Monday, January 26, 2015

The First Step

In my last post I went through the process I use to create an ink-and-watercolor illustration. There is, of course, one very important part of the process that I neglected to mention and it is this:

These are some of my sketchbooks from the last few years. This is the foundation block of both the drawing and the writing that I do. I thought of posting these because my friend Lucy Bellwood posted a similar picture of a stack of sketchbooks saying "Creativity is a habit. Don't you forget it."

She's right. And it's good to see, sometimes, how much work goes on behind the scenes and below the surface.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hermit Mode


(click image for a larger version)

I haven't been getting out a lot lately.

This job, making up stories and recording those stories in words and pictures, it's a funny business. Sometimes I get to travel around and meet lots and lots of people. Other times I am in "Hermit Mode" and I stay at home for days on end, writing and drawing through the day and into the night. I'm in Hermit Mode now.

If you've been following me online, whether through Twitter or Tumbler or this very blog, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I am currently working on a project that involves Goblins. The picture at the top of this post is from this story. The illustration is ink and watercolor -purely traditional media with no digital work. I thought it would be interesting to share the process that I use to reach the finished piece...

I start with the original doodle from the dummy book (I might have something to say about the writing process and the idea of dummy books in a later post). It is the quickest of sketches that shows my first idea of how the text (blurred out here) and illustration might go together:

Now I'm a big proponent of anchoring every story and every picture in something from life. In works of fantasy you will have to create some things from whole cloth, but if you are able to pull at least one or two elements from the world in front of your eyes those elements will act as an anchor. So for this picture I called up my friend Andy and we went out looking for an old cave that I had once spent the night in in college. That cave was going to be my anchor.

To get to the cave we had to take a short hike along the railroad track by the river. But the cave was just as I had remembered it.

Except this time it was guarded by a pair of Ice Sentinels.


(It's hard to tell without something there for scale but these guys were 2, maybe 3 feet high).

And a tiny bat:

But I got the photos I needed and a good Sunday mini-adventure to boot.

So the next piece of the process is taking a look at the various reference photos and playing with layouts. Layouts are about getting the shapes to work together in a pleasing way. It usually takes several tries.

Once I have a layout I'm really happy with I move on to pencils. For this picture I work in a nice dark pencil on a piece of 8.5X11 copy paper. Nothing fancy. Here are my final pencils:

Now it's time to break out the nice paper. Arches 140 pound hot press watercolor paper. I buy it in big sheets and cut it down to manageable sizes. Now I move the pencils over to the light box and trace the final lines onto the watercolor paper with a 4h pencil that makes a very light line:

Once I have the light pencil lines on the watercolor paper I ink over it with a combination of micron pens and a brush with India ink. I forgot to take a picture of this stage.

And then, when the inks are done, I just sort of throw watercolors at it until I think it's "finished." (I could do a whole post about watercolors, but this post is already long, and there are watercolorists out there that put me to shame):

Finally, I look at the finished illustration, try to figure out if I like it or not, and then move on to the next one.

It won't be winter forever.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Year, New Studio

New Year, New Studio.

It's 2015. And as the world clamors to weigh in on the year's first tragedy, one that hits a particular place with me, I find myself wanting to be quiet about it. I have nothing to add but tears. Instead I will be talking here about more mundane things. If that's a balm or an interest for you then read on:

. . .

I had hoped to do a year-end wrap-up post, with a comic (I wanted to draw my 2014 Valkyrie one last time), but this old farmhouse got the better of me. I ended up spending my holidays renovating one of our upstairs rooms and turning it into a new studio. Until this last week I’ve been working out of the corner of the bedroom, but I’d outgrown that space and my work items had been bleeding out into places they didn't belong.

There are still a few finishing touches to be done, and I'm still waiting on my new chalkboard to arrive, but the space is mostly finished and my big wall calendar is up so that I can get a nice visualization of how the year is already slipping from my grasp.

Here are some before-during-and-after pictures:

The room started out with dark paneling, that was warped and generally yucky. It also sucked up light:

Underneath the paneling was old peeling wallpaper:

Here's me scraping away. I am crying on the inside:

Wallpaper is a mess:

Once the paper came off things started looking better and it was time to patch the old plaster walls. The paneling, it seems, was put up to avoid this job. Why fix something when you can just cover it up? Here I am patching plaster and answering little questions at the same time:

While the wall patches were drying I went out to flea markets looking for an old adjustable arm desk lamp. I didn't find one, but I did come back with a cool mirror:

Sanding the walls was a dusty business. At one point I was convinced that I had spread a dust cloud to every other room in the house until Anna explained that it was just a film of dust on my glasses:

Finally it was mopping and cleaning and laying down drop clothes and painting walls and trim. toward the end I used my 2014 calendar for a drop cloth:

Then I moved in!

And now I'm knee-deep in watercolor illustrations for my next book -the book that will come out after Little Robot. It has goblins. I am very excited.

There's so much to do.

--Ben

P.S. OH! I almost for got to add: I've posted this all over FB and Twitter, but if you want a look at the cover of Little Robot or if you are interested in reading my answers to some questions about the book, then head over to the LA TImes Hero Complex RIGHT HERE.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Framed Art and Coffee

I guess this post is particularly for my more local friends:

Tomorrow (Saturday the 6th) a big batch of my original art, including a good number of the watercolors from Julia's House, will find a place on the walls of Happy Creek Coffee and Tea in Front Royal. Some of it will be for sale! I just brought some of the pieces home from the frame shop (Sun Studio Framing in Front Royal) and they look very fine. Here's a little peek:

The art will be on display for the rest of December, but if you come by Happy Creek tomorrow, from 3 to 5pm you can catch me giving a little presentation about the work and an showing a small sneak peek at some of my upcoming projects. Click this link here for more information.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Goblin and the Queen

I've had my head down at my desk lately working on some of the final edits to Little Robot and trying to get a solid start on my next book (which I don't have much to say about yet). So I haven't had a lot of extra art to share, beyond the watercolor above, which I hope you like. Last month I thought a lot about wizards. This month I seem to be thinking a lot about goblins...

Later this week I will be traveling to Miami for the Miami Book Fair International. This will be my second time attending the Miami book fair, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a very fun event, and this time I'll be catching up with Dave Roman and Kazu Kibuishi. Yay!

One other bit of news: I know I've been posting a lot about the Goodreads Choice Awards. Well, Julia's House has made the final rounds in the picture book category. If you want to take a look at this last round just click this link right here.

Okay! Next time: pictures from Miami (I hope).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Few Zitas More, Plus Twitter and Goodreads

Tomorrow afternoon (that is, Wednesday the 5th of November), from 4:00 to 4:30pm, I will be participating in a live twitter chat on behalf of the Miami Book Fair (which I'll be attending, and you can find more information about that RIGHT HERE). The idea is that you can use the hashtag #MBFIBenHatke to ask me questions. And I will try to answer those questions. I've not done this type of thing before, so I'm a tiny bit nervous. I feel like I'm co-hosting a text-only party. Please feel free to come! Bring chips!

On twitter, I am @BenHatke.

And another bit of social media news: I just found out that Julia's House for Lost Creatures is a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards for picture books. If you use goodreads, please consider voting for your favorite picture book (they are all good choices).

And now, here's a few more of my favorite Zita the Spacegirl costumes from Halloween:


This Zita had a screed candy pail!


This little Zita had an impressive Robot One candy collector. Here's a closer look:

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Halloween Post with a Trick and a Treat

Happy Halloween! (oh man, I love Halloween so much).

I'll start with some news about Julia's House for Lost Creatures. This is the "trick."

The first printing of Julia's House has SOLD OUT. This is, overall, really good news. But unfortunately the first print run of the book sold out much more quickly than anyone expected and as a result, here on All Hallow's Eve, finding a copy of the book is a bit of a trick (see? see what I did?).

If you are looking for a copy of Julia's House, perhaps to give to a special someone for "All Hallow's Read", I'd suggest looking at Barnes and Noble. I've heard they still had copies in stock.

...And now some Zita the Spacegirl costumes! (I'm counting this as the treat). I've received so many pictures of kids in Zita costumes this year. Here are a few of my favorites (all pictures posted with permission but, parents and guardians, if you find I've made a mistake or would like a picture taken down let me know):


(These are book blogger Julie Danielson's kids, Ava and Piper. That's right. Piper is dressed as Piper.)

More costumes after the jump...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Few More Wizards

Well, here we are. Inktober is winding to a close and I think I'm squeaking in with about 15 drawings. I may be able to do a couple more but I have a huge backlog of pictures of kids in Zita costumes to post, now that Halloween is immanent.

For now here are a few drawings:


The Dripping Barrel is the most terrifying thing in this world of wizards. It floats silently about 3 feet off the ground, dripping a poison black ichor as it drifts across the countryside. Most of the time it seems aimless, but occasionally whole villages have perished,practically dissolved, in the Barrel's path. Is is a spell gone terribly wrong? Or is it the still sentient liquid remains of a powerful magic user? Few are brave enough to attempt to find out...


And of course on the other end of the fear spectrum we have Arborus the Branchy, a gentle wizard with a tree grwoing out of his head. Young lovers keep carving their initials into his branches when he sleeps too close to a farm.


And finally, this guy. He's not a wizard at all. Just a tacky performer who often does a little song and dance for the nobility about the dangers of magic. It's a living.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Inktober: A Wellspring of Wizards

Well, it's become apparent that I am not going to end the month with 31 wizards, but this has been a very invigorating process nonetheless. I feel like, with this inktober wizard project, I've been stretching my creative muscles a bit. It's a good thing because all my book projects right now are in the writing and development phase -it's all text files and notebooks full of scribbles. So it's good to be pushing in different directions.

Here's the latest batch of characters from my world of Outlaw Wizards:


Crowquill isn't really a wizard at all. He's a government agent in a ludicrous disguise, sent by the nobility to spread dissent among the wizards. For if there's one thing the nobles fear it's that the exiled magic users will begin working together.


Mighty Rael isn't a wizard either. She was a contented ex-soldier-turned-farmwife until the day her husband was killed by crab-like mage. Now she wanders the Outlands hunting down magic users, and wearing the claws of the wizard that took her true love... (so dramatic!)


Emelia the All-Seeing is a professional treasure hunter and dungeon delver.


And finally there is Emerit the Handsome who is a very powerful wizard, but regrets ever starting down the path of magic because every time he casts a spell he becomes just a little bit smaller.

And that's all for this batch.

In other news, here is a link to a fun photo interview that I did with a book club at the Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle.

And here is an illustrated column in the New Yorker, titled The Endangered Bookstores of New York which has stories from the bookstores across the city and makes a brief mention of me at the very end.

Okay! That's all for now.

UPDATE: Oh! I meant to leave you with a link to this crazy video about the Great Martian War. Discovered via Michael Gagne. It's crazy in the best possible way.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Home From Comic Con


(this view of the New York Comic Con main show floor pulled from the First Second tumblr).

So Comic Con was a whirlwind, as usual. But it was a very encouraging and productive whirlwind this year.

I got to meet up and share a meal in Pennsylvania with Matt Phelan, go on a road trip through Massachusetts with my pal Zack Giallongo, catch up with Cory Doctorow at the First Second table (and thanks to him I ended up buying a Very Dramatic Coat), and have my day saved (or at least one of my events saved) by the amazing Jerzy Drozd. And those were just a few of my weekend adventures.

And of course all this has put me a little behind in my Inktober drawing. But I have one wizard for you. And there are more to come:

This wizard has been practicing magic for so long that he had to grow a homunculus to push him around in a wheelbarrow. Was it worth it?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Big NYCC Weekend

Well, as it turns out, I'll be doing quite a lot over this busy Comic Con weekend. More than I mentioned in my last post anyway. Here are a few of the places you'll be able to find me over the next few days:

(this post has been edited).

Monday, October 6, 2014

Inktober Batch 2 and NYCC14!

Here is the latest batch of Inkober drawings. Four new magicians with stories of their own and a world growing out around them...

It is a world on the brink of industrialization and magic is forbidden inside the walls of cities or towns. Magicians are outlaws in the traditional sense -not hunted as criminals, but neither are they protected by the law. Magicians are exiles banished to the fringes of civilization.

Additionally, the practice of magic has a disfiguring effect, making practitioners easy to spot. Older, experienced wizards appear barely human. Here are four Magicians with different levels of experience:


Reynard the Retired: A crafty old illusionist who has since abandoned magic and now lives as a hunter in the wild lands.


The Clockwork Conjurer: A strange wandering automaton that is widely assumed to be all the remains of a once mighty wizard. (in fact the wizard, what is left of him, lives on inside the automaton, powering it with the last of his magic).


The Widow of the Outlands: a young enchantress who was exiled upon the birth of her first child, born with a telltale tail.


The Witch of the Walls: A potions master that is tolerated to live on the outer walls of a great city. She scrapes together an existence mixing love potions, healing concoctions, and political poisons.

More Inktober coming soon...

New York Comic Con News: I will be at NYCC 2014 on Sunday, October 12th! I'll be doing a couple panels but the best time to stop by and say hello will be from 11:30 to 12:30 at the First Second booth (number 2237). Feel free to leave a comment if you'll be attending NYCC this year, and I'll be sure to look for you.

That's all for now.