Sunday, November 27, 2011

What I'm Baking

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Ganache 

Been baking lots of pumpkin stuff. It's that time of year! This cake is super moist and delicious, and easy to make. It requires a lot of maple syrup, unfortunately, which is used instead of sugar. I say unfortunately because we no longer live in Wisconsin where you could get a quart of syrup at the farmer's market for a lot cheaper than it costs out here. Luckily the rest of the ingredients are relatively cheap and easy to come by.

Recipe adapted from Sinfully Vegan, by Lois Dieterly.


Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Wet ingredients:

2 cups maple syrup
1 can (15 oz) of pureed pumpkin (you can also use the same amount of fresh pureed pumpkin)
4 tsp flax powder (I use ground flax seeds)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

Chocolate Ganache*:

1/3 cup chocolate chips
3 tbsp soy (or other non-dairy) milk

*Double this if you want additional chocolate ganache to more fully coat the top of the cake.


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a bundt cake pan with canola oil or cooking spray.
2. Combine flours, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl.
3. Combine syrup, pumpkin, oil and applesauce in a large bowl.
4. In a small bowl, vigorously whisk together the flax powder and water. Add this to the liquid ingredients and stir to combine.
5. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing to combine. Make sure not to overmix! Fold in the chocolate chips.
6. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 75 to 80 minutes, or until knife or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand to cool for about a half an hour (I usually wait until the pan is cool enough to handle without oven mitts), then remove from pan by running a butter knife around all the edges of the cake and turning it over onto a baking rack. Allow to cool completely.

Make the ganache:

1. Heat soy milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until just about to simmer.
2. Remove from heat, add chocolate chips and using a heat-proof rubber spatula, stir until chocolate is completely melted and the ingredients are blended together. Set aside and allow to cool for about five minutes.
3. Drizzle over the top of the cake with a spoon.

Served with vanilla Coconut Bliss ice cream.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Explorer's Guide to Making a Cover: Part 1

The Cover Drawing

When I began work on The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures, I already had an inkling of what the cover should look like. I was fond of the idea of a wrap around cover featuring all, or at least as many as possible, of the creatures that appear inside the book. I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said I wasn't inspired by the cover to Capcom Design Works. I love the energy and fun of characters crammed together, moving across the page. There is always something new for the viewer to discover. This was unlike many of IMPACT's other cover designs, but when I proposed my idea to my editor and the designer, they were excited about it and told me to go for it.

The cover was the last piece of art I had to do for the project after completing all the interior art and the manuscript. It was to be a wraparound cover for an 8.5 " x 11" book. I wanted to do the cover painting at least 150% larger* than the print size, but that posed a problem with the many differently-sized creatures marching across my composition. The heads of the largest creatures (the forest behemoth and flying fish) would be massive, requiring detailed coverage of a large surface area in relation to the rest of the painting. The smallest creatures would still be tiny and not allow for all the detail I would like, unless I did an image that took up an entire sheet of 22 x 30 watercolor paper.  Since I also had a deadline to consider, and I knew transferring, scaling up and re-drawing the image, and finally painting it would be too time consuming to finish in time, I decided to try something new. I would draw and paint the illustration in separate layers, scan in the pieces, and use Photoshop to digitally complete the painting.

Initial thumbnails for the cover

While the idea remains the same in each sketch, I was trying to work out the best way to fit all of the creatures into the allotted space and still leave room for the title. As you can see in all three of the above sketches, I didn't do a very good job at leaving room for type!

The chosen one

We went with #2, and I moved the flying fish back behind the other creatures to create some blank space at the top right-hand side of the cover for the title. I was able to leave the left side of the image, which would become the back cover, as-is, with the understanding that much of it would likely be covered by text.

Rough study of the cover with guides and bleed space.

Using Photoshop, I blew up the cover thumbnail to the size the cover would print on the book. I printed the image, and overlaid tracing paper to rough out the drawing. At this stage I wanted to develop the poses and positioning of the creatures, drawing them to look more like the actual designs rather than their cartoony thumbnail counterparts, but I did not continue on to a detailed, final drawing yet. I knew it would be necessary to tweak the creatures to get them working within the composition. I did each rough drawing separately so that when I scanned them in, I would have many different layers I could play with.

The first part of the final drawing, with background layers finished.

Once I was happy with the way the rough drawing looked, I moved onto the final drawing. Again, I drew each character on a separate piece of paper so that I could make changes and move them around easily once they were scanned in. I used the rough gestures to start with, enlarged them to a size at which I was comfortable drawing, and with a lightbox and drawing paper overlaid, I drew each creature. For those creatures that I knew would be obscured by others in the final art, I only detailed out the parts that I expected to be visible in the final.

The chimera layer

The sand dragon layer

Minotaur and marsh nymph layer

Sphinx layer. I ended up drawing a lot more of her than necessary!

The final cover drawing, with all the layers of creatures put together.
Once each drawing was finished, I scanned them all in and positioned them within the composition. By placing each creature on a different Photoshop layer, I was able to make any adjustments needed to their size and placement. Before I moved onto the final painting, I scaled down the entire group of critters to better fit the dimensions of the cover.

Click to see an animated GIF of the progression!

*It's usually a good idea to paint illustrations larger than they will print, because it gives you the freedom to fully detail the image. If your illustration is going to print small, you would have a  difficult time painting the details on objects or characters at the actual print size. Additionally, the reduction in size upon printing helps tighten up those details. One must be careful, however, about painting too much intricate detail on small areas of the artwork that will reduce even more upon printing. What might look good on the original painting could become difficult to read as the details meld together at a reduced size.

In Part 2, I'll discuss the final painting(s), and how I used layers and a little digital painting to combine disparate pieces of art into one finished illustration.

Post edited for clarity.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Forest Behemoth

Another recent sketch of a creature from The Explorer's Guide. For those interested in buying a signed copy of the book, I've finally made them available to order online. If you click on the image of the cover in the sidebar to the right you'll be directed to the page on my website with ordering information. Or you could just click here!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Shadows that Rush Past

This is a book cover I completed recently for The Shadows that Rush Past, a collection of scary Inuit folk tales for children. The book has just been released in Canada and was published by Inhabit Media, an Inuit owned publisher in Nunavut focused on keeping the stories of Inuit mythology alive.

It was tricky to develop the composition as it had to be a wrap-around cover for a square book. There are four stories in the book. I illustrated two of them, and fellow fantasy illustrator Larry MacDougall did the others. I tried some compositions that incorporated elements from all four stories, and some that incorporated the two I was working with. My art director ended up picking this one, which was less cluttered. The stories were each so different that I wanted to have some kind of transition between the disparate elements from the front to back cover, so I added the ravens and carried the mountains in the background through both scenes. I wish the scan more properly represented some more of the subtlety of the colors and values, but it always seems difficult to capture when scanning transparent media.

The character on the cover is the amautalik, a giant ogress that kidnaps and eats children. She carries them to her igloo in the "cage" on her back made up of antlers and driftwood. The scene on the back cover is from a story about a giant polar bear that has been terrorizing a community, and the arrogant hero who slays it.