To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wot's Hoppening?

I keep thinking I'll write, but then I stick my nose back down to the grindstone and wear a little more away. I think I'm Nearly Noseless Now.

The Southern Swamp Explorer, on the other hand, has made it through the final proofing progress, and I have designed the cover rough. I thought you might be interested in taking a look at this final paroxysm and it's sort-of humorous results.

I sent the following letter and this cobbled-together rough of the cover design to about fifteen people, my six proofers plus interested friends, asking for input:

I have been pondering the cover for some time now and have come up with the attached rough, composed, at the moment, from a collage of photos, plus artwork from the book. My thinking is to get this outline onto paper, then do a painting of it, full color. But I'd like your feedback on the looks of it.

What I am trying to do with the cover (although maybe I should get your feedback before I cloud your judgement) is to convey the many facets of the swamp (open water and deep gloomy trees), bald cypress, Spanish moss and swamp lily representing vegetation, some of the wildlife (mammal, bird, reptile) ~ and to compose a scene which looks as though it could really happen, as opposed to a constructed scene with representatives of lots of things, but totally unrealistic as to proximity of one animal to another, or other constraints.

And, of course, I'd like it to make people want to pick up the book and leaf through it, then buy it.

The scene is somewhat complex to get all that information and subliminal nudging in, but the complexity is also an attempt to take SOME of the focus off the alligator, which might be a bit too scary all by itself for some people, although it will positively GRAB other people.

If you think this design simply doesn't work, could use refinement, or needs a different emphasis -- whatever -- please feel free to just blurt it out and I will take your advice strongly into consideration.

    The responses were all over the map -- from "I love it as-is" to those who thought it needed a whole lot of help. Of course, cobbling photos and b/w artwork together into a rough design DOES look a bit cheesy, but they're called "roughs" for a reason.

    Here are the responses I got. I think I've included them all; some are reworded to shorten them but I think I kept the meaning intact (I put all the most complimentary ones first, to polish my halo:

    "[the cover] would be great as is.

    "... [I] was drawn in to search the details, like in hidden picture drawings."

    "[the cover] works."

    "It is very nice. I love your work."

    "Really beautiful and exciting."

    "I love the cover."

    "...powerful and lovely."

    "I can't wait to see the finished book."

    "..absolutely gorgeous, I really love it."

    "I think it pretty fam dine accomplishes what you stated. Except for the alligator, which is still pretty much of a focus item--the eye just goes there and stops!"

    "I LOVE the cover--it really does do all the things you wanted it to!"

    "I think it rocks, this cover, and I love it."

    "maybe it should include humans to make swamps seem less scary"

    "needs more variety, maybe even a water cutaway to show what's beneath the water"

    "add a prothonotary warbler [yellow] for color"

    "I would like to see more wildlife "hiding' around in the swamp."

    "'written and illustrated by Irene Brady' shouldn't stretch clear across the page...put 'by Irene Brady' just below the "written and illustrated."

    "animals are too obvious, unnatural placement, the scale seems off"

    "perhaps it could use a 1/2" solid border strip down the left side"

    "don't use color -- leave it in b/w"

    "..alligator should be less confrontational, maybe give babies a ride on her back"

    "alligator is too big"

    "mama gator is incongruous with calmness of scene"

    "can't get a read on the 'gator."

    "The alligator is very powerful and a huge draw."

    "I wouldn't put the alligator in the front."

    "Soften and lighten alligator to make it blend in better."

    "..making the gator just a little smaller, only a bit -- I think it de-emphasizes it just enuff so the other animals become more a part of the scene."

    "What is the mother gator doing?"

    Obviously, dear friends, I shall have to make the decision myself. But in general, my thinking is that I will leave the cover design pretty much as is, with the changes noted below, leaving open the possibility of any other changes I might decide to implement later. If I didn't use your suggestion/s, I hope you wil be philosophical about it.

    1. I will try changing the text as per the "written and illustrated" suggestion.
    2. I will add a yellow prothonotary warbler and perhaps another colorful bird or butterfly (cardinal?)
    3. the gator will get a little smaller and less contrasty
    4. maybe I'll add a turtle on a log in the water
    5. maybe I'll hide some other animal where you MIGHT not spot it immediately.

    I may make other changes as I proceed. However, at this point I don't have time to entirely redo the cover (as a couple of people suggested), as I still have the painting to do, the back cover to design and write (I might talk about what the mother 'gator is doing on the back cover), and the book to get printed and into the hands of the parks before it comes time to order.

    Also, I have some workshops for which I need to partially redo the workbooks, and another workshop in Costa Rica in July. Oh yeah, plus my garden to plant and tend, and weeding/pruning down at the nursery to keep groceries on the table. Yikes. So, only time for SMALL changes.

    Thank you SO much for your input, and thanks also to everyone who made appreciative comments about the looks of the current cobbled-together rough design. I also appreciate the comments of those of you who thought it needed major revisions -- I will take those comments into consideration as I work, and hope the final results will live up to everyone's expectations.

    Now, back to work! This week I am soliciting printing bids, cleaning up files and creating initial .pdfs to send to the printer, as well as doing the final read-through of the manuscript to check for possible mess-ups on making those last edits suggested by the proofers.

    Wish me clear eyes and an alert brain. I'm gonna need 'em! I think I've properly scared myself.

    hugs and thanks to you all,

    If you've actually read this'll have a pretty good idea of what I've been doing for the last three weeks (instead of properly attending to my blog as hoped for).

    However, I will be making some adjustments to my workshop workbooks (as mentioned above) this week, before getting a new reprint for the next class at the end of this month.

    If you've been impatiently waiting for me to get on with the workshop stuff, I do apologize. This book is pretty important in saving the world (hey, if you love a swamp you won't let it die!) so it really needs tending to. Besides, I started this book back in 2001 or 2002 -- a LONG time ago, and it has taken way too long to get it to this point. I'm not quitting now!

    By the way, I've started cogitating ideas for my Oregon Trail workshop October 10-13, and I think it's going to be an interesting take-off on my usual nature journaling workshop. I was born near the Oregon Trail, so pioneers and "Westward Ho the Wagons!" are in my blood.

    I'll try to get back sooner next time. Right now, I have to start implementing all the suggestions I got for the swamp book cover. As always, I'm apprehensive about painting that cover. It seems that the "fear of the unknown" never seems to go away, no matter how well I do a previous painting.

    Maybe next time I'll have a painting to show you -- or at least some degree of painting finished!

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