Dog days are over…for the moment

Lest I be accused of favouritism in the pet profiling stakes, and in the interests of balance, I thought I’d share some canine studies (now that it’s safe to do so!).

The following sketches, and ensuing illustrations, were the result of an unusually successful foray into the realm of freelancer bidding – on the aforementioned PeoplePerHour site, specifically. I have foraged through the daily listings and occasionally hazarded a bid on a particularly juicy-looking project when such has arisen, but after consistently failing to be selected/awarded the contract (blimey – I’m making it sound like an industrial tendering process for some sort of shiny [invariably phallic], public monument… It’s really not nearly so convoluted!) my bidding endeavours had dwindled to almost nil. However, at the end of January, wallowing in a frankly all-too-familiar slough of despond, I happened across a listing that seemed to burst through my listless fug like a veritable ray of spring sunshine: a US-based ‘prospector’ for people – or, rather, the right person – had written a sweet tale for her English partner, featuring his beloved Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bob, and was commissioning six illustrations to accompany the story, which she was then going to present in bound, book form to him for his birthday. Invigorated by the opportunity to create a sequence of humorous illustrations and flex my caricaturing/cartooning muscle (depending which might prove most appropriate on further discussion with the client), and – I’ll admit it – impressed by the romanticism of the gesture she was proposing (I really have to up my game in this regard, and am constantly squirreling away snippets of inspiration from whatever quarter they may come…), I crafted a bid. Flummoxed by a PPH email in my Inbox the next day that was neither “New jobs listed!”  nor “Your bid was unsuccessful!”, I was subsequently delighted to discover that I’d been commissioned – hurrah! And more so because the client sounded lovely – responsive, prompt, thorough, GSOH (if this is beginning to sound a little like a lonely hearts ad, it’s because such perfect clients are a rare and, thus, much sought-after breed – I’d be prepared to place an ad…) – the hound in question was a very handsome creature, and it further emerged that her partner is a West Ham fan (in common with Marvellous Dave – although I think his defection to rugby, and entire abandonment of the Hammers, is almost complete): pity for his suffering alone on this last point, should be motivation enough!

So, introduced to the wonderfully rusty-coated Bob – courtesy of a generous complement of photos accompanying the client’s initial emails, which I supplemented with a few images plundered (for research purposes only) from the indispensable Google Images to provide additional reference poses/expressions and muscle tone – I started with a few fairly realistic sketches, a handful of which I’ve included here:

Studies on a Staffie theme

N.B. The small image of Bob, er, squatting as if busy doing something unmentionable, was in fact drawn from a very cute picture of said pooch basking in the warming beams of sumer sunshine and seated inside what, I think, was a child’s paddling pool (empty). A rabbit plays a crucial supporting role in the fabric of the story, hence the (not-to-scale) appearance of the same in the bottom right-hand corner.

Once I had a handle on the basic anatomy of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and had identified some of the main characteristics of Bob (both physical – e.g. dark colouring around the muzzle and ‘eyebrows’ – and in terms of personality – inquisitive, exuberant, alert), I began trying to work these into a cartoon-y character that would recur across the 6 illustrations:

From the initial rough sketches and character developments I had provided of her partner, the client had indicated feeling a little conflicted about whether to maintain the cartoon-type rendering, consistent with the rest of the illustrations planned, or whether to try and make him more realistic. I think it’s always much trickier from the perspective of someone who knows (and knows very well) the person being depicted to cede control to the register/genre of the illustration, instinct being to gravitate towards the portrayal that most accurately reflects that individual’s appearance. However, the client agreed that a consistent treatment of the characters would give the best result – although we did compromise on the first frame by electing to show her partner in a ‘close-up’ type shot, cradling puppy-sized Bob, so that she could have an element of portraiture… I’m not sure whether, in the end, this was the right decision, but I actually think that the same scale of drawing in a completely cartoon style would have looked rather bland, i.e. there wouldn’t be enough detail in the face to make it as interesting. Or perhaps this betrays the fact that I’m just not a skilled enough cartoonist! Anyway, I’m including the series of six pieces below (I’m afraid you’ll have to conjure your own narrative in the blank spaces – it is the client’s story, after all – but hopefully you’ll get the gist: it does go a little magic-realism after the 3rd frame, but if you can refrain from scrutinizing [and I deploy this term at its least rigorous intensity…] the chain of events by which these scenarios came to pass, hopefully you’ll still enjoy them):

As with all illustrations, at least from my own experience, the original pencil sketch always seems to have an indefinable extra dimension of 'life' - a freshness, perhaps - that has burnt off by the time fully worked illustration is complete (and sometimes as early as the outlining stage...). I thought I'd include one of the pencil roughs here for comparison.

This is where my Google Images haul came into play - the photos of Bob showed him as a really incredibly good-natured dog, with not so much as a glimpse of tooth, let alone a gaping maw of razor-sharp fangs - as that cheeky young scamp of a rabbit is trying to convince his rapt audience...

The client very sweetly offered to let me know what her partner makes of his 2D self, and canine sidekick – no whisper yet (I hope it’s not an outraged silence!), but she wrote me some very flattering feedback on the ol’ PPH reviewing form 🙂 That, combined with the enjoyment of the job, new subject material, and the really effective rapport I feel we built up over the course of those couple of weeks, made this an entirely positive experience of the PPH system and one I’m eager to repeat – if not exactly replicate… (And, in my highly insular, often a-bit-lonely freelancer enclave, I can imagine I’ve made another friend!)

I was going to continue with the some further detail re. the various threads that comprised the chaotic, knot-ridden embroidery of last week, but I feel I’ve subjected you to enough – if not selfishly deluged you with – inane chatter for one posting: I shall reserve notes on my Bologna (Mk 2) preparation for next week, when (hopefully) I will have executed great and wondrous feats of organisation and creativity of which to boast… *coughs*

‘Til then, I hope you all have a ruddy marv’lous weekend, wherever and with whomever you may be spending it!

AP x.

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About illustratedbyamanda

Illustrator and time-fritterer extraordinaire
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3 Responses to Dog days are over…for the moment

  1. Cindy D. says:

    Wow, what a post! And very beautiful illustrations. The dog is terrific, the fellow with the scarf is really great (and so consistent!) but the bunnies are just too adorable and very recognizable as created by you. Oh! Love the bakery and the street scene with the bunnies, too. Congratulations on finding a super client and finishing an excellent project. Hooray!

    • Ah, thank you Cindy! 🙂 The bakery scene was going to be a monochrome one, with only the characters picked out in colour, but I was salivating so much over the cakes and pastries, I sorta had to unleash the paints…(And you can’t have an over-the-top celebration cake in anything other than sugar pink icing…!) xx

  2. fabulouslyinboston says:

    He loved it Amanda! He was so touched and his kids are all over the book:) You are tremendous and I keep looking around to find people who need someone like you for a project;)

    I am sure our path’s will cross again! I have no doubt!

    Ulli

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