The Crackerjack Kid – an adventure in painting.

Watercolor painting of boyA few months ago, my grandmother unearthed a children’s story she’d written over 20 years ago about a young boy. She asked me to illustrate the cover. I agreed but have been anxious about it ever since – I haven’t done a lot of watercolor painting, and I also hadn’t been drawing many people lately (well, I haven’t been drawing much at all lately, period). I’m a bit more comfortable drawing animals.

Anyway, I persevered and just finished it this past weekend after going through multiple drafts. The very first image above is the finished painting she chose (and the one I would have chosen, so I’m glad she went with that and not one of my earlier ones!). Here I’ll share some of the process as I worked on this. Apologies in advance for the quality of the scans – I don’t have access to a good scanner or Photoshop at the moment.

First, I did some light, quick pencil sketches to start to get a feel of what he’d look like:

Pencil drawing of boyPencil drawing of boy

The lips were a bit of a challenge, so in that second one, you can see a few of my attempts. My grandmother was ultimately pleased with the second one, so I then tried to reproduce it as a watercolor painting, but tried to de-age him to make him look younger (he’s supposed to be in the 4th grade).

HA. “Tried” is the key word here. I made a total of 3 paintings, but I think I finally got it mostly right on the last one, which is also the one she chose.

With all of these paintings, I started off with a light pencil sketch, and then painted it using my Winsor & Newton drawing inks – so, not exactly watercolor, but close enough.

Here is painting #1:

Watercolor painting of boySo, some words on this one: I felt he looked too old, and I wasn’t crazy about the shape of his face. I was struggling with skin tones and figuring out how to draw the shirt. I’m not totally displeased with him, but I wasn’t happy enough with him to offer him up as the final product. Another thing I wasn’t crazy about was some sort of pimpling thing that was going on with the wet watercolor paper – I don’t know if that’s normal, if I was using too much water, etc. I have a feeling it may have been the paper, but I was under the impression that it was good watercolor paper.

Here is painting #2:

Watercolor painting of boyHere you can see the Crackerjack Kid as he’s about to enter college! Yes, my attempts to make him look younger didn’t quite pan out with this one. The scan quality here is a bit overexposed, but I was a bit more comfortable with the skin tones here. And obviously, I went with another technique – a more cartoony look using a black outline. I enjoyed working on this one, and I like the look of the outline – he looks like he’s from Scooby-Doo or something. I’ll probably try doing something like this again, but it wasn’t write for this particular project.

And finally, here’s the 3rd painting:

Watercolor painting of boyUnfortunately the overexposure in the scan quality is a bit harsh here… But I think I got him looking more like a 4th grader with this one. I was happier with the overall look, and it’s probably the best shirt that I did. This was also done on a different paper, and I didn’t see that pimpling effect that was in the previous two. I can pick out plenty of things I wish I did better on (the nose, the lips, the ear…), but hey, my grandmother liked it! So, this is the one she’ll be using.

This whole process has made me want to improve at both drawing people and painting, so stay tuned for more of that in the coming days.

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