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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's in a character?

I kinda sorta fibbed. I said I'd only publish one spread and the cover of Annie. But I've already shared these images, and they will change. Perhaps a lot, don't know yet. I still haven't decided the nature of the coloration to this, I love the old hand-colored postcards, but the photography, art and posters from the period are wonderful as well. And who knows, perhaps something of a  modern rather than a retro feel would be more appropriate. That will be one of the things I'll be experimenting with the next couple of weeks when I have a couple of images in the stages I want to play with it. Yet another thing to love about Photoshop, I will be able to play with those images in that way and it won't take a few months like it would have at another time in my life. Right now though, I'm nailing down the sequence and thumbnails and the characters themselves(I will share the thumbnails, and the character studies). It used to be a lot of my compositions were set in stone. I saw what I saw what I saw.

Yah a little OCD in my artistic pursuit, makes that 10,000 hours easy to devote. But it limits the real feeling of what I delivered. I could see the stilted nature, (and of course for every "mistake" I fixed, two more would crop up in the re-do). The class I'm taking is impactful in so many ways (It's Will Terry's and Jake Parkers' class on Visual Storytelling, I can HIGHLY recommend it. I'm so thankful a friend took empathy on some of the hard knocks I was having and gifted me this class. I think if I end up having success at all, for the work to stand on its own, will be because they were able to explain not only what I kinda sorta knew, but also what I didn't and why. Seeing it really brings it home). Between that and Photoshop, the changes in my work will actually be productive rather than badly recycled. The first spread of Annie, this is the computer rendering of my dummy rough:

Not too bad, but pretty boring. Not too bad because there's a lot of detail. Annie's cat was featured in a well-known children's book, by the Harlem Renaissance poet, Countee Cullen, who had visited the Old Homestead a few times (not when his father-in-law, W.E.B. Dubois did, I think it was prior to him). Countee's book, My Lives and How I Lost them, by Pumpkin Cummings gave Ann a giggle right to the end of her generous life. I think adding details to characters, whether they are explained or not (and isn't that what author's notes and study guides are for?) really enriches the whole reading, especially the biography experience. So this was one of my first visual thoughts...

Except the perspective is all off, the character stilted and not formed well,  and it wasn't nearly as exuberant as I wanted. (The last years of her life, Ann lived in the Barron Center. She had MS and it had progressed along. She was diagnosed with the disease as a young woman, was grateful it wasn't a brain tumor and never let it stop her from raising a family or teaching and singing. She didn't complain, she switched gears, she was positively one of the most positive people I've ever met. With so much to be bitter or angry about, it didn't seem to touch her, instead she sought the joyous, the thoughtful the YES in her life and others. I REALLY WANT TO CONVEY THAT IN THIS BOOK).

But it took doing it, for me to realize nope, it didn't work. I still learned a great deal about using Photoshop, the character and there were things I liked about it, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.

Part of the problem I had and have. I have ONE photo reference of Ann as child (and she was older than when I set the story), and my memories of what she looked like were her as a mature adult. Luckily I'm one of those people I tend to recognize people no matter what the age (though I was much, much better at that as a kid, lol, one of my favorite-drive-some-people-crazy game, recognizing people met a few times, to different times in their lives). But extrapolating that to a three dimensional form, or to a younger person, kinda sorta (get that's one of my favorite approximations?)a reverse engineer, is difficult.

Part of the challenge as well, because these are REAL people, I want and need to honor my friend and what she loved and represent as accurately as possible while serving the story, the art and the fact that I really can't KNOW a lot of this (and you wondered why I was so full of doubt! Not only that, but this story belongs to other people I think it's an important one, and even entitled it in my author's note: We Become Our Possibilities). No pressure there!

Next attempt:

Better I think! Liking the colors, still a bit odd though. I added a Freedom quilt. Ann may not have had one, but her grandfather Shurtleff Emerson was a famed abolitionist (and a relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson) who was lynched for his beliefs, and the fact he'd married a woman of black and First Nation heritage. It's how Ann came to live in Maine, her mother Rose and her mother fled here from New Orleans after the trauma of losing her father. Rose grew up in Portland and moved to Old Orchard Beach after her divorce from Ann's father. 

I'd bought a book on character development and realized the silhouette was pretty boring, and Ann was anything but boring. I tried to make her more dynamic. I also actually went into my sister's bedroom and got on my knees and LOOKED at the perspective. YUP, it was off, lol.

The next attempt

So far this is the most successful. But the class I'm taking has me thinking I need to do some other things. Besides helping me clarify what I need to do for perspective's sake and design (and color is coming up, I'm so danged excited!) but now I think after I do the two spreads I'm working on, I will take the time to do a bunch of character studies, at the very least of Annie, perhaps Eddie and Maude as well, (though I think Maude is pretty consistent. I will talk a little bit about their characterization when I share the working spread that will most likely end up in the book, here). The little bit of extra work will "work out" the problems of continuity, resemblance, expression, etc. 

 I must say I don't think I've done this yet, so I do it here. This is an important story/book for a lot of reasons. I'm having a wonderful time working on it (after the challenge of giving myself permission and admitting, as many great and wonderful artists out there, I really don't want someone else illustrating this particular book, it's such an intimate part of me, from the physical and mental. The thread between Ann and I is stronger than just a commercial effort. She truly informed my life, and I loved her and these things from an early childhood, Old Orchard Beach, history, so it's important also I do it all justice).

But this wouldn't be possible if first Ann hadn't lived and shared her remarkable life. If her daughter Judy Searcy hadn't shared the childhood photo of she and her beloved Eddie in such a generous fashion. Or if Shauni Drake-Reid hadn't shared the photo of her mom, Judy. I value your friendships, I'm so happy you want to share this with people, and most of all, that you all shared with me. Thank you.