How I Used 3D for a Traditional Painting Job

I have a very close relationship with libraries. The Robert W. Rowe Public Library, in Sheridan, IL has considered me their "resident artist" since I was in high school. Whenever they have a project in mind that requires a bit of creative flair, no matter the medium, they usually call me up. This has included a 4 x 4' signboard with a face-shaped whole in the middle, that I've painted to go with each of their Summer Reading Program themes since 2006. I've designed their logo, taught a comic book class, and created branding material and video backdrops for their 20th anniversary.

I have been friends with most of the employees that have come and gone through the years, one of which led me to the project I'm working on now. Kristin worked at RWR for a short stint before moving to the Plainfield Public Library. Less than a year later, I received an email from her, asking if I'd be interested in painting a book drop from the children's section at the Plainfield library. She introduced me to Veronica, the head of the department, and together we came up with a really fun idea.

With Veronica's whimsical ideas, including treehouses, rockets, and forest animals, I drafted a design that would take advantage of the three-dimensional box.

I've always been a fan of illustrations that reveal more and more the longer you look at them. When I'm drawing a scene, I can't help but concentrate on the details and usually this ends up as hidden things the viewer doesn't even notice the first time they see it.

I loved the imagery I got as we talked through ideas. I thought about my childhood and the rather impressive imaginations my friends and I had as kids. I took the treehouse idea and designed a big tree, with a spiral staircase running up the trunk, to a house sitting in the middle of its branches. Instead of leaves, the branches are made of paper and hundreds of books are stacked beneath the roots. But the treehouse of my imagination couldn't stop there. In each of it's branches is a new adventure: a rocket blasting off, a platform in the canopy for viewing the stars, a hammock, and of course, a giant tree swing.

The dilemma I ran into was drawing the same tree, with all the stuff inside, from four different views. The solution? Create the tree in 3D. Not only could I easily tweak the branches into the best silhouette, but once I had the tree I was happy with, I immediately had a reference to use from every direction.

Here's the tree on a turntable. I added a square underneath, to help line it up from each direction. This type of animation is called a "playblast". It's rendered quickly, without any textures or lighting.

Here's a screen shot from each cardinal direction:

And, finally, the sketches I created using the 3D reference. Not only did it make my life a lot easier, but I have to admit, incorporating 3D was a (dorky) pleasure.

I'm about halfway through the actual painting now. I'll be sure to post the final product when I'm finished. Hopefully by mid-May.

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