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What’s old is new again

May 26th, 2017

I’ve been doing some updating on the site. Two months ago, we changed servers from Laughing Squid to some kind of custom thing my teenage son made with Digital Ocean. I don’t know if you’ve notice the difference, but it’s huge. Much quicker, more responsive. We had some email glitches but those are fixed and all seems to be working well.
The only remaining issue is in converting my old illustration galleries to new formats and getting them to work. I’m also going through and finding out-of-date media and trying to convert it to modern stuff. Namely, Flash animations to anything that isn’t Flash. One of my first attempts at animation was in 2004 with the trailer to a little French book I made called Un Mode de Transport. Today I nailed it down using a .FLV file I found in my archive hard drive, and converted it using Adobe Media Encoder. The soundtrack was made using Propellerhead Reason, which was the first electronic music software I played with. Here I sampled my own voice for the first part, and used a bunch of accordion and percussion samples for the second. It’s always nice to use hot-stuff electronic music software to make something sound like it was recorded in a kitchen with pots and pans.


Un Mode de Transport from Brian Biggs on Vimeo.

covering Everything Goes, pt 2

June 7th, 2011

Yesterday I showed the process leading up to the cover of Everything Goes: On Land. Without further ado or brouhaha, here’s the final cover of the book. Click the image to see it quite a bit larger.

The cover design had to be indicative of the work that’s in the book, and I do believe it is. Cars and trucks, bikes and motorcycles, buses, construction vehicles, trains, and whatever else made it in the book and on this cover. Vehicles going this way and that way, all kinds of people riding and driving them, and even a friend’s blue and white striped Mini Cooper.

Once the final sketch was approved, I use that as the basis to create the inked drawing. I usually try to create my illustrations to the exact size that they’ll be printed. Everything Goes is going to be a big book — twelve inches tall and ten inches wide — so this was no problem. I draw the illustration using a big lightbox on nice Strathmore 500 series bristol with watered-down india ink, and use white gouache to carve out areas and add details.

If you take a look at the close-up image below, the wheels of the train, the white outlines of the train windows, the railroad ties, and the wing of the small black bird are examples of where I paint the negative space, or the white areas. When I inked the drawing, the area under the train was solid black. This part of the process is easily my favorite, as it’s a real joy to see these details appear and everything come together.

You may also notice that there is no type on the black-and-white line drawing. This is because when I do work like this I always draw the type and add it digitally.

Once these are all complete, they get scanned into the computer where I use Photoshop to color everything and piece it together. When it’s complete, I save it as a TIF file and send it to the designer at the publishing house (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins in the case of Everything Goes).

Everything Goes: On Land is scheduled to be released on September 13. I’m currently working on book two of the series, which is called “In the Air,” and which will be published a year later. Lastly, “On the Sea” will come out in 2013. I don’t have the covers sketched for either of these two books yet, but they will be similar in idea and business to “On Land.” And of course I’ll post here about them when they’re ready to make their way into the world. Stay tuned!

yo, taxi!

May 5th, 2011

Interesting piece in the New York Times today about the new Nissan van that is to replace the Ford Crown Victoria as the “official” New York taxicab over the next several years. The first time I visited New York in 1985, I was lucky enough to take a Checker Cab once or twice in the four weeks I was there. They were big and spacious and held a ton of luggage. By the time I moved there to go to college in 1987, I don’t recall ever seeing a Checker Cab. Rather, the Ford Crown Victoria — the same car the police department used for their cruisers — was pretty ubiquitous. While I was in school (design school mind you) I remember reading an article in a magazine about vehicles designed specifically as cabs. They were boxy and electric, and seemed much more appropriate as a vehicle that could get one around town while having more cargo room and taking up less space. When I loved lived in Paris I was surprised to find a large number of Mercedes taxis along with the Peugeots and Renaults. But it still seemed silly to have these sedans fitted with a meter and a sign on top pretending to be a variation on public transportation.
Over the last several years, as I visit NY often now, I’ve been seeing and riding in more and more Ford Escape hybrid SUV taxis. These made a lot more sense to me as taxis, what with the cargo space and the fuel-efficient engine. Now the Nissan NV200 has been chosen to take over, and by the end of the decade pretty much every cab in NY will be an electric minivan. Albeit one designed specifically for New York’s “peculiar” needs as Mayor Bloomberg put it.

While some seem to be lamenting the idea that a suburban minivan will be the new New York City taxi, I kind of feel that once the Checker Cab was replaced with the Crown Vic, whatever romance or ideal one had about the city cab was gone already. It was like riding around in Grandpa’s car. The Nissan, as goofy-looking as it is, makes more sense as a taxi. I espcially like the huge sun roof that will allow one to stare up at the skyscrapers as one goes from place to place. That’s my kind of taxi.

However, I will say right now that no matter how much sense these taxis make, and no matter how slick is the sunroof and how much gas will be saved, when I draw a taxi, my taxis will always be, more or less, a Checker. Everything Goes: On Land is full of taxis (comes out in September…) and as you can see it’s pretty clear that I derive the look and feel of these things in fact many of my cars taxi or not, from the look of the Checker.

subway map

May 28th, 2010

I’ve been interested in maps since forever. When I was younger I had maps of The World, Europe, the US, and various archipelagos and islands pinned to my wall in Pasadena, Texas, reminding me every day that there was a big ol’ world out there beyond southeastern Texas. At some point I went through my grandmother’s collection of National Geographics and stole as many maps from that magazine as I could. Years later, when I was in high school, my grandmother mailed to me a box of the ones I apparently missed. Being a nerd, I was into Dungeons & Dragons, of course, and I only played “dungeon master” merely so I could create the myths and especially draw the detailed maps of fictional worlds that the players were forced to explore.
Later on, in my San Francisco apartment, I had USGS survey maps of various national parks (Yosemite Valley and the Grand Canyon most memorably), a bus map of Paris, and an old map of the New York City Subway.

The NYC Subway map holds a special place both in my heart and my own special version of hell. I spent a summer in NYC in 1985 when I was 17 years old, and I spent a good deal of time trying to decipher that map. If you’ve ever seen the NYC Subway map, imagine plunking a nice kid from Texas/Arkansas down in the middle of Manhattan and giving him that map, a few tokens, and a nice “have fun!”
I ended up spending two years of college in New York, so eventually it all came pretty naturally. I also spent a year of college (and then another year afterward) in Paris, where the system is much simpler and the Paris Métro map reflects that. Still, I was always very aware of the frequent visitor to the city, standing out in a crowd of New Yorkers, staring at that map — either on the wall of the station or on the platform of the train — looking like they were lost or soon would be.
Now, fast forward a couple of years to, say, 2010. I’m working on this series of big books about transportation for HarperCollins called Everything Goes. I’m writing about and drawing as many different types of vehicles as I can cram into three books. And while it looks like I’m not going to be able to get many references to maps in as I’d originally hoped, I have spent a good deal of time reading about and looking at transit maps. It was during this research that I found (just chanced upon actually) a book called Paris Underground: The Maps, Stations and Design of the Métro (Amazon link here) by Mark Ovenden. The book includes maps of the Métro since its inception in 1900, as well as photographs of the stations and the various printed ephemera, like tickets and brochures, that have been used by the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) over the years. It’s really a terrific book. The cover of that book lists Ovenden as the author of another book called Transit Maps of the World (Amazon link), which I of course promptly ordered. This book is just as good, with both historical and current maps of dozens of subway systems from all over. Paris and New York, of course, but also Hamburg, Mexico City, Montreal, Osaka, and even good ol’ Philadelphia.

These maps do the same thing for me as the maps I had on my wall when I was twelve. I love following the routes and seeing the names of the stops and imagining what one sees when one emerges from underground at that point. When I loved in Paris, it was a cheap thrill to take the Métro to some unknown station and explore the neighborhood it served, then find my way home again. This daydreaming, I suppose, is a virtual version of the same.

Me in the Métro, 2004

Me in the Paris Métro, 2004.

This all came about today because The New York Times published an article this morning about a new edition of the aforementioned subway map that will be introduced next week. Each time a city updated its transit maps, various controversies ensue as certain elements are simplified or removed, others are added or enlarged, and the process of trying to please everyone including locals as well as tourists ends up making everyone unhappy. In this case, Manhattan, being the busiest and most congested borough of the city, has been enlarged (engorged actually, it’s really fat) while Staten Island, with its sole tendril of a line running from St. George to Tottenville, has been stuffed into a small box and shrunk down in size. I’m sure the residents of Staten Island are insulted, even though, really, the move makes sense. The NYTimes story has a terrific (but too small!) interactive feature detailing ways in which the map has changed from the current edition to the new one. Go see that here.
Poking around the Googles this morning led me to a couple of other interesting places as well.

The Metro Transit Authority (MTA) which is the agency that oversees the subway and bus system of NY has a maps section of their site that’s pretty slick.

The Paris RATP’s site has the Métro map available for PDF download here and a smaller “wallet size” edition here. (watch it, the links open the PDF maps).

My new favorite time-waster: An interactive map of the Paris Métro.

If you know of any more interesting sites and resources, leave a comment!

cars cars cars

March 20th, 2010

I’m now deep deep into the initial phase of a very large book project that will take me the next 3+ years to complete. Without giving away too much, I get to draw cars and trucks and ships and airplanes and buses and tugboats and RVs and helicopters and bicycles and… you get the idea. These were drawn with ballpoint pen at a local coffee shop on Thursday last week. Stay tuned for more.

more cars
big car


January 25th, 2010

a puzzle!

A year or so ago I drew an illustration of cars and trucks and stuff on a spaghetti-tangle of highways. This was commissioned by the fantastic toy-maker/card-publisher/gift-creator Mudpuppy and their art director Cynthia Matthews. I’ve done a few projects in the past for them, including the Air Land Sea puzzle and the scribbling monster journal.

Here’s the puzzle itself.

puzzle for Mudpuppy

This puzzle got delayed a bit in the production, but was finally released last week. It’s in a really nice little box and I’m very very pleased with the results. I got my small box of samples on Friday and immediately set to work putting the puzzle together. Furthermore, I recorded this process and made a movie which you can watch right here. Then, after you watch it, you can go to Mudpuppy’s website and order a dozen or two of them.

Oh yeah, music by Dance Robot, Dance.

Mini Puzzle for Mudpuppy

August 21st, 2008

Mini Puzzle

A while back I made a big puzzle for Mudpuppy with the theme “Air, Land, and Sea.” Recently they asked me to make another puzzle, a little smaller for the 3+ crowd, with more cars. Last night this thing got finished and will be out June 2009.
As you probably know, I really really like drawing cars and trucks and things that go.

Air, Land, and Sea

February 18th, 2008

Air, Land and Sea

Last year I made an illustration for Mudpuppy, art directed by the amazing Lorena Siminovich, called Air, Land, and Sea. Basically, aircraft, autos, and boats. I’ve been dying to see this and it looks like it’s finally out! I don’t have my samples yet so if you have this or you’ve seen it let me know how it looks.

There is a puzzle, stationery, and a play set. Collect them all!

mudpuppy can

fire and police

March 26th, 2007

Just drew these today for the playscene version of that city-scape for Mudpuppy. If someone came along and said “Brian, for the rest of eternity, you are only allowed to draw cars, boats, airplanes and robots,” I’d be ok with that.

Air, Land and Sea

March 19th, 2007

Just today finished an illustration for a company called Mudpuppy, art directed by Lorena Siminovich. It will be published in about a year (Spring 08) in the form of a puzzle. The theme was “air, land and sea” and it was directly inspired by my book from 2004 “Un Mode de Transport” published by Le Rouergue. Stay tuned for more on this in, oh, about a year.