digital imprint of David Miller

A Dog's Life, or You Win Some, You Lose Some

Sometimes projects don't work out. Sometimes really cool projects don't work out. But even when they don't work out, I find it hard to see time spent creatively as time wasted. A couple of weeks back, my friend Ed, a rather brilliant theatrical director, reached out on twitter for artists or designers interested in producing artwork for a show. Naturally I reached back out, and we got talking over the next couple of days about the project, an upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Fest show titled Awkward Conversations with Animals I've Fucked, a beautiful marriage of social realism and high absurdism. We kicked around a couple of concepts over a brief phone conversation, and decided we wanted a dog. My week was packed, but I agreed to spend some time on the illustration the following week, although I was heading out for travels through Morocco.

When the day came to start work on the illustration, I started poking around the WWW for reference images of doggy features, and quickly scribbled some initial ideas.

I liked what I was coming up with, but it didn't feel quite right for the project. We needed something bolder, and I thought perhaps more realistic. So I grabbed my camera and went out to find some dogs! I was staying by the beach, just south of Casablanca. Conveniently there's a pack of relatively tame stray doggies that live right on the beach.

I came home with this shot, and sent it to Ed. We liked the ambiguity of his expression, and the way the dog was staring straight out of the page, so I started working up an illustration, based pretty directly on the photograph. I worked in a couple of other details from the play, including a remote barn that the action moves towards.

We liked the way the text was laid out, but we were looking for something bolder, and the way I'd rendered the dog ended up looking too aggressive, and too realistic. The play is not exactly a work of realism, and directly quoting colours from life didn't feel quite appropriate. We wanted something that felt more illustrative.

I was thinking a lot about the work of Michael Shwab, and Ed and I spent some time talking about images of his that we liked. Back to the drawing board! I grabbed my camera again and headed back to the beach. Armed with a larger library of reference images, and aiming to produce something really bold, I picked up an iPad stylus, and started working up a new dog. I ended up producing this second illustration entirely on the iPad, on the bus ride from Casablanca to Marrakech. This is the first time i've undertaken a real live graphics project using the iPad, and the experience was a total joy. 

There's something really nice about being able to poke your pixels directly when you're working an illustration. It's just better than the usual Pen Tablet + Photoshop workflow. You get the directness of pencil on paper, AND the flexibility (undo stack!) of a digital workflow. I arrived in Marrakech with something to share, and went looking for WiFi, but bad news! 

It turned out that the play's producer had another artist in mind — someone she'd worked with before — so we didn't get to take this illustration further. Bummer. But, if I hadn't taken this commission, I probably wouldn't have met the beach dogs, or pushed myself to start taking the iPad seriously as a design tool. It's unfortunate when things like this happen, I could waste energy thinking about all the time I could have spent on other things, but ultimately I really like what I ended up making. I guess the lesson there is make things you like. I suppose I could also remind myself to double-check details and get contracts in place before I rush into the fun part. Plus now I have a spare illustration…

Anybody need an illustration of a dog? I make you good price.