Designing and drawing the spiraling double-helix featuring my new interlocking nucleotide letters was quite the challenge. I found a ton of DNA reference images and two proved to be particularly helpful, but they each represented one end of the DNA strand in this image, so it was up to me to figure out how I could connect them. Once I got it sketched out it was still a lot of careful drawing to realize it, but being a single panel this page went pretty quickly overall. Especially when you recognize that the effort I put into the depiction of Earth in the background also paid off when I made the cover.
Oh man, this one was a doozy! Just the bottom left panel alone took as long as some of the other pages. Planning it out, figuring out how my little critter was going to evolve, and then building the DNA stairs all took a very long time. The unzipping DNA wasn’t quick either, although I was able to take advantage of some cutting and pasting to speed things up. I was very pleased with myself when I came up with the interlocking nucleotides, making the correct letters pair up.
This is also the first time I’ve ever posted a blog form a coffee shop. I’m not actually drinking any coffee (I got a quiche & a beer) but I’ve got my MacBook out and I’m taking advantage of some free wifi. I almost went to the Starbucks across the street, after walking up and down Braodway in Burlingame looking for wifi (I’m in between a drop off and a pick up at SFO). Then I was actually looking across the street from the Starbucks, thinking I might be able to sit on a bench and poach their signal when found a cute little independent place with KFOG on the radio and Tom Petty posters on the wall.
This was another part where I decided it was best to be up front about what we do not know. The classic chicken and egg conundrum seemed like the perfect way to illustrate this concept of not knowing whether cells or genetic material came first since they’re both so integral to our understanding of life. At first I was going to have the Old Gs futzing around with tent poles and such, but it just seemed too complicated. The idea of a pole-free bubble tent seemed like a good way to keep things simple.
Using the metaphor of waiting for the primordial soup to boil seemed like a good way to show how slow the process could have been. Of course, once it hits that tipping point it explodes into life and starts to violently boil over. It’s kind of like the hot break when you’re brewing beer, which is something I had started doing about the time I was illustrating this page. At this point you’ve added the grain extracts and you’re bringing the wort to a boil, and if you’re not careful it will bubble over and make a huge mess. If you watch it carefully you can turn off the heat when it starts foaming up, and then when you add the bittering hops it seems to prevent it from bubbling up any more.
Another challenging set of abstract concepts to illustrate, which I tried to make a little more concrete and relatable with some metaphors drawn from personal experience. I thought this was a pretty cool way to incorporate a dory into my story, and at the time I was enjoying the TV show Wipeout, which provided some inspiration for the obstacle course panel. The smiley faces continued to prove their use as a visual symbol, with there ability to mutate and provide a diversity of simple life forms.
Even though I’m trying to switch gears to illustration mode for Book 3 I’ve been attending some seminars about book publishing, publicity and marketing at Book Passage, this awesome book store in Corte Madera. I attended one with Karen Leland and one with Alice Acheson and learned a lot at both. I learned of them through David Christopher, who is working on a book that’s kind of similar to mine: The Holy Universe. It’s a retelling of the origin of the universe and life on Earth in a biblical style. It’s pretty cool and you can read some excerpts online.
I think this is the most panels on any page, but it actually didn’t take too long. A lot of very repetitive circle-drawing here, perfect for half-watching TV. I’m pretty sure I was about half-way through watching Deadwood with my buddy Isaac at this point. I remember being pretty pleased when I came up with the idea of using smiley faces to represent the basic concept of a living organism, and then being excited about drawing the smiley face reproducing with a mitosis-like process. It harks back to one of my first experiences as a science illustrator. I was in my highschool biology class where we had to make “flip books” animating mitosis, I enjoyed it thoroughly and used a pad of paper to make a remarkably animated little movie.
Rain, finally. Now we’ll see how the new sunroom holds up to a little weather.
I did a lot of revisions of the text on this page. In fact, I think in the first couple of drafts I didn’t have hardly any of this. Initially I didn’t know how to write about this part since there isn’t a scientific consensus about exactly how or where life started. Eventually I would realize that is what I needed to say, and that uncertainty is a critical thing for people and children to understand. So I presented a few of the popular possibilities but made it very clear that we don’t know exactly how it happened, and that’s OK.
Illustrating this one was a breeze. Once again it was nice to have a page that consisted essentially of a single panel, but the little thought bubbles provided some variety, and a couple of them gave me the chance to work a little on my lighting, which is something that can be very hard to imagine and create without good reference.
As for the present, I just started illustrating Book 3. I’ve been working away at the manuscript and I think I’ve taken care of 90% of the revisions, so now I’m beginning one of the most enjoyable part of the the illustrating process, doodling in the margins. It’s the very first brainstorming phase when anything is possible. I need to go ahead and finish posting these pages from Book 2, as it would be nice to be posting what I draw on a more current basis.