Monday, May 22, 2017

The Making of The Mermaid's Gift

In celebration of Mermay, we're sharing a post original posted on my illustration blog Celebrate the Little Things sharing my illustration process for The Mermaid’s Gift written by Claudia Cangilla McAdams, illustrated by me - Traci Van Wagoner, and published by Pelican Publishing.
 A version of this post can be found on Dani Duck: Artist Obsure as part of Smart Dummies.

After illustrating eight picture books and creating five dummies for my own manuscripts, each a bit of an experiment, I’m happy to say that I finally feel like I have a pretty good system worked out.

Quick read through — This quick read through opens my mind to the world of the story. I then let my imagination explore the possibilities without any limitations to specific pages or scenes. The process from first contact to contract takes a long time, so this story had a long time to percolate.

Reference researchPinterest is a ton of fun for this. I set up folders for each project and collect images for reference and inspiration. In this case, colorful Burano, Italy (look it up on Google. If you’re feeling blue, this place will perk you right up); lace, lots and lots of lace research; historical photos of Burano and the lace museum there. I even used Google Earth to walk around the island.

Character sketches — I work out clothes, hair styles, facial features, culture, and age. I sketch the main characters from a variety of angles, different facial expressions, moods, emotions, keeping mind the need to keep the main characters consistent throughout with the same clothes, hairstyle, facial features, eye colors, etc.

Text Dummy
— I print out the manuscript and break it up into 16 sections. I fold 9 sheets of legal or ledger paper in half and staple them in the middle with a special stapler I bought years ago for this purpose. I cut up the text and tape each section in its spread roughly where I think it might go, telling the story with the text — one chunk for the entire spread, or broken up with some on the left and some on the right. Since Mermaid is a retelling and set in the 1800s, I decided to go with a classic feel, keeping the text in blocks, but incorporating them into the illustrations. I played around with borders and copy blocks, but dropped that in the final sketch stage.

Brainstorm Scenes — blue sky thinking with my husband bouncing around ideas about the overall look, world, setting, perspectives, angles, pov, lighting. Playing with the best way to illustrate each scene adding to the story in unique ways. For this book I really wanted drama, which I achieved with lighting, angles, and unique perspectives.

“I love your boldness in composing the pages. Many illustrators are timid about the interplay between form and function, and your work is like a breath of fresh air.” ~ Johanna Rotondo-McCord, Artist.

More reference research — this stage is pretty much ongoing and so much easier now days. I remember the days of having to go up to the reference library on 42nd street to get images. For this project, I did a lot of lace research — patterns, tutorials, various types of lace, designs, styles, materials, etc. I think that all paid off since I have had many people ask how I created the lace, and have complimented me on the beauty and realistic feel of the lace.

Thumbnails — With sketchbook and ballpoint pen, I roughly block out the scenes I have bubbling in my imagination after the brainstorming session. With this project, I established a sort of zig-zag pattern through the spreads, leading the eye through the story with a variety of spots, full spreads and text placement that would keep the eye moving how I wanted.

Sketch Dummy — Sketch and explore scenes building on initial rough thumbnails. My ink sketches are rough at this stage. I scan those, clean them up a bit and print each spread as close to actual size as I can. With marker paper, several good ol’ #2 pencils, and a kneaded eraser, I set to work creating the final detailed pencil sketches. Marker paper is see-through without needing a light box, but not as smeary as tracing paper. I scanned those sketches and put them together back in their spreads. I cleaned them up, made pngs which I made into a pdf and emailed it to the AD. He came back to me with only a few revisions.

Value and Color Thumbnails — I made a contact sheet in Photoshop of the sketches on an 11x17 document. I added a layer with my paper in a gray tone, creating an overall stormy feel. A second layer for value, establishing mood, and a third layer for color studies. I created a limited palette, keeping in mind the stormy feel of the story and moving to a light and happy feeling in the end.

“You have perfectly captured the moods of the various scenes, giving the story "life" in your depictions of the throwing of the fishing net, the ferociousness of the storm at sea, the mermaid's creation of the lace, and so on.” ~ Claudia Cangilla McAdam

Final Painting Begins
— I paint in Photoshop with my own brushes, textured papers, and color palettes, plus a ton of layers. I could do a whole-nother post about the ups and downs of finishing a full book. There were days I thought I was brilliant, and days when I felt like a total fraud with no right to get to draw and paint for a living. Every book has this stage no matter how much I’ve learned and grown and figured out what I’m doing.


Finish the Dang Thing Already — And then comes the finishing. This may be the hardest of all stages for me. I have a resistance to finishing things. I don’t know why. That’s just the crazy way I am. One night my husband told me to sit and finish one at a time. I had the final highlights and finishing touches and fixes and whatnots to do. When I finished one I’d shout it out. I was reward with a DING-DING-DING and a compliment of some encouraging sort. Then it was back to the next one.

I finally finished them and sent them off to the Art Director. The end result: A love fest with my art, and an offer for another book. Cody and Grandpa’s Christmas Tradition written by Gary Metivier. You can read a guest post with Gary here.

I'd love to hear your thoughts or questions on my process. Or feel free to share how you work. Thanks for your visit.


Live, laugh, and learn!

Book Trailer

Get your own copy of The Mermaid's at:
Barnes and Noble
Pelican Publishing

Monday, May 8, 2017

New Games for Family Game Night

It's game time!
We're so happy to be able to share with you several new games that are perfect for your next family game night. We helped develop these games with the fun folks at Roosterfin Games. In addition to helping create the game mechanics and do a bunch of play testing, we designed the games, created the fun and wacky characters, designed and illustrated all the game parts, instructions, and the packaging as well. We also created 3D images to be used for promotion and for the backs of the game boxes.

We love playing and creating games, and we hope you enjoy these new additions to the game world. These fun tabletop games are available at Roosterfin Games as well as on Amazon.

Please contact us if you're interested in working with us to develop a new game. Have some fun today and play a game or two

Imagine That! Design

Designed and Illustrated by Imagine That! Design

Designed and Illustrated by Imagine That! Design

Designed and Illustrated by Imagine That! Design

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Creation of Juneberry Square

The adventure of Booker T. Bear and his friend Dahlya Dragonfly all began in their hometown, Juneberry Square. Why the name and the pretty trees with white blossoms? In her original research for the series, the author, Jen Jellyfish, M.M., wanted to find a unique berry that's not commonly known. With delight she found there's a real berry called a juneberry. This discovery brought her such surprise and joy because her mom's middle name is June, which is the name she goes by, and the middle name of her daughter. The town's name, Juneberry Square, is a tribute to them.

Before sketching began, we received detailed notes for the illustrations for the series and for the first book. These are the notes for the first page of book 1.

Author notes for the illustration of Juneberry Square:
• Quaint but brightly colored town square that’s round; readers’ view facing into the square at street level, able to see shop fronts. So, only a horseshoe-shaped section of the shops will be visible, but the park in the middle will show the full-circle shape.
• Round grassy park as the center of the town square—full circle visible; park includes: fountain in the center, brick stroll path(s) leading to fountain, full-blossomed Juneberry trees, shading the park
flowers and grasses, the standard park benches, trash containers, birds, squirrels, etc . . .
• A roundabout road separates the park from the shops—a horseshoe roundabout since the view of the whole square is as though the viewer is standing on the street looking into the square from one end—stores on the other three sides of the roundabout. Make sense? 
• Fun, kid-inviting shops facing the park, lining the roundabout.
• DAHLYA’S DINER is the square’s main attraction—THE hangout—clearly identifiable among the other shops it’s nestled between The Bee-Nutty shop which is the secondary main shop of attraction
Booker-Dahlya, Grandpop, and Grandmop – on storyline page 1 – should appear, each posed at a different location in the square. For example, Grandpop cleaning the Bee-Nutty Shop window front? Grandmop seen from inside shop window? Booker and Dahlya at the diner front?

Booker always wears a brightly-colored, plain T-shirt. At various times he wears a matching ball cap. 
T-shirts and caps have no graphics or lettering.

We started the project with this knowledge and with the established character of Booker T. Bear from The Library Store, and the basic look for Dahlya Dragonfly.

The sketching began all loose and messy as we tried to get a feel for the town. Pages and pages of sketches later, we had a rough sketch we were happy with. We scanned that mess into the computer and cleaned it up in Photoshop. This is the sketch we sent to the client (Jen and The Library Story) for approval.

Imagine That! Design
Booker T. Bear, Juneberry Square cleaned up sketch

Imagine That! Design
Booker T. Bear, Juneberry Square rough sketch

Jen was thrilled with our vision for Juneberry Square, so we moved to finalizing the illustration. For the first step, we created a black line using Manga. We exported that to Photoshop and colored it in with bright fun colors and our signature texture. And there you have Booker T. Bear and Dahlya Dragonfly's hometown, Juneberry Square.
Imagine That! Design
Booker T. Bear, Juneberry Square Final
Imagine That! Design
Booker T. Bear, Juneberry Square black line

After we had completed the first four books in the series, Booker needed a website in order to share his adventures with the world. Jen enjoyed the toy store on the right, so they asked us to create a full toy and book store for the website. We also created the insides for other shops. To see inside the Bee Nutty Shop, Dahlya's Diner and The Toy & Book Shop check out Booker T. Bear's website www. Don't forget to buy a book or two while there and share in the fun with Booker and Dahlya on their adventures across the globe.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Booker T. Bear Goes Live!

We're very excited to announce that Booker T. Bear's Website is up and running! Yay! Go check it out, buy a book or two, and have some fun exploring Juneberry Square. Books 1 and 2 will be available very soon and are available for preorder. The series was written by Jen Jellyfish, M.M. illustrated by the creative team at Imagine That! Design (Traci & Kurt) and brought to you by The Library Store, Inc.

 We'd love to hear what you think of Booker's fun adventures.

illustrated by Kurt Keller and Traci Van Wagoner
Booker T. Bear Let's Go Series Book 2
illustrated by Kurt Keller and Traci Van Wagoner
Booker T. Bear Let's Go Series Book 1

Friday, January 6, 2017

Arrr, Back To Work

Traci Van Wagoner illustrationHappy Friday! It's been our first week back at work in 2017 after a nice holiday break, and this pirate whipped us into shape with a good, "Arrrr, get back to work, matey!" He came from warm up sketches for a new game we're developing for Roosterfin Games.

We hope your first week back to work has been fruitful and full of adventurous fun.

Live. Laugh. Learn.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Happy New Year

Happy New Year illustration

We are back in the studio, getting to work and thought we'd send out a Happy New Year to everyone. We bid farewell to 2016 with many mixed emotions and look forward to 2017 with our eyes and hearts wide open. May the new year bring many fun adventures. We resolve to bring smiles, laughter, and warm fuzzy feelings to kids of all ages this year with our designs, illustrations, and writings.

Live. Laugh. Learn.

Traci & Kurt

Feel free to share your goals and resolutions for the new year in the comments.