Thursday, August 03, 2006

Extreme Running

I was asked by Kory Kennedy of Runner's World to create an opening illustration for a suite of articles about "extreme running." The subjects ranged from extremes in weather, cheapness, and even social instability (one article was about running in Baghdad). Each specific situation would be illustrated by different artists, and I was given the daunting task of creating an opener image to introduce the feature. In usual form, I submitted the one sketch I felt strongly about, but it was rejected due to it's evocation of contact sports. So Kory and I embarked on a long journey towards creating an exciting image that somehow represented the concept of 'extreme running' in the abstract.

Most of these thumbs are throwaways, but we almost went with no. 3. At this point, I wished I could switch brains with Christoph Niemann.

Then Kory mentioned that he liked a Green Arrow cover I had done, and suggested that I separate the image into different scenarios. But rather than depict specific situations, I decided to evoke 4 extremes: dark, light, fire and ice. Yes, the "X" was still there . . . somehow I couldn't get away from it. Also, a photo of someone tying their shoelaces was going to be opening another article, so we went with a tighter shot, which made it more intimate and also heightened the psychological aspect of "extreme running," that is, to use the cliche, "mind over matter."

> graphite on bristol, 9 x 12", SOLD.

> Photoshop CS, 8.25 x 11", 500 dpi.

This assignment was extreme in the amount of sketches I had done. The process reminded me of how illustration is an interesting mix of problem-solving and gut instinct/inspiration. I had struggled with the thumbnails once my first sketch, the 'gut' sketch, was rejected, and went towards the more analytical end of problem-solving, which yielded some weak thumbnails. There's a delicate balance of both hemisphere's of the mind, which can be deflated by rejection and lit up by that elusive thing called inspiration. The illustration will be printed in the next issue of Runner's World -- I'm looking forward to seeing the other pieces in the feature!


Brett Corbit said...

Beautiful final version, James. I preferred thumbnail #3 initially, but you really killed it in the end.

Your Photoshop technique here is just amazing!

4:33 PM  
Mai said...

Thanks for showing the 'birth' of this illustration! It's very interesting to follow the process of creation.

5:16 PM  
Jed said...

This turned out pretty classy. In what's probably a rare occurance, I think this piece actually benefitted from the aggressive art direction--the end solution is a big improvement on the initial sketch. I agree that the photoshop tweaks worked really well here. The only thing that just borders on too much are the vertical lines on the grey panel, but only just; I dig it.

5:53 PM  
Frank said...

I really like the final result--as I scrolled down I wasn't sure it was going to work and then BAM!


9:01 PM  
Shawn Escott said...

First, I have to say, the anatomy on that leg in the initial sketch is fantastic! Well done! Concerning the final image, it seem a bit flat and perhaps could have used more contrast in the modeling of the forms. The birds are terrific! Personally, I kind of like the first sketch, it is very dynamic and energetic, although a slanted, angular composition might have worked better to emphasize the feeling of movement and speed. Then you probably could have used the same concept of the division utilizing the "X". The final is definitely unique and has that James Jean creativity and freshness!!! Thanks for sharing the process.

9:22 PM  
Djavan said...

The final looks great of course. The first looks cool too. Everybody all about extreme these days.

11:24 PM  
Anonymous said...

great work. can also be used for a comic about the bastard son of johnny storm and iceman ;)

1:25 AM  
josh said...

thats favorite is the tennis shoes on the biceps. You're brave to put up the not so glamorous sketches. I like the finished piece, feels rather different for some reason

9:14 AM  
Barbara said...

awesome end result! I'll have to ask my dad for his Runner's World when he's done with it so I can have a nice glossy print of your work :D

1:39 AM  
Barbara said...

Also, thanks for that awesome link for Christoph Niemann. Two words: Furniture Porn!

1:57 AM  
Logan said...

Ah, thats very encouraging to hear you talk about 'balancing both hemispheres of the brain'. I contemplate this way too much in some of my work, and just try telling myself to create first and think later.

I really like that opening sketch as well, but the final piece is ultimately a much more unique solution. I don't think many people would have thought to go that route.

Thanks for being so open to posting all of your sketches and process, even when it's a seemingly hard won fight; it's always so helpful to see.

3:41 AM  
anonymous10101 said...

i love seeing the creative process and initially, i thought the first sketch was too cliche. however, the final comp and the finish has that unique stamp that beautifully conveys the intensity of the overall theme. what an impressive resolution!!!

i actually like your sketch on bristol much more than the final. the linework is so beautiful and your use of line weights is just so right on ... having indications in some places and highly rendered parts on the other. quite a beautiful balance!!!

5:58 AM  
adam said...

The first sketch was pretty cool but the final looks really awesome, it came together great with the photoshop. I agree with jed about the vertical lines on the grey panel but nevertheless its still a fantastic piece. Keep up the freakin good work James!

11:49 AM  
Jon Keegan said...

Great solution! always thanks for sharing your thought process as you worked through these sketches...It's hard to believe that such a solid image went through so much exploration. great stuff! -Jon Keegan

1:15 PM  
Barbara said...

oh god, sorry I'm posting so much, but I just want to dispute and say that I like the lines in the 'dark' section, infact I think they're necessary to keep the look of the piece and differentiate between the 'light' portion. Without the lines, which I'm assuming signifies a heavy downpour, and adds to the idea of extremeness, you'll notice that the shade of grey in the dark side really isn't all that much darker than the shade of grey in the light side. The grey in the light side is as dark as it is obviously for as much contrast as possible and to add dimension to the figure. The grey in the dark side really can't get any darker because then it would either border on being too high contrast, what with the highlights on the face and hands, or you wouldn't be able to make out what is in the panel, which contains a good portion of the figure's face. It also adds more visual interest and helps keep it from getting lost in the more strikingly colorful panels of fire and ice--without the lines and the intense whiteness of the dark and light portions, fire and ice would have dominated the piece, and the other two would have receded into the background. This way the whole piece looks even and balanced, well it does to me at least.

One thing to comment on, however, might be the flower in the 'ice' panel. If it's really supposed to be a winter scene, I might have given the petals a shriveled look or just removed them completely, because its existence in the panel now detracts just a little from the idea of the harshness of cold weather, and also because of the fact that flowers don't bloom in winter :D

Hope that helps!

1:31 PM  
Jed said...

"The only thing that just borders on too much are the vertical lines on the grey panel, but only just; I dig it."

I just said "borders on" so I'm pretty much with you here, but good arguments!

10:48 AM  
dex mission said...

8.25 x 11", 500 dpi ?!?!?
Bite my A$$ and call me an apple!!!
How much RAM are you packing????????

Really great stuff again James. I have a subscription to runners world, so I'm looking forward to seeing this.

12:40 PM  
crylic said...

jesus dude, your stuff just blew my mind...crazy stuff, i love it all.


5:54 PM  
Kinetic said...

i Like the first thumbnail, but the efects of the finally version are great!

9:48 PM  
eli said...

All this problem solving is getting me antsy to finish school and start real work. Does it seem like a hassle or an interference, or do you take it as a challenge? It would seem that people of a certain disposittion would be the ones to really get into the process of finding that perfect solution. I've found that even some of the great illustrators just didn't handle this aspect of the job very well. Like Skip Liepke just got tired of the problem solving for others and wanted to work on his own stuff without the hassle of others' problems on his mind all the time. I for one look forward to this process and think it's great that you show us how hard the work is through this blog. We often see the final product and are removed from the hard work that got artists to the product. Thanks for putting all this work up for us to learn from. Once a gain a solid piece that leaves us wanting more.

10:58 AM  

you wrestled this dragon to the dust with pure brain power.
I wonder who they commissioned to draw the 'running in Iraq' segment? oh right, that's it.

6:15 AM  
Process Recess said...

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I do agree about the 'rain' lines, but in addition to constraints of the brain, there's also time. Probably something I'll address in a future post. And the piece is a bit of Johnny Storm and Iceman! Kory is pretty well versed in comics -- many AD's have used my comic covers as reference/jumping off points. For the past 3 years, I've been using 1 GB of RAM . . . I've recently doubled it. Also, I enjoy wrestling dragons -- there's no ecstasy without suffering, a bit of hot wax on the brain. Liepke paints a good product but doing endless variations on a theme is a tough task as well. Like dodging sniper fire in the desert.

1:42 PM  
MikeMitchell said...

This turned out great James! I always love seeing your process. As I can enjoy and learn from it. I really like the graphic look to the Ice sparkles/snowflakes

6:38 PM  
dibujador said...

great. i like to see the process

maybe Cheetara (the girl of the Thundercats) could help you

(it´s a joke)

7:28 PM  
robin said...

I love the sense of motion and action in the first sketch!

10:39 PM  
pitzerboy said...

I heart processi. Thanks.

8:42 AM  
Kevin Barber said...

Your tremendous sir !! BIG BIG FAN !!

3:34 PM  
justin wood said...

hey james,
you don't know me, but i've been stalking you for a while now. mr.gross turned me on to your work. kicking booty as always.
i have a piece in that extreme running feature too -- can't wait to see them all together. peace.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous said...

1 word need......


9:07 AM  
UrbanBarbarian said...

Thanks for showing the process! Great work as always!

11:21 PM  
Pietari Posti said...

Thanks for sharing this! I will think about this post whenever my first sketches get rejected.

2:03 AM  
Michael Meier said...

wow that sounds like a tough job.
first i tried to read the image without your explanation but i didn't get it. my first thought was that it has something to do with the human torch, iceman and silversurfer. especially the "light" part seemed to me like a "wind" part.
i think it turned out very complex and ambitious. but when it's printed and in the context of "runner's world" it becomes instantly clear. thanks for the insight into your working process. i really love your fables covers.


7:43 AM  
Al said...

I love the final product. Great job!

2:50 PM  

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