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.
Monday critique session led by Bill Sienkiewicz, John English, Bill Carman and George Pratt
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.
Bill Carman discusses art and yes, narwhals! Meanwhile George Pratt and Bill Sienkiewicz work in their sketchbooks.
Bill Carman presentation July 3, 2017 at The Illustration Academy.
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:
Bill Carman demo, photo by George Pratt
Bill Carman demo, photo by George Pratt
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:
Art by Bill Carman
Bill Sienkiewicz presentation of his career in illustration and comics.
Moon Night page that move clockwise through the panels.
Bill Sienkiewicz discusses his approach to illustrating comics…and Batman.
Batman’s cape is an expressive visual character
Bill Sienkiewicz key art for the Clint Eastwood film, Unforgiven.
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.
George Pratt takes a photo of the Bill Sienkiewicz piece at various stages.
Show and Tell: The in progress demo art was passed around to students.
Sienkiewicz demo at the 2017 Illustration Academy
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.
Mark English: The master artist in his element.
Beautiful Mark English painting with collage
Mark and John English
George Pratt, Bill Carman (with back to camera), Mark English and Bill Sienkiewicz.
Selfie time: Bill Sienkiewicz, Chuck Todd and Bill Carman in Mark English’s studio.
Yes, that is a Bison head and displays with Society of Illustrators medals.
This is one of my favorite painting from the visit to the Mark English studio.
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.
Seeing George Pratt and Bill Sienkiewicz go though flat files in Mark’s basement was liking seeing young boys going through a newly discovered stack of old comics.
Haunting, mysterious, violent and powerful Mark English illustration
Two Bills, a George and a Bernie Fuchs
Chuck Todd and a Bernie Fuchs magazine illustration. (George Pratt: ” Hey man, you want a picture with the Fuchs?” Me: Yes, Please!”)
Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders drawing by Mark English
Detail of Teddy Roosevelt by Mark English
Mark’s dogs were part of the experience as well.
Found this John Collier gem hiding under some artwork.
Detail from the Fuchs illustration
Detail from the Fuchs illustration
A ghost story illustration by Mark English (sharing space with Collier and Fuchs)
Transfer drawing monotype using linseed oil. I think George said this one was for Sports Illustrated.
Look! Bill Carman’s book on display in Mark English’s den!
Bill Carman, Mark English, Bill Sienkiewicz, George Pratt and furry friend.
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). He is going to think I’m a lush! When it was delivered to the table, Mark asked me what it was. I said 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.
Batman cover by Chuck Todd. Ink, pencil, nupastel and digital.
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.
John English asked me to join in for a group photo: George Pratt, Chuck Todd, John English, Bill Sienkiewicz and Bill Carman.
In the afternoon another figure drawing session. Here is a George Pratt drawing:
George Pratt nupastel figure 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.
A beautiful in progress oil painting by John English
This John English oil painting gem leaned up in a corner of the Illustration Academy workshop.
I think this is a George Pratt in progress oil painting.
Worktable is more like a George Pratt shrine with demos and in progress pieces.
Drawing from George Pratt’s Morocco Trip Sketchbooks
Watercolor and ink from George Pratt’s Morocco Sketchbook
Drawing George Pratt’s Morocco Sketchbook
I asked George if he could sign my copy of his Enemy Ace graphic novel. He signed it…after he created this beautiful ink and watercolor illustration. We talked as he worked and he asked if I had seen his Morocco Sketchbooks. As I was transported to Morocco through his sketchbook and stories he was telling me…I had to remember to watch him work on the painting in the book.
George Pratt’s finished illustration and note in my worn copy of Enemy Ace. An amazing illustration and visit with George was an inspirational way to end my week at the Illustration Academy.
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:
Birth of Batman Cover Project by Chuck Todd
I wanted to share an illustration project I did a few years ago for the Contra Costa Times that shows the influence on my work of master illustrator Barron Storey. Barron has done everything as an illustrator, book covers, Time magazine covers, National Geographic…he has a mural in the American Museum of Natural History and portraits hanging in the National Portrait Gallery.
If I have ever seen true genius at work it is looking at a Barron Storey original…once in illustrator Bill Koeb’s old apartment in San Francisco and I have had the luck of catching a couple of gallery shows in the city over the years. His sketchbooks are legend: His personal visual journals and his graphic novel work have influenced and inspired many artists: Dave McKean, Bill Sienkiewicz, Greg Spalenka, Bill Koeb, George Pratt and Kent Williams among them.
As a teacher he may be without a peer…so I hear. Barron is the reason I moved to the Bay Area in 1996 to pursue a graduate degree in illustration at the Academy or Art in San Francisco. I researched the influences of artists that influenced me…many of them cited Barron as an important influence. That’s how I discovered the Academy of Art and how I ended up in the Bay Area. My timing was a bit late. By the time I started my graduate courses in the fall of 1996, Barron was no longer teaching at the school, but was teaching at California College of Arts and Crafts and at San Jose State. Although I didn’t take one of Barron’s classes I was taught by artists who studied with Barron (Carol Nunnelly and my graduate advisor Bill Koeb)…so I was able to absorb some of his wisdom though them.
I have had the privilege of meeting Barron a few times. The first was at a gathering at Bill Koeb’s pad in San Francisco probably in 2000. About 5 years ago I was attending the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco with Gary Amaro ( another of my graduate advisors. ) I had some samples with me including these Cancer Journey pieces.
About the Cancer Journey project. Contra Costa Times writer Dan Borenstein penned a five part series in 2007 on his harrowing experience with cancer and cancer treatments. I was honored and humbled by the challenge of illustrating each installment of the series. ( And indebted to Dan for sharing his story and giving me such a poignant project to be a part of.) I came up with the thought of a sequence of panels, interconnected that could each tell each part of the story individually. But when combined –on the final day of the series – made a sequence of panels telling the more complete narrative. The layering of elements, with drawings and line work is a direct influence of Barron. Not as much in the technique (who the hell can draw as well as Barron Storey?)…but in an approach to storytelling that I have soaked in from Barron’s journals.
Coming full circle: At the Alternative Press Expo, Gary and I found a table that Barron had been at to sign his journal book “LIFE AFTER BLACK.” I bought the book, word was that Barron was around and would be back. As we walked around the hall looking at the variety of local artists and creators we bumped into Barron. We talked for a bit and I asked if he wouldn’t mind taking a quick look at some of my work. He very graciously did…and when he saw the Cancer Journey images has asked me about them. I gave him a quick rundown of what it was about and said that I created them for the newspaper. He said something to the effect “Amazing work. So great that they published this in a newspaper.” I honestly died and went to heaven. I felt like I had come from the world of wanting to be…to being. That I had ascended the mountain top after toiling and struggling for years on the climb. From a dream of wanting to be better than I was as a visual journalist and illustrator in Missouri. From a dream of studying with the master in California and falling short. To finally, the master himself holding my work and finding value in it.
Barron continues to inspire me and give me something to aspire to. If you are not familiar with Barron’s work you should be. Here is a link
Here is the note Barron scribed for me in his book “Life After Black.” Thanks Barron.
This is a very disturbing trend. Disturbing and scary make for some great visuals. So…OK, I admit it. I had a lot of fun with this illustration for the TECHNOLOGY section published May 14 in the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times. According to the story by the Merc’s Steve Johnson, cybercrooks are using “malvertisements” to steal data, infect computers and wreak havoc. Codes are hidden in these malicious ads…and the ads can show up on legitimate sites that screen for ads gone wrong. Not only are the malware codes hidden, a user does not even have to click on the ad to become a victim. Experts say this trend is only going to get worse. This story is worth a read to understand the problem and to get a few tips on how to protect yourself. Here is a link to Steve’s story
When I came up with the motif of the sinister shadow of a clawed hand and arm coming out of a computer everything else fell into place. The trick was to show someone getting attacked, but being unaware. I had the woman looking at a website with ads on the side. Out of one of the ads the shadow, filled with malware code, shoots out and wraps around. The hand is just about to get the woman. I hit on the idea of binary code interspersed with the word “MALVERTISEMENT” to layer into the shadow. I would have to say this one is one of my favorites so far this year for Bay Area News Group.
Here is how it looked in print across the Bay Area News Group papers, with a great page design by business design chief, Jennifer Morris.
Illustration and logo design by Chuck Todd for "The Aurator: Deadly Secrets." "The Aurator" is a sci fi / fantasy, medical thriller by M.A. Kropf. The first of a trilogy of book covers I'll be illustrating. The first book is NOW AVAILABLE as an ebook, in hardcover and softcover from Xlibris.
IT WAS A REAL JOY AND FUN CHALLENGE TO WORK ON THIS SCI FI / FANTASY BOOK COVER. This artwork has the kind of visual storytelling I love the most. Mystery and drama..think Sci Fi and Film Noir..that really gets the creative juices flowing. A lot of fun elements to play with for an artist: fog, threatening shadows, a San Francisco landmark….and The Aurator, Megan, entering the scene with her glowing red aura. The book written by M.A. Kropf has just published and is the first of a trilogy. I better get busy on the next two cover illustrations.
You can find the book here: http://bookstore.xlibris.com/Products/SKU-0111572049/The-Aurator.aspx
UPDATE: Now available as an ebook as of Friday, March 9.
Here is a description of the book:
THE AURATOR: Deadly Secrets by M.A. KROPF
First book of a Trilogy. Genre: Fantasy/Sci Fi
Illustration and logo design by Chuck Todd
“Megan is a nurse, wife and a mother who learns that her lifelong heightened sensory perception puts her among an ancient elite group known as Aurators—those who can read people’s auras. Mentored by Max, leader of the Aurators, she is swiftly thrust into membership within a secret historical medical society originating back to ancient Greece and her world quickly wobbles between reality and the supernatural driving her to the brink of insanity. In discovering her powerful bloodline, she also learns the prophecy marking her to protect the world from the Caduceus, an equally ancient society intent on world destruction. Conflicted between her professional oath to do no harm, and her prophesied calling to protect the innocent, Megan cannot deny an inherent and swiftly growing urge to do the unimaginable. Barely juggling her new Aurator life, work and family, Megan tries to confide in her rock solid husband only to discover that he too has secrets of his own—leaving Megan to question if her marriage and family will ever be the same.”
For more information on the book, an excerpt from the story and on author M.A. Kropf go to: http://www.theaurator.com
You can also visit the Facebook page for more updates: www.facebook-the aurator.com.
The Aurator: Deadly Secrets by M.A. Kropf Detail of artwork by Chuck Todd