Sketching – Nasty Grunt

A nasty grunt.

A nasty grunt.

This charming chap tumbled onto my electronic sketchbook a while ago. The sketch arose as part of a stream of consciousness exercise I was running on a page to help me come up with some ideas for a story. As I doodled on, the concept for my upcoming book took form in my mind. A little cross-disciplinary creativity can work wonders for generating ideas.

When life hands you lemons, make a Dwarf cut banana sandwich. Say what?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Trust me.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Trust me.

I am afflicted by a condition that gives me the hardest time making out what people say if there’s a little background noise or if I can’t see their lips when they speak. I’ve only ever been able to make out the lyrics to a few songs on my own. Most of the time, I need to pull out the printed lyrics to understand what’s going on, or have someone tell me. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the music. Indeed, voices become a rich instrument that I appreciate the same way as a violin, guitar, flute, piano, or drums. I just don’t understand the information carried by those words.

If I am at a crowded function, or at a restaurant, following a conversation can be quite an adventure. I usually make it out okay by playing the angles and lip reading a bit to ensure that I can really make out what is being said. Since such functions are infrequent, the most impacted person by this is my wife. You see, it’s not that I don’t hear the words. It’s that my mind interprets them as sounds, or as entirely different words. It can be frustrating for both of us when she asks for a bag of sugar as I’m heading out the door to the grocery store, only to return with flour. Close enough, right? They both end in a “ower” sound. Yeah. Not really.

There are all kinds of strategies I put into play to mitigate the dirty tricks my ears play on me daily. However, I also keep a notebook handy. Often, the words my mind hears are novel or contain some morsel of information that can spark a new idea for a picture, a story, or a solution for a problem at work. As soon as I mishear the words, I scramble to jot it down lest it evaporates from my ephemeral memory.

Just the other day, I was sitting at the dinner table having dinner with my wife and son when she asked me: “Dwarf cut banana sandwich?”

I looked at her in puzzlement. What on earth did she mean by that? Was she suggesting a dessert for our boy? What is a dwarf cut banana? Is it some kind of cutting technique? Or maybe it’s a dwarf banana that’s chopped up? I really don’t remember buying any small bananas, though. Uh, oh. Did I get that wrong?

It turns out I did. She hadn’t said a single word I had heard the first time. In fact, it was about as far as you can get from Dwarves, cuts, bananas, or sandwiches. “Do you want it in a cup, or in a dish?” she had asked as she contemplated the potential storage vessel for our leftovers.

We both had a good laugh. Me for coming up with such an outrageous concept. She at me, for being a goofball.

It’s not all bad. It gave me something to sketch.

The lesson here is that when life gives you lemons, you make banana sandwiches. Err… Lemonade.

Cover illustration completed. That’s a set!

A snippet from the cover illustration

A snippet from the cover illustration

I am overjoyed! My final illustration, the book’s cover, has just made it in. That completes the illustration work for my book. It is wonderful to see things beginning to take shape. I’m now down to writing the last two chapters before getting into the heavy review and editing.

As much as those stages will be tough work, I’m still a little daunted at the prospect of laying out the book’s 60 or so pages. I am experimenting with iStudio Publisher in the hope that I can have more control than with Pages. The major problem I see so far is that it appears that I will have to insert each text page manually, which is looking like a tedious process. That should motivate me to look for the best way to optimize my workflow.

Keeping perspective – when orks fight

The young reader’s short novel I am working on right now is progressing nicely. I manage to get a a little writing in every day. This helps me keep my momentum up while letting ideas simmer and brew in the back of my mind for the next day’s typing. I rattled out the lines below as part of last night’s writing. They are still an early draft, but I am quite pleased with the pacing and growing tension.

“If I had a moment to think about it, I would have one last forlorn thought for my axe. Instead, I scoop up Grork’s sturdy steel shield as I dash past it. It was forged by the finest Steel Ork smiths of Krimlork. It isn’t pretty to look at, but is almost as tough as basilisk scale. It is also heavy, which is perfect for what I have to do next. I brace my shoulder firmly against it and duck my head low. Another step carries me into the creature’s side.

The impact rattles my tusks. It is like I have charged into the very mountain wall beyond the tent. After what feels like an eternity later, I hear the creature grunt from our collision, and we begin tumbling to the ground. Our trajectory takes us over my father’s cot. I briefly catch a look of complete surprise in his eyes as he glimpses both of us sailing over his bed space.

We land in a heap. I try to roll to my feet, but I get tripped up in my father’s things. The creature is much quicker than I am despite its enormous bulk. It springs upright and grabs a hold of my chest with a massive paw. It is also apparently much stronger than I. I struggle in vain as its vice-like grip begins to crush my throat and ribs. It rears its other mighty hand back, its fist clenched and ready to cave in my head. Despite the infamous thickness of our skulls, I suspect this beast will have no more difficulty squashing me into a pulp than it would a grape.”

I’ve always been one to see things from outside the box, so when I decided I’d write a fantasy-themed book, I approached things from a different direction. There are tons of stories out there that relate the epic accomplishments of the likes of dwarven, elvish, and human adventurers. I haven’t really found anything about the world as seen by orks. This is my attempt to populate that space, and generate a new set of adventures.

Writing a story is an endurance event

Persistence pays off, even for Orks.

There’s still a lot of work that has to get done, but as the illustrations roll in, and I close in on my draft’s last few chapters, I get a sense that persistence will pay off.

I plan to keep posting excerpts on a periodic basis. If you have any thoughts or comments, please let me know. I will incorporate any helpful feedback, making it a stronger, more legible offering.

Keep your eyes peeled, thar blows inspiration!

Fantasy horror toy shop.

Fantasy horror toy shop.

It’s funny how staying aware of the small things can be a boon to inspiration. Forget sweeping story arcs that need to be fed by globetrotting travels of self-discovery, forget life-changing trauma. Those can without a doubt be opportunities to find something to write about, illustrate, or simply share as an anecdote with friends, but they can be few and far between. When you’re in a bind, butting up against a particularly vicious bout of writer’s block, go for a walk. Forget the big things. Keep your eyes open for little things, things that would make a child wonder and giggle in amazement.

I took this particular picture a few years ago while strolling through an arts and crafts shop looking for some good illustration paper. There was a bin full of fantasy toys with an unusual assortment of models in promising positions. A quick shuffle of a dragon over to the princess’ corner and voilà! Ready-made damsel in distress to talk about. My inner child hooted and hollered, slapped his knee and wanted to make loud munching sounds. Since I made it out of the shop without being arrested, I assume I kept the unfolding drama securely under wraps for an external observer.

I keep the picture on my desktop for those moments where I feel like I’m running out of steam. It makes me laugh a bit, and reminds me to take things a little more lightly.

A little D&D soup anyone?

D&D cookbook

A fantasy spin on tomato basil soup

Good grief! I pulled my Wacom tablet out for the first time in an eternity. The last time I’d used it was for texturing some 3D models so very long ago. The last time I’ve used it for any sort of illustration was even longer.

It felt good to let the stylus flow a bit. I guess I should find the time to keep this up, since this reminded me that drawing is lots of fun, and is a great way to blow steam off from a long day churning through reams of paperwork.

Maybe I’ll revisit this chap some time to see how I can tweak the concept to make it more interesting.

Finding inspiration for my illustrated book – It’s a process

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

A snippet of concept art for my upcoming book.

When I set out to write my book, I had in mind a short picture book for kids to flip through and enjoy a fantasy encyclopedia of sorts. It was to have a dual purpose by providing sufficiently detailed illustrations to allow adults to flip through the pages and enjoy a rich visual story, perhaps drawing them back to time when life was simpler and they could take the time to let their minds wander through their imaginations.

My first step was to collate the various notes I’ve scribbled on notepads, notebooks, napkins, recorded in word processors, and other indescribable media over the years to pry out some useful ideas. A healthy dose of goofy imagery courtesy of the doodles I generate so that I can keep my ephemeral attention focused during long meetings helped crystallize a concept in my mind. I then mashed all of these together into a rough outline hitting the key characters I wanted to talk about in the story.

I had started collating some of my notes in a Word file many years ago, but had since migrated my computer to an Apple system. I’d never obtained Word for the Mac, since I had been using Apple’s “Pages” software for my shorter work projects. It’s a nice program, but does not handle large texts with numerous illustrations very well. At least, the version I bought back in 2007 with my computer does not like them at all. It isn’t very good at organizing information, either. I therefore searched the internet for a resource that would help me bring order to the chaos of my notes and help me visualize my story’s structure. I happened upon “Scrivener” a short while ago, and I must say that I am thankful for the way in which it allows me to coerce my information from a shapeless mass into a structured, if nascent, text.

I then built little blurbs for each of these characters and generated an art brief that I would be able to provide an illustrator to share my vision and inspire his or her work. These came together in the form of a project work description that I placed on Freelancer. I was surprised by the level of interest that the diverse community of artists that resides there showed for my project. In particular, a few artists rose above the crowd and became active participants in my writing efforts by coaching me through the Freelancer process and their perspectives on the nature of the work I was asking. In particular, Kenneth “Canifu”, and JJ Zhang were extremely helpful. I am humbled by their talent and their generous sharing of information. In the end, I settled with Art Corod because of the original vision he proposed and his inexhaustible enthusiasm. I may discuss my Freelancer experience and lessons learned in a later post.

After a short process of nailing down the visual style and going over specific project requirements, we set off on our grand adventure. The great thing about writing this book is that I am keeping my child in mind as the primary reader. Even though he probably won’t be able to fully appreciate it for several more years, I show him Art’s preliminary work and ask him which he prefers. As it turns out, a toddler can be pretty opinionated. This particular one appears to have a certain sense of aesthetics which is useful to the book’s art direction as well.

Somewhere along the way, my wife looked at the text I’d put together so far and asked: “Is that it?”

I could have immediately felt crestfallen, but instead sought her insight. She correctly pointed out that a young reader in the range I was designing this book for would be seeking more than fifteen to twenty pages of a fantasy hinterland’s wilderness observer’s guide. They would be seeking a story. At about the same time we were having this discussion, my illustrator sent me a wonderful landscape. You can see a small crop of the image at the top of this post

Although the image was unfinished, the amount of detail was astounding. Within its lines, a wealth of potential adventures played out. A light bulb lit so brightly in my mind that my brain is still sunburned. I was going to use the illustrations that Art was providing me as the inspiration for each of the book’s chapters. Just as I had provided the visual artist with just enough of an impulse to generate these rich images, the illustrations were going to serve as the catalyst for my stories.

Our collaboration has now become even closer, as both writer and illustrator rely on each other to develop the next story thread. As I receive an image, I quickly hammer out the corresponding chapter and feed it back to Art so that he can see where the story is going. This helps him come up with new ideas with which to populate his images, which in turn inspire the details to subsequent chapters. The main plot line will be unlikely to change much, but the detail that makes a story live and breathe will get richer with each passing illustration.

I am looking forward to the next image!