by Maeve Norton.

Ranger in Time #6: Escape from the Great Earthquake comes out on June 27. I also illustrated 16 interiors for the book, which I will show a sneak peek of on Thursday!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Helpful Links for Illustrators - May 2017

Every few weeks I post a bunch of links related to illustration, publishing, self-employment and personal motivation. I collect these from all over the web and hope that you find them as helpful and inspirational as I did.

Do you have a blog post that you think might be useful for aspiring artists? Have you read any good articles lately you think I should include on my next list? Please leave a comment!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

David Spares Saul's Life

Wait, another Bible story?? I thought you were done with Bible stories, Kelley! I hear you saying.

Calm yourself, blog reader. I did indeed finish working on the Explore the Bible series, but I wanted to show a few of my favorite Bible illustrations on this blog. I finished this one back in December 2015. This scene is from the Old Testament.

So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him...
Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.” But David said to Abishai, “...the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.” 
So David took the spear and water jug near Saul’s head, and they left. No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up.
-1 Samuel 26:7-12 
This was a rather unusual assignment for this series. Usually the client had me draw characters talking and preaching to groups of other characters. The art director always asked to see the expressions on the characters' faces, which made it difficult to use any extreme camera angles. (And meant I had to get creative in other ways.)

But for this scene of a sleeping army, I had the freedom to use a birds-eye-view camera angle. I was also able to get away with only showing the feet of David and Abishai, their shadows looming over Saul menacingly.

The fact that it was a night scene was also somewhat unusual, and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to capture a moonlight feeling while still keeping the scene colorful enough to appeal to kids.

Because I was having so much fun with this scene, I put more detail into it than usual.

I'll share a few more of my favorite Bible illustrations in the future. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Covers Before and After - April edition

Every once in a while I do a roundup of book cover illustrations, showing them before and after the cover text was added on top. The cool thing about book covers is that they're made to work together with text, but they also stand on their own. Here are some great examples from some talented illustrators and designers.

art by Rovina Cai

art by Vivienne To

 art by Donato Giancola

art by Dane Cozens

 art by Eric Deschamps

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