Making the Edgar Allan Poe Macabre Mansion

Last year I made the H. H. Holmes Murder Castle cartoon cutaway and Kickstarted the production of jigsaw puzzles featuring the illustration. It was really well received and I loved the challenge of the project, so I decided to make another one. I learned a lot making Murder Castle and applied those lessons to The Edgar Allan Poe Macabre Mansion, which illustrates 20 of the author's short stories in one big, creepy house. (At the bottom of the entry you can find detail shots and a key identifying all of the stories.)

Note: Jigsaw puzzles and prints of both the H.H. Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe illustrations are now available in the store!


I hadn't read a ton of Poe's work when I decided to use him as the subject, mostly just the stuff you read in high school (The Cask of Amontillado, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven...) The whole buried-in-the-walls thing seemed like it would translate really well to a cutaway and I figured the project would be a great excuse to read all of his short stories. Also, public domain ftw!

The first step was to ingest as much of his work as possible and decide what to include. I listened to audio recordings of the stories, taking thorough notes along the way. There are tons of these recordings on YouTube, my favorites being those read by Sir Christopher Lee. (There's also a reading of The Raven by Christopher Walken!)

I didn't know how many of the stories would be appropriate for the drawing, but every single one was so visual and compelling I ended up with too many! His work is incredibly immersive; it was wonderful spending so much time studying it. In my notes I included as much visual information as possible, then used it to guide me in the design of the house. 

Poe begins The Fall of the House of Usher with a long, moody description of the building, so it only made sense to use the Usher house as a base for the mansion. I studied elements of gothic architecture - lots of turrets and domes and porches and overhangs - and incorporated my favorites into the sketch. I thought inventing a fictional building would be easier than drawing a real one from blueprints like Murder Castle, but it was actually more challenging to make one up. However, one great thing about this style of architecture is that it allows for a completely weird structure (most houses from this period are kind of a hodge-podge) so I could put welrdly-shaped rooms wherever I wanted!

I found this old piece of watercolor paper that I'd used to create a gradient for the background of Murder Castle. With the jigsaw puzzle dimensions in mind, I applied a grid and got stuck in, keeping Murder Castle close by during the whole process in an effort to maintain a similar style.


My super rough sketch (the blue and orange sketch above) was 2D, so I had to convert it to three dimensions. I use a basic two-point perspective, but there's a lot of eyeballing and fudging. When I did Murder Castle, I scooped out the building so you could see rooms behind those at the front of the house. As this design was so much more complex, I decided to shorten the depth to a single room. I began the sketch with blue pencil, making lots of mistakes and changes, then used a darker pink pencil to refine it.


The drawing went through a LOT of changes during this stage. Once I had the rough structure down, I used a graphite pencil to draw a detailed sketch on top.

The center of the image, where the cylindrical tower and the large rectangular section meet, caused me a lot of trouble. I couldn't figure out how to draw it in a way that the layout was clear. After several attempts, I ended up with this a big, ugly roof chunk at the center and it was bumming me out. I ended up solving the problem by turning it into a balcony.   :)


During the sketching process, I referred to images I'd collected of gothic revival houses. My sister, Bethan, helped me collect reference pictures for the interiors, furniture, and costumes, which were super helpful. I continued to make a bunch of changes as I went; lots of drawing and erasing and redrawing.


Here is the finished sketch. As you can see, I made a bit of a mess!


The next step was to scan the sketch and print it at a low opacity on some nice clean Bristol so I can start the best part: INKING. I draw with Micron .005 pens and DO NOT use a ruler during the inking process. It makes the lines look too precise and boxy and if I wanted that I'd just draw it in Illustrator. The lines may look straight, but if you look really closely you can tell it's all shaky and neurotic, just like me!


For whatever reason, I started in the upper right corner and began drawing the exterior. One regret I had with Murder Castle was not including enough surface details and textures, so this time I turned it up to 11, so to speak.

IMG_5762 copy.jpg

The exterior took a long time, and since there were loads of bricks and panels and tiles, much of the drawing was fairly mindless. I listen to tons of podcasts while I'm working. During the inking phase I spent most of the time with The Partially Examined Life, The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, and The Complete Guide to Everything (pretty much my favorite podcast of all time). Highly recommend all three!

When the time came to begin the interior, I was so excited! Finally getting to the juicy bits. The first room I drew, and probably the most peculiar of Poe's stories, was The Angel of the Odd. Seriously, it is incredibly weird and there's no way he wasn't plastered when he wrote it. Thumbs up!

The Angel of the Odd

The Angel of the Odd


Side note: Around this time, I went to Minneapolis to visit Bethan. We went to an amazing Guillermo Del Torro exhibit and look who I found! Turns out he's a big Poe fan. He also had original Crumb and Wrightson drawings in his collection - I was in heaven! (This is not the only time Guillermo comes up in this project!)


As the inking continued, I had to keep referring to my notes to make sure I was including the right details. My aim was to have as little fluff as possible. Every item should be intentional and allude to something within a story. There are two unfortunate inconsistencies in the drawing which you'd only notice if you listened to the story carefully, but I'll leave them to you to find!



The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum

The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death


After many, many hours (I honestly have no clue how many), the drawing was finished!


At this point, it was time to convert the Macabre Mansion to 1s and 0s! I scanned the drawing and mentally prepared myself to enter yet another seemingly endless phase of the process: COLOR

I'll be adapting this into a coloring poster! It'll take you ages to finish!   >:)

I'll be adapting this into a coloring poster! It'll take you ages to finish!  >:)

Here's the other Guillermo bit: As I was working on this project, I happened to see his 2015 movie Crimson Peak for the first time. Not only did I really enjoy the movie - it's so gorgeous - but was thrilled to discover that the ENTIRE FILM was perfect reference for the Poe mansion. Everything from the costumes to the settings - perfect! I added some screenshots to my reference library and decided to use this still from the film as the inspiration for the color palette.


Getting started on color was daunting. I began by blocking in all of the flat colors, starting with the exterior, and grouping the layers by room. I was able to use the selection wand for the most part (a tool that allows you to select large section and fill them with the click of a button rather than painting it), but as the drawing is so intricate, there was a lot of tedious brushwork to be done. I kept my main colors in a swatch library and tried to deviate from it as little as possible. Just like with Murder Castle, I felt that too many colors would make an already complicated picture way too messy.


The final step was lighting. I wasn't terribly adventurous with the lighting on Murder Castle - it was my first attempt at anything like that - so I decided to try and make it more dramatic for Poe. As I was drawing the sketch, I made sure to include as many interesting light sources as possible to give myself plenty of opportunities to play. (I realized when I got down to The Cask of Amontillado that the only light sources were three torches mounted on the walls, nowhere near the action of the scene. I had to steal a lamp from another part of the house and add it in!) Here is the illustration fully colored before any lighting:


For each room, I had a 3-step process. First, I added shadows by applying a dark adjustment layer over the whole room, erasing it around each of the light sources, then adding it back to areas where the light wouldn't reach. I got better at this as I progressed through the drawing, which is why some rooms are lit better than others!


Next, I added a brightness layer because the shadows really dulled the whole thing and I wanted the rooms to pop! I also darkened the exterior to help add contrast.


Finally, I painted in light from each lamp, torch, and candle. I haven't done much - if any - proper light study outside of life drawing classes many years ago, so I just had to kinda wing it. I'll definitely put some time toward light study before tackling my next puzzle... I also added some sky details, brightened up the whole thing so the details can be seen, and my mother suggested smoke coming from the chimneys. Great idea, Mum!


After months of work, I finally completed the image on October 7th only to discover later that this was the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's death! Complete coincidence - I honestly had no idea - so I'm a little freaked out. 

If the Kickstarter hits goal by midnight on Halloween, the Edgar Allan Poe Macabre Mansion will be available as a 768-piece jigsaw puzzle, high quality prints, and colorable posters. They will come with a guide labeling all of the stories illustrated and highlight other details within the image. My hope is that people will listen to the audio recordings of the stories as they assemble the puzzle or color the poster! I'm aiming to have everything ready so that shipments can make it in time for Christmas. Please contribute to the Kickstarter if you can, and share it on your social media if you like it!

UPDATE: The Kickstarter hit the goal and you can now buy the puzzles and prints in the store!

One more thing... I'm running a very special contest. Hidden within the illustration is a clue about the next puzzle (I'll be starting a new one next year). The first person to locate the clue and correctly guess the subject of the next puzzle will be drawn into the next illustration as a character! The deadline to guess the subject is January 31, 2018. 

UPDATE: The contest has already been won! Congrats to Tara Schnaible for finding the clue and correctly guessing the subject of the next cartoon cutaway!

Here are some detail shots of the illustration. Click here to see a larger version you can zoom in on. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments. Thanks for reading!


Making the Nashville Zoo Map

I've always wanted to make a map for a zoo or theme park and at the end of 2016 I finally got the chance. The Nashville Zoo has been expanding like crazy and they wanted a fun illustrated map featuring all of the latest exhibits. It was a challenging project, different in many ways than previous maps I've drawn, and I learned a ton from the process.

The Nashville Zoo map illustration without the labels (pictured with labels below...)

The zoo's Marketing Director, Jim Bartoo, asked for something similar in style to my Austin Peay State University campus map, but more playful and fun. It should be easy to navigate, but also exciting for kids to look at. We went on a tour, where Jim pointed out areas that should be featured, and I took a bunch of reference pictures. I took photographs of everything, from the habitats and animals to benches and signs.

The Tapir habitat

The Carousel!

Here's Jim showing me the Red River Hog - hey Jim!

I was also provided with previous maps the zoo had used, which I cross referenced with views of the site from Google Earth. After spending a lot of time walking the zoo, I realized that some of the paths seemed way shorter in experience than they looked on the maps. My aim was to make the map match the actual experience of walking the zoo as closely as possible, taking into account what you can see as you move from one exhibit to the next and how long the various path distances feel in comparison to one another. I also had to keep in mind the dimensions of the printed map and attempt to fill the space as efficiently as possible. 

Previous map

View of the zoo from Google Earth (the map is oriented south-up, so this appears upside down in comparison...)

After lots of sketching and walking and resketching, I eventually came up with a layout I liked. Here are the rough drafts as I developed the layout and added attractions.

The Spider Monkey, Andean Bear, Tiger, and Rhino habitats were still under construction while I was making the map, so I used sketches from the construction sites and architectural drawings to make my best predictions... It will be interesting to see how close I got! 

That's me sketching the Andean Bear exhibit. I should've been wearing a hard hat but shh!

This is all there was of the Tiger habitat. Had to use some imagination on this one!

A lot of the images I had were not from the perspective that I needed, which presented a challenge, but drawing from ultra-precise, engineer-produced CAD images has it's perks!


Another challenge was the medium - Jim wanted a vector map, but since I've been working traditionally so much lately, I hadn't even touched Adobe Illustrator in years! I got in touch with my former classmate Aaron Johnson of Anderson Design Group, who is a master of the Adobe Suite, and he agreed to give me a crash course in the latest tools. (Thanks Aaron!) It took a lot of practice - I used Illustrator to make my 2016 Drawlloween set on Instagram to prepare - but I got the hang of it in a week or so. Next I presented an example of the finished vector artwork to make sure they liked the style. Once I got the thumbs up, it was time to dig in on the details!

example of the final artwork

It was relieving and generally awesome to get the "go ahead", but an overwhelming sense of dread washed over me as I realized how much work lay ahead. (This sensation is described in my Making of the Nashville Map blog post where I describe the mental turmoil that accompanies intense drawing projects!) I also had to stay on top of my other freelance jobs, shipping print/puzzle orders, and it was the beginning of Party Season! (I am serious about Party Season.) So I knew I'd need to plot out a schedule for the project and stick to it militantly in order to hit deadline. As this was my first vector map at this scale and level of detail, the only basis for how long each section might take me was the example I made. I split the map into different modules and made my best guess at the hours I'd need to spend on each.

After knocking out the first few sections, I got into a groove and started to really enjoy the process. At times it got a little monotonous - so many bushes and bridges! - but I found ways to keep myself entertained.

I'd recently had hardwood floors installed so I was doing a lot of rollerskating at the time, and I was a slain ballerina for halloween so I had to practice my en pointe. #Excusesforadventurousfootwear

At one point I got so restless that I moved my computer to my drafting table for a slight change of scenery... It was cool for a bit, but I couldn't put my feet up on the desk so I moved it back within a couple of days.

Some parts took way longer than I guessed but others went quickly. I also got faster with Illustrator as I progressed, which I hadn't considered when building the schedule, so I managed to keep up, finish all of my other jobs on time, and make it to every party! Jim wanted each of the sections on a separate layer so they could be used individually or adjusted as the zoo continues to grow. This required serious focus on organization, but after a while I got into the habit of checking my layers. 

Listened to a ton of podcasts and audiobooks and ted talks and lectures and stuff. 


One of the trickiest parts of the project was warping the perspective. Each area needed to be depicted from an aerial view, but had to be recognizable from the ground level. It was also hard to decide what to include and what to omit - I wanted enough landmarks and clues to allow guests to orient themselves, but I didn't want to overload the map with too many details. I made a point to draw in key items like benches or recognizable features of each habitat.

The Giraffe section and its well and stuff

The Unseen Plaza - particularly tough because from this angle the front of the building is not visible (...some may say UNSEEN), so I had to make sure people would recognize it based on what they're seeing on the ground. 

The Jungle Gym! (My favorite part...)

Alligator Cove - this one was kinda complicated because it can be viewed from two different levels one either side, but it worked out.


Overall this was a super fun project and I'd love to do another zoo (although I'm shooting for a theme park next...) I learned a ton about animals (did you know that all gazelles are antelopes, but not all antelopes are gazelles?!) and it was a great excuse to spend a bunch of time at the zoo. Here are some more detail shots and what it looks like with the labels. Go check out the new exhibits! Spider Monkey opened April 6th and Tiger, Rhino, and Bear will open later this year.

Emelia, age 3

Picture by @creamerandchaos

Here is the map with the labels - I overlapped them with tails and horns wherever I could to help incorporate them better

Illustrating "Who Killed Cock Robin?"

Who Killed Cock Robin?

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.

Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.

Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.

Who'll make the shroud?
I, said the Beetle,
with my thread and needle,
I'll make the shroud.

Who'll dig his grave?
I, said the Owl,
with my little trowel,
I'll dig his grave.

Who'll be the parson?
I, said the Rook,
with my little book,
I'll be the parson.

Who'll be the clerk?
I, said the Lark,
if it's not in the dark,
I'll be the clerk.

Who'll carry the link?
I, said the Linnet,
I'll fetch it in a minute,
I'll carry the link.

Who'll be chief mourner?
I, said the Dove,
I mourn for my love,
I'll be chief mourner.

Who'll carry the coffin?
I, said the Kite,
if it's not through the night,
I'll carry the coffin.

Who'll bear the pall?
We, said the Wren,
both the cock and the hen,
we'll bear the pall.

Who'll sing the psalm?
I, said the Thrush,
as she sat on a bush,
I'll sing a psalm.

Who'll toll the bell?
I, said the Bull,
because I can pull,
I'll toll the bell.

All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.

Animals and birds are some of my favorite things to draw, so I took illustrating this odd little nursery rhyme as an excuse to do just that. The rhyme lists fourteen different species and I wanted to represent them all fairly realistically. Studying each creature and learning to draw it well enough to adapt it to my own composition was a wonderful exercise, and I learned a ton about birds! 

To offset the literal representation of the characters and their roles in the story, I chose to compose them in somewhat symmetrical, shield-like forms that complement the lyrical style of the writing. This was my first experimentation with watercolor - and color in general - so I opted to use a minimal palette for each piece. I hoped that the color would not only represent the passing of time (dawn, midday, dusk), but also the mood as the animals deal with the death of their pal Cock Robin (violence and anger, solidarity and support through community, sorrow and grief). Below are my color test sheets for each of the paintings. 

The original paintings, each 5.5" x 8.25", are currently on display at Springhouse Gallery in Smyrna, TN. If you're interested in purchasing the originals, email me at

Making the H. H. Holmes Murder Castle

I was first introduced to H. H. Holmes a couple of years ago when I read Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, a fascinating account of the serial killer's unbelievable career. Then a few months ago, one of my favorite podcasts, The Last Podcast on the Left, created a great 3-episode series covering the H. H. Holmes killings. It was while listening to these episodes that the thought of drawing the Murder Castle occurred to me. 

*NOTE: My new cartoon cutaway, Edgar Allan Poe's Macabre Mansion, is complete! Puzzles and prints for both H.H. Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe are available in the store



For those unfamiliar, H. H. Holmes was a charismatic young lady killer who constructed a hotel, timed perfectly for the Chicago Worlds Fair, which operated as a massive murder machine. He used it to systematically trap and kill young women, then clean and articulate their skeletons to be sold to universities. The hotel was riddled with trap doors and hidden rooms, where guests would be trapped and tortured before ultimately being thrown down the chute to the basement. To fully understand the drawing without reading the book, I encourage you to watch this short documentary which covers the basics quite well.

One thing I do wish to make clear is that I in no way intend to glorify what H. H. Holmes did by drawing the Murder Castle. In fact, I will go on record now as being profoundly anti-murder. However, one cannot deny the sheer brilliance it took to pull this off. I can only imagine what this man would have been capable of had he used his powers for good rather than evil. This illustration is intended to supplement books and podcasts on the topic and to help people visualize how the hotel that Holmes built might have looked and how it was used.

The Murder Hotel drawing started as what was supposed to be a quick project I could knock out between jobs and an excuse to take a whack at a 3D cutaway illustration, which I've always wanted to attempt. Naturally, I got a bit more into it than I had initially intended, but overall it took about a months work. My special gentleman friend, Andy, volunteered to help with the research and prepared several pages of notes and reference material. (Thanks, Andy!) I stuck them all to my desk and began sketching the framework of the building.

The most challenging part was plotting out the structure of the hotel and deciding how and where to cut away. I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, so I used the original blueprints and some excellent drawings by Rick Geary to guide me. 

Once I had the structure of the exterior of the building down, I placed a sheet of vellum over it and started breaking it down floor by floor, deciding where to cut away in order to show as much as possible. The chute and hidden staircase that ran through the heart of the hotel was to be a primary focus, so I put those in first and built the rest around it.


After lots of adjusting, erasing, and making a mess, the sketch was finished and ready to scan. I think it took about a week to get to this point.

I printed the sketch at a low opacity on a sheet of heavy Bristol and began the ink drawing. I don't normally print the sketch on the paper, usually I ink on a sheet of vellum placed over the sketch. However, in this case, the lines didn't have to be quite as sharp as some of the other drawings I've done (the Colorable zoo, for example), and I thought that some of the values of the sketch could show through and add help to some dimension to the finished picture. It worked out well, and I far prefer drawing on Bristol to vellum, so I'll definitely be using this method again.

In an attempt to keep my greasy finger prints off the paper, I started wearing this dumb fancy glove that I had lying around from my halloween costume. It is now my special fancy drawing glove and I use it all the time.

A major aspect of keeping the drawing organized was managing the line weight. If the lines were all the same width, it would be difficult to tell where the exterior ends and the interior begins. I kept a little guide with four key line weights that I would use to check my consistency as I worked.

By this point, I was making some pretty tough decisions about the level of detail. My instinct is to fill in every space with as much detail as possible, though I feared that it would be too muddy and confusing if I did that here. So I used restraint and kept the surface details to a minimum. I didn't realize how much color would help organize the picture, so I now wish I'd gone with my gut and detailed the crap out of it. Lesson learned.

One of the best things about drawings like this is it's hard to get bored. Whenever one area becomes tedious, I can just move to a different area and draw something else for a while. 

Weirdly, I experienced next to none of the existential dismay and panic that typically comes with a project like this. I think because it didn't seem arbitrary in any way, entirely founded in interesting fact. It was extremely enjoyable from start to finish.

It took about a week to finish inking the drawing.  

Once scanned, I spent a few hours in Photoshop cleaning up mistakes and minimizing any visible white out marks. Next I started blocking in color. Since the image is so complex, I knew the color palette must be pretty minimal. I used this image for color inspiration, sampling all my colors from it:

I separated the exterior and each floor into its own layer group to keep the file as organized as possible. I don't do an awful lot of coloring - to be honest, I tend to avoid color whenever possible - so I tried to use this as an excuse to learn.

Once all the flat color was done, my next challenge was to light the thing. It was tricky, because there were two lighting structures to consider: the lighting of each individual room, and the lighting of the entire cutaway building as an object. Plus, I haven't really done anything like this before, so it was a little intimidating. But wow, it was so much fun to go through and turn the lights on! 

Here is the finished piece and some detail shots. Definitely a lot of things I would change were I to do it again, but overall I'm really pleased with how it turned out. If you're interested in the H.H. Holmes case, I highly recommend reading The Devil in the White City. Also, Martin Scorsese is turning it into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Holmes.

Update: My sister, Bethan, is an avid Sims player and built the Murder Castle for the game. Go here to download the house and the H. H. Holmes character!



Making the Illustrated Map of Nashville

I knew my way around Nashville pretty well before, but after spending hours studying, sketching, and then intricately drawing the entire city from the river to West End, I can pretty much get from anywhere to anywhere without thinking twice. No thanks, Siri, I got the nav on this, girl! I should probably host one of those silly segway tours you see zipping around town. 

I was asked to create the map during my internship at Anderson Design Group. The shop is on the Nashville Trolley Tour and gets a lot of tourists coming through, so Joel wanted an illustration including all of the most popular tourist spots and local businesses, from his shop to the river. Holy crap that's a lot of spots. Step one was to figure out how to frame it all in a single image.

Once I figured out the orientation and where the major streets would lie, I got to work plotting as many locations as I could into what I call the SUPER ROUGH! (This is the rough draft of the rough draft.) 

While I was able to edit out lots of the smaller streets and buildings, the map did need to be reasonably accurate while including every place on the list, so plotting everything out took a long time. Dawn, who runs the front desk at Anderson Design Group, reviewed it and gave me notes. 

After establishing which locations had to be included and where they should go, I blew up my super rough to 150% actual size and printed it off. Using tracing paper over the print, I redrew the map adding distinct characteristics of each location and other details. 

Drawing an entire city from an aerial perspective without a helicopter is rather challenging. I had to use several resources so that I could turn the buildings around in my head to get the perfect angle, including multiple reference pictures per location, Google Earth, and Google Maps Street View. Google Earth is actually getting pretty damn sophisticated; while many places were still only available in 2D, much of the city could be viewed in pretty helpful 3D imagery. I have no doubt that very soon I'll probably be able to take an aerial screenshot of Nashville and be done with it.

Once I got to this point, I had to scan it in and move some stuff around, and print it off again before I could continue:

I filled in all the gaps and by the time I was done I had so thoroughly scoured the streets of Nashville via Google Maps that I could probably draw it from memory. But wait! We're only just getting started!

Next, I went over the whole sketch with a fine-toothed comb and marked any edits or adjustments that needed to be made before I could start inking.

Now that I had a fairly tight sketch, I was ready to begin inking! I printed the sketch at around 50% opacity and at 150% scale, taped it to my desk, and placed a sheet of 19"x 24" Canson Vellum over one side. (It is so large that it has to be scanned in pieces and digitally re-assembled anyway, so I inked it on two sheets of vellum.)

This is right around the point in the process where this starts to happen...

Oh god. I've made a huge mistake. What was I thinking?! Holy shit, what am I doing?! Like, I actually took their money and said "Yes, of course, I can totally draw that." This is not only going to take literally FOREVER, it doesn't even look good! Jesus. What am I gonna do? How can I POSSIBLY finish this? They asked how long it's gonna take HOW LONG IS THIS GONNA TAKE IT'S NOT EVEN GOOD WHAT AM I DOING?!

Look, it's OK, I always do this, don't panic. It's always super daunting in the beginning. Just keep drawing, there's not really much else I can do... I've just gotta remember that ALL my drawings look shit 'til they're about 80% finished. Just trust yourself and put on a podcast or something.

OMG I LOVE DRAWING drawing is freaking awesome this is so fun crap - I'm gonna stick a mouse there by The Gulch (hehe rich condo mouse) - wow this is kinda starting to look cool my next one is gonna be way better though DRAWING RULES

Whew - one half done. And you know, if it actually IS shit and no one likes it then at least I'm enjoying it, right? Is that self indulgent? Man... is this a selfish way to spend time? Should I be doing something more helpful or... does it even matter anyway? Does anything? Jesus.

Duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh BATMAN!!!

I guess I'd describe this inner turmoil as a bit of a tendency because so far that's pretty much how it goes with most pictures I make. Yes, I love drawing, but it's not like I'm lounging about in a pastoral setting kicking my feet back and forth as I whimsically doodle away. OK that might have happened a time or two this summer... For me, drawing can be a taxing process, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. 

Emotional States of Intense Drawing

This chart illustrates the various emotional states I can expect to experience throughout the picture-making process.

Yes, that's a bit dramatic, but these big pictures are monsters! As I draw my 600th tiny window, things can go a bit weird upstairs. Some might think I only do it for the Creative Glee phase, but I think the other parts are important too (and I'm not entirely convinced that General Panic isn't just my nature.) I learn to trust myself a little bit more with every picture, but I think that's mostly because every picture is a little bit better and I deserve it.

I swear I usually name my layers...

Once the ink drawing is complete, it is scanned. The largest scanner I have access to is A3, so I scan it in pieces and Photoshop's amazing photo-merge feature can usually reassemble it for me. Next, I'll spend some time cleaning up the lines a bit, correcting any mistakes or adding bits that had to be redrawn.

It's easy for me to get carried away at this stage; to get caught up in trying to endlessly perfect everything. This is one of the reasons I prefer to work traditionally. When I'm limited by my eyesight and dexterity, I can only go so far. Working digitally, one can lose sight of the image as a whole or chip away at the drawings charm.

Overall I'm happy with the picture. I see mistakes every time I look at it, and I learned so much while drawing it that it makes me immediately want to draw another one and do it better. But I also get lost in it and enjoy looking at it and I find stuff I forgot that I hid in it, which is what I loved most about the drawings that inspired me to become an illustrator in the first place.

I'm currently working on a similarly insane illustration of the same size and level of detail. I'm about half way through the Crippling Self-Doubt phase, but writing this reminded me that just around the corner is almost half an illustrated zoo's worth of Creative Glee. Follow along on Instagram as I draw it! 


Here is the Illustrated Map of Nashville after being colored and lettered by Anderson Design Group. Buy a print at their website!

This image was created in collaboration with Anderson Design Group, Inc. Copyright ADG, Inc. All rights reserved.

Illustrating Franz Kafka's "A Report to an Academy"

One of my absolute favorite assignments while studying illustration at Watkins College of Art was to create a "dummy book" - a partially finished illustrated book, typically sent to publishers as a sample. This dummy book could illustrate any public domain story of my choice, and since I was feeling pretty introspective and weird at the time I opted for a Franz Kafka story. A Report to an Academy is the tale of an ape who has to decide between a life of captivity and a life spent performing for the entertainment of humans. Yep, real uplifting stuff!

Note to reader: If you're interested in downloading the dummy book and reading the story with my accompanying illustrations/sketches, click here. Please excuse the horrendous type - I hadn't yet taken any typography courses when I made this!

Choice of Medium

In keeping with the rather dark and weighty nature of the story, I decided that moody, black & white drawings would be best. I made this back in Spring of 2012, before ever trying to draw in pen & ink, so pencil was my weapon of choice. While not always appropriate, I feel like it's emotive, traditional look was ideal for Kafka. I used mostly a mechanical pencil and a black colored pencil for the finished illustrations. I later took Kristi Hargrove's Drawing II class and she suggested I use proper pencils. Needless to say, my drawings are much better now.

Character Design

I did a lot of research in preparation for this project. Most of the illustrations feature the story's protagonist, Red, so a lot of this research revolved around him. My first step was to teach myself how to draw apes, which pretty much involves Googling "ape" and drawing a bunch of apes. Once I had the basics of ape-yness down, I designed Red. I studied ways to give him as much emotion, character, and humanity as possible while keeping his look consistent. 


One of the most challenging aspects of the project was dividing the story into sensible sections for each page. It was a lot of fun plotting out where each picture would land and deciding what would be the most appropriate visualization of the illustrated segment. This process emphasized how much power the storybook illustrator has, guiding the reader's imagination and creating a world in which the author's story can live.

Meet Red

This is the opening spread of the book, introducing Red who narrates the story. I decided that the reader should first see him post-transformation, as the man-like performing ape he is at the time he is telling his tale. In this illustration, I used the various items on his dressing table to give the reader clues into his lifestyle and character. My favorite pictures are those that continue to reveal their secrets well after the first glance; pictures that can be studied time and time again.

Dummy Book Sketches

Every page of the book features some sort of image, from spot illustrations to full spreads. It was a great deal of fun to create Red's universe, depicting his past spent traveling on a merchant ship, his time spent in study with various teachers and doctors, and his later stages of life as a "civilized man".

All of the drawings began as rough pencil sketches. I then digitally refined the pictures that were not to be fully rendered, to give them a cleaner, more finished look. To see all the sketches, download the entire dummy book.

The Cover

For the cover image I wished to summarize my own interpretation of the story and what it says about freedom and identity. While Red does not end up in a cage at the zoo, his cost was to sacrifice who he was and act as another entirely. While he enjoys aspects of his newfound humanness and the illusion of freedom with which it comes, he is less free than he ever was. The ship in the story carries him to his fate - a life of captivity, one way or another. The ship in a bottle also appears in the final spread, a trinket on Red's writing desk beside his finished report.


I took quite a bit of license with my pictures, perhaps projecting a more solemn and nihilistic perspective of the story than others might have. Red's voice sounds strong, but I wanted to capture his inner life. I tried to approach the design as a cinematographer would, communicating not only through the subject matter, but also through the point of view and scale. This picture accompanies Red's reflection on freedom. He describes how humans can't possibly know what it is to be truly free, yet are consistently deceived into believing that they are. I hoped to illustrate his isolation, and the human hivemind from which he so fervently separates himself.

These illustrations were due one week apart, and I was taking three other classes at the time. I remember having to stay up literally all night to finish this drawing in time for critique the next morning - my first college all-nighter! 

Naturally, looking back on this project now there are things I would do differently. Over the three  and a half years since I made it, I've learned a lot about composition, flow, and storytelling, and my drawing skills have vastly improved, but I'm pleased with it as a first serious attempt. The two finished illustrations garnered some attention while I was at college, winning some awards including a National Student Addy, which really boosted my confidence and fueled me to work as hard as possible. Since discovering pen & ink I haven't done a ton of finished pencil drawings, but the pencil was my first true love. I hope to work on more graphite and storybook projects going forward!