Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Happy Cycling

I finished the illustrations for Cecilia's Wheels today. These were all done in Painter or Photoshop. Here's a brief synopsis of the story from a previous update.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable project despite the limitations in trying to cram the whole story in just six illustrations. Cecilia is actually the client, and this was a story her father wrote when she was a child based on her true experience of learning to ride without training wheels. The book was supposed to be a Christmas present to her father, but we started the project way too close to the deadline to make it possible. She did show her father the sketches though, and told me that it nearly brought tears to his eyes. I had a similar experience recently with another story, so I can say that although I'm not yet a parent, I can relate to Cecilia's father, knowing how personal and affecting a children's story can be even in adulthood.

When I first took this project on, I was inspired to do a bit of bicycling myself. As a housewarming gift, Alex's uncle gave us a pair of bikes that he bought secondhand and restored himself. I hadn't ridden a bicycle in years, and the first pass up and down my block felt like childhood all over again, accompanied by an almost delirious form of laughter.

Eventually, I began to explore Berkeley, and though I've lived in or around this city for years it was like discovering a new kingdom. My first time out was the perfect "Day in the Life of" montage. I rode down to a lake that sits beside the freeway. I've driven past this lake hundreds of times, and my impression has always been that it's just where shady men pull up and park along the surrounding brush, pretending to wax their cars when they're really looking for something much more sinister. Entering the park from the bicycle path, however, and I was introduced to a realm inhabited by a sense of innocence like the one I found when I started riding again.... well, at the very least, people were doing the kind of things people ought to be doing in parks. As I rode along the path, I noticed the pedestrian overpass spanning across the freeway. I've always driven underneath it, catching brief glimpses of people overhead; someone walking their dog, another chasing their hat as it made a bid for freedom on a gale force, or another holding a protest sign against the chain link fence to the zooming cars below. It was a strange realization, knowing that from my new vantage point, I was now one of those persons, a blur to the sea of traffic. The thought seemed to make time slow down for a moment as I soaked in the scenery that I've too often neglected.

I continued on, each new stop offering an entirely different scene: An old man seated at a bench along the pier with his terrier, looking at the ground in front of him rather than the gorgeous bay view. Kids out of school, attempting to fly a kite on the grassy hills of the Eastshore. Back at the lake, an elderly lady slowly trailed behind her granddaughter, who just discovered the largest jungle gym fortress anyone could ever hope to find (myself included). Disc golfers rummaged the lake shores for a lost frisbee. A painter who discovered this place way before I did, worked at his french easel on a view I wish I saw first. Even the freeway had its own "sweeping" view.

It's been a few weeks since that first adventure. Bicycling is now a little more routine, especially in conjunction with a certain plan to lose some holiday weight, but I still see something new every day. Unfortunately, just this past weekend I snapped something in the gear system while stepping a little too hard on the pedal, so I'm currently bicycle-less. But, taking a lesson from Cecilia, you can bet I won't go through the seasons sitting on my front steps.


Julien alday said...

Ho, Mike ! Good boy, that's an awesome update !!! Not only the illustrations you made [awesome to read the story behind this. Cecilia's father sure had a strong emotion when he saw this, I can totally understand that... For reasons you know.] but also for the great photos you have put here. I like the relationship between the two. Great great job, Mike.
You made my day.

Paul Dorn said...

Great illustrations. Oh for the days when kids were free to travel and explore by bicycle, instead of having to be chauffered everywhere. I have some suggestions for bicycling on my website, should you wish to continue.

Svetlana said...

I love those children illustration, Mike, very warm and lyrical. I will write more a bit later. If your brother is up to hear some critiques about his video, I can write my amateur impression. But it is not very flattering.

Anonymous said...

the colored version of the bike story looks fantastic. the second image (where the bike breaks ) is my favorite. it's really…touching.
do you already have a publisher for the book?


Anonymous said...

Really charming finished illustrations, Mike...charming story, as well as your own story about getting back on the bicycle. Have you ever thought of writing a children's book? -- you seem to be very good and quick with the written word -- something that some visual artists, I would suppose (myself included), struggle with. I am also curious if you have approached the children's book (illustration) market with any success? I do wonder how competitive it is these days for one who is obviously talented in that arena.

Is that 580? -- love the broom! I remember losing a big painting near there... watching, to my horror, it fly out of the back of my pickup truck and tumble down the highway.



Mike Dutton said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone. :)

Julien - I'm glad it made your day, especially in light of some of our recent email discussions. Thanks for also enriching my day with your own frequent updates!

Hi Paul - Thanks for the link to your website. I'm hoping anyone interested in learning more about bicycle commuting will take a look at it, because it's got some great information. I happen to be in the enviable position at the moment where my commute is walking down a flight of stairs (enviable unless you dislike stairs), but for others, this is a great alternative, though I know it isn't an option for everybody.

Sveta - Thanks, and it's good to see you here. I'd love to read more about what you have to say regarding my artwork, but I unfortunately cannot speak for my brothers. :P I initially posted their work without permission, and though they're happy that I did, I don't want to unwittingly put them on the spot as far as public scrutiny. I'd be happy to pass on an email though and I'm sure they'd actually appreciate it. But feel free to tear mine apart!

Hi Michael - Thanks. :) I don't have a publisher since this was a private commission to handbind a single copy for the client's father. I'd love it if they pursued a publishing deal (in which case, I'd want to bulk it up with a few more pieces), but that's ultimately up to them. I do have my own books I'd like to publish, but at this stage they're only in the mind's eye.

Hi Ana- It's actually about a mile before the 80/580 split, so you're very close! The general area is notorious for flying objects- I once saw a surfboard fly from its rack about thirty feet into the air, only a few cars in front of me. I'm sorry your piece shared a similar fate. :/

I do enjoy writing, and it's been a sort of side-quest of mine to eventually publish some of my material, but I'm definitely more interested in writing and illustrating children's books. My wife is also a preschool teacher and a very capable writer (and I love the way she reads children's stories), so I'm sure a collaboration will eventually happen there as well.... at the very least, I've got a great inside resource.

As for actually pursuing the children's market, I'm just now gearing up to make my debut on the marketing scene, and hopefully that'll bear some fruit.

Anonymous said...

I just love it when Cecilia looks at the bikes - it's my very favorite picture shown here :) She has a white seal :P It makes me laugh. I'm only 8 - and I don't know how to ride a two-wheeled bike. She looks fantastic B) It's amazing how you painted the shadows on the girl when she practiced a two-wheeled bike! You should also fix Cecilia's nose on the last picture - it looks ugly :( But to me none of your pictures look real. What a long comment! I like your pictures a lot :D ~Christina Lazutkin, age 8, Texas. I'm Svetlana's daughter. XP

Svetlana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

*does the macarena* XP

Mike Dutton said...

Hello, Miss Christina! I've seen a lot of your artwork on your mother's sketch journal, so let me please say from one artist to another, it is very nice to meet you. Thank you for your review of my work for Cecilia's book. I'm glad you enjoyed them. We also have the same favorite page (the one of Cecilia sitting on the steps). I see what you're saying about the nose on the last page, and although not everyone is blessed with a perfect nose, I'll see what I can do for her to make it a little better.

Thank you once again, and thank you for doing that little dance at the end as well. ;)

Svetlana said...

Hello, Mike, hope you post those beauties in FF section, it is obviously done with love. Is any chance for me to buy this book? The little girl expression from 2 and 4th image charmed me deeply. And the whole look of her, plump toddler with nice round cheeks, this age of her, when it is not always easy to guess if it's a girl or boy. Both genders are so tender in this age.
As I said her expression when she looks at bully touches me so much. It's very fine. Not much of a resentment as not being able to understand why he does thing like this, pain m quiet sadness ( she is very patient child... but not that bold). I like to look at her face, very delicate, wonder how you caught this.
I don't know maybe I'm seeing to much in it, but I see a little gentle, thoughtful girl, very obedient child, sweet, but undecided.still very attached to parent in every decision. And I think like this not because off the story but because of her face. It has soft round nose and pensive gentle eyes. And her hair are soft. Nothing in her face is demanding or aggressive, she is more like submissive.

ehehe, The Big Bully is a nightmare even for me. What a jerk, I bet he killed someone in his dark past.
Well as I'm on this picture I would say I like the stylized smokes from overheated wheels, but I think they might be done a bit too more thoughtful, just a little out of style with the rest.. especially the pencils lines distract me. I would probably say the same about green digital lines on the top of the trees in the first picture, somehow I don't think they improve picture. Apparently focus is on the little girl and in this case eye will ignore details on the closest tree, and see it as a bright green spot ( just by side vision).
I have some doubts about water puddle, I like it from one side and I think it has too perfect shape, should be more random and asphalt near it should be darker, being wet.

I too love how you painted shadows in all your image, lovely,so light and elegant. perfect for children reminiscence. Blue, greenish, light grey, purplish shadows, they are beautiful and add so much charm. The create an image of fragile, gentle child too.

Image3 is lovely, I thought it is a kitchen at first look and thought how strange that this warm family has such a gruesome cold kitchen. Then I realized it is a garage probably or basement.

I would suggest to add something else to the image to make it clear and maybe add some bright childhood toys she grew up from, just to make the image warmer. It is one more feature to her character and to her family's and it paints them as being too accurate. Like they get rid from all memories of past too fast, there is nothing from the past life in this basement, clean and empty. Usually families kept them not being bold enough to throw them away.
Shadow could have been thinner , more stretched, and not that opague, but it is not important.

Image where she sits and looks at other children is one of the best. So much feeling in it. Charming.

I love everything on FG, the vase, the toy , steps and grass and girl little face and suppressed pose. Very expressive and telling as well. Wonderful that you use this pose, that's a lot of mood when we see only cheeks and sad eye and bent back of the person, not much, but it immediately gave me her state of mind. hopeless, abandoned or lonely. Almost fetus position :), very appealing.
I do think that figures of children on the street a bit too sharp and bright and they look like they above ground, flying a bit. I would prefer them more like bright silhouettes, just hints.

Colors are gorgeous in all images, a really pleasure to see and very tasteful.

I like a little drawings where she learns how to ride starting from the wall, very thoughtfully from you to show the whole start and how did it go. Expression of the face is not that precise though, in my opinion, except the image where she rides straight at us. Overall they are all lovely. face of the woman is a little unpleasant to look.

The last image, I think it could be better. She is on top of the world, but colors are elusive and subdued and her face expression although satisfied, but not charming. It doesn't feel like celebration.

I like the photos very much too, very, very personal and they have the same charm as illustration.
Impression from illustration: Extreme loveliness, Wonderful. It is not just pretty picture it is pure love and care.

Christie wrote her comment herself and it was her decision to write to you.
All the best.

Unknown said...

beautiful illustration!!

Svetlana said...

Mike, the comment about pictures not being real, it is her normal response. She is into realistic art right now. it is the supreme art for her when everything looks like real life.Please don't see too much into it, she loved your illustration.

Mike Dutton said...

Hehe, I really wasn't bothered by it, but thanks for your concern. And thank you for your in-depth critique as well. :)

Bruce said...

Mike, you demonstrate perfectly the potential of the impact that children's book illustration can have, especially the 2nd and 3rd pieces (well, for me, anyways). The colors are wonderful and it's the subtle elements that make them interesting. Well done Mike, I'm sure that the client Cecilia, will be most impressed and excited to see these.

I enjoyed reading your cycling adventure story, too.

Unknown said...

Meant to tell you some time ago -but these came out great man. I could see you having a whole healthy career in Children's Book Illustrations - werd?!?!!!!

Paige Keiser said...

Very cinematic illustrations, great mood and lighting too! Thanks for commenting on my blog :0)

mkornatka said...

Nice paintings here!