Illustration for Liebovar, a Children’s Opera

I have worked with composer and librettist Misha Dutka before, illustrating the poster for his children’s opera The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. Recently Boheme Opera NJ performed a beautiful concert version of Misha’s full length opera Liebovar, or The Little Blind Girl, at the 1867 Sanctuary in New Jersey. Liebovar‘s plot has an opera-within-an-opera, and now Delaware Valley Opera Company plans to mount the short children’s opera that is within the larger story of Liebovar, in the fall. Misha asked me to do an illustration to advertise this performance.

Misha explained that the children’s opera involves the same young girl I depicted in the art for the full length work, a blind girl in a WWII concentration camp –

– but in this fairy-tale-type opera she is a poor peasant girl wandering through the woods, and befriended by various animals – a squirrel, a turtle, a fawn and a duckling. As soon as he described this I sketched a rough idea quickly, which he then approved:

I tightened up the pencil drawing –

and did a colored pencil color sketch first –

and then the final painting, in acrylic washes over prisma pencil, on illustration board. Below is the poster with text added for the event.

Drawing Women of the Bible

I organized another Art+Faith Life Drawing session through my church and this time our model was a lovely friend of mine, tall and with waist-length hair; and instead of Madonna and Child poses we decided she could pose as Mary at the time of the Resurrection or other women of the New Testament. Another artist in our group borrowed some beautifully-made costumes from a Nativity pageant, and along with some props, veils and scarves we put together some wonderful depictions of women of the Bible to bring into our art.

We started with warm-up sketches of about 5 minutes in length. I sketched on charcoal paper with chalk and conté crayon.

I didn’t get too far with this one below but I think I have the basic pose, just have to develop it more. This is prisma pencil on charcoal paper. I think this drawing could be Mary waiting to go with the other two women to the tomb on Easter morning.

The last two are twenty minute poses I drew on toned grey sketch paper, with burnt sienna and white prisma pencils. I added some local color with other pencils and chalks. The top woman with the jar could be the ‘woman at the well’ that Jesus met, and the bottom one, since we dressed her with several accessories, could be a wealthy woman – perhaps Pilate’s wife, contemplating her message to Pilate to “have nothing to do with this righteous man.”

Many years have passed since I drew figures daily in art school; until these drawing sessions I had forgotten how personal and cathartic it is to draw from a model in the moment. It inspires exploration, harkens back to stories long remembered, and turns accidental strokes into almost prophetic discoveries. I’m looking forward to our next Biblical model.

Liebovar illustration

Misha Dutka is a composer for whom I have created illustrations before, for his children’s opera The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. He has written a much more serious work and it will be performed this week by Boheme Opera of NJLiebovar, or the Little Blind Girl. The involves the inhabitants and soldiers in a concentration camp in WWII. Misha asked me to create an illustration of some of the main characters for online promotion.

I tried a few different pencil compositions to show the blind girl and also the love triangle of the camp Kommandant, wealthy opera diva and imprisoned opera impresario. I used a photo of the actual camp at Theresienstadt as a backdrop.

With the composer’s suggestions we eventually came to this composition –

And I tightened up the drawing to a finish, below. Liebovar will perform at the 1867 Sanctuary in Ewing NJ this Wednesday April 27 at 7 PM, and it is a free event. For further info see this page on the Boheme Opera NJ site.

More Madonna and Child drawings

A few more from a life drawing session of a model posing as Madonna and Child. The first is again chalk & conte crayon on toned pastel paper, the second is more a line drawing in prisma pencil on toned paper.

Sketching the Madonna and Child

I was very happy to be able to arrange a life drawing session a few weeks ago (before a nasty bout of sickness from which I’m emerging) to help celebrate the Christmas season – a lovely model who posed for as the Madonna and Child. This is one of the ways I hope to continue to bring art and faith together in my life.

Here are a few of the first quick sketches we did to loosen up, on plain paper & toned paper – we called these croquis drawings in art school. I used sepia chalk and conte crayon for these loose sketches. More drawings to come this week.

Bills! Bills! Bills!

I recently painted the cover art for another fun book by author James Miller, whose previous book, The Book of Jims, I also illustrated. This one is another compendium of historical figures having the same first name, William or Bill. Bill’s! Bills! Bills! is the title.

I started with a very rough pencil sketch of the Bills to be shown on the cover – William Tell, Buffalo Bill Cody, William the Conqueror, William Shakespeare, William Penn and Bill Clinton.

Jim also asked me to include a red-billed toucan, a spoonbill and maybe a hen, along with some dollar bills and cable bills, so I worked those into the drawing and tightened it up a bit by tracing it in felt tip pen.

I then made a rough color sketch, coloring in a scan of the drawing and placing the text.

I consulted with Jim on some details of the drawing & text and painted a finished illustration to drop into the design. He’s awaiting publication now. I think Bills! Bills! Bills! will be a fun & interesting read – especially to other Bills – but also for anyone who likes quips and quirks of history. 

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 3

(To read Part 1 and 2 of this process click HERE and HERE.)

After I did rough color sketches for Laurie Nowlan’s entire book, I started transferring the drawings to illustration board and painting. I use prismacolor pencils to outline my characters and acrylic paint, thinned with water to the level of a wash, to paint the colors. You can get nice vibrant hues using acrylics, which brightened up the autumn pages at the beginning of the book.

This story follows two brother robins as they go on a southern migration to Florida, the twists and turns they encounter along the way, and how they help each other as siblings. They encounter a nasty storm, which knocks the younger brother, Robbie, for a loop.

The older brother, Ben, has trouble with one of his wings, and suddenly little Robbie is the sibling that has to look out for his older brother.

Robbie steels himself and finds the strength to get both himself and his brother out of danger.

And to see the sunny conclusion of the story, you’ll have to get the book!

Since the cover art is so critical to the appeal of a children’s book, the author and I went through several sketches of the cover illustration before we settled on the right scene and feel for it. We wanted Robbie alone on the cover, but did not want to give away too much of the climax of the story.

I envisioned Robbie swooping through the stormclouds with a determined, serious expression; and after discussion with Laurie we tried a more cheerful look and we both liked it better.

I did a color sketch and added some lightning to create a little more excitement –

and then painted the finished art.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 2

To read Part 1 of this process click HERE.

Once I had drawn all the pages of Laurie Nowlan’s Robbie to the Rescue! as pencil sketches, I scanned all the drawings and colored them in roughly so both the author and I could see the placement of color throughout the book.

Early on when Laurie and I discussed her main characters, we had decided there should be some little bits of clothing to humanize Robbie and his older brother Ben. Laurie liked having Ben wear a baseball cap, and perhaps big sneakers for Robbie, to make him look smaller and younger and maybe a little clumsier than his older brother. In initial sketches I had given them orange and red jackets, thinking they’d stand out in green foliage – then when I started doing pages I realized it was autumn in the story and the leaves would be those colors. So I switched their jackets to blue and green.

The story has a number of scenes that take place during a rainstorm so I tried to vary the spreads between pages that bled off the sides and vignettes where there was white space around the illustrations, as well as full double page spreads where it was warranted, to keep the scenes from looking too similar.

Laurie suggested that the storm scenes should stay very blue and gray, so that at the end of the story when there are beach scenes, the change to sunny warmth would really be apparent to the reader. I agree it worked really well.

After this stage I started painting finished art for the book. I’ll write more about that, and about developing the cover art, in Part 3.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

Illustrating “Robbie to the Rescue!” Part 1

I recently completed illustrating a new children’s picture book, written by Laurie Nowlan, Robbie to the Rescue! It’s a lovely story about brother robins and how they help each other through the younger brother’s first southern migration. I think it’s a very good sibling story, with lots of touches that happen between real brothers and sisters, so many children will relate to it.

I first spoke at length with the author about how she imagined the characters and the flow of the story. Laurie is a retired teacher and has been writing for a long time so she had already given this much thought. I di some black and white and color sketches of the brother birds and more or less used them as my prototypes when developing the page art – although you’ll see some colors changed.

With the author’s suggestions I laid out the text and drew pencil sketches for each double page spread. I drew a very loose pagination, which just helps me visualize a variety of page setups before I design, like this –

Then I drew pencils of each spread like these samples.

I’ll explain the next steps in the process in my next post.

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“Robbie to the Rescue!” is available now through BookBaby HERE.

House Portrait of a Lovely Doylestown Home

I was asked to paint a charming home built in the late 1800s in my hometown, a house that catches many an eye with its sunny coloring and delightful front gardens.

I took a number of photos for reference and consulted the owners about what season to paint. I tried pencil drawings of both summer and spring.

And then I tried rough color sketches of both seasons in colored marker.

We determined that spring gave both color and a good view of the house, since surrounding trees were still lacy enough to see through. I also put in the small figure watering the flowers, the lady of the house, to make it personalized.

For the finished painting I used watercolor board and acrylic paints diluted like watercolors. Here are two partial views –

And the completed painting –