Strawberry Shortcake and Reader Rabbit 2D Environments

These are all for the Learning Company's, "Strawberry Shortcake", "Reader Rabbit" or "Katie Kadet" cd rom series, painted around 2002, I believe, all in Photoshop.


In early 2000, I moved out to San Francisco. When I arrived here, the dot com crash had just about begun, leaving a lot of artists around town clamoring for freelance work. It was not great timing on my part, but despite the struggle, I did not regret moving to this beautiful California city. Most of the freelance work I found the first few years in living here was not local, rather it was either for Calabash back in Chicago, Celluloid Studios in Denver (which was bought by Will Vinton in recent years), greeting card and book illustrations in NYC. I considered going back to school at the Academy of Art in downtown San Francisco, but as it turns out, I was busy juggling various projects from various companies, leaving me little time or money to reinvent my career. I made a choice at this point to continue what I was doing and see where it would lead me. Over time I gradually built up as many freelance projects I could in order to customize my portfolio for the bay area, which is heavy in video game work and film. Try as I might, I finally found some good steady and rewarding freelance work through the Learning Company, who at that time was making educational cd games.

Given that this was still an animation based production, the work flow had a similar pipeline: layout was done by a layout artist, then colored by a colorist, which in this case was me. The drawing was done by [the great] Marcello Vignali. I painted it in Photoshop.

I'm not sure who did this drawing. I colored it, trying to make sure the palette and lighting was consistent from scene to scene.

This is a little spot illustration I did for a Reader Rabbit board game. I wish I could find more samples from this particular project. It was a fun one!

I only have a few backgrounds in my archives from all the Lucky Charms commercials I worked on in the 1990's. Here are a few. As you can see, this style and color palette is very different from the revised and updated palette in the two previous posts.

This background is a four foot long painting used in a pan camera move from left to right. Lucky was flying through the air in this particular scene. I think it took me a week to paint it. Too bad I can't show you a larger version. I think I had scanned it in sections and put it together in Photoshop.


Independent Film projects

While I worked for Calabash Animation in Chicago, I was able to be a part of two independent film projects. Both were really great fun, a chance to blow off steam while making something cool.

One was called, "Heads Will Roll", a spoof on cereal commercials, directed by the incredible Wayne Brejcha. I painted all the backgrounds and designed the color style of characters and other areas of the film. The other project, "Stubble Trouble", was directed by Joe Merideth. "Stubble Trouble" was nominated for an Academy Award. I art directed the film - a great chance to experiment with different techniques and styles than we would normally use.
So, the Lucky Charms redesign ended up being a success with the ad agency that handles the General Mills commercials. Calabash then went into the story board phase with the new look in mind. Since this was such a departure from the standard Lucky Charms commercials, I was asked to come up with a color script using the story boards that the director made. Here are a few select panels from the color script. I've written a few words about it below, too:

I spent a good deal of time coming up wtih the palette and lighting in order to suggest a dark and mysterious forest, but not too scary. I thought that if I used a somewhat saturated purple in the shadows, the color would have the duel effect of being a shadow and suggesting magic. I also thought the forest would look as though it were a 'deep' woods that does not get a lot of bright sun if I used an emerald green local color on the grassy areas instead of the typical sap green. Also, it was tempting to make the very distant areas dark to suggest darkness, however, I decided dark tones in the distance would make the woods look more frightening, so I kept those areas light and desaturated.
All in all, I enjoyed working on this campaign. I ultimately ended up color scripting all of Calabash's General Mills commercials, which ended up being useful in many areas of the production process, from pencil test, to ad agency approvals to compositing and effects. The color scripting work I did for Calabash was always my favorite part of the job. I miss it!


A few years ago, the ad agency that handles the Lucky Charms campaign wanted to revamp the look of the character's world. The directive they gave artists was 'Harry Potter-ish, magical and mysterious'. Calabash, the animation studio that produces the commercials, asked me to come up with some concepts, which are the two paintings below.

Also, my ex husband, Mike Midlock, drew the Lucky and Crow concept and I painted it for him:

I also painted this house, which was based on a quick sketch by the senior animator/director at Calabash, Wayne Brejcha. In the end, the agency decided that this look was faaaaaarrrrrr tooooooo dark for a cereal commercial, so I was asked to lighten up the color of the house, making it day time instead of night and make the colors more cheerful.

I still think it would have been neat to see a creepy Lucky Charms, but then again we don't want to scare the children!

I wasn't able to attend this past Saturday's World Wide Sketchcrawl. However, I did this sketch on Sunday of a fountain in a park near Nob Hill. Next time!


Some Keebler Elves Backgrounds

Back in the 90's, I was a background painter for a commercial animation studio, Calabash Animation. This was the first job I had right out of art school. I am grateful for the experience I had there; it was where I really learned how to mix color, apply paint and where I learned the value differences between foreground, background and midground.

I was trying to organize my archives this afternoon when it occurred to me that I don't have any of this work online anywhere.

I have many backgrounds and production art (concept and color scripts) which I will post when I get around to photographing and scanning. Some of my backgrounds are incredibly long pan scenes, since our director, Wayne Brejcha, liked to do elaborate, sweeping camera moves. Scanning those are impossible really - so I will have to photograph them - at least the ones that I still have! (many were sold at an animation gallery in LA in the mid 90's).


These backgrounds are all traditional gouache paintings on illustration board. They were for a Keebler Elves commercial. 

This painting of the Keebler Elves tree was dropped into a live action scene.

All four elves were sitting on this couch with wonderful flickering light. Wish I had a copy of the commercial to post.

This scene had some live action footage dropped into the white area of the tv.

Keebler commercials were always a DREAM to paint!


Erik Tiemens Watercolor & Gouache Painting Workshop

Over the past weekend, I attended the Erik Tiemens' Watercolor & Gouache painting workshop in Mendocino, California. Erik Tiemans, for those who are unfamiliar, is a concept artist in the film industry. A few times a year he teaches a workshop at the Mendocino Art Center. Overall, as a working illustrator, I found this workshop technically useful; as a painter I found this workshop inspiring.

Tiemens' palette is largely composed of the familiar colors many painters use, but with a slightly blue and gray emphasis with brown undertones. The influence of the Dutch Masters' painting is evident in his work, which he talked about to some degree on the first day.

Tiemens' approach to painting outdoors is similar to pre-impressionist painters, who would spend time in the countryside sketching from life (usually with sepia ink or watercolor), bringing the sketches back to the studio for further development. Here is a sketch he had hanging on the wall in class (a better photo can be found on his blog):

And here is a beautiful finished painting he brought to class:

Although Erik Tiemens works in the film industry as a well established concept artist with a great deal of respect, apart from that field he is just a really damn good painter with a lot of interesting work. It is difficult not to be inspired by his enthusiasm for the craft and history of painting.

But since this was a workshop, what did I take away from it?

Here are some of the field sketches I did during the workshop:

and small studies, experiments worked up from memory:

I love the idea of sketching out in the field, 'gathering data' as he referred to it, taking those sketches and experiences back into the studio to come up with something entirely new: a composed impression based on what was learned from life. To pull this off well, a certain amount of craft and skill is involved that one must, in the end, feel as though the landscape has not been slavishly copied, but rather pulled from a well of knowledge and creativity. In the end, the artist must arrive feeling completely personally immersed in self expression. Isn't that what it's all about? I left the workshop and the beautiful town of Mendocino completely inspired and looking in a more complete direction for my own work. I highly recommend this workshop for any working illustrator or fine artist who simply loves to paint.


Lucky Charms cereal box illustration. I painted the far background, hands, and small panel illustrations. Lucky was prepainted and dropped in later. I don't have a sample yet of the entire printed box with text. Hope to get a sample soon!

Prudent Publishing/Greeting Card comps

Here are a few watercolor comps I did for Prudent Publishing Company, a greeting card company. I enjoyed working on these. I don't believe they were used in their greeting card line, but it was fun nonetheless to help out. All comps are owned by Prudent Publishing.