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Animal fable of the beavers and otters for the theme work+play

Next month I’m going to ICON8, the illustration conference, taking place in Portland, Oregon. The organizers have been busy setting up all kinds of fun events and one of them is a group show at Land Gallery. Open to all attendees and restricted only by space, we can each submit one 8×10 illustration on the theme of the conference, Work+Play. What a great opportunity! Being part of a show has been a long time dream, so needless to say I decided to take the chance and submit something.

In my personal work I am building a series of illustrations I call animal fables where I explore a given concept or personality and its opposite using two simple drawings of an animal symbol and some kind of plant or vegetation. With each one I write a little haiku (3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables) that tells a story about the drawing. Work+play seemed to fit perfectly with this concept so I decided to make it into a fable with all my usual constraints. But instead of two separate drawings this time I challenged myself to weave them into a single piece since only one illustration would be selected for the show.

My first step was to find the animal symbols to represent work and play. I remembered reading a quote by Richard Bach that said “You are the game-playing, fun-having creatures, you are the otters of the universe.” There, I got the otter as my symbol for play. And for the work part I searched for a similar aquatic animal and found the hard working beaver, always busy building something.

For inspiration I search through Google images and narrow down the ones I am strongly drawn to. So many fun otters pictures online, I must have gone into cuteness overload, they are so adorable! 

The most common image that comes to mind when thinking about beavers is one taking down a tree after patiently chewing on the trunk. But on Google I discovered they not only build dams but also some kind of lodge as their home. So cool. I must have learned this as a kid, especially that I grew up in Canada, but completely forgot about it. This lodge is definitely going in my drawing.

From the animal images I then imagine a composition and start sketching. I knew I wanted otters swimming underwater and one with a ball, like in the popular song from Quebec about a seal that leaves his love behind to go to the US work in a circus to turn a ball on its nose. I drew a tree branch for that otter to stand on and added the bulk kelp they love to play with. Then I just had to fit in the beaver lodge and voila. After my drawing is done, I let it inspire a little haiku, and as I search the dictionary the play on words almost come magically.

A couple years ago when I started making these drawings I wanted an intaglio print effect but without needing a press. I developed a technique that uses the computer by carving a linoleum block then letting the ink dry instead of pressing it onto paper and then scanning the block in the computer. Once in digital form I can change the blue/yellow colors into black and white. See the dried blocks below with the resulting files.

In photoshop I can clean up and make corrections to the base drawing and start applying colors and textures. In the beginnings I would only do a super simple water color application, sometimes even no watercolor, and leave the print outlines. Since a few months ago I decided to sign up for a bunch of online courses like Make Art that Sells and really push myself to expand my techniques and make my drawings a bit more rich with textures and colors. It’s a trial and error process as you can see in the progression below.

The texture I carved for the beaver lodge was a bit too strong and I just could not make it work. So instead I took a few threads of raffia grass, cut and glued them to a piece of paper then scanned it in. The effect came out much better and closer to what I had in mind with the sketch.


Another area were I am pushing myself to expand and learn is the typography, which I normally keep plain and simple with computer fonts. With this piece I tried to make the text more illustrative to blend in with the image. I traced letters on my tablet using the iDraw app then exported them to illustrator to adjust and piece together. After playing around with the layout and colors in photoshop I ended up creating a gradient texture with water-soluble wax crayons and applying on the text as a pattern. 

Below is the final illustration I sent in last night as my submission for the show. I came back full circle with the colors I had started out with. Isn’t it funny how that goes. The process was fairly unconscious but now I see that blue and asperities represent work, and red, yellow and smooth elements represent play. All distributed seamlessly on both sides of the drawing. 

As a double piece my names for it would have been the worker and the player, but as one drawing I call it “the contributor”. Because all characters in this drawing are active participants, whether they are working or playing, or better yet managing to do both!

UPDATE: I’m so excited, I just got an email from Pat at Land Gallery that my piece was accepted in the show! It will run at Land Gallery from July 11th to Aug 24th.

animal archetype illustration story

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