Patchwork man illustration

Last week, I created this illustration for The Wall Street Journal for a story about how our early ancestors from different continents mingled earlier than we thought. One of the ideas suggested by the editor was to show "figures of various colors overlapping or merging."

This idea reminded me of an illustration I created seventeen years ago (back in my early vector period) for Outside Magazine for a story about testing athletic clothing material. The idea was a figure running through the environment with a quilt-like outfit.

I revisited this idea but for the new illustration, I wanted the figure to be more monolithic, like a giant running through the woods. And inside the figure would be the merging, different-color figures.

This was a quick deadline so not much time for sketching. I presented four ideas in the merging figure direction, plus a couple of additional ideas. The art director chose the top left idea.

Since it was a fairly simple composition, I knew the fingers, toes, and the head would be important details, so I sat down with my ink brush pen and some paper and started loosely drawing, experimenting with line and edge quality, and with pencil and marker, and then chose the drawn elements I liked the most.

This loose drawing session helped determine the style of the figure. Usually, I resolve that in the sketch, but in this case, the sketch was rough and quick (short deadline) with few details.

I began with a green field and a yellow figure. To make the figure, I duplicated and distorted the ink drawn body elements to create a full figure and then attached the hands, feet, and head. I cleaned up the head a bit and added an eye and a mouth.

Color was an important part of this concept. I used a three-color palette for the figures, yellow for the main figure and then blue and red for the interior figures. To add some additional visual interest, I separated the figure from the background with a white edge and then added a shadow figure.

The trees represented the environment, the woods, and their arrangement created a background pattern that suggested a larger continuous space.

As a final step, I softened and dulled down the colors a bit.

Unfortunately, the editor decided to go with a photo for the story, but it was a great assignment to work on, even if the art didn't make it to print.