Archive for the ‘design’ Category



Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

I’ll be working on the rest next week. The festival itself is Sept 23.

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Recently designed a couple of posters for some bike events that i’d like to show off. One is for a ride taking place this weekend called Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo. It takes place over three counties in Pennsylvania, Luzerne, Lackawanna, and Wyoming (“Lu Lacka Wy Co”) and is more or less 100 miles long (Hundo). I’ve ridden it the last two years and I’ll be at it again on Sunday. These posters were printed by Ralph Stollenwerk at Pinkbikeralph here in Philly, and they look so good. They’re only available for riders, and have already sold out.

The second ride takes place in the fall, up near Williamsport PA and is called Keystone Gravel. It’s about 65 miles, and was the center of my favorite weekend on bikes last year. “Chainsaw” Donnie Breon puts this one together, and got in touch with me looking for a flier. I’d originally designed these two posters with Lu Lacka in mind, but when we went with the map idea instead, I told Donnie I had a better idea. There is a “his” and a “hers” and they look good hanging on the wall next to each other. These two are for sale on Etsy, together or separately, and will be printed by me mid-summer.

Here is a link to an album of pictures I took last year at Keystone Gravel.

And lastly, here’s a picture of me just after finishing Keystone Gravel last September, taken by the mighty Abe Landes of Firespire Photography.

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The Noisy Night review in the New York Times Book Review is out today, online, and will be on your porch in print tomorrow morning. The review was written by the amazing Sophie Blackall, last year’s Caldecott winner, and I’m thrilled. This is the first review in the NYT for a book I was part of, and I’m pretty happy that book readers everywhere will be eyeballing my drawings this weekend. Mac Barnett wrote just a few words in this manuscript, but boy are they the right words, and Noisy Night was a joy to illustrate.
Last week, at Books of Wonder in NYC, someone asked me whether I like working with other authors best, or whether I prefer to “have total control.” It’s hard to answer this, since it’s not really the right question. The biggest part about working on a book that I didn’t write is that I’d never have come up with a book like Noisy Night in my lifetime. So working on other authors’ books is a chance to get out of my own brain-hole and into someone else’s for a bit. But the truth is, I had more control over the look and function of this book, that Mac wrote, than I do over some books that I write and illustrate. This is partly because the books I write are typically part of a series, and there are certain aspects to a series revolving around branding and a set “world” that I have to confine myself within. The other part of this is that Mac writes a script, and then he’s done. We never really “collaborated” and he never told me what to do either directly or indirectly through the editor. I had 179 words (143 if you take out the small bit of stage direction Mac provided), and I had a few months to turn these words into a 32-page picture book. All that stuff in the middle was mine to make (with a lot of good advice and guidance from Anne Diebel, the art director on Noisy Night).
When Anne and I first started thinking of the form this book would take, we kept running into a few specific issues that made it an interesting challenge. Foremost, the book takes place in a 10-story apartment building. This means that the story goes up as it unfolds. First floor to second floor and so on. Now, a book opens left to right. We turn the pages horizontally. So, how do we make a book go up, as it inherently is a horizontal medium?
Of course, the first idea was to turn the book around 90 degrees. But 90 degrees clockwise, or counter-clockwise? Clockwise was out, since then we’d be reading the book down as we turned the pages. Counter-clockwise would at least have us turn the pages “upward” as we go along. I have to say here that I’m not a big fan of gimmicks like this. I read a lot of books to my kids when they were young, and I watched them read a lot of books as well. And when we had to turn books vertically, I always felt like it was a crutch. Plus, I feel like it makes the book unwieldy for such little people. Nevertheless, I gave it some thought, and if I were writing this book for that format, that might have worked. But I didn’t write it, and the way that Mac did, it didn’t lead to a natural page-turn that would have worked with a vertical format. For example, starting with the first bit of text:

What’s going la-la-la above my head?

A man is singing opera above my head.
What is going ma-ma-ma above my head?

We begin with a boy in bed hearing a noise above him. He asks “What’s going la-la-la above my head?”

The answer is “an opera singer,” but we don’t know this until we turn the page. When we make that turn, we see the opera singer (“LA LA LA!”) and we get the answer from the boy, on the floor below the singer: “A man is singing opera above my head.”

The next line, “What is going ma-ma-ma above my head?” is asked by the opera singer. Since he was busy going LA LA LA previously, we need a new page for this. Vertically, we would have to turn the page again, leading to a new (vertical) spread. Which would be pretty cool (if I liked such things…), but would double the length of the book as well. The way it’s written, we don’t need a new page-turn here. All we need is a new page. A shift of perspective from the boy’s response (“A man is singing opera…”) to the man now hearing something (“What is going ma-ma-ma…). A gutter is enough to separate one from the other, and in fact, to me, ties them together and adds some funny kinetic movement to the page (imagine it animated — or better yet, don’t imagine it). The gutter would also be a big problem with the vertical format, as each of the characters would fall into it somewhere. And with the voice balloons being the main text location, a lot of important stuff would fall into that gutter. A baby’s head. A crow’s face.
In the end, it just created a lot of unnecessary problems which outweighed benefits. Not to mention, did I mention this, I just don’t like having to make a kid turn a picture book vertically, anyway.

The solution we went with, shifting that perspective each page, clicked into place the moment I laid it out in a series of thumbnails. It created the rhythm I was looking for, and by using color, I could differentiate each story of the building from one another. They each got a color palette, which we could then use on the cover in the building windows as well.

This is before I decided to use the endpapers to help tell the story, but it does show the page patterns and colors.

I think my favorite part of making books, other than the fame and fortune and reviews in the New York Times, is this process of solving these weird problems, and constructing the form of the book before we even get to the illustrations. Finding the rhythms and patterns and motifs that make the story work. I know my rhythms, and when I write, I write to my strengths. But an author like Mac isn’t thinking about how the drawings will work, and probably not how the book will work. He’s focusing on the words alone, and the story they make. And the words that make Noisy Night are words that would never have been put together in my own imagination, and Noisy Night is a book I’d never have made on my own. What a treat.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Cover reveals are funny things. They’re a part of the kid-book business that I haven’t figured out whether I like ’em or not yet. (I’ve only been doing this for fifteen years – give me time.) To me, revealing a cover in some fancy way implies that everyone has been sitting out there waiting for it. In some cases I suspect that this is a real thing. But in other cases, it’s more like it’s being hoisted upon the Twitterers and Facebooks and Instagrams and becomes just more noise.
Sometimes, however, it can be fun, and last week was one of those times. Julie Segal-Walters and I have a book coming next fall where there are, kinda, two covers. The book is about the making of a book, where the premise is that the illustrator and the author are not in agreement as to how the pictures should look. The illustrator loses patience and finally just starts drawing whatever he wants. This extends to the cover, where the “original” cover is a staid, boring book cover. And the “actual” cover, that which will be see in stores and stuff, has been vandalized by the illustrator.
Jon Schumaker (Mr. Schu) and Colby Sharp teamed up to do simultaneous reveals of the covers. Colby interviewed Julie, the writer, and Mr. Schu talked to me. You’re going to hear a lot more about this book as we get closer to its release date in October. But for now, here are he covers, and the links to the reveals.

Mr. Schu’s thing with me, here.

Colby’s thing with Julie, here.

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

If you’re thinking about being all cute and romantic this Valentine’s Day, who can think of a better way to do that than with frog cards drawn by yours truly. Go get ’em at a nice paper-goods store near you, or order them (quick!) from Peaceable Kingdom.

Brian Biggs peaceable kingdom

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

160116_kustomcaps in the wild_002

Now and then a project comes along that turns out to me much more interesting and fun than it properly should be. This is one of those projects.
I ride bikes. A lot. One of the groups of dudes I ride with, we’ve started calling ourselves the Skirtpilots. The idea being if we ever enter a race, god forbid, or a club ride we might get hats or jerseys with “Skirtpilots” across the front.
Last year I entered a ride up near Wilkes-Barre PA called the Lu Lacka Wyco Hundo. This is a bear of a ride, with 103 miles of cycling and more than 10,000 feet of climbing. One of my Skirtpilots buddies entered the ride along with me, and the others signed up as volunteers. In appreciation for the support, I decided to get something nice done for them, so I found this company called Kustomcaps who makes cool little stem caps. What’s a stem cap? If you have a somewhat modern bike, it’s the round aluminum disc that caps the tube from your fork on the front. It probably has the brand of your bike or something like that on it, with a hex-bolt in the center.
So I designed a Skirtpilots cap, and had a dozen or so made in silver, orange and black.

skirtpilots caps

Not too long afterward, I got an email from Dan, the owner of Kustomcaps, asking me if I’d like to collaborate on a series of special caps. The idea being that I design 10-12 caps, and he manufactures and sells them. That’s an easy one. Yeah! I sent Dan fifteen designs, he chose twelve, and voila they’re for sale on the Kustomcaps website. Even if you don’t ride a bike, you know someone who does. And they’d love you for such a nice, unique gift, right?

Check ’em out here.

kustomcaps artist series

kustomcaps backside

my favorite three

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Muertos

(Click the images to see them bigger. In some cases, much bigger.)
I was recently asked by Steven Malk, my literary agent at Writers House, to create a promotional card for the upcoming holiday. No, not Halloween. Rather, the Day of the Dead, or Díos de los Muertos. I actually volunteered for this — he is putting together a series of these promotional images for the lesser-known holidays. Arbor Day, Grandparent’s Day, and so on. When I saw Muertos on the list I jumped at the chance. I’ve long admired the work of J.G. Posada, whose wood-cut skeletons and other imagery I associate with the holiday.

8097112_orig

cyclists---Posada

diadetrans

Originally I thought I might even play with some printmaking techniques to pay a little homage to Posada as I make this image, but I quickly realized that with the looming deadline for the second Frank Einstein book, this would not be possible. I had to do what I do the way I know how to do it, and go from there.

I pretty much knew what I wanted to do from the start. The festive atmosphere of a Day of the Dead celebration is one that everyone should at some point experience. I don’t love the goofy goth-horror side that Americans have sort of adapted over the years, and I wanted the story told here to be less about the costumes and more about the idea of this old guy moving from this life to the next. I went through a few phases with the sketches but it came together pretty quickly.
Below I post various steps in the process, in order that I made them, and some details from the final art.

The first sketch -- just two guys.

The first sketch — just two guys.

I thought a background would be involved at first.

I thought a background would be involved at first.

Working out color stuff.

Working out color stuff.

The big tight sketch that becomes the basis for the inked art.

The big tight sketch that becomes the basis for the inked art.

Inked and scanned, ready for color in Photoshop.

Inked and scanned, ready for color in Photoshop.

trio_detail1

trio_detail3

trio_detail2

The printed card.

The printed card.

The reverse side with the necessary information.

The reverse side with the necessary information.

The printed card is only 4.25″ x 6″, so I’m sad that a lot of the detail of the line-work is difficult to make out. I’d love to print this thing bigger at some point. Maybe when I get the mythical screen-printing gear in my closet here set up and running…

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

FRANKcoverscan

Today is publication day for Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor. This is the first book in the six-book Frank Einstein series, written by the lovely and talented Jon Scieszka and published by Amulet/Abrams. When a new book comes out, I always like to publish a post showing sketches and process. You might think this is more boring than canned peas. But I like it, and I know one other guy who does as well so at least there will be him reading.

I first learned about this book series back in the fall of 2012. Jon had just come up with the idea and was tossing ideas around. I worked up some sketches (seen below), and the next thing I knew, there was a contract and a deadline. As Jon wrote the first book over most of 2013, I completed work on Everything Goes and some other books, checking in every now and then and producing the odd sketch here and there.

I’d never worked on a book where the author had not yet finished the manuscript. This created a very different kind of process, where I was sketching covers that included characters that did not even end up in the final script, for example. We didn’t know what the characters should look like, and we didn’t know what personalities the robots had. At some points, the tall robot would be the erudite, smart guy, and the short robot would be the emotional goofball. Jon felt that this overlapped C3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars a bit much, so he went with the reverse in the end. In some ways, my early sketches influenced some of the characters and scenes in the book and it was pretty interesting to be part of the process so early. For this reason, these early sketches I’m posting here are different from early sketches of most of my projects. Interesting to note that on the cover sketch, the name of the book didn’t even exist yet. Jon went through several possible titles, some of which you’ll see in later sketches here.

(Click on the image to embiggen it and see it more better.)

The first sketch of Frank and the robots. It's like looking at dinosaurs.

The first sketch of Frank and the robots. It’s like looking at dinosaurs.

Early early cover design.

Early early cover design.

Klanks. Or are they Klinks?

Klanks. Or are they Klinks?

Very early Klink. He became  Klank.

Very early Klink. He became Klank.

early versions of Klink and Klank

early versions of Klink and Klank

Sketch of Frank used in the original proposal.

Sketch of Frank used in the original proposal.

Robot Army?

Robot Army?

We tried various directions as we contemplated the cover art. One of the suggestions from former teenage heart-throb Charlie Kochman, the editor of the series, was to consider an invention of some kind on the cover. Like something Rube Goldberg would design. I love Goldberg and this made a lot of sense to me immediately, but I had no idea how we’d pull it off, and the idea of “inventing” my own Goldberg was pretty daunting. Here are a few that show the invention idea just kind of dummied in, and then a batch of sketches that show a more action-packed cover that I thought was reminiscent of a movie poster.

FRANK-sketches

FRANKsketches

We liked aspects of these, but I was having a hard time making them work. I really liked the movie-poster ones, but apparently no one else did!

Jon had suggested in various ways that the books might look like journals. Like something a scientist would carry around in their pocket to make notes and record observations. I knocked off this field-guide-looking version at some point, and Jon and I both loved it. There was no way that we’d ever get this to be “the cover” but it was an interesting place to start.

A Field Guide to Robots, apparently

A Field Guide to Robots, apparently

Not knowing then that this was eventually going to be a dead-end street, I started digging up reference and inspiration for this kind of thing. Journals, science-fiction manuals, and especially old text books had such a great look to them. I felt that with the older crowd that we were shooting for here (as opposed to 3-5 year olds as we might be for a picture book) that we might be able to do something with this that had a retro-sophisticated spin.

inspiration

Several directions came from this exploration. I loved the idea of breaking up the cover into these panels, where we could show various characters and scenes from the book, but also symbolize various scientific principles and ideas. They reminded me of comic-book panels, which I thought was perfect. I imagined they would be in three-color printing: black and two other colors. You can see that when the two colors overlap, they create a third.

FRANKcoversketch_revis5

FRANKcoversketch-revis3

FRANKas-textbook2

FRANKas-textbook

Amazingly, we got a preliminary go-ahead on this direction with the caveat that there was one more meeting coming up where the concept had to pass muster. I kept my fingers crossed. Alas, it was a no-go. One never knows exactly who said what or how things went, but the general consensus that I understood was something along the lines of “oh my god, everyone hated this.” It was too subtle and esoteric for the kind of audience they were aiming at, and it was just too weird and busy. The problem now is that we were late late late with the cover, and marketing really needed something to work with. Chad, the art director of the project, went back to some early concepts that were more straightforward, more direct, simpler to understand, and simpler to execute. Sounds like a plan.
I’d designed this type treatment for the Frank Einstein title, which was a nice anchor.

FRANKtype1

FRANK-EINSTEIN-oldtype

Chad’s direction was something like “let’s just get the three main characters in the middle, doing something, and let’s put the type on the top.” It worked!

finally, something good!

finally, something good!

Here’s a cleaner furthering of this idea.

Frank cover sketch

Everybody loved it! They had no choice! We had to get this done! But everyone loved it anyway!

Closer....

Closer….

Ironically, there were some issues with the title typography which Chad solved with the sleek sophisticated logotype below. As a small aside, this is the first book I’ve ever illustrated that I didn’t hand-letter the title. Just a little trivia for you there.

Chad's type treatment

Chad’s type treatment

I designed this atomic-themed background pattern to replace the graph paper,

FRANKatom_background

Chad put everything together into a crazy complicated Photoshop file, and voila! We have a cover.

The final cover

Now that was easy, wasn’t it?

One of the cool, more subtle things about this cover (and the five remaining as well) is that it’s not just a scene of the characters “doing something.” We kept the Rube Goldberg-inspired riff, where the mechanics of the illustration are explained with text on the back cover. Here’s an example of a Goldberg cartoon:

Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg

And here is the text as it was placed on the back cover of Frank Einstein.

rubetext

I’m also posting a few interior illustrations and some of the early earliest sketches of the same scenes. Certain aspects of the book Jon had locked in from the beginning. Like the climactic confrontation at an old industrial site/factory/power plant. And the Frankenstein riff at the beginning. It’s weird to see the drawings here, created more than a year apart.

climactic scene, after

climactic scene, after

climactic scene, before

climactic scene, before

opening scene, before

opening scene, before

opening scene, after

opening scene, after

Again, the book is out now now now and you can go get it at your favorite bookseller or, if you must, a big chain store or online retailer.

Read the book? Like the book? Leave a comment…
Thanks and please enjoy!

Frank 1 cover

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Some things take a lot of work, and some things just fall right there into place. This is of the latter. Just had an idea one morning to do some identity work for my ongoing music project, Dance Robot, Dance. This started out years ago consisting of only computer-based electronic music made with software and has expanded into a sprawling thing that covers all the instruments I know how to play as well as interesting recording techniques and editing processes. I chose my main four tools to use here: electric guitar, accordion, modular synthesizer, and sax.
The result here was created digitally, but I’d like to use it with rubber stamps and screen-printing, for starters.

drd-stamp1

drd-stamp3

drd-stamp4

drd-stamp5

drd-stamp2

drd-stamp6

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Everything Goes by Sea

(This post was partially written yesterday, October 22, before my old and reliable laptop took a day off while on my current book tour. 24 hours later, the cursed device suddenly began working again, so I’m currently sitting in the staff break room of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh NC finishing this post and getting it up into the world…)

Today (yesterday) is October 22, which is the day that HarperCollins is publishing Everything Goes: By Sea, the third, last, and final picture book in the Everything Goes series. What this means is that you can go buy it now. So, that said, I’ll take a little break here and let you take care of that business.

Indiebound
Amazon

Okay, thanks for that.

The publication of this third book in the series represents the culmination of about six years of pretty solid work for me on this project. I first started knocking around the idea of Everything Goes back in 2007, at which point it was just a note in a sketchbook that said “transportation project.” I loved (love — I still do…) drawing vehicles of all kinds. I created a book for French publisher Éditions du Rouergue back in 2003 that I had a blast making, and my literary agent Steven Malk had been encouraging me to racket in vehicles again but with something more palatable to American publishers.

By summer of 2008 I had a folder thick with ideas. My good friend and longtime creative sorter-outer Jason and I spent a couple of days going through the piles of dozens of pages of script and hundreds of sketches, trying to find threads that held the various decent ideas together. After these marathon sessions at the Philadelphia Central Library, I could see what was going on and where it could go, and it was at that point that I started to get excited.

It was at a coffee shop with my now-wife Sacha that I realized that this was not one huge tome, but rather would be best split into three separate books, each covering a different mode of transport (land, air, sea).

And then it was in May of 2009 that I created a proposal that my agent took to publishing houses and led to Donna Bray at Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins offering to publish it. Donna also suggested that we include three I Can Read books and six board books in the enterprise, which made the whole thing feel huge.

The first book was begun in earnest around the beginning of 2010 and completed more than a year later, in February 2011. The second book was done in March 2012, and the third book was done April 22, 2013. The first book took longer since it set the template for the next two.
The very final piece I drew was this little boat for the endpapers of By Sea. In fact, it was the word “WOO” that completed the work.

sea-endpapers


I like process, and I always love seeing the preliminary work that goes into a book or film or almost anything. So I’m posting here a bunch of images of sketches and the work that went into the cover for Everything Goes By Sea.

BY SEA sketchbook1

BY SEA sketchbook2

These two images are from my little moleskine sketchbooks that I keep. As I began thinking about and planning the By Sea cover, I knew pretty quickly that I was going to have the “By Sea” subtitle on the sails of a sailboat, so that motif appears pretty quickly. Looking at these now, I’m a little surprised how much the partial cover-sketch at the top of the second image looks like the final cover.


EGSEA_cover_thumb

This is the first rough thumbnail of the entire cover. By the time the third book in this series comes along, a couple of things are already designed and in place. For example, the Everything Goes logo will be the same as before and will be in the same place, and the subtitle of the book (By Sea) and my name will be incorporated into the illustration in some way. Here are the previous two covers for comparison.

land-air-covers


SEA-COVER-sketch

EG by sea cover template

These two images are pretty similar and, in fact, are created from the same drawing. Or in this case possibly several drawings, since at this stage I’m sometimes drawing some of the boats separately, scanning and placing them into the sketch digitally. That’s how I put the logo on the cover as well. The second image is the one I send to HarperCollins, where the shading and title logo makes the piece look a little more finished and slick.


SEA COVER scan

After I get approval on the sketch, the next thing I make is this inked line-drawing of the cover. This is my favorite part of the process. I use black ink with a brush, but my ink is watered down quite a lot (a little more than I’d like, actually) which is why the big black areas actually look grey. Again, the drawing is made without the title logo, since the logo was created for the first book and I just use that again each time I need it.

everything goes logo

There is a pretty good little video of me doing this part of the process with the second book, In the Air, here.

EG2 cover timelapse from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

The inked line drawing is scanned into the computer and then it’s opened in Photoshop where all of the coloring and final work takes place.


SEA COVER color pre

This is the same line-art drawing once it’s scanned in and touched up.It now has the title added to it and I’ve cleaned up the lines a little. Often, cleaning up the lines means a significant amount of Photoshop surgery, but in this case it was pretty close to right the first time.


Everything Goes by Sea

And here, as at the top of the page, is the final finished color cover.

Also, here is a video of the digital coloring of the second cover so you can see how that is done.

coloring everything goes air from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.


I thought I might also include a couple of real-world uses for a book such as this. The first example was taken by a friend of mine in Calgary, Alberta who has a son named Bas. Bas is apparently enjoying Everything Goes By Sea.

The second and third photo is a display at the book store where I am currently writing this missive. Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh NC has a beautiful display of Everything Goes books, and if you have a book store or even a living room, I encourage you set up something similar.

bas

quail ridge 1

quail ridge 2

raceboats