I first saw sketches for this week's cover-story illustrations a couple of weeks ago during a visit to designer Michaela Schuett's desk. Michaela typically has colored pencils and other drawing instruments at the ready, and I'm used to seeing scribblings around her workspace. These in particular looked magical from the very beginning.
You see Michaela's work throughout Alive each week, and you're frequently treated to her illustrations. This week's illustrations became such a huge part of our cover story that I thought we should do some story-behind-the-story stuff about them. Michaela answered some questions about her creative process and creating these illustrations. And she shared some of her sketches with us.
Where did the idea for the illustrations come from? Were you inspired by an artist or specific piece of art?
I wish I could take credit, but it wasn't my idea. About a month ago the creative team was tossing around ideas on how to illustrate the Valentine's Day coverage. Will [Shilling, Alive's photo editor] suggested a pop art, comic-style, like [Roy] Lichtenstein.
Do the illustrations follow a story line, or are they standalone images?
I actually started trying to sketch out a story board with four or five frames. But I abandoned the idea because I couldn't see my story fitting with the editorial that I was expecting. My story kept ending with tears, heartache and PBR ... I don't think that's the story I was supposed to tell, but I had fun trying. I used some of those thumbnails from that original idea to work on larger sketches.
How do you begin to work on a concept like this?
Starting out, it's all about quantity, not quality. When I start working on a new project, I think it's best to get as many ideas out as possible then go back and rework the better ones. Some of my thumbnail sketches are only an inch big and really, really awful. Sometimes I'm just trying to see how different shapes work together and sometimes I'm trying to draw something really specific.
How does your work move from sketchbook to computer? What can you do with the computer that you can’t accomplish with a colored pencil or marker?
Once I have a thumbnail sketch that I think is worth the effort, I'll work on making it bigger. I almost always use a blue pencil for the rough forms and sketch, then go over it with black or graphite. After I have a sketch that I'm happy with, I scan it into Photoshop, take away the blue lines, darken the black lines and erase some of the lines I don't like. Then I import the file to Illustrator and begin tracing my lines. (For those who are familiar with Illustrator, I rarely use the auto trace tool. It's handy for quickies and things I don't care so much about, but very rarely am I happy with the results. I also very rarely use a pre-loaded brush. If I need a brush I'll make one that is specific to what I need. Usually I just trace the outline of my black lines with the pen tool in order to create black shapes.) I've learned through lots of trial and error to trust my drawing and stick to the sketch. I've come to accept the beauty in the variance of line thickness and little mistakes. This is probably the most time-consuming step; as much as I appreciate the little mistakes, it still has to be right. Then, once all the lines are done, I block out the shapes for the color. Usually the last step is to add textures and shadows and highlights and all the little finishing details, which can be done either back in Photoshop or Illustrator depending on the effect used. (For these, I stayed in Illustrator.)
Obviously, I use both [the computer and drawing tools] a lot. It's generally easier to fix mistakes, make color changes and experiment with different effects on the computer, but I almost always start with a scan of a sketch, if not a full drawing. I really prefer paper and blue pencil. Sketching and drawing is faster, and there's sort of a rhythm to it that helps to relax my mind. When sketching, I don't feel guilty about abandoning an idea and turning the page. I also really enjoy manually blending colors. A lot of times (these drawings included), I photocopy my drawing and experiment with color manually before I add it in Illustrator. I know a lot of artists create beautiful paintings and illustrations entirely in Photoshop, but I use it mostly as an editing and finishing tool.
Your illustrations make love look bold, colorful and heroic. Does that reflect a personal view?
I suppose there is some truth to that. When it was just me and my husband I think I thought of love as soft and romantic. Now, thanks to our two-year-old little girl, love is very loud. And funny. And colorful. And full of silly dances. And, most importantly, very, very, very fast.