Archive for the ‘illustrations’ Category



Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

It’s been a weird couple of months. Back in December I broke my ankle while riding my bike, and if you know me at all you know that this is a big deal. Bikes are therapy. Getting out of the house and studio and into the woods, getting a little exercise, and getting out of my head for a bit. When the doctor told me it was broken and I’d be off the bike for ten-to-twelve weeks I nearly lost it.

Well, fast forward nine weeks, and we’re at the tail end of the long national nightmare. And I’m making some lemonade here. First, the weather. It’s been pretty bad since mid-December. I haven’t really missed much. I’m not one that worries much about weather, as I will go out and happily ride bikes in the worst of it. But I stay off the trails when they’re slushy and muddy, and I think they’ve been slushy and muddy since Christmas. Second, I’ve had something of a mini-creative renaissance the last two months. Work, real work, has been slow, and I’ve had the time to dig in on this super-hero picture book I’ve been working on all year and play with technique stuff. I’ve been so busy the last decade that most of the work I’ve done has been on tight deadlines and I haven’t been able to, or had the wherewithal to experiment much. I draw, scan, digital-color, done. But with this book I’ve been wanting to get away from the computer.

To that end, I’ve been re-learning how to paint and color and make things with pencils and ink and paper, and it’s been kind of great. Scary, but that’s what makes me realize how much I’ve been using the computer and photoshop as a crutch.

As part of the same line of thinking, Sacha and a few colleagues convinced me to start a second Instagram account focused on my illustrations and creative work. My original account is more of a day-to-day visual diary: dog photos, vacation pictures, Friday-night cocktails, and a lot of pictures of bikes. People actually complained. But mostly, I think, people just didn’t follow. Say someone sees my work somewhere and goes to instagram to see if I have an account. They find it and see ten pictures of bicycles and Negronis and Sacha and the dog punctuated by one drawing from a sketchbook, and they move on.

So, fine, I started a new account. This one dedicated to drawings, illustrations, books, making things. And so far so good. Knowing I have a hole to fill makes me work. After breaking my ankle, I worked from home for four weeks, and spent an hour or so every morning drawing for fun. Just stuff that was in my head. I know, it seems like this wold be a normal activity for me. But it wasn’t. Instead, I bicycled. Or read the internet. Or… worked. Remember, I’ve been busy for the last decade. Time to just screw around and draw wasn’t at the top of my to-do list. (This might be the subject of another post one day, but for years I had no interest in drawing for fun. If I wasn’t in the studio on deadline, I wanted to be doing something else. Riding bikes, for example. Or playing guitar. Or watching tv. Anything. So I’ve been coasting, creatively, and that’s bad. But let’s move on.

One of the interesting things about the new account is that the work it feeds to me to look at is different. Rather than bikes and bike things, I was finding new illustrators and artists. Really lovely stuff. Inspirational stuff. And I started drawing. Drawing drawing drawing.

Somewhere along the line I started drawing a lot of fish.

And then somewhere else I started thinking how cool it would be to have these fish be a thing. A thing that can be held and looked at and turned around. An object. How would I go about this? Wood. I’ll make it out of wood! How hard could that be? It was right before christmas that I watched a YouTube video about carving wood and ordered a few tools. The videos I was finding were all “whittling” and most had little gnomes and country-folk as their subject matter. But nevermind, the techniques were the same. I watched. And on January 16 I started carving.

That was fun! Something clicked. I made another one.

I painted them and made little stands for them.

Next, I wanted to try a different kind of wood. Basswood is fine, but it’s like using crayons when you know there are oil paints out there. My friend Kirk found a nice block of butternut at a lumberyard and gifted it to me with the request that he get a fish. So I cut a block and went to work on my third.

Butternut is more satisfying, but more difficult as well. Here, you can get a better idea of the size. It’s a little larger. The teeth/mouth were the tough end-grain of the block (lemons/lemonade) and I painted this one with acrylic, following a coat of linseed oil to protect the wood. Kirk named this fish “Beulah.”

Without question, this is incredibly satisfying. It’s exactly what I wanted when I started down this rabbit hole two months ago. My head is full of ideas. Different fish, birds, skulls, things that move… I even picked up a collection of old doll legs and arms off eBay, cause I have some ideas

Where is this gonna take me? Who knows. Who cares. Maybe I’ll sell some. Maybe I’ll just give them away to friends. I know I plan to give each of my siblings a fish, and make some birds for our Christmas tree this year. I’m feeling ambitious…

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

In more ways than one.

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Ten years ago I made a series of six race car collages that screwed up my brain. See, I draw. I’ve always drawn. The idea of making images with cut paper seemed so foreign, and making these race cars was so crazy fun and weird and maybe 10% scary. It’s not digital, there is no undo, and it’s like trying to learn to communicate effectively in a different language. I know how a car looks when I draw it, but how does it look if I make it with paper and glue?

Mainly, I loved the process and I couldn’t wait to do more. But somehow ten years and about 35 books went by and I only periodically messed around with the technique. I have stayed in touch with collage, from afar. My friend Kevin Mercer makes lovely work, and I’ve read a bunch of books and seen some exhibits while I waited for the opportunity.

Well, waiting for opportunities is dumb. You don’t wait for them, you make them. So after finishing a picture book a few weeks ago, I blocked some time and got to work. The excuse here is an alphabet book I want to pitch, and these are practice images. Both are cut paper on pine boards. One is 10×10 inches and the other is 12×12. Both utilize magazines, comics, scanned images from an old plumbing and heating manual, and other printed ephemera. And the enjoyment has not slipped away. This is fun stuff and I can’t wait to make more.

Here are some process photos of how these things come together. The two pictures of the book are from “Audels House Heating Guide 1948” which was used for the robot parts in the rear of the blue truck, as well as the rear of the truck itself.



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.

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

The sixth book in the Tinyville Town series is out today, called “I’m a Police Officer.” It follows our hero, Kathy, as she walks her beat, solves a crime, and generally keeps the citizens of Tinyville Town safe. It’s available today at a bookseller near you.

I also want to point out that it’s dedicated to my good friend from high school, Jennifer Coffelt of the Houston Police. Because she’s awesome.

Jennifer Orsak Koffert houston police

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

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Today is the “book birthday” for the 2nd picture book in the Tinyville Town series. This one is called “Time for School” and it follows our hero, Ellie Emberley, as she begins her first day at Tinyville Town Elementary.

The name “Ellie” came from my daughter, Elliot, and “Emberley” from one of my first favorite illustrators, Ed Emberley. Mainly, I like the alliteration of the names, and it’s fun to say while reading aloud.


I also made another time-lapse video of the drawing of the cover art. I hope you like watching this stuff as much as I like making it. Buy it on Indiebound here!

Time for School cover draw. from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

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.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Philadelphia Weekly

Back in the year 2000, I was asked to design two alternate covers for Philadelphia Weekly’s election issue. This issue would go to print on Tuesday night election night, and be in newsstands on Wednesday morning. One was to depict Bush winning (note the family car on its way to Canada) and the other would show Gore (the marching band with the guilty Nader voter). I recall being on the phone that afternoon with the art director, Jeff Cox, and him telling me the fear was that we’d get to midnight and still not know.
Well, most of us remember how that turned out. I woke up the next day hungover from the late night Florida surprise to find this third cover in the newspaper boxes around town. Jeff had to throw it together in 15 minutes when it was clear that the election wasn’t over. I remember being bummed that my cover would never see the light of day, and thinking that elections couldn’t ever get any worse than that one, and now the whole thing just seems so quaint.
I’m with Her.