Here's the reason I haven't been posting much for the past month! At long last, my 2010 Christmas card is finished! Like every year, it was touch and go there for a while and I wasn't sure whether it would be done in time for Christmas.
As soon as I finished my 2009 card/book last year (which you can see here), I immediately started worrying about how to top it in 2010. Sometime around January or February of this year I came up with a half-baked idea to make a small calendar featuring twelve of my illustrations. Then around September I decided I'd rather do another book instead. But what to write about?
I thought about it for a while and remembered that last year I drew an illustration of SantaTaur, a half man, half reindeer who delivered presents via a magic gift bazooka. That was it! That would be my book.
I sat down and fleshed out the story of how SantaTaur came to be and sketched out all the pages. I had everything planned out and then... the delays began.
In September I started working about twenty extra hours per week (for a total of sixty!), which severely cut into my illustration time. Then I spent much of October helping a friend recover from an operation. Then I was sick for almost two weeks and didn't feel up to working on it. It wasn't until the middle of November that I kind of remembered some vague notion I had of drawing some sort of card and began working on the project in earnest.
Looking back, I was insane to start such a project so late in the year. Last year's Gronkorr book was a scant eight pages with relatively simple illustrations, just two characters and minimal (sometimes no) backgrounds. The SantaTaur book, however, was going to be much more complex. It would be twelve pages long and featured multiple characters set against very detailed backgrounds, all of which needed to be designed before I could start drawing. What the heck was I thinking?
In addition to the added complexity, there was also the style. Normally when I illustrate something, I draw the outline of the figure and color it in (much like in a comic book). However, I was trying for an old school Little Golden Book style here, and most of them were typically painted. No outlines allowed! When I realized that, I sighed and grimly set about the task of "painting" the book, which took about ten times longer than the way I'm used to working.
When I drew the Gronkorr book, I was able to save time by reusing many elements, such as the fighter jets, helicopters and background people, on multiple pages. Unfortunately I had no such luck on the SantaTaur book. I was able to reuse the front cover (with some major retooling), the endpapers and the back cover, but that was pretty much it. Because of the way it was laid out, everything else had to be drawn from scratch on each page.
I had to take advantage of every free moment I had to work on the thing just to get it out the door while it was still 2010. I even spent all of Thanksgiving Day working on it!
It was my intention to create an homage to the classic Santa's Toy Shop Little Golden Book, which is still one of my all time favorite books. Not an exact reproduction of that style, mind you, as I could never hope to be as good as that artist, but to try and capture the look and spirit of that book.
As I worked on it I hopped around from page to page instead of drawing them in order. I reasoned that by working that way, the front pages wouldn't look more primitive than the back ones as I found my bearings and got used to drawing in this style. I also trashed a couple of finished pages that I didn't think were working and started over from scratch. I was dreading working on pages 11 and 13 though, and put them off as long as possible. I knew that drawing all those little houses and buildings would suck, and I was right. Those two were the last ones to be finished.
I "painted" all the pages in Photoshop. Once they were done, I put them all together in InDesign and printed out a test book to see how it looked. I then did a LOT of tweaking to each page. It's amazing how a page will look OK to you when viewed alone, but will look awful when you see it in context. I changed a lot of the color schemes as well, so that there wouldn't be too many pages of the same general color in a row. Every time I thought it was finished, I'd spot ten more things that needed changed.
The text went through a lot of revisions as well. Once I saw the pages all together, I realized the story needed some clarification in order to better explain the plot and make it flow more smoothly. I slashed and simplified the text as much as I could, but I still think a couple of the pages are too wordy.
The "SantaTaur" logo was hand drawn, as was the "Merry Christmas, Everyone!" on the last page.
I'm fairly happy with the way it turned out, but as always, there are things I'd still like to change. There comes a point when you have to stop though, or you'll end up working on a project and tweaking it the rest of your life.
The end papers and back cover feature many special guest stars from my Flickr stream.
As I mentioned above, everything was drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet, then assembled in InDesign.