In the October issue of Ranger Rick, an article on ancient sea monsters starts off with a giant pliosaur swimming right toward us.
Here was the first sketch for it, drawn in water-soluble colored pencils. The big sea creature is chasing down a bunch of squid-like cephalopods, who are scattering in the foreground.
Before going to the finished painting, I did two small oil studies to give the art director some latitude for layout. But even though I got the green light to go to finish, I wasn’t feeling excited enough about the picture.
It wasn’t the design or the color that bothered me. The problem was that I didn’t care enough about the situation, because it’s hard to identify with invertebrates.
The solution was to show the big predator chasing a pair of sea turtles instead. We can feel for sea turtles, and we know from the fossil record that pliosaurs ate them. Framing the scene with big coral stands instead of open blue water also helped the drama.
The take-away point is that design alone isn’t enough (at least for me) to drive a picture. The story is just as important. If anything, the story should drive the design. And sometimes it takes sketch after sketch to nail down the story.
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Ranger Rick magazine