Waltzing Into The New Year

A brief note from the author:

I am going to try something new with this blog post. I am going to be posting this process in a short two post series.

In the past I’ve set out writing some pretty lengthy posts that explore each minuscule detail of a project. In part this is because I love the process of illustration and all the myriad of minutia that goes into a piece, and I like to share that with you. My hope is that this may even help you to take a deeper look at not just my work, but any drawing or painting that catches your fancy.

Why start now? Well, this particular project is pretty near and dear to me, and so I want to spend a little extra time writing about it. This will, I hope encourage you to read through most of my rhapsodic thoughts that went into creating this illustration and design. So, let’s begin.

Summary: I don’t believe that anyone get’s anywhere without help from the people around them. It is through this network of mutual support that beautiful things can emerge. This is the tale of just such a project.

It’s Been a Long Time Coming

For sometime now, my Uncle Ed has been trying to hire me to do a painting for him, and it never seemed to work out until now. In the later part of 2011, Uncle Ed began to put together a collection of his own original songs for a CD project that he was working on. Some of the songs had been percolating for quite some time, while others were a bit more off-the-cuff. It was a perfect moment for us to work together, and to both do what we love to do.

A bit of backstory here, even as a very small boy, I can remember my Uncle playing his guitar in my Grandparents home. He played a wide range of music, ranging from Classical to Bluegrass. Our whole family has been pretty well steeped in Bluegrass for a long time. His musical journey didn’t stop there, he moved on to other types of music that fascinated him: Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Cowboy songs, and more recently the sweeter side of Jazz Guitar.

His CD, The Beverly Waltz, shows off many of his influences from the first notes picked out on his banjo in the opening song entitled “Going Down to Upperville”, to lyrical and romantically slow waltz of the title track “The Beverly Waltz.” As the music rolls on one can easily imagine warm evenings on a back porch watching the evening sunset as the world rolls by. There’s a wonderful sincerity to each of the tracks. So, as I embarked to create an image that might begin to encapsulate some of the energy and emotion that his music evoked, I began where illustrators always begin; thumbnails. Lots and lots of thumbnails.

Where to Begin?

To start with, I like to give a lot of thought to the concept and the overall design of a project, and these usually come out in the thumbnails. In this particular case I started with listening to an early version of the CD and tried to match that up with the original ideas that my Uncle had presented me with. While I was listening to the music, there were some tonal qualities that stood out to me: delicate, relaxed rolling, lyrical, and warm. I knew that I wanted t the final piece to embody those feelings. Then, while I was listening to the music with my headphones, I could also hear the birds outside. It occurred to me how nicely their gentle chirps and warbles blended into the music, and so ideas about birds, or birdsongs, or The Bluebird of Happiness started show up in the sketches. In the end I took some of my sketches and started putting birds in them.


A portion of a sketch page


The first ideas had a bird band playing to some bird dancers
Dancing Birds
The dancing birds being serenaded

I suspected that this more fantastic solution would be a lot different than what he originally had in mind. So I did some research and found some historic precedence for these kinds of images, I found this old cartoon and liked the overall look and feel of the image, but wanted to make mine much more earnest in character and not so goofy. In the back of my mind I was also thinking of some delightful watercolors by Kristin Kwan which I’d spotted on IllustrationMundo awhile back.

La Lutte Artistique / Quadrille by Jules Worms, 1832-1924

I also dashed off a quick watercolor to begin to give a sense of the direction that I wanted to head.

Uncle Ed as a Bluebird

By the first round of roughs I felt that I’d found something quite unique, albeit a bit more fantastic in nature than I suspected that he wanted for his CD. So, I put this all together and sent it off.

What’s Next?

This is where I will pause the post for now, tune in next week when we’ll move onto the roughs, color roughs, initial graphic design solutions, and then we’ll finish up with the final painting and design for this project.

As always, I respond well to enthusiasm, so feel free to +1, share, and leave a comment below. Let me know if you like this idea of a two part blog post. I’d love to hear what you think of the first round of images such as they are. Also, please note that I’m starting a Studio Bowes Art Gazette, the sign-up form is in the right hand column. Sign up and get regular updates and more in depth news and process.

Until next time!

PS: The second and final blog post on this project is up! Check it out here: Drawing To A Beautiful Conclusion

3 Responses to Waltzing Into The New Year

  1. Brian, this is soooo cool. I am so grateful for the love and energy you put into this project, can’t wait to start the next one.

  2. I am fascinated by other people’s creative process. Thanks for putting these thoughts to “paper.” The bird as man concept, especially a musician, totally rocks. It’s a beautiful and engaging illustration as well.

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