Gareth Hinds's Blog
May 16, 2016
Last night I saw Shakespeare Theatre Company’s new production, The Taming of the Shrew. It features an all-male cast, a craft market in the lobby, a lot of music, and a bunch of other cool immersive touches. As with every Shrew production I’ve seen, it struggles to rise above the misogynist speech in the final scene, but in other respects I thought it was quite marvelous. The actors were all superb, and extremely consistent. The musicality was impressive. You could almost say they turned the play into a musical — which is a kind of an odd choice, and it didn’t work 100% of the time, but there were points later in the story where it really elevated what was going on. It did, however, make for a long show. It ran almost 3 and a half hours. During the intermission they had drinks and snacks in the theater, and allowed the audience onto the stage while the actors continued to do… well, a lot of things that aren’t in the actual play. That might sound odd or gimmicky, but actually I found the result was unique and powerful. In fact I’d say the treatment of the intermission, and some of the threads that emerged from that, might have been the coolest part of the show.
Of course I drew. Some of these I drew on paper, and others on a new iPad Pro I’m testing out. I turned the brightness all the way down and worked on a grey background so I wouldn’t distract my neighbors. You can probably tell which drawings are digital and which are traditional (especially since there are some glaring clues besides the line quality) but I’m pretty impressed with some of the tools, especially ProCreate’s pencil simulation, which uses the Apple Pencil’s tilt sensor quite effectively.
The show runs through June. Definitely recommended.
March 4, 2016
February 21, 2016
When I was contacted by Charlesbridge about possibly illustrating a nonfiction book about the legendary samurai Yoshitsune Minamoto, I jumped at the chance. The timing was great, as I was in transition between Macbeth and Poe, I’d been wanting to work with the Charlesbridge crew, and the subject matter is an intense interest of mine. I had done some karate and aikido as a kid, studied Japanese culture and language during high school and college, and spent a summer in Japan in 1990. On that trip I met lots of great people, tried kendo, got to visit a famous Japanese swordmaker, watched hours and hours of anime and sumo wrestling on TV, and learned what real jet-lag feels like. Later I took up aikido in a more serious way, and I’ve been practicing that art for over 15 years now. I also did an illustration project in college about Yoshitsune, so I knew the basics of his story — though at the time I was focused more on the legends about his early life than the real details of his military exploits. Anyway, I was quite excited to illustrate this book, especially once I had read the manuscript, which I found vivid, compelling, and action-packed. The author, Pamela Turner, has written lots of excellent nonfiction, lived in Japan, and practices kendo, and she brings all of that background plus a clever modern sensibility to the story.
The scope of the assignment was a cover plus an illustration for each of the 15 chapters, plus a title page spread and 4 maps, all to be painted in a loose brush-and-ink style.
I started filling up a sketchbook with rough pencil sketches for each chapter. I tried to keep these loose and focus on interesting silhouettes and compositions. I wasn’t sure yet whether these would be half-page or full-page illustrations, or exactly what the page size would be. I did 4-8 sketches for each chapter, and maybe 15 or 20 for the cover.
I discussed the sketches with my editor Alyssa Pusey and art director Susan Sherman. Once we narrowed down which ones we all liked the most, I did larger sketches digitally. We decided to go full-page, so many of the compositions had to be adjusted to fit the page size, and then tested opposite a chapter opening. Author Pam then checked the illustrations for historical accuracy. She researched this book so thoroughly, we all wanted to make sure I didn’t mess anything up.
In order to do a loose brush painting, I actually needed to work out a fairly precise drawing, often with more information in it than the finished illustration would have. Then I put the drawing on a light table and painted over it, laying down the solid blacks first, then the grey tones. I used some carefully distressed, bristly brushes I’ve cultivated over the years (a good inking brush, as it ages, tends to lose its ability to keep a sharp point, but sometimes gains other magical qualities!).
We decided to do a wraparound cover, and Susan mocked up the type with our favorite sketch. I worked out the composition for the wraparound, then drew in more precise details. I tend to find horses a bit challenging to get right, so in addition to a lot of photo reference I also used a plastic horse that I bought on eBay and hung over my drawing table.
I did use digital techniques in a few places. Most notably, I replaced the ink wash sky in the original art with a color gradient and white clouds made by reversing black ink strokes I did separately. Then I added a layer of digital red and gold as accent colors.
I also got to help pick out the colors of the endpapers, the red ink of the cover type, the stamp and the paper for the casewrap, and even the striped pattern for the headband and footband.
Here’s one of the maps. It’s a brush painting with a grey wash digitally inserted behind it for the ocean. Labels added by the publisher.
Charlesbridge has been wonderful to work with, and the book has been getting a great critical response. It’s on sale now, and I hope you’ll check it out. Thanks for reading!
February 11, 2016
Last week I went to see the Folger’s excellent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a fairly modern interpretation, with strong performances by the whole cast, including very physical performances by Puck and Oberon, a demurely scene-stealing Snug (Lion), and several lovely and comical musical interludes. Definitely recommended. It’s up until March 13. Here are my sketches.
February 9, 2016
Just got back from a short but sweet trip to NYC, where I did Samurai Rising events at Bank Street Books and Book Court. Saw a lot of great friends and fans at those events, caught up with a few of my super-creative NY artist pals, and made a little time to stop by the American Museum of Natural History and see the new Titanosaur. I actually didn’t do a drawing of the Titanosaur because I was crunched for time, but I did a quick sketch of the lobby that came out reasonably well.
January 19, 2016
I just returned from a 2-week trip, part of which was attending ALA’s Midwinter conference, where, for the first time, I got my hands on a finished copy of Samurai Rising by Pamela Turner, illustrated by me. It doesn’t officially hit store shelves until Feb 2, but I wanted to give you a preview of how beautifully the finished book came out. I’m SO pleased with it. Note the wonderful design work by Art Director Susan Sherman, the embossed and red-stamped hardcover under the dust jacket, and the copious author notes that take up almost 1/3 of the page count (they’re really readable and interesting too — quality as well as quantity!). The two symbols are the mon or family crests of the warring Taira and Minamoto clans.
Here’s me signing it for the fans who dropped by the Charlesbridge booth. (I used a brush pen, and alternated between drawing a sword, helmet, tiny mounted archer, or bow and arrow.) In the background is my editor Alyssa.
You can pre-order Samurai from most retailers now. I’ll start taking pre-orders for signed books about a week before the on-sale date.
Also on this trip I did a bunch of great school visits (two of which were beautifully documented as per the following links). The first three were in my home town: Montpelier High School, Main Street Middle School, and my own high school, U-32. Then I did three in the Boston area: Manchester Essex Middle High School, Worcester Academy, and Duxbury Middle High School. You can see more photos on my Twitter stream. Duxbury has a gorgeous beach, by the way, and I’ll leave you with that view.
December 14, 2015
Here’s something most of you don’t know about me. During high school and college I was quite interested in metalworking, especially as it applies to historical weapons. I read a lot about the subject and found some very nice folks who helped me pursue it, and for a while I had a fairly encyclopedic (entirely theoretical) knowledge of how Japanese swords are made, as well as various types of Damascus pattern forging. At one point a local blacksmith let me make one or two super-crude blades in his forge (one was just a leaf spring ground to an edge, the other looked like a pointy baguette gnawed by a dog). Later I met the amazing Jim Kelso, who I am happy to say is still a close friend. He brought me to a bladesmithing conference, which was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes to the true level of craftsmanship involved.
My sophomore year in college, I did an independent study with Leonard Urso in which I attempted to make two fully-finished knives. I was not very successful, but I recently found these knives in storage and thought I would post some photos for posterity.
The first knife was an experiment in “cable Damascus,” probably the easiest way to produce a pattern-welded blade. I was picturing this as a throwing knife, hence the weight is toward the tip, and it has a full tang which is threaded to attach a pommel (I was planning a ring-shaped pommel). I was pleased with the shape, and the pattern in the steel — but I never finished it, both because I ran out of time and because I was disappointed that the cable didn’t weld solidly all the way through, producing the cracks you see at the tip (and making the knife somewhat useless as a tool or weapon). The steel isn’t stainless, and has rusted a bit in storage.
The second knife came out better, though not nearly as well as I’d hoped. It was supposed to be a sort of East-meets-West knife, a double-edged stainless steel blade essentially European in style but married to a more Japanese style hilt and fittings. The shape got away from me a little in the forging, and I had to keep simplifying the fittings to accommodate the amount of skill and work time I had. Still, it is my first and only complete knife, and it is functional (solidly built and very sharp), and not quite the ugliest knife I’ve ever seen, so I’m a little bit proud of it.
November 19, 2015
Last night I went to see Pericles, Prince of Tyre at the Folger. Pericles is an unusual play, and most scholars think it was only partly written by Shakespeare (Wikipedia link). The first half of the play is colorful but rather choppy, as the narrator tugs us along quickly through an epic series of journeys, not really getting into much depth in terms of character or drama. However, the events themselves are quite interesting, with cool mythological overtones, and eventually the narrative builds up a compelling reality. Working with this source material, the small company of actors/musicians paints a beautiful and vivid tapestry. It’s visually lush and musically ambitious, and I recommend it quite highly. Here are the sketches I did during the performance.
November 9, 2015
Last night Politics & Prose hosted a great panel about picture books for older readers. It included Jason Chin, Jacqueline Woodson, Christopher Myers, John Parra, and Chris Soentpiet, all fabulous picture book authors and/or illustrators. In the audience were dozens of the local educators and book-industry folks I’ve been getting to know, as well as many I hadn’t yet met. Lots of great questions from moderator Julie Danielson of 7 Impossible Things, and from the audience as well. Good times! They videotaped it, so that should be available to watch sometime soonish. Also Alison tweeted lots of quotes here. Here are the sketches I did during the discussion:
September 22, 2015
For the last three years I’ve attended the Islesford Painting Workshop, led by my friends and amazing painters Henry Isaacs and Ashley Bryan, up in the gorgeous environs of Little Cranberry Island, off the coast of Mt. Desert Island, Maine. It’s a wonderful workshop, with first class food and accommodations and very non-formulaic instruction. This year they asked me to help them teach both 3-day sessions.
It was an honor to be asked, a joy to work with them for a whole week, a sacrifice to spend less time painting, an intimidating challenge to try to contribute something meaningful to what these two great men are doing, and to continuously find useful things to say to painters who range from absolute beginner to highly experienced. I am happy to say that, based on lots of great feedback, I do feel I contributed significantly in a number of ways, and found the experience very rewarding and instructive (in relation to both teaching and painting).
On one of the sketches I wrote “wrap the space around the viewer”, which was my biggest painting takeaway from the week — I think I understand more now about why that’s important and how to accomplish it.
I found a little time to paint each day, and here are the pieces I did, as well as sketches I snuck in when I only had a moment to jot something down. The paint is gouache (opaque watercolor). Some got a little additional work/color added when I got home.
It’s a pretty amazing workshop, and I highly recommend it. I’m already looking forward to next year!