Meet Illustrator Eugene Smith
Eugene Smith draws all of the weird and wonderful illustrations in the Lovecraft Middle School series. We asked him a few questions about the fine art of drawing monsters.
There are so many bizarre creatures in the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School books: a two-headed rat, a giant spider, a screeching harpy. How do you turn all of these weird concepts into pictures?
Sometimes I have to spend hours to get something right. Other times I can get it down in one sitting. It's basically like having a vague image that’s already in your head, and when you sit down to draw it, you’re trying to make that vague image more concrete.
Can you walk us through the process for each illustration? Do you draw a lot of sketches?
When I start an illustration, I sit at my drawing desk and try to imagine the scene in my head, before I even lay it out on paper. I feel that if I fly blind and just start drawing, I'll run into problems, especially when I’m trying to recreate a specific scene that's written in a book.
After I've got a few good ideas in my brain, I start drawing rough sketches (“roughs”). The roughs shouldn't be too final; they just need to be good directions for the final illustration.
Here are some of the roughs I drew for page 158 of Professor Gargoyle. In this scene, the Professor has revealed his true demonic form to Robert and Glenn, and then (this gets complicated) he’s dragged through a vortex in his chalkboard by a swarm of tentacles.
After the roughs are done, the publisher and the author review them, and they choose one of the roughs for the final direction. If I'm lucky, it's the one I liked most!
Once the rough was chosen, I realized I needed to work a little bit on the look of Professor Gargoyle--so I also created a “concept sketch.” This helps me give a better idea of how the creature should look in the final illustration. I usually do concept sketches after the rough process, because I don't worry too much about little details when creating roughs. Here is the concept sketch I did of Professor Gargoyle.
For the final, I take an enlarged copy of the rough and tape it to a lightbox, where I transfer a loose rendition of the rough to a larger sheet of nice drawing paper. Then it's just laying down layer upon layer of gradation with graphite pencil, until everything looks just right. The final illustration looks like this:
Do you have a favorite illustration from the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School books?
Yes, I have two. My favorite in Professor Gargoyle is on page 53. It’s the one where Robert discovers the two-headed rat in his backpack. I loved getting the chance to draw Pip & Squeak so prominently. Plus I loved Robert’s expression in that one.
For Slither Sisters I think the one on page 104 is my favorite. It’s an illustration of the old waterfront in this town that rests near the lighthouse that Robert and Glenn are visiting. I really feel the atmosphere in that one.
I think those two illustrations might be my favorites because I was so hesitant to complete them in the first place; I didn’t think they would be much fun to do. But they both turned out to be sort of unexpected victories. Those are the best.
Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?
Don’t spend too much time trying to emulate other illustrators. You waste your time adopting a style that’s not your own. It takes a while to find your own visionary style, but it’s worth it in the end because it becomes yours alone.
Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
I have a blog that I need to update more regularly: http://monstercake.blogspot.com