When Artistry and Technology Collide: How the Truly Unique Images for the New Children’s Book, Chicago Treasure, were Created By Rich Green
Award-winning photographer and author Larry Broutman approached me with an unusual artistic proposition. His idea was so fantastical that it actually came to him in a dream. He woke up one morning with the concept of taking photographs of children and turning them into the main characters of classic stories by placing them inside an illustrated storybook world.
To make this fantasy a reality, he took photographs of Chicago-area children, many of whom have special needs, posing as their favorite heroes from well-known fairy tales, nursery rhymes, folk tales, and fables. I then created the supporting characters and magical backdrops using pencil and paper sketches and Photoshop.
Allow me to share a behind-the-scenes tour of the artistic and technical process that I used to create the images that appear in this critically-acclaimed coffee table book by stepping you through the stages of making the book’s Mother Goose-themed cover.
For each picture in the book, the first step was to digitally remove all of the background elements from the original photo so I just had the children to work with.
For all of the pieces I worked on for this classic fairy tale and nursery rhyme series, I went online and to the library and read about the origin of the story. I collected references images from literature, film, and photography to inspire me.
Then I began sketching around the isolated image of the children to ensure I had the proper perspective.
I created several “concept sketches,” different variations of the pose and also different variations of the kids and their placement in the scene to submit for input from the project creator Larry Broutman.
After we agreed on which concept sketch worked best, I began the process of digital painting by laying down local colors. This is basically blocking in the general color for each main object in the scene. It allows me to build off of those colors and also ensure that my values will work with each other on the final piece.
Once the local colors were in place, I turned my attention to the details and the subtle textures that make the shapes come to life.
In the goose’s wings and feathers, there is a base cream color. Then added in on top, I used subtle rose tones, some blue-grays, and soft golds. I wanted her to appear to be picking up the colors of the sky I painted in the background, which has that nice pink color from the sun at the skyline.
Once the goose was done, I started working on her scarf along with the cape and hat of Mother Goose. I wanted them to coordinate to really tie these two characters together visually. I pulled the blue from the striped shirt the young lady in the photograph was already wearing and built from there. As I was working, I felt like the goose also needed a hat and some other embellishments. The flowers were just the right touch. I was inspired by looking at some references of carousel animals.
I also went in and adjusted the coloring on the other two young ladies’ shirts. The black shirt against the darer blue cape was getting lost, and the yellow shirt just stood out too much in the illustrated composition. So I used color shades that complimented the flowers and coordinated them into the scene better.
The original background design had the darker evergreen trees in the foreground. Those worked with the version of the goose with the wings spanned out. However, they were not working with the version Larry Broutman and I ultimately decided to go with.
I revised the background to show more of the landscape and added in a body of water. When rendering those little trees from this aerial view, they ended up either looking like one big soft bush or looking way too detailed and distracting.
In the final version, I created trees that fit my style for this illustration and quickly read as tree tops without demanding any attention or focus off of the kids who are the true stars of Chicago Treasure.
Don’t want to judge a book by its cover? Then check out all 60 illustrated images, as well as poems that offer modern, silly takes on the classic tales and newspaper articles that summarize the stories with a clever twist. We call those “Chicago Pretender” articles as they have a lit bit of reality and a whole lot of imagination.
Chicago Treasure can be purchased at Everything Goes Media, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.
Larry Broutman generously donates his proceeds to The Chicago Lighthouse and Access Living, nonprofit organizations that provide vital programming for children, families, and veterans living with disabilities.