Monday, July 28, 2014

Aspen Groves

 This last assignment for Ranger Rick was a challenge I heartily accepted and I knew I had to find the time to talk about it, even though blogging seems to have taken a back seat to actually doing the work. A way back seat, like in the old station wagons.  I've been too busy driving and not looking back at where I've been. 
  Aspen groves are a unique ecosystem.  Because of climate change,they are dying from drought, disease and insect attacks in some areas. Read about it here . They are found widely all over the country.  The leaves flutter or "tremble" in the breeze because of their unique structure. (The stems are flat instead of round.) They are a special place where many different kinds of animals  can find food. Hence the writer Ellen Horowitz metaphorically named this 4 page story "Aspen Grove Grocery".
 My first surprise was that I would be merging my art with a photo on the first spread.   I've not attempted that technique with this level of complexity before.  The photo and my sketch:

  My second surprise was that I would be depicting some predators. Maybe it was to much reality for me, so I tried to interject some humor by giving shopping bags to some of the  prey (eco-chic of course). Hey, if they have to run they might as well look good doing it. The signs would accommodate more copy and interesting facts, like "Fresh Veggies": after a wildfire, new shoots and stems quickly sprout and become food for deer, elk, moose and rabbits.

  My first step after sketch approval was to draw each animal that would be tucked into the photo of the grove. Pencils and pastels on mi tientes paper. Later I decided to leave out the mouse in the green tote as I felt there was too much activity on that side of the spread.
 I scanned the art, removed the paper background tone and began the merging in photoshop.

  I reduced the bobcat's head from my original drawing and elongated the wolf vertically.   I added graphics on the totes. I added cast shadows.  Before I added the glowing aura around them they were not defined enough from their surroundings, so that turned out to be a good device.

The completed art for the left page.


  The right page was a continuous piece of traditional media art with a bit of digital modification that enabled me to match the colors in the photo .

The completed spread.

  My sketch for the second spread had to accommodate so much text! I did two rounds of this one. I continued the theme of signage and even came up with some words for the little signs like "Sweet Sap","Juicy Roots" and "Good Wood".

The completed second spread.

 This  one needed to have a much lighter and brighter palette because it was so text heavy.  And it needed to reflect the four seasons.  An interesting fact is that each new tree in a grove grows from the roots of the other aspens, making each young tree an identical twin of the original tree. Another thing I had never heard about is the music. If you put your ear right up to an aspen tree on a windy day you will hear tinkling sounds. It's the fluttering of the leaves traveling all the way down through the tree. 

I wonder if the rabbit hears it too.


Friday, March 21, 2014


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TIred of winter? Giddy at the very thought of spring creeping over your windowsill? Blissed out by the first sounds of birds chirping? Me too. I'm even more excited about celebrating  the arrival of spring with the launch of a new very cute app game, a result of a collaboration with one irrepressible force of nature, Laura Tallardy.

 A professional children's app developer, designer and illustrator, Laura was a pleasure to work with and did all the heavy lifting in getting this project created, tested, and out into the marketplace. I supplied the art for Laura to transform. Lots of photoshopping went into the making of 24 cute and crazy animal scenes. Kids of all ages will be challenged to use their observation skills in finding the differences. It's ideal for kids around 6-8 years.

The app is available for ios, Google, Amazon,Nook, and Nabi platforms and there is a free  ios version available for download here!

It was produced in several languages. Here's a promo for the Finnish version, which makes me smile every time I see the word Kuningaskunta.

A really fun game that also encourages an appreciation of wildlife!

Some more sneak previews of the art:  

 Art was originally created for Ranger Rick Magazine and is reprinted
with the permission of the National Wildlife Federation.
© dpalen 2014

Check out the video preview:

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Good things come to those who hide out."

A recent piece for Ranger Rick magazine (the best magazine ever for kids to learn about animals) about why cats love being in boxes. It's part of their predatory nature.  They have to take their prey by surprise! I thought I would make the box sort of like a real clubhouse to exaggerate this idea. "Welcome, prey!", he's thinking. "You are no match for my cunning ways, and I will pounce on you as soon as you walk by.  So walk already. Why are you just lying there ?  OK, I'll wait for you to cross my threshold. "  

Here's the layout with the illustration in place. Kids get to ask these questions and see their names in print with the answers. How cool is that?

     Later I experimented with a dramatic view. Now we are in our own box looking at him. 
We could all wait forever. Or take a nap.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Tree Hugger and Puffer Fish

For Ranger Rick's April issue.

Sketch in layout.




  The same issue required a little puffer fish with a fascinating story. Underwater photographers had discovered an elaborate design of unknown origin on the seabed similar to a mandala: a geometric, circular structure measuring around 6.5 ft in diameter carved in the sand.

 Just recently underwater cameras showed that the artist was a small puffer fish who, using only his flapping fin, tirelessly worked day and night to carve the circular ridges.  And it turns out he does it all to attract a mate. Watch the video here.  I am always amazed by the natural geometry in artistic efforts of creatures in the wild. It's hard to believe a fish this small would have the capacity and intelligence to create something so symmetrical. The puffer fish is also considered a delicacy, which if prepared correctly, supposedly won't kill you. Its liver and other organs are so toxic they can cause death to the diners that seek their thrills through a kind of gastronomic russian roulette. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sleepy Bees

 I'm currently working on the cover art for a Highlights Hidden Pictures issue. 
This is the base layer, drawn in pencil. I've started adding color in photoshop.
 Five fish are hiding.

 Color blocked in roughly.

 The final piece. 
 This may be the best cover to date that I've produced for this publication.
 Thanks to the inherent charming nature of bees who do actually curl up to sleep in their flowers.

My Latest Book: The Sunrise Band

 I received my advance copies of The Sunrise Band a little while ago! The books turned out great, thanks to Jeff Dinardo of Red Chair Press; author and art director. Their Funny Bone Readers  series combine humor with gentle lessons about character development and healthy living. The books will not be available from the publisher until January.
  This story is all about cooperation.  Owl plays her classical violin at night, keeping Lizard awake. Lizard's jazzy sax keeps owl irritated in the daytime. What will they do?  (Throwing rocks or sand is not an option!) 
  I made postcards and bookmarks which I will send out soon. 
  Some of the illustrations are here:  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The birds, the Witch and their Wardrobes

  Just finished this illustration for Ranger Rick magazine's February issue. The page, a regular feature called Ask Rick, answers readers' questions about wildlife, as in"Why do birds always face the same direction when they are sitting on a wire? "  Good question! The answer is: because they use the resistance of the wind  to take off; just like an airplane does.
   Half way through the illustration I began to wonder what I had tackled. This was a bit of a perspective challenge! There are  some things I would change now, but  here it is. 

                                                              And a different take.

 This assignment required a white background to accommodate text. But I have a little layering exercise I've been applying lately after assignments are finished which allows me to play with added depth and  atmosphere. My hope is that it help brings my work into more of a narrative mode. 
 I let some text wander into this one.  It turned out to look a bit like an antique postcard .
My  preference for colors is decidedly turning toward the muted. And winter's grey days are coming. I am asked to do so many bright and cheery colors that it's a relief to do some work in sombre tones.  I'm also trying to be aware of the size of eyes. I reduced the eyes of the boy in this version to be a bit less cartoony.

 Halloween was a bit uneventful here. Rain on the pumpkins, and lots of wind in the willows. That, and the spectre of deadlines!  Here's a little study I did in preparation for a personal painting I am working on that I started last year. Her name is Jane Disdain. A character for my own book.

                                                      Here is the original post of the sketch.