In progress: Illustrations for The Story of a Piece of Paper

Apropos of nothing, here are some of the illustrations I’ve been drawing for a children’s book called The Story of a Piece of Paper.

Story of a Piece of Paper, page 3

As you can see, this story has a paper rabbit in it. So I’ve gotten quite good at rabbits. Here’s another one.

The Story of a Piece of Paper, page 4

The reason I’m drawing these right now instead of, say, finishing the Sprawl mosaic, is that our kids’ birthdays are coming up in just over a month. And this is a story we made up together.

Our older daughter Katya, who is almost five, asked me a few months ago to make up a story about a piece of paper. Yes, that was her chosen theme: “Mommy, can you tell me a new story? Make one up yourself. What about? Oh, just a piece of paper.”

So I made up a story on the spot – with the girls’ help, of course – and they were quite pleased with it. So pleased, in fact, that they kept requesting that same story again and again. I personally didn’t think the story was all that great. But clearly I have a poor grasp on what literature appeals to children.

Since then, I have had to make up several different stories about a piece of paper. Variations on the theme of a piece of paper are now our family storytelling tradition. If we decide to get a family crest one day, we will have to put a piece of paper on the escutcheon. A4 rampant.

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In progress: Sprawl

If I write an “in progress” post about something that’s not actually seen any progress for weeks, will it spur the whole thing back into action? This is a story of how I came to use a picture instead of a pencil sketch as a basis for a mosaic, and how this method is working out for me.

First sketchThe project is the next piece in my “Favorite Books” series, and I will talk more about the cyberpunk novel that inspired it in a future post to be written when the mosaic is complete. The scene I wanted to portray was a futuristic, densely populated, techno-seedy urban landscape. When I first sketched a tiny 2″ thumbnail draft of the design, it looked like this:

Then, when I attempted to enlarge this concept to actual (16″ x 10″) size, the perspective got all wonky. Perspectives being what they are, that didn’t surprise me at all, especially since the last time perspective really counted in something I drew was high school art class. I tried again, but each attempt was wonkier than the last.

So I decided to get a program that’s much better at perspective than I am to do it for me.

SketchUp streetThe first thing I tried was Google SketchUp, which is a 3D modelling program often used to design models of real-life buildings (to add to Google Earth), as well any other things that need to be rendered in 3D, like furniture or gadget prototypes. It’s an easy program to use and I figured I can quickly put a bunch of faceless buildings in a line to get the right perspective of a street. After a while, that street looked like this:

This was clearly going to take more than one street and I was tired of stacking faceless boxes next to each other.

Now this project was looking like the perfect excuse to play SimCity – one of the very few computer games that I ever bothered to play for considerable stretches of time. (That was before I had kids.)

As you play the game, you build a city, and as it sprawls – filled with a variety of buildings rendered in lovely detail – perfect perspective is just a screenshot away. Even better, SimCity Societies – the version of the game which lets you build thematic cities – has a Cyberpunk mode. That would get me not only the right perspective, but the right ambiance too. Bonus.

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The business card and the search for a really really ridiculously good font

Did you ever find yourself having to design your first business card while handicapped by caring deeply, intensely and probably irrationally about fonts?

I did. It entails hours of looking through free fonts until you realize that it’s 2 am and you have thirty tabs of potential fonts open and you can no longer see any differences between them. So then you go to bed confident that when you look at it all afresh the next day, the one true font will manifest itself in a halo of golden light. But in the morning you’re still nauseated by trying to tell these thirty nearly identical fonts apart and decide to look for another type of font entirely. Repeat with completely different search parameters.

Fine, you’re down to, like, six fonts, so you download them all and try them on your business card layout. No! At least four of them are all wrong! Too condensed! Cap height looks uneven! Kerning is all messed up! That’s what you get for looking for free fonts – amateurs! Have to find four new ones! Here, a detour into looking at fonts that you know you won’t use but that have flawless kerning.

At some point you realize that you will never love any of these fonts as deeply as you love the idea of finding the perfect font. So you settle for one that’s good enough. After all, you can make it better! A good enough font + hours of drawing tiny squares in Adobe Illustrator = Fragmentalist logo that’s assembling itself out of mosaic tiles! Good place to stop. It’s just going onto a piece of cardboard. No need to animate it.

The product of this drama is revealed after the jump. Please follow me behind this curtain of crazy awesome…

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