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James OBrien
Process
New England TB Symposium illustration
posted:
I made this illustration for the New England TB Symposium. It was used for their program and posters as well as mugs and bags.
Initially, I drew a pattern of abstract shapes, but the client wanted me to show the drugs used to treat TB. The final sketch fused the cabinet with the head and shoulders profile.
I used my trimmed Pentel brush pen for the line work. It was getting low on ink which allows me to create a more textural line.
Below is the illo in a few stages of development.
Alzheimer's illo
posted:
 

Last month, I was assigned a job by Harvard Magazine to make an illustration for an article about Alzheimer’s. The concept relates to a treatment referred to as “meaningful engagement.”

One of the effective activities discussed involved patients tending to plants. I wanted to make a decorative portrait that showed this relationship between the patient and the plants, as well as the internal isolation of the patient’s mind.

The larger portrait represents the external activity, the patient tending to the plants, and the smaller internal portrait represents the patient separated from reality.

Below is the process, beginning with thumbnail sketches, rough sketches for the client, and the final sketch approved by the client.

 

Above is the ink line work I made with a Pentel Brush Pen.

For my work, I use new textures made from scanned elements as well as old textures pulled from previous illustrations. For this illustration, I used three textures pulled from previous illustrations and re-colored them, light orange for the main texture, medium orange for an additional texture, and green for a texture that will relate to the line work.

The image below shows the inked line work on a layer above the textures.
I brought in additional textures to create the head shape, and additional textures for the body.
And below is the colorized line work followed by the final illustration.
Illustrator Primitive Shape tool demo
posted:
This is a demo I did last semester showing students how to create an illo using Illustrator's Primitive Shape tools.
I used the Rounded Rectangle tool to create the main head shape and then used the Ellipse tool to create the features. The triangles were created using the Star tool, reducing the number of points to three. The Line segment tool was used to create the line at the top of the mouth between the nostrils.
I then used the Shape Builder tool to combine the shapes. I lengthened the nostrils by dragging one of each circle's points down to the line above the mouth.
Inflammation technique & process
posted:
This image was commissioned for a magazine article about inflammation. The idea for the piece was a pattern of abstracted cell shapes surrounding a helpless floating figure that also contained some of these cell shapes.

I sketched out a couple of options for the client to choose from. The first was a hand rather than a figure. The inflammation was also concentrated in one part of the hand as if stemming from an injury. The client felt the figure better fit the story and wanted the cell pattern to be within the figure.

I first painted the silhouette of the figure using white gouache on craft paper.
Then I used a variety of media to create some abstract cell shapes.
Using a Pentel brush pen, I created some line work for the head of the figure.
I used graphite on rough paper to create a shadow to insert within the figure, darkening its edges. I also made a hand and a foot along with additional shading marks.
I had originally sketched the figure as upside down but the client wanted the figure to be right-side up. I widened the pattern out a bit to better fit the format and then placed this sketch into Photoshop to use as a guide for the art.
To start the image, I used a number of textures to build up a dark blue background.
I then arranged the individual cell shapes into a pattern leaving a space for the figure, and colorized the cell shapes using a blue palette that was brighter, cooler, and more saturated than the background blues.
Next I placed the figure silhouette in the open area and colorized it with one light value and one medium value cool pink.
I then added line work and shading to the figure and created a pattern of cell shapes within it using a darker pink and red palette.
And here again is the final cropped image.
An Wang portrait
posted:

A couple of weeks ago, I was commissioned to do a portrait of An Wang, co-founder of Wang Laboratories and creator (along with Way Dong Woo) of the pulse transfer controlling device in 1949.
For this portrait, I focused on a close-up 3/4 view of Wang in a suit and bow tie with his patented circuitry as a background pattern.
A set of thumbnail sketches allowed me to explore translating his features into line and investigate composition and posture. I used this to create a sketch for the likeness.


Next, I sketched out some circuitry to use as the background pattern.

I combined this with the likeness sketch to create the final rough sketch to show to the client.

For the next step, I painted shapes with gouache for the head, suit, tie, and background. For this step, I was only concerned with the edge quality, the shape, and the texture within the shape from the brush strokes and subtle color value variations. I scanned these gouache shapes in grayscale.



Following the gouache step, I created the line work using a Pentel brush pen. I made an alternative line drawing for some of the facial features. In the first ink drawing, I made three left cheek edge lines intending to choose one of them, but then decided to leave all three.



I used the sketch in Photoshop as a guide for placing the gouache and ink elements.

In Photoshop, I converted the gouache elements to Index Color, limiting them to only two values; a medium gray and a dark gray. I then selected each of these grays and converted them each to a color that matched their value.



Next, I introduced a third value for the face texture and then began replacing the sketch with the scanned ink line work.


I decided to make the darker background and bow tie value match the face texture value.



Up until now, I had been working with a monochromatic red palette. For the final illustration though, I wanted the background to be a second color, and first tried a dull bluish hue…

…but then decided on an acid green…

…and finished by completing the final background circuitry pattern.

Water illustration for WellDone
posted:

I was asked by Kate Worum to create an illustration about water for a project she’s working on at WellDone.
I often use Adobe Illustrator to doodle, to make an image with no plan in mind, just play around with shapes and color and see what happens.
For this illustration, I set up a few simple rules for the doodle. The format was 6×6″ so I began with a blue square. Then, since I wanted it to be a face, I began with two circular eyes. After that, I made a drop shape to use as the only shape for the rest of the image. I could re-size this shape and rotate it, but I could not distort it, redraw it, or crop it (cropping could occur if the shape extend beyond the format edge). The palette was limited to three values, white, black, and blue as the middle value. My final rule was to create a left/right symmetry to reflect the symmetry of the eyes and the left/right symmetry of the drop shape (not counting the eyes, this rule was broken once, can you spot it?).
Again, I had no plan for this, other than a face. Would it be a human face? an animal?


a bear?

a lemur?

an odd-looking man with a mustache?

a butterfly?

a clown or masked wrestler?

But, eventually, what began to appear…

…was a tiger!

a decorative tiger!

with a winged one-eyed bug on its nose!


Barry Hannah
posted:

I have three illustrations in the March 2011 issue of The Oxford American. This issue is about the author Barry Hannah who died one year ago this month.


Here’s some of the process, ink and gouache, assembled in Photoshop.







Here’s a repeating pattern tile I made from the drops.

Lucky Funds cereal
posted:
Here’s some process from a piece I did last December, an exec reading the back of a box of Lucky Funds cereal.







Cyclestache print
posted:

So I worked through my cycling angst and  moved on to a new friendlier illustration for the Local/Euro exhibit.
The idea for this one is a combining of the mustache with bicycle wheels. The rider has multiple mustaches, each twirled into a wheel. In the background, where the wheels are now, will be a pattern of bicycles.
The basis for this portrait is an 1895 photo of Paul R. Clauss, a famous rubgy footballer from Scotland, reference found here.
Below is the rough thumbnail concept sketch.

Below is the photo-sketch, combining the reference photo with the thumbnail sketch.

Below is the line drawing from the photo reference, with additional mustaches, eyebrows, and eyes.

Below is an in-progress step, building up the mustache, determining the palette, adding the background wheel pattern.

The first session in the print studio went well. I printed the yellow background and the pink skin color. The next session though I messed up when I left a ruler under the paper (a positioning method I was using) which caused the orange ink to darken at the edge of where the ruler sat (see the arrows in the bottom image below). After three prints, I realized what was happening and tried to fix it, but ended up getting ink on the bottom of the screen, just a number of mess-ups with the third ink.
The fourth ink started out well but my pulling technique needs more practice, ink again gathered under the screen (I think I pull too much ink). Later I realized the yellow and pink were too dark anyway, so a failed print, but hopefully a good learning experience.
Below are some process images from the screenprinting sessions.





For the exhibit then, I made a banner print, larger than what the screen print would have been which was good, and on Epson Fine Art paper, a sharp image on a soft cloth-like paper.
Cycling print: Printshop Day 1
posted:

This week, I am in the Printshop beginning work on the cycling print, with little progress. It’s been a couple of years since my last screen printing project so it took some guidance and help from my friend Shannon Brady and a little time to reacquaint myself with the process.
Above is the final Photoshop image. I decided to print this edition without the type. Below are the two separations, printed on vellum, one for medium red and one for dark red.

We exposed one screen for the medium red, image size is 16″ x 22.4.”
I was using the one-armed-bandit for the first time so I wanted to use newsprint for a test print which unfortunately allowed some ink to flow onto the bottom of the screen, ruining the first two prints. Below is one of the prints, big blotchy mess of ink. Plus we noticed a filled-in spot in the screen (big white spot next to the bottom of the front tire).

So not much accomplished this first day, although I have the medium red ink mixed and one screen exposed, and I feel comfortable with the process again. We’ll be back at it today with a clean screen and no newsprint.
Just realized I forgot to document this printing session. Screen was exposed for 30 seconds. Medium red was I think four parts Shop Red, one-half part Yellow, and one part White (or some mix close to that). Paper is 90lb. Stonehenge Vellum White. I’m planning for this print to be an addition of between twenty and thirty.
Cycling print update
posted:

Inked some line work for my cycling print. I plan to have a pattern in the background, Van Gogh energy suggesting smoke, heat, fire. This is the first look in that direction along with more resolved line work for the face.

Cycling print
posted:

Here's a project I'm currently working on, a screen print for an upcoming exhibit.
I’m trying out a pre-sale model using Kickstarter to fund the project, details here.
Project backers get a signed edition of the final screen print and, with a larger pledge, can get their name embedded within the art work, ala Hirschfeld’s “Nina.”
Above is the image so far. This shows preliminary hand lettering placement, still waffling over what top word to use; Psycho, Savage, Monster



Above are the initial steps into Photoshop where I’ll design the print. I first refined the sketch a bit, enlarging the front wheel, adjusting the road, other little tweaks. Then I chose a background color starting point, a warm red, suggesting heat, anger, blood. The next step will be to define the edges and add one or two more colors to the palette. I will also be refining the face with ink line work as well as other details. Not sure about the road, think I prefer the severe straight-edged version over the s-curve. The lettering has not worked its way into the composition yet.
Following are the preliminary sketches with notes:
I may look at adjusting the face and lettering but this first step was to get the arrangement of the body and bike within the format. This bike is very simplified intentionally to place more focus on the face of the rider but could use some corrections and details here and there. The word “Savage” may change, looking for a word that sounds well spoken with “Cycling” and suggests a fierce, focused, beast-like energy and attitude.
This version is a refinement of the next two sketches. The word “Savage” replaced the word “Psycho.”
This is the second version of the sketch where I corrected the handlebars.
This is the first version of the sketch with flat handlebars since I used my commuter bike for the reference. I tried bending my hands around the outside of the handlebars to suggest the lower position and angle that would occur with track style handlebars.
These are the thumbnail sketches. They began with a rough placement of the cyclist and bike within the format (top middle) which I refined a bit (middle right) and then tried adding more detail without using reference (bottom right) followed by a more finalized sketch (left two sketches) using reference photos.
These reference photos were taken by my daughter in our back alley, showing me as a ferocious cyclist. I didn’t realize she was taking the two pictures of me giving her some direction.
Mr. Ted
posted:

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.

Guitar Hero
posted:
I’ve never played Guitar Hero and this image wasn’t for Activision. It was for a legal trade magazine for a story about patent law; so something dull and something exciting (if you’re into that sort of thing, I’m perfectly content with my New York Times Crossword Puzzle app and maybe a little Brave Man now and then).
I wanted the image to be about both situations, the real and the imagined, so I combined patent writing with guitar playing. The patent attorney is writing while he imagines himself playing guitar.
For process, first I scan my sketch and convert it to bitmap to get rid of the gray pixels. Then I move it to a new layer and delete all of the white pixels. I lock the transparent pixels so that I can quickly change the color of the sketch using the Fill Command shortcut (Option-Delete to fill with the foreground color, Command-Delete to fill with the background color). Below is the sketch with some reference photos taken by my daughter Emma.
Next I introduce a background color and then additional colors, working at separating the foreground elements from the background. I use the Pencil and Eraser tools on Layer Masks to isolate the color areas, working quickly trying not to be to accurate or neat. I make sure all anti-aliasing is turned off (uncheck anti-alias for the Lasso and Magic Wand tools, set the Eraser to Pencil, avoid the Paintbrush, set Interpolation to Nearest Neighbor). This limits the color areas to hard edges which allows me to do quick color edits when I lock the transparent pixels on each layer. I work fairly large, 11×13″ at 300ppi so no jagged edges will be visible on curved and angled edges.
After these initial steps, I spend a bulk of the time cutting and pasting in textures and adjusting the color palette as needed. I often add additional line work as well.
When I have the image design complete, as a final step I convert it from RGB Color to Indexed Color, limiting the palette to just a few colors, and then tweak that version a bit to fall somewhere between the RGB version and the Indexed Color version. Below is the final image design followed by the Indexed Color version. The first image in this post is the tweaked version of the Indexed Color image. It’s the final image, the one sent to the client.
Financial services illo
posted:
I made this image last week for an FISVoice newsletter article about financial advisors dealing with stressed-out clients. The big hand represents the advisor and has arrived just after its client has jumped up and clung to the chandelier. The client is welcoming this helping hand by placing his hand in it and mimicking its orientation. The client has a subtle smile.
This was an opportunity to reuse my chandelier drawing from House of Hope, also used in my Kal Penn portrait as a background pattern.
The final went through a few revisions, ending up in a slightly better spot. I actually prefer the one above, which was the third version. The client (my client, the AD) opted for the white chandelier with dark blue line work.
Below are the six versions of the final along with the sketch.
Sleeping boy
posted:
This is a personal piece created for licensing, a sleeping boy.
Step 6: added final shading and textures.
Step 5: introduced additional background texture.
Step 4: replaced the sketch with final line work.
Step 3: added a white texture for the shirt and fingernails.
Step 2: blocked in figure and background color.
Step 1: this is the rough sketch for the image.
Drawing in Flash
posted:
I've been playing with Flash lately, initially for animation and web design. But a couple of my students use Flash exclusively for inking their sketches. So I thought I would try it out and did a quick demo for the rest of the class. At top is a Flash drawing of the above sketch from my Downtowner project.
Texture with graphite
posted:
Here's a piece I made last week for the LA Times using a slightly different method inspired by a graduate student at one of the schools where I teach. Her method is similar to my usual technique however she makes custom-made texture areas for each piece. She uses graphite to sketch the texture areas on vellum and then uses them to make screens for screen printing.
So, for me, rather than collaging a pre-existing texture, for this piece I pencil-filled in the large color areas using a 3B graphite pencil, scanned them in, and then converted them to the individual color areas. I like the fact that I am hand-making each color area as well which results in unique textures for each image area.
The LA Times article this piece accompanied was written by a chef discussing his profession.
Above are the pencil-filled areas (along with some of the line work) drawn on tracing paper with a 3B pencil and then set to high contrast using the Threshold command in Photoshop (Image>Adjustments>Threshold). The background was built using the face element.
Creating texture
posted:
I've had a number of students ask me how I create the textures I use in my work. There are several ways of creating texture but here is the one I most often use.

First, I find an image to use either by scanning something in or finding an appropriate image online. This one is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (Daguerreotype collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-2439)
Next, I go to the Image menu and change the Mode to Indexed Color. This allows me to limit the amount of colors within the image. I set the Palette to Local (Perceptual), set Forced to Black and White, and turn off the Dither. Then I determine how many colors the image needs in order to create an interesting texture. For this image, 7 colors separates most of the scratches from the rest of the photograph. After clicking the OK button, I switch the Mode back to RGB. This doesn't change the color palette but just allows me to work in the RGB mode again.
Next, I choose the Magic Wand and uncheck the Anti-alias box and uncheck the Contiguous box. Then I click on the color of the texture I want to capture, in this image it's the tan color making up most of the scratch marks. With the Contiguous box unchecked, the Magic wand captures all of the tan rather than just one contiguous section. I then copy and paste these tan pixels onto a new layer and hide the original image layer. I delete any recognizable or large areas of texture, in this case erasing Lincoln's hands, head, and shirt as well as some of the larger texture bits.
Finally, I copy and paste the texture bits to thicken them up, depending on how thick I want the texture to be. I rotate the pasted texture and move these pasted areas around to make the texture appear more random. I also rotate by 90º increments in order to avoid creating any anti-alias pixels. I lock the transparent pixels on this texture layer in order to quickly change its color. Locking the transparent pixels  allows me to quickly change the color of the texture by holding down the Option key and hitting Delete (to fill with the Foreground color) or holding down the Command key and hitting Delete (to fill with the Background color). You can also use the Edit>Fill command or use the Pencil or Brush tool for this step. Since the transparent pixels are locked, no new pixels can be created so painting on the layer will only change the color of the existing pixels (but keep in mind that if you use the Eraser tool, rather than erasing pixels, you will be painting them with the Background color).

So that's it, pretty simple actually once you know the steps.
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