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James OBrien
Mr. Ted
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I created this piece for the University of Minnesota’s Alumni magazine’s summer issue for a short story about the manager of a fast-food restaurant, Mr. Ted.
I started out thumbnailing quick concepts about grease and the deep-fryer and grill, and since the story was also about two of Mr. Ted’s workers, I worked up some ideas about them. My first thoughts were about the environment, the grease and heat, along with character studies of the workers and Mr. Ted. The story was a mix of humor and melancholy; Mr. Ted was trapped in his career choice and his two young workers at first saw Mr. Ted’s life as humorous and made light of it but eventually gained respect for him.
The client wanted the image to focus on Mr. Ted rather than the two workers so I sketched some variations of him at the grill with drops and flames (top two rows of thumbnails). The drops pattern serves as a symbol of the environment and the mood; grease, rain, tears, sweat.
The final direction was to combine the background of drops with patty shapes at the bottom, no smoke or flames, so a combination of the third and fourth sketches in the top row. Another request was to change the “RB” (the name of the restaurant) to Mr. Ted.

When I begin to work on the final art in Photoshop, my first step is to combine the sketch with a ground color along with a second color and texture. This gives me an initial impression of the value design, how the figure elements and ground elements relate, and how the texture is working with the design.
I cleaned up the rough sketch with some simple pencil line. I then used this pencil line as a reference for the final line work.


I used two methods for the final line work; the first was with a Pentel Brush Pen (top) and the second was with a Wacom tablet using the Blob Brush tool in Illustrator (bottom). I preferred the cleaner quality of the digital line in some areas and the thicker rougher quality of the brush pen line in other areas, sometimes combining the two styles of line and then adding and subtracting with the Pencil and Eraser tools.


I knew the hand was a mess so I took some quick reference photos and used them to correct it and then made the additional line work with my brush pen (I redrew this later for one of my sketchbook exchange images).


On a top layer, I make a white frame that I use for cropping. This white frame layer allows me to see the image against white rather than against the window edges and allows me to include bleed if needed.

I had initially set the darkest value as the background with the drops pattern being one of two middle values, but I decided to make the background a middle value so that the drops could be both lighter (the lighter middle value) and darker (the darkest value) than the background to create a back-and-forth visual movement. I also varied the sizes of the drops to further emphasize this effect.



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