Archive for the ‘design’ Category



Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Noisy Night was published recently in Japan, and I got a few copies in the mail. This is really amazing. When I learned this was happening, I really had my doubts whether it could be pulled off. It’s not merely translating the text and typesetting the words in a Japanese font. The words are integrally part of the illustrations. But man, this is amazing. 私は感銘を受けて

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Back a couple of years ago, I got the strangest manuscript. It was called Blobfish!, written by Julie Segal-Walters, and I didn’t have a clue what it was about. It was kind of a book about animals, it was kind of a meta-book thing where the illustrator and author get into a spat about how the book is supposed to go, and it was pretty funny. I signed on, and went about worrying about it for months. Usually, when I decide to illustrate a book, I have some idea what the book will look like. It’s usually clear why someone asked me to work on it, and I can see pretty quickly what I want to do with it. This one was an exception. Even my agent, in his email to me about the script, said it was weird.
Time went by, and I worked on other commitments, occasionally sketching from this story, and occasionally talking to the editor about what we might be doing with it. Julie made some revisions to the script, I stared the process of laying out the page-breaks and finding the story’s rhythms, and things started to fall into place.
Well, today is the book-birthday for the resulting picture book. Now it’s called (This is Not a Normal) Animal Book, and Paula Wiseman Books / Simon & Schuster has it available today for you to order up and read aloud to your kids, you partner, or yourself.

I’m pretty happy that we even got to have the “fake” cover as the case-cover here. The idea, of course, being that the illustrator sabotaged the jacket cover.

Matthew Winner, he who makes the All the Wonders podcast interviewed Julie and me a few weeks ago, and today that conversation went live. You can listen to us here.

This is a very different book than anything i’ve ever made. There are drawings in it, of course, but there are also pages and pages of cut paper, and crayons, and scissors, and sketches. My art studio became a photography studio for a week last year while I was photographing these objects. I even had jars of jelly (you’ll see why).

So, go get it. I think it’s hilarious.

Friday, July 14th, 2017

I first attended the Princeton Children’s Book Festival about three or four years ago and thought it was just terrific. Four big tents full of people reading, writing, illustrating, and especially buying books. I was set up next to Jon Scieszka where we were writing our names in copies of Frank Einstein, and I’ve been back each year since.
I was especially pleased when they asked me to make the poster for this year’s festival, which will be on September 23. I’d seen the posters that Peter Brown, Dan Yaccarino, and Greg Pizzoli made, and figured I better work hard on this one.

So… it’s time to reveal this thing. I’m also posting a few sketches from the process that led to the final design. Please enjoy thanks, and I hope to see you on September 23 in Princeton, NJ. Thanks to Susan Conlon, Caroline Quinones, and Tim Quinn for the opportunity and the help throughout the process.

princeton book festival poster

lettering, typography

sketch, princeton, book festival

sketch, princeton, book festival

sketch, princeton, book festival

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…