My wife and two daughters gave me the best 50th birthday present ever: A week at the Illustration Academy in Kansas City! Learning, growing and pushing as an illustrator never stops. Getting instruction and inspiration from illustrators John English, George Pratt, Bill Carman and Bill Sienkiewicz, and Mark English, is a life changing experience.
July 2, 2017:
I arrived on the Rockhurst campus in KC on Sunday and was greeted by George Pratt in the workshop. (It was a joy to catch up with George, I shared a room with George and illustrator Bill Koeb at Comic Con in 1998 or 1999.) I felt right at home, many students were in the workshop working away on the week 3 assignments due on Monday. (A very talented, and amazing group of students! So fortunate to get to spend the week with these artists. ) John English gave another week 4 student, Beth, and I a rundown of the program, and some handouts on approaches and philosophies. Timmy Trabon helped me get settled into my townhouse dorm room for the week.
I watched George and John work on oil paintings, and I did some work in my sketchbook. Leaned up against the walls and setting on tables were other works by George Pratt and John English, as well as some drawings and demo works by instructors from previous weeks. A C.F. Payne mixed media portrait was on the table. I worked in my sketchbook and reviewed the handouts to prep for the official start of the Week 4 program on Monday.
Monday morning illustrators Bill Carman and Bill Sienkiewicz joined George Pratt and John English as instructors for the week. (Wow!) I got a good sense of how exciting and challenging the week was going to be as I listened to the critiques of the week 3 assignments.
Bill Carman presents:
Late afternoon we were treated to a Bill Carman presentation on his artwork and life as an illustrator. (Pugs, Fly Fishing and beautiful drawings and paintings of imaginative creatures. ) Bill does such amazing and original work. Wow! An inspiring presentation! One of the best things about the week was meeting Bill and getting feedback from him. He gave me some helpful advice and directions to think about and challenged me to take my illustration work to the next level.
For my week 4 assignment I had a choice between a book cover or comic book cover for an existing title.
Thumbnail reviews and Bill Carman illustration demo.
I decide to jump in and do a comic book cover. Should I dare try to tackle a Batman Cover, especially with Batman artists George Pratt and Bill Sienkiewicz? I went for broke…if I was going to get my butt kicked doing a Batman cover…this is the best place to do it. I went with a Batman origin story concept…but wanted to illustrate the moment after the death of young Bruce Wayne’s parents, when the birth of the Batman occurs.
The talented artist, Jeremy Gordon, took this photo of me at the critique session.
More on the project later …
Bill Carman demo:
Bill works with golden liquid acrylics that are intense in color. He demonstrated a mixed media approach with matte medium, acrylics and ink on paper.
Bill Sienkiewicz, Bill Carman and George Pratt prep for Carman’s demo on July 4, 2017 at the Illustration Academy
Here are a couple of photos that George Pratt posted of Bill Carman’s process:
Over the course of the week Bill continued working on the piece. It was amazing to see it come to life, change and transform into the final piece.
Here is the image Bill Carman posted of the final work:
Bill Sienkiewicz presentation of his career in illustration and comics.
Feedback and critiques on roughs in the morning. Bill Sienkiewicz demo in the afternoon and a 3 hour figure drawing session in the evening. Whew!
Over a couple of days I did more rough sketches, research and experimentation for the illustration. And lots of Bat drawings …
Here are some iphone shots of the Bill Sienkiewicz mixed media demo. Pencil, ink, crayon, watercolor, clear gesso, bleach…. on an animation layout bound that takes abuse.
Not sure how long this link will be available, but here a video of the Bill Sienkiewicz demo that the Illustration Academy posted: https://www.facebook.com/visualartspassage/videos/1460484310664137/
The three hour figure drawing session was intense. I worked to try the Academy technique in pastel drawing. George Pratt gave me a demo….then he returned to his easel to create figure painting with a brayer and paint scraper.
Friday, July 7: Visit to Mark English’s studio!
The visit to Mark English’s home studio was magical. When entering his studio we were encouraged to move things around and look behind paintings, in stacks and flat files. It reduces seasoned illustrators to kids in a candy shop.
The best part was getting to talk with Mark and tell him about how inspired I was from seeing him do a demonstration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco in 1997 or 1998. I spied a box of books and asked him if they were for sale, so I bought one and asked him to sign it. Timmy Trabon took the above picture of Mark English and I in his studio with a work in progress in the background.
We went out to lunch. I sat down at a small table and John English invited me to sit at their table, and I sat next to Mark. We had more conversations about where he shows in galleries, etc. And listened to him tell some great stories. I had ordered a pizza and beer. I was sweating it, because for a dollar more I got the 22-ounce porter (instead of the polite 16-once size). I worried that Mark English is going to think I’m a lush! When it was delivered to the table, Mark asked me what it was. I said it was a crane brewery porter. I asked him if he would like to try it. So he took a sip of my beer. “That is a heavy beer.” And he returned to drinking his bottle water. So I can proudly say that Mark English sipped my beer!
Back at the Illustration Academy workshop, I asked George if they would be able to look at my website/portfolio and give me some feedback and direction.
Saturday, July 9:
Critique, and figure drawings.
For the students that were attending only Week 4, project critique was on Saturday morning rather than Monday. I worked through Friday night into Saturday morning to get my project to a finish for review. Got a couple of hours of sleep and back to the workshop. George, Bill S. and Bill C. had some great insights into the piece. I got some great direction on the cover, in terms of color and pushing it farther from each. Here is where I ended up on Saturday.
Before Bill Carman and later Bill Sienkiewicz left, I got this photo of the group of phenomenal Week 4 illustrators and instructors. From left George Pratt, John English, Bill Sienkiewicz and Bill Carman.
In the afternoon another figure drawing session. Here is a George Pratt drawing:
Sunday, July 9:
Great way to end the experience. Hanging out with John English and George Pratt waiting for my ride. Great conversation with John English comparing notes and observations about illustration and my week 4 experience. We discussed John’s series of clay court tennis paintings I’d seen him painting on during the week. I expressed to him how transformative my one week at the Illustration Academy had been. Then, chilling and talking art with George Pratt. Going through Pratt’s Morocco sketchbooks and on his ipad the works he is assembling for an artbook. Oh…and he created an amazing watercolor illustration in my copy of Enemy Ace.
How was my Illustration Academy 2017, Week 4 experience?: Amazing, transformative, exhausting, challenging, difficult and inspirational. I have a lot of great information and input to put to use… better get to work!
Thanks to Timmy Trabon for working with me on all of the logistics ( and taking the photo of me with Mark English). Thanks to the instructors: John English, George Pratt, Bill Carman and Bill Sienkiewicz. And also to Mark English, the trip to Mark’s studio and sitting next to him at lunch I’ll never forget.
The final of the Batman Cover Project:
After getting back home to California, I took the critiques and suggestions and pushed the cover much further. Everything has been reworked and refined, and a background color added. Some background textures peak through from the earlier state: