Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Portrait of a Dog...as Raphael's Angelo Doni, Complete!

As usual, it's been a busy past few months. Between web design classes, freelance work, and my own illustration projects, my creative plate has been quite full!
I'll be posting some of my web and graphic design work in the coming weeks. Because my portfolio is rapidly expanding and evolving, I'm also working on a major overhaul of my website. I'm hoping to add an online store to the new site as well, through which prints, posters, etc. of my illustrations can be purchased. I'll post updates as the site develops.
A few months back, I put up some process work behind one of my pen and ink illustrations, Portrait of a Dog...as Raphael's Angelo Doni!, but never posted the finished version. Well, the wait is over! Here it is in all of its black & white glory!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Light that Still Shines Bright

Remembering Doug B. Horak

Life is an unpredictable thing.  Time, something that must always be valued and respected.  A few weeks ago, I learned just how true these statements are when I discovered that a very close friend had unexpectedly passed away.  While I and so many knew him as a friend, others called him brother or son.   Whether we would be at the cinemas, admiring the stunning animation of Pixar's latest film, or having a drink as we discussed the future of art, that stinging pain that comes with the realization that someone you have known for so many years will no longer be with you still burns.  It hurts even more to know that the world will never see the full potential of such a talented artist.
Not only did he have a kind heart, a distinct smile, and a genuine laugh, but he was supportive and proud of all of his friends and their endeavors.  Though his skills were impressive, notching up such recognitions as the Grand Prize for the 2011 Lucasfilm "Man versus Nature" Concept Art Award (which led to an internship at Lucasfilm Studios in California) and placing second in a competition sponsored by Animation Magazine for their poster pitch contest, he would always brag and swoon over the talent of others, most especially his friends.  His passion, motivation, and unconditional selflessness served as a source of inspiration for all who knew him.

I can't help but imagine that as I write this, Doug has his signature Bose headphones on, studying the composition and color palette for an upcoming painting.  He'll be planning it out much like he did with his other pieces, a few sketches and a study or two in preparation of the final painting.  While much of his work is done digitally, with this particular image he'll be working in a traditional fashion, with vibrant oil paints, a pockmarked palette of dried liquin and oil swatches (although there is an untouched spot left on the top, right corner from which to work).  In typical Doug fashion, the piece will be finished and ready to critique in only two days time.  And an intriguing one it is at that!  In the near distance, one can see a massive roller coaster, dwarfing the mightiest of skyscrapers.  Through the atmospheric haze of the sky stands a monument of tremendous cliffs guarding over the innocent, virgin blue lakes below them.  If you look close enough, you'll even notice a small, red tavern.  Although somewhat aged, it still has a warm, inviting appearance.  Perhaps here, you could rest a while, have a drink, and maybe even play a game or two of darts.  And yes, that glistening, winged silhouette in front of the blazing light of the daytime sun is a dragon.  The painting seems to almost resemble an amusement park, with all of these impressive landmarks being housed within splendidly intricate, golden gates.  To the trained eye, the influence of the gothic style, so prolific in the middle ages, adorns the surrounding, gated architectural perimeter of "the park."  Before turning away, you find it interesting to note that Doug painted a modest booth in front of this stunning display.  You might even chuckle in admiration as you realize there is a gray bearded, kindly old man in a long brown robe standing beside it.  At first, you think Doug injected a little bit of Star Wars humor, placing Obi Wan Kenobi as the gatekeeper of a theme park.  But then you notice this man has no mythical lightsaber adorning his attire.  All he has are a set of gold keys in his right had as he motions for you to enter this splendid place.  With this, you smile and begin to walk away, noting Doug's atypical choice for the painting's title, "Saint Peter's Gates, a Heavenly Park."

Rest in peace, my friend.  I, along with so many others, will carry your memory with me, striving to honor it every step of the way on my journey through life.  I hope that one day, you, I, and all of our friends and family will be able to share the fun that can be had at "Saint Peter's Gates."

Doug's impressive portfolio can be seen at http://www.dbhorak.com.  For a glimpse into his creative process, be sure to check out his blog.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Portrait of a Dog...as Raphael's Angelo Doni!

I did several quick pen and ink studies for a spot illustration I worked on about a month ago.  Before posting up the finished piece, I thought it would be fun to show some of the process work behind it.  I always enjoy looking through other artists' sketchbooks.  There's something about the rawness and unedited qualities of a sketch that just can't be replaced.  
It's also fun to see who artists are studying and referencing as they create their artwork.  When I first got the idea for the spot, Raphael's Angelo Doni jumped right into my head as the portrait that I wanted to include in the illustration. Immediately after, I did some quick pen and ink studies of different types of dog heads to put onto the body.  In the final illustration, I chose the Afghan Hound because of his hair and elongated muzzle, both of which resemble Doni's hair and long nose.  Any time I have the opportunity to peruse my art books for an illustration project, I eagerly embrace it!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Farewell, "king of all wild things"

On Tuesday, the picture book world lost one of its greatest talents, Maurice Sendak.  His career spanned several decades, stimulating and influencing the imaginations of so many people, young and old alike. While best known for writing and illustrating Where the Wild Things Are, his work also included In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and illustrations for the Little Bear series, just to name a few.  It's difficult to imagine the world of picture books without Sendak's work.  Like so many, I grew up reading and re-reading Where the Wild Things Are, losing myself in the world Sendak created and joining the wild things as Max cried, "let the wild rumpus start!" 
Indeed, as I got older and was being trained in the art of picture books, I gained a new found appreciation for the design, layout, and pacing of so much of his work.  As a great storyteller, Sendak incorporated so many complex storytelling devices while making the process seem so effortless. His unique, palpable characters and utilization of Winsor McCay's technique of correlating panel size to its corresponding events were just a few tools he used from his creative bag.  While as a child I loved to journey through his worlds of fantasy, now I enjoy studying those places and the genius behind them. 
So while we say goodbye to the "king of all wild things," countless generations to come will join Max in his private boat, help Mickey investigate the racket going on in the night kitchen, and celebrate a birthday for Little Bear with his friends.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

NESCBWI 2012 Conference

Before I jump into the conference details, I must first excitedly announce that my entry into the NESCBWI 2012 Poster Contest placed second in the Unpublished Category! Congratulations to all of my friends and fellow illustrators who placed within their respective categories, including Hazel Mitchell, Marcela Staudenmaier, Dan Moynihan, Milanka Reardon, and three time winner Russ Cox.

First and foremost, I must say what an amazing weekend I had! Not only was it great to see some familiar faces from SCBWI's New York Winter Conference, but it was also nice meeting so many new, talented individuals. Just like the winter conference, NESCBWI 2012 was a three day event, beginning at the Eric Carle Museum on Friday and ending on Sunday with a closing speech from Jane Yolen. Without getting too long winded, I'll just list some highlights from the weekend.


  • While at the Eric Carle Mix & Mingle event, limited to only 250 attendees, I had the opportunity to meet, talk with, and have some books signed by many great children's book writers and illustrators, including Jane Yolen and Dan Yaccarino. 
  • Later in the day, I attended the opening meeting of the Beginner Illustrator Academy, taught by the talented trio of Brian Lies, Anne Sibley O'Brien, and Carol Goldenberg. As part of a small group of  Academy attendees, each of us were given the task of creating character model sheets and a finished illustration for one of three public domain stories provided by the teachers.  Because this work was critiqued for Sunday, we simply introduced ourselves to each other and learned a little bit about what makes great picture books.
  • Another excellent aspect of the conference was the opportunity to be exhibited in the Portfolio Showcase, viewed by industry professionals, faculty, and volunteers. The showcase was open to everybody on Saturday evening.
  • Having dinner and drinks with a very fun group of illustrators and writers was a great way to top things off!

  • I love the preliminary work that goes into animated films, including storyboards and character designs. So, it goes without saying that I had a blast attending Kelly Light's excellent workshop on character design. She even made cookies for all of us! It doesn't get much better than that!
  • I think many of the conference attendees will agree that Harry Bliss gave a hilarious keynote speech after lunch! As an illustrator and cartoonist for The New Yorker, among his many other achievements, he has an excellent sense of humor. I was laughing so much it hurt!
  • I also had the fortune of attending an amazing presentation by Mary Brigid Barrett about writing picture books. Although teaching how to write can be very dry and boring, Mary presented the material in such a animated way that it's pretty hard to forget the important lessons she taught.
  • Anytime you have Dan Yaccarino giving a presentation, as was the case for his workshop on the essentials of a picture book dummy, you want a front row seat. His combination of humor and thoughtful information make for an excellent class.
  • Having a critique with Martha Rago, the Associate Creative Director at HarperCollins Children's Books, was incredible! I learned a great deal about my strengths, weaknesses, and portfolio and marketing presentation. This was so important for my growth as an illustrator!
  • It was very exciting to meet Harold Underdown (below), a knowledgeable industry professional whose website and book act as irreplaceable tools in navigating through the rough waters of the children's book market.
  • The day ended on a fun, relaxing note. I think the picture on the bottom says it all!

  • It's amazing how fast the weekend went by! The Beginner Illustrator Academy was a nice way to end things. While having our "homework" critiqued, we also learned the many ways to create strong, dynamic characters, stories, and layouts for picture books.
Whew! What a weekend! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

If Elephants Could Fly...

After going through Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland series, I really wanted to practice some of his page design techniques. His comic strips, from both a creative and design perspective, are absolutely stunning! In this case, to exaggerate the distance the elephant is travelling in the sky, I elongated the panel and incorporated some dramatic perspective. I gotta say, it was a nice break from my current workload and a fun little exercise!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Exclusive Mugshots of Chicken Licken Released by the Fowl County Police Department!!

I can't believe it's been a month since my last post! It would be an understatement to say I fell a little behind on my blogging duties! I'll have a lot of sketches, model sheets, and finished illustrations, though, that I will be posting both here and on my website come May. I'll also be adding a few new features on my webpage, including a section that will display some behind-the-scenes artwork that goes into each finished series of illustrations that I work on.
To kick off the first Monday in March, I thought I'd post a little doodle that was inspired by the Tomie dePaola Award competition a few months back, in which those participating had to illustrate an excerpt from the Chicken Licken story.  The Fowl County Police Department did not take Chicken Licken's actions very lightly! The poor animal is now a wanted criminal on the run!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Weekend in Review: The 13th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference

Lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel
This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend SCBWI's annual winter conference in New York City. It was an amazing time! I met many talented artists, while learning invaluable information about the children's book market.
The event began with the illustrators' marketing intensive on Friday, in which the talented illustrators John Rocco, Dan Santat, Dan Yaccarino, and Sophie Blackall gave presentations about the various marketing tactics illustrators can employ to effectively promote their work.  While entertaining, all of the artists offered excellent advice in areas such as social media and book trailers.
Illustrators Dan Yaccarino and Dan Santat

The second half of the intensive was handled by Jed Benett from Penguin, Deb Shapiro of Deb Shapiro & Co. (a marketing firm) and Michelle Fadlalla of Simon and Schuster.  Again, much valuable information was garnered from hearing this panel of individuals speak.  Both illustrators and the marketing specialists agreed on the important role libraries and local bookstores play in regards to bringing one's book to the public's attention.
Roxie Munro, along with the other illustrators, ended the intensive with a discussion about how to manage one's time and money wisely to get the most from their marketing tactics.  The day concluded with the Portfolio Showcase, in which 180 illustrators placed their portfolios out to be judged by 350 leading professionals within the industry.  Needless to say, there was a lot of great artwork to be seen! The runner ups of the portfolio showcase were Wook Jim Jung and Lori Nichols, with Mike Curato as the winner.  Congratulations to all of you!
That was just the first day! The following day offered even more valuable information, with break-out workshops generously presented by Cathy Goldsmith of Random House, HarperCollins' Martha Rago, and Samantha McFerrin of Harcourt. A gala dinner and an illustrator social topped the night off! Of course, I can't forget to mention Henry Winkler's guest appearance earlier in the day. It was quite the pleasant surprise! I think I speak for all of us when I say his speech both motivated and inspired us to continue reaching for the stars.
Surprise guest Henry Winkler
Though Sunday marked the end of the conference, the morning was still packed with motivational presentations, thought provoking panels (such as that of the four agents), and a fun interview with the Bookmakers Dozen, a group of Brooklyn-based illustrators that include John Rocco, Dan Yaccarino, and Sophie Blackall.
To attend an event of this magnitude can be overwhelming but very rewarding. The connections that are made with fellow illustrators, writers, and industry professionals are so valuable in guiding one on their journey through the children's book market.  While it is a humbling experience, one quickly appreciates the stunning talent that surrounds them. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to attend these conferences, especially for those just starting out in the field.  I met some wonderful, talented people, gained new friends, and was introduced to a beautiful world of like-minded individuals who share the same goal: to nurture and foster the education and imagination of the world's youth, helping them grow to be smart, compassionate, and productive individuals.  It truly is a privilege to work in the children's market!
Illustrators/writers Stephen Macquignon and Debbie Ohi

For a more detailed look at the conference check out The Official SCBWI Conference Blog of the 13th Annual Winter Conference

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Countdown to SCBWI's Lucky 13th Annual Winter Conference!

In just a few days, the 13th Annual SCBWI Winter Conference will begin! From Friday, January 27th until Sunday January 29th, children's writers, illustrators, agents, art directors, editors, publishers, and so many more, gather to meet, educate, and celebrate the children's book market. From the marketing intensives for writers and illustrators on Friday to Saturday's multitude of informational workshops, this three day event is nothing short of spectacular! With so much talent in a single place at one time, the conference offers those dedicated to the children's market a chance to mingle, network, and learn from each other's experiences.

To see the impressive guest list for this year's conference, stop by
There is also an official blog for the 2012 Winter Conference at
You can follow the unfolding action on Twitter as well via the keyword

Being a first time attendee, words can't express how excited I am to finally go to a winter conference! For other fellow first timers, some veteran attendants have shared tips for going to the big event on their blogs.  Both Moira Swiatkowski and Sera Miller offer great advice worth checking out! 

Bristol Bored by Moira Swiatkowski
Witnessing Truth by Sera Miller

Shortly after the conference ends, I'll upload photos and a follow up post about the incredible experience SCBWI's 13th Annual Winter Conference is sure to provide! Best of luck and safe travels to all attending! I'll see you there!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012 Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award Competition

The Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award competition is an annual contest in which members of the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) are challenged to illustrate a piece of text from a story selected by dePaola himself. As a successful illustrator and writer, Tomie dePaola, whose books include Strega Nona, Pancakes for Breakfast, and The Knight and the Dragon (just to name a few), selects an illustration that embodies a unique style and vision. The winner is not only awarded a $1,000 gift certificate for art supplies, but also receives a fully funded trip to attend the New York Winter Conference in Manhattan.

This year, the challenge was to illustrate some lines of text from the story "Chicken Licken," in which Turkey Lurkey finds Chicken Licken, Goosey Loosey, Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, and Ducky Daddles rushing to tell the king that the sky is falling. After being persuaded by the hysterical group, Turkey Lurkey decides to join them on their journey to the king.
With the announcement of the Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award winner only a few days away (January 9th to be exact), I decided to post my interpretation of the excerpt before the award is given out.
There are many unique, well rendered approaches to the "Chicken Licken" text by the talented illustrators of SCBWI up for view at http://scbwicontest.blogspot.com/. I highly recommend checking out their versions to see the stunning diversity of compositions, styles, and designs. Good luck to all those who have submitted to the competition!