On The Drawing Board- 11/24/08

November 24th, 2008 | Posted in On the Drawing Board

I have several irons in the fire at the moment but here’s the latest “workplace poster” job I just completed last week. This one was a killer.

Here’s the art direction and tagline:

(Urban street scene. It’s Feb. 14. Maybe there’s Times-Square-style zipper that says, “Happy Valentine’s Day today!’ Looking up on either side of the street you can see a flower shop, a bookstore, a jewelry store and a candy store. It’s a mob scene, with men and women (diversity, please) frantically running in the streets with cards and last-minute gifts, sweating and carrying their packages. Men carrying flowers and jewelry bags, a woman carrying a puppy, another woman pushing a new, shiny, zooted-up gas grill down the middle of the street. You could even have a cop or two directing pedestrian traffic. Everyone’s looking frazzled. It’s the last minute to buy a gift. No cars in the street, please.):

“If you want to have a sweetheart of a day, don’t procrastinate! Come on – pace yourself on (and off) the job, and avoid pushing the envelope! Here’s to planning ahead … keeping a cool head … and giving yourself time afterwards to relax and smell the roses.

Well, not much to say about that. Some jobs call for a relatively easy image and some call for something like this. An illustrator is paid for usage not for time it takes to complete a piece, so the paycheck is the same whether I spend two days on one of these poster jobs or two weeks. I consider it to all “come out in the wash” in the end, meaning there are very easy and quick jobs that balance out these more complex ones so it all evens out over time. This one was a killer, though… did I say that already?

Here is the rough pencil sketch:

Click for a closer look…

I have been working for this client for many years now (in fact so long I have lost count of the number of these posters I have done… somewhere in the forty or fifty range by now at least) that I no longer do any thumbnails or multiple roughs for review. I just go straight into a single solution. I know what they want and they know what to expect from me, so there are seldom any major changes.

Obviously the point of this image was a frenzied scene with people rushing to get last minute valentines gifts. I know the client will not like anyone looking “too crazy” or panicked, nor will they want to see any violence like people getting trampled or pushed aside. They like a blend of caricature/cartoon character people, lots of diversity in sex, race and age, and lots of strong color in the final. My layout uses a tilted angle of the scene to create more chaos, and then just fills the space with various people scurrying about.

Here are the final inks:

Click for a closer look…

I spot some blacks here and there but as this is going to be color I only do a little value work with the inks (i.e. solid blacks, linear or crosshatch shading, etc.)

I saved the image in a partially colored stage:

I work from the background forward with the color, which is very important. In a crowd scene you must alter your colors from the foreground to the background to help create some depth. The farther back you go, the less saturated or intense the color and the less contrast it contains. I will add a blue cast of varying strength to the color of the figures in the back until they become nearly monochromatic.

Here’s the final image:

Click for a closer look…

Crowd scenes are something I’ve garnered somewhat of a reputation of being good at. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse, as they are a serious pain in the ass to do. If you think this one is complex, that’s nothing. Right now I am working on one for MAD that makes this one look like two kids playing in a sandbox. The good news is that I am going to spend a little extra time on it to set it up as a tutorial for how to design and illustrate a crowd scene. Look for that one once that issue of MAD is on the stands in January.


  1. cedricstudio says:

    Wow, great job! My drawing hand gets a cramp just looking at this. You tackled it well, though. A fun image, chaotic but not too busy.

  2. kmcnutt says:

    Looking forward to that tutorial! I like the guy with the cart wheel spokes behind his head – makes it appear as though he has those cartoon “anxiety lines” or whatever they’re called. I’m glad you mentioned atmospheric perspective as well; it’s something that often gets overlooked but can go a long way towards helping a composition be more convincing. One other thing; there’s lots of color going on in this one, but there’s a unifying factor. I’d be interested in hearing about your method of choosing color in a way that doesn’t create a garish mess that overwhelms everything.

  3. taborda08 says:

    Great!!! I love your tutorials
    are very helpful

  4. Keelan says:

    Really nice. I know you didn’t spot the blacks too much, b/c you were going to be adding color, but I noticed the nice “S” composition of the blacks in the ink stage. Very cool.

  5. Tom says:

    With regard to color what I generally do is a solid color underpainting and then paint on top of it. I always drag the color picker way from the pure colors a bit as true, intense colros do not happen much in nature. The undercolor adds a certain cast to the entire image and give you some semblance of cohesion. In this one I used that grayish/brown and then stuck to the flesh colored end of the color spectrum in some of my color selections like the walls and buildings along the far street. Overall there is a warm, sort of beige/mauve cast to the piece that brings the intensity down and keeps it from knocking your eyes out with too much color.

    I honestly didn’t notice that “S” shape, I wanted a right/forward motion so I staged black moving from the center to the right and then down to the bottom.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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