Editorial Illustration with Cathy Gendron

Sorry for the long radio silence.  It’s been a roller coaster of a month at the studio.  I will highlight some of the details on a secondary blog topic: Creative Juices.  But for The Old Bag I would like to pick up where I left off. 

The last post was about a project inspired by a visit by Marshal Arisman to CCS.  The project itself was for my Editorial Illustration instructor, Cathy Gendron.  At that time I think she was in her mid to late 30s.  She looked a bit like Carrie Fischer.  She was positive about illustration.  Demand for her work was increasing.  And her class was awesome.  The thing that made her class awesome was Cathy.  It was her choice in assignment material.  It was her pacing of the projects.  By that, I don’t just mean the breakdown of deadlines for thumbs, roughs, color comps, etc.  What I mean is she went from on-trend magazine assignments to poetry to Grimm Fairy Tales and back again.  Her assignments were edgy.  They didn’t have easy visual answers.  Case in point, one of the last assignments for Cathy was to do a wrap around cover for the Brothers’ Grimm, Hansel and Gretel.  The challenge was to capture the mood and atmosphere of the original tale but to present it in a way that still came off as market friendly.

If you never read it, the Grimm version of the tale is rather dark.  In the story there is a woodsman that lives with his two kids and his second wife (not the mother of his children).  Food is scarce.  And so, rather than letting them all starve, the wife urges the father to take the children into the woods and abandon.  The first time this happens the children are smart and carry a bunch of small stones with them to mark their trail home.  But the second time the children only have a basket of bread crumbs which are eaten by the forest birds.  The children end up wandering the woods lost.  In their moment of despair they come across a cottage made out of gingerbread.  Of course pretty cottages made out of gingerbread are owned by wicked witches.  The resident witch captures Hansel and Gretel.  Hansel is locked away in a cage to be fattened up for slaughter while Gretel is forced to serve the witch.  But witches have bad eye sight and Hansel tricks the witch into thinking he hasn’t gained any weight by giver her a chicken bone to feel when she asks for his finger.  The witches hunger eventually gets to her and she decides to eat the boy anyway.  But before she can get him into the oven, the kids trick the witch and roast her instead.  The children head back into the dark woods and find their way back home.  Their father greats them with regret and rejoice.  The happy every after is that his wife died of sickness while the children were away.

That was the assignment.  And being one of the last assignments of the class, Cathy shared her illustration technique with us (I’ve mentioned this before and will again, there was a very nurturing atmosphere in the CCS Illustration Department.  I have met a lot of artist that try to hide and secret away every aspect of their technique from which pencil they use to which medium they mix into their paints).  She used (and from the looks of her website-still does) a layering technique of oil glazes thinned with parts liquin and parts turp.  She sealed her layers with Crystal Clear.  Cathy liked to gesso her board and scratch into it for texture before starting to paint.  I found that I like the existing texture of Strathmore Illustration Board Cold Press-it has a nice dot pattern.  The technique itself is fast and simple.  If you know your color theory you can keeps things pretty vibrant.  Like C F Payne’s technique, you can wipe away the oil paint on your active layer.  If you want to unify your piece, you can also work the paint real thin across the whole layer with a cloth or paper towel.  The longer you can let the white of the board work as your white source for high lights the richer the piece will look.

Hansel and Gretel
Hansel and Gretel

Cathy followed the Hansel and Gretel piece with a magazine assignment on over population.  With the success I had with the Grimm cover, I turned right back to my hybrid version of Cathy’s technique.  It was a process that I quickly became comfortable with and used the rest of my time at CCS as well as in the early stages of my illustration career.  If I were pursuing the Children’s market or even editorial work, I would probably still use the technique.  It still looks current.  It still looks fresh.  It’s fast.  You can work multiple pieces at a time. 

Mother Earth 1998

I loved this concept.  But this image demonstrates what happens when your paint gets to thick and you no longer are reflecting light through to the board.  While pushing my portfolio around Detroit Motor Con in 2000 I met Sarah EnDyke, who at that time was the Editor-in-Chief of a college magazine, Fire and Ice.  She liked the concept too.  So I repainted this piece for 2001 edition of Fire and Ice.

Mother Earth 2001

Below are a few more pieces that I did over the years in this technique.

The Gilkeys
A Mid-Summer's Eve