Thursday, March 24, 2016

Creating a Coloring Book - Part 2: A Perfect World

I’m working on my next coloring book, and I thought it might be fun to document the process on my blog as I go along.  

In Part 1, I talked about some stuff that inspired me and got me thinking about creating a fun, beautiful world that people could escape into for a bit and fill with their own colors.

I started out by sketching some colorful critters.  I wanted to create some interesting characters that had personality and charm, and would also be fun to color.  I started thinking about colorful animals, or interesting parts of various creatures that I could combine into something new. 
Things like: butterfly wings, curly antenna, floppy ears, giraffe spots and other patterns and markings, feathery/leafy/curly/fluffy  tails, feathers and feathered wings, chameleon skin, fins, glowing angler fish lures, fat elephant feet, big, glowy, shiny eyes.

I also wanted a variety of kinds of characters - different shapes and sizes.  I wanted them all to look like they came from the same world, but were also unique to themselves.  I wondered: what if there were different “species” that lived together in harmony? 

What if the whole world lived together in harmony?

I really liked this idea.  What if the world functioned like a perfectly balanced, symbiotic ecosystem, where everyone did their part and contributed so everyone would benefit from a thriving and abundant natural “economy”…?
What would it take to create a world like that?  How would a world like that naturally evolve?

I decided that in my world, there wouldn’t be any social distinction among “species”.  They are all just considered “earthlings” (though this isn’t Earth, obviously.  I haven’t figured out what to call them yet!).  There are beings that are more like animals, and beings that are more like plants, but they all have a certain degree of sentience and they all hold each other in mutual respect.  The animals would take care of the plants, which would produce fruit to feed everyone.  Plants would be more than just providers of food or pretty things to look at – they could participate in society, be considered valuable allies – even friends!  Plant friends!  I like it!  

The “animal style” creatures would have a variety of features and body types that I could mix and match.  There would be some that looked more female, some that looked more male, some that were more androgynous.  Some more cutesy, some more elegant.  Some would be more mammalian, some more avian or amphibious, or combinations of all of those.
Because everyone considers everyone else their kin, they are naturally inclined to work together and share the resulting abundance with everyone else, so no one has to struggle to survive.  No one would have to resort to crime. They would work, but the work would be rewarding and perfectly suited to each person.  They would do their work with enthusiasm and have plenty of time for creative or relaxing pursuits.
 Their technology would work in harmony with the environment.  If you have cooperative plants that you can communicate with  – there are all kinds of things you could do with this idea!  Plants could be part of the architecture – supporting and wrapping around structures made of stone and earth and the only plant materials used would be stuff that wouldn’t harm the plants to harvest.
Energy would be generated with green technologies – wind and water power.  Some of the beings could produce bioluminescent light.  What if the plants could produce different useful compounds like medicines or glues or paints – just by communicating with them and feeding them different things…?  What if some creatures could produce cloth like a spider spins a web? 

 I began coming up with benign, organic solutions to various needs.  This helped shape the look of the world – natural shapes, rounded forms, curling vines.  Decorated pots and baskets, fruits and flowers that look like cool, ornate lanterns.  Stacked and standing stones with swirly carvings (just because I think they are cool looking!), pathways made of tree limbs, stairs made of mushrooms spiraling around a tree.  Windmills with sails that look like leaves, or wings – or wings made of leaves! Waterfalls and bubbling streams, ornate tents and banners, colorful costumes and funky hats.

My world would be shaped by a form of evolution that relies on symbiosis and mutual benefit instead of “survival of the fittest”.  A world where the people work together with the environment to create abundance instead of just carelessly using it.  A kinder, gentler world that we can escape into from time to time when our complicated world gets us down.

After awhile, it dawned on me that I was working through some fears and frustrations about the current political situation in the U.S., as well as environmental issues and other problems facing the world in general.  I think by creating my own little ideal hippie world that I could design from the ground up, I was exploring my own ideas of what I wished the world could be.  No conflicts, no poverty, no greed, no crime. 
I don’t want the book to be political – that’s not my goal at all, but I found that all the things I’ve learned about ecology and societies began to come into play as I began to fiddle with these ideas.  I am creating my own cozy little Utopia!

And most of this information won’t even be explicitly mentioned in the book (I'm not even sure there will be any writing in this book.  Perhaps some poems to go with each art page...if I can come up with anything decent!)...this is just stuff that sets up the world in my mind, that will come through in the design and artwork.  These things will be expressed visually through the scenes I choose to present and the details of the pictures.
I’ve found that once these kinds of establishing ideas start fitting together and gelling, that’s when everything else starts to “bubble up” naturally.  There’s a rhyme and a reason for things to sprout from.
          Years ago, when I was deep into exploring visual symbolism from cultures around the world, I came across a symbol that really appealed to me.  It’s an African adinkra symbol, one of a whole lexicon of icons used to decorate cloth and express specific ideas.            It’s called Funtunfunefu Denkyemfunefu (easy for YOU to say!), and it depicts “Siamese crocodiles” that share a stomach, but have two heads that fight over food.  It’s a warning about the dangers of infighting and tribalism, and a call for unity in diversity. 

                I think that’s a pretty good theme upon which to build a peaceful and thriving society.

Stay tuned for future updates!

I’m having trouble coming up with a name for my world and its inhabitants, which will also likely be the title of the book.  Any ideas?  Please share in the Comments section below!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Creating a Coloring Book - Part 1: I Am A Sponge!

I’m getting started on my next coloring book, and I thought it might be fun to document the process on my blog as I go along.  

 I have a file folder on my computer with several book concepts that I'm developing.  I jot down whatever ideas come to me, make notes, do some sketches, start thinking about how the idea can be expanded into 30 or so art pages.  Some ideas I can pretty easily envision as supporting a book project – others I have to kick around for a bit before they start coming together for me.  Sometimes they end up scrapped or incorporated into other ideas. 

My first book, Sacred Beauty, was basically a collection of art pieces I had done over the previous few years that I re-worked so they could be colored.  I also did several new mandalas and patterns to fill out the book.  Looking back now, there are couple of images I think I should have spent some more time on, but it was a learning experience, and I think I'm getting better with each book.

At the time, I had just found out about the “Adult Coloring Craze” and I felt a massive sense of urgency to get something out there as soon as possible.  So often, trends such as this hit fast and hard and then fade just as quickly. I’d often found out about trends too late to actually participate in them, which is just as well since they don’t often end up being  long-term opportunities anyway.
 I feel like this trend is different though – I think it has potential to become an established and permanent category of books (as well as an awesome opportunity for artists). So far, that seems to be the case.  And I love it! 
 I truly love the whole concept of coloring books – they are like collaborations between the artist and the colorists.  There are so many ways a picture can be interpreted as far as color choices and different mediums.  I love seeing how the same image can take on a variety of “flavors” depending on each colorist’s unique style.

After putting together the first book, I was hooked.  The self-publishing process has gotten much easier since the last time I looked into it.  I won’t claim that it’s easy to do everything yourself, but most of the skills required are things I’ve learned over the years of being a professional illustrator and artist, and the things I didn’t know how to do, I could learn by doing research on the internet and exploring the various programs now available. 
I am mainly self-taught, and I started when I was a child.  I would look at a cool drawing and really want to draw like that, so I figured out how to analyze and experiment until I was able to mimic the effect I was after.  This was back before the internet, so I was mainly working from comics, animation, books and magazines about movies and art books.
I think “learning how to learn” has been a big part of my journey as a person – both in art and in general.  It’s a pretty darn useful skill!  And now that we have the internet, there is this massive resource for learning how to do things, and most of it is free!  Amazing!
 In any case…

          After publishing my last book (The Lumina Chronicles), I took some time to redesign my website, put some downloadable print packs together and do some marketing and promotion to get the word out.  Since my books haven’t been picked up by brick-n-mortar stores yet (though they are available in the biggest book distributor catalog out there), I’ve got to let folks know my books exist and are available online. 
                I’ve also learned that buying coloring books online can be risky, since it’s often the case that the buyer can’t look inside the book, and are sometimes disappointed with the contents.  I’ve tried to eliminate that risk by making video tours and watermarked images available that show what’s inside my books. 
                In any case – that’s the boring part of being an artist, but it’s essential if I want to actually sell things to people!  I think I’m doing pretty well, for a self-publisher!  My sales have basically doubled in the last 2 months, so I must be doing something right!

So… I knew I wanted to do more books, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet. To be honest, I was pretty burned out after finishing The Lumina Chronicles.  It was a pretty intense project, and I think it turned out well and I’m really proud of it, but it was a lot of work!

I decided to take some time off and go into “Sponge Mode”.

I’ve found that I tend to move through a creative/receptive cycle as an artist.  There are times when I am full of ideas and inspired to create and produce, and times when I need to take a break and re-charge my creative batteries. 
                This usually involves watching a lot of movies and documentaries, looking through books or researching stuff on the internet, and sometimes playing video games.  A lot of this is just something passive to do that doesn’t tax my brain too much, but it is also often the source of new ideas that I can tuck into my Inspiration File.  Anything and everything goes into the mix!  I am a Sponge, soaking up what's around me and letting it swirl around in my brain until something new and interesting comes out!

                This time, the video games ended up being more inspiring than time-wasting.  I discovered that there’s a whole genre of YouTube videos of people playing video games – which sounds kind of stupid and boring, but I’ve become quite a fan.  I’m not a particularly skilled player, (and my reflexes and eyesight aren’t getting any better!) but I love video games as an art form.  Watching a skilled player go through the game allows me to appreciate the artwork and design without having to spend the hours (or hundreds of dollars on different game systems) to actually play it.  

from the "Dragon's Lair" arcade game.
               When I was a kid, I was fascinated with the Dragon’s Lair arcade game.  It was like an animated movie that you could play!  So cool!  But I sucked at it, and back then you had to pay with quarters to continue if you used up all of your lives.  I just wanted to watch the cartoon, especially the end scene, which you could only see of you were good enough to progress to the end of the game. 
                So instead of burning through my limited quarter supply and not getting very far because I was crap at it, I’d actually give my quarters to skilled players who had already made it halfway through the game – so I could hopefully watch them get to the end and see the whole story. 

                So – watching folks play on YouTube isn’t much different – except that I don’t have to spend quarters on it!  Win/Win!

                I also discovered that video games as an art form have really taken off.  There are some truly beautiful and unique games out there now, and the genre is gaining in popularity.
                The one that really blew my mind recently is Journey.  It’s difficult to describe, so if you’re curious, check out this video:

from the "Journey" video game.
               This game literally took my breath away – there are moments that are just epic and glorious, others that are quite frightening, or heartbreaking, or heartwarming.   The story is told completely through sound and imagery - there's no dialog at all.  You just wander through and try things and discover how it works and what's going on as you go along.  And the colors – WOW!   The artwork is so simple, yet elegant and evocative.  It truly creates a sense of atmosphere and mood and exotic mystery.
               I started seeking out other “artistic” games, and found some really cool stuff.  Another wonderful one is Ori and the Blind Forest.  The story is quite touching, and the artwork is just gorgeous - look at the colors!  Don't you just want to jump in there and explore?  Don't you want to COLOR this scene?  I do!

from "Ori and the Blind Forest" video game.

               It got me thinking about how much I love the imagery of a lot of games, which often involve designing entire worlds; scenery, costumes, characters, creatures.  I’ve done this kind of work on role-playing games before and I love it.  It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid.  I learned how to draw by copying other people’s designs, but then once I mastered the skills, I could apply them to creating my own characters and whatnot.
                I began revisiting a lot of the stuff that I loved as a kid – fantasy movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, comics and graphic novels like Elfquest, animated films and anime that created entire fantasy worlds.  I started looking at them from the point of view of pure visual imagery and coloring opportunities.

                I started thinking about doing a book that was set in its own unique world.  I had a few ideas of that nature in my file, but none of them quite felt right yet.

                I felt like doing something light and fun.  
                I pay attention to when colorists mention what they enjoy coloring (which is just about anything, truly!), and since a lot of folks color for stress relief, I thought that working with uplifting themes would be good.  Whimsical, charming, cute, but not too simplistic or sugary. Something that would appeal to both adults and kids. Something that was both familiar and exotic. Lots of fun details. 
I decided I wanted to create a fun, beautiful world that people could escape into for a bit and fill with their own colors.
                I began sketching out some little characters, playing with shapes, thinking about what my world would be like.  As I sketched and explored, the concepts began to coalesce into something that began to take on a life of its own.  The framework became clearer, and the details began to naturally bubble up.
                My Sponge was full and ready to release something new!

Continued in Part 2!

Are you a video game fan?  What games do you think have the best imagery and design?  Let me know in the comments!