Creating the illustrations for THE SPIRIT JOURNEY
From time to time I will show you here more of my illustrations and explain new techniques that I use to give Christa’s old drawings a “new life”. What is available these days in graphic technology is stunning, and when you add to that a little time and a dash of imagination, you too will be able to realise your own artistic potential!
(01/01/2023) Some of you had asked me how characters that have never been drawn (or imagined) by Christa appear in The Spirit Journey. So I would like to share here the process I go through in developing them.
I usually start with searching “for the bodies” from my collection of Kajtek and Koko stories from Wieczór Wybrzeża (1958 – 1972). Once I transfer photos of old strips into a digital format, I start manipulating them to achieve the body shapes and facial features that my new character will require. This process can be achieved by stretching, enlarging, or contracting certain body parts – (easiest done on Photoshop or Affinity Designer creative software, which are both my favorite tools).
The next part requires using a pen and pencil-like tool, a part of Procreate digital illustration app. Here I sketch in or add new elements to the original Christa’s drawings. I call it a “hands-on approach.” I can also experiment with certain details of Christa’s lines that I want to change or make more expressive (like hand gestures, for example). Once I am satisfied with the result, I apply heavier lines to the drawing to bring the illustration to a “Christ-like style ” once again.
Below you can see those techniques applied to two Wieczór Wybrzeża’s strips from 1965, “Koko’s Tale: The Smuggling Trail”, to create the shape of my Susie character (especially for her scanty appearance on the Bondi beach in Sydney). In this case, Susie was to be wearing only a bikini, so I needed to eliminate any clothes from Christa’s drawing first. By the way, it’s often much easier when a character wears clothes; one can camouflage any anatomical imperfections. By the way! I completely agree with Koko here that in the case of Susie, one can find hardly any faults in her. Don’t you agree?
(2020), Seven years into this project, the newest illustrations for The Spirit Journey are modified to fit in with the developing storyline. Various elements, never illustrated by Christa, are drawn by me. In a way, it forced me to brush up on my own illustration and design skills, which are part of my artistic sculptural expression.
In the moonlight, a mysterious figure was watching them closely from the darkness of the pines.
Dazed, Koko saw an unearthly light dancing in the night sky.
On the second day, they found mysterious granite monoliths standing alone in the vastness of the tundra. Half submerged in permafrost, for eons they were carved by rain, ice and wind.
The temperature dropped minute by minute, but the wounded moose was still far ahead, hiding somewhere in the wilderness of the tundra. However, Pretor found his trail, and they gave chase again.
(2019) It was back in 2015 when I invited Kajtek and Koko to join me in the telling of my story. More importantly, I aimed to do it in Janusz Christa’s unique graphic style. Through much experimentation, I found a way to develop new illustrations from Christa’s original works.
My intention in working this way, is out of respect for Christa’s Kajtek and Koko cartoons, and more importantly to breathe life into Christa’s rich legacy. By releasing his characters from their “time capsule”, I hope to rekindle interest in them today.
So, here is how I go about it:
Image 1. First, I visualise how an illustration will fit my story line. I then begin pouring through volumes of Christa drawings, that provide the ‘building blocks’ for each new illustration. Often there are 40 or 50 separate elements for every image.
Image 2. Next, I trim (erase) unneeded bits from the selected drawings to begin building the art.
Image 3. I add (if needed) new elements from other selections and rearrange them even more.
Image 4. At this point, I adjust the luminance of all selected elements.
Image 5. The next stage is the most time consuming — it is joining and tracing over each black line to achieve the ‘flow’ of a new drawing. I must be careful at this stage, to not lose the subtle way that Christa drew his lines. It is worth the trouble and takes patience, but the final result is very satisfying in the end.
Image 6. When colouring, I start with the largest areas (in this case, the late evening sky).
Image 7: Once the entire illustration is coloured, I make any final adjustments to bring the whole image into balance. For example, in order to make my dog, Pretor, stand out against the sky, I deepened the sunset and (sorry Pretor) lengthened his tail.
This image will appear in upcoming December Blog, titled “Training for the Journey”.
This illustration took me 4 days (or 25 hours in total) to complete. If I was to draw my own illustration (yes, I do know how to draw), it would take far less time. However, staying true to the ‘Christa’s way’ (which is my objective and is the most challenging), is also the most rewarding.