Insect drawings from this year

Artwork © by John Lechner

The year has flown by, and I haven’t posted on this website much. So I wanted to share some of my ink drawings from October (#inktober), when I did a new drawing every day of a different insect. I used the list of daily prompts by artist Jake Parker, which included words like swift, poison, crooked, graceful, all words that can be applied to insects in some way (though often it was a stretch.) 

Some of the drawings were faithful reproductions, some were turned into cartoons or stories. I tried to highlight the main characteristics of each insect, and I learned a lot in the process. Below are just a few of the drawings, which I also posted to my Twitter account

In other news for 2017, I didn’t publish any new books this year, but I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Hopefully I’ll have more news to share soon. I’ve also been posting a lot of nature photos over on my Instagram page, which you can see here

That’s all for now, hope you all have a wonderful and creative new year!

Artwork © by John Lechner

The cinnabar moth caterpillar eats ragwort, absorbing its toxins which make it poisonous to predators. 

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Artwork © by John Lechner

My #inktober drawing for the word underwater, featuring the predaceous diving beetle.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

The rhinoceros beetles fight using their horns like swords.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

My #inktober drawing for the word shy, featuring a couple of roly poly bugs.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

A screech owl is looking for a snack, moths beware! 

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Artwork © by John Lechner

Not only is the Atlas Moth gigantic, its wing designs look like snakes to fool predators (or unsuspecting crickets!) 

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Artwork © by John Lechner

The Australian tiger beetle can run faster than any other insect, including the speedy American cockroach.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

A praying mantis can be fierce and mysterious as it prowls around the garden. 

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Artwork © by John Lechner

For day 18 of #inktober here are a couple dung beetles having a blast.

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Artwork © by John Lechner

Insects who live deep inside caves are nearly blind, like this tiny Troglocladius hajdi

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Artwork © by John Lechner

Wasps and hornets get furious when a bear attacks their nest, but the bear doesn’t seem to mind!

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My Creative Process

Boy in the Woods, watercolor by John Lechner

I was invited by illustrator Amanda Erb to join an author/illustrator blog tour, where people talk about their creative process, then pass it along to a few more folks. You can read Amanda’s post here to learn about her own process. And now, I’ll tell you a bit about mine.

What am I working on currently?

That depends on what day it is, or what time. My scattered brain is currently pushing along a middle-grade novel, an interactive story, a short animated film, and a weekly webcomic. Those are my active projects — if you add the ones on the back burner, I’ve got many stories at various stages, as well as ideas for films and interactive projects that I can’t figure out what to do with right now (I really could use an agent, but that’s another story.)

Here is what’s on my drawing board right now, some early concept art for my new animated film. I can’t say more about it just yet, but details will be coming soon.

Concept art by John Lechner

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t think my work is particularly different, I write about universal themes and my work has a strong connection to nature, but many artists can say this. I think it can be counterproductive to dwell on how “different” your work is, it’s best just to keep moving forward on your own creative journey.  The most important distinguishing feature about anyone’s work is that it’s theirs, it comes from their own creative spirit. I write for myself, and my art is an attempt to express the ideas inside of me.

Here is a shadow puppet show I created last year, based on one of my unpublished fables:

Shadow Puppets by John Lechner

Why do I write and illustrate what I do?

There aren’t many ways to ways to answer this question, either you write for personal expression, or you write because it’s your job. Or both. I do have a full-time job at FableVision Studios where I draw and animate, and that is one part of my work. But I also create stories and pictures and films and songs and puppet shows because I love to do it, and I need to do it.

Ink and watercolor by John Lechner

How does my creative process work?

Nearly everything starts with an idea that I put down in my notebook — a paragraph, a sketch, a fragment. I’ll write as much as necessary to get the idea down. If it has potential, I’ll start a first draft in another notebook. If that goes well, I’ll type the next revision on the computer, then continue revising indefinitely.

Sticky Burr sketches

My art process is the same: initial idea, rough draft, then more rough drafts until it’s solid enough to do final artwork. With a picture book, the text and picture drafts happen alongside each other, each given its own focused attention while always keeping an eye on the other, until they finally come together in their finished forms.

Painting by John Lechner

For my webcomic, after working out the ideas in my notebook, I draw the lines on paper, first with pencil and then a brush with ink. This is scanned into the computer and colored in Photoshop, see below.

Sticky Burr comic process

All this is the physical process, the tangible work that can be seen. What’s more mysterious is the mental process, how an idea takes shape. I think both of these processes happen simultaneously, in parallel, sometimes even at odds with one another. How often are we frustrated that the work on paper doesn’t measure up to what we see in our head? Or how often are we surprised when a happy accident takes an idea in a new direction? The internal and external process are both important, and when they work together the results are magical. That’s why we create.

All this thinking about process has given me some new theories about how creative projects develop, but I’ll save that for another post. Many thanks to Amanda Erb for tagging me in her own process post, I hope you enjoyed reading mine!

And now…

I’d like to pass the paintbrush over to two talented artists, who will write about their own creative process next week.

Book by Lisa HorstmanLisa Horstman is an author, illustrator, designer and sculptor who makes amazing images combining puppets with digital backgrounds. Her new book coming out this fall is called Sabrina, about the misadventures of a flying squirrel. Here is her website, and I encourage you to check out her blog when her post is up.

 

Art by Jessica LopezJessica M. Lopez is an illustrator who creates beautiful ink and watercolor images inspired by fairy tales and nature. She also has two pet geckos, and is an all-around cool person. You can see more of her artwork at her website, and read her own process post next week at her blog.

 

New work, new happenings

Artwork by John Lechner

Lately I’ve been experimenting more with monochromatic paintings, particularly involving trees. This one was done with a brush and ink, then watercolor.

This weekend I’ll be going to the New England regional conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, in Springfield, MA. And on Sunday, I’ll be participating in a local Open Studios event, showing my work. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and say hi!

And if you haven’t seen my web comic lately, I’ve been adding a new panel each week, developing a new longer story. Below is a recent page, showing the original sketch first. You can read the new adventure starting here.

Sticky Burr comic process

That’s all for now, hopefully I’ll have more news to share soon!

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New Sticky Burr website, and other fun stuff

Sticky Burr and FriendsGreetings all, here’s a quick update on what I’ve been doing lately. The biggest news is that I’ve redesigned the Sticky Burr website and started up the webcomic again, which had been on hiatus for a while. There will be a new comic posted each week (usually Sunday night).

The older pages of the comic have been divided up into 3 different adventures. You can read the entire archive from start to finish, or you can jump to one section or the other. In the first adventure, Sticky Burr is captured by the locust king. In the second adventure, Nettle Burr gets lost in the fern forest and encounters some nasty beetles. In the third adventure, snow covers the forest and Sticky Burr meets an unusual visitor from far away. What will the next adventure hold? You’ll just have to read and find out!

Newman School Visit

Last month I also have a great time visiting the Newman Elementary School in Needham, MA. I drew some pictures, read one of my books, and talked about my work. I also presented a miniature puppet show about Sticky Burr and his friends. Thanks to all the students for giving me such a great welcome, especially the ones who made this beautiful sign!

Welcome sign

I will be doing one more appearance this month, I’ll be at the Gorse Mill Holiday Sale the weekend of Dec. 7 & 8, along with many other fine artists. I’ll be selling books and artwork, with lots of free stuff too. Come on down and say hi!  I’ll be there all day Saturday (though I have to leave at 4) and Sunday from noon to 5 PM.

Holiday Sale

 

Comics and crankies – what I’ve been up to

The Garden Monster - process

I haven’t posted here in a while, so I’ve got a few projects to talk about.

This summer, I wrote a short comic for an anthology of monster comics for kids, curated by Bob Flynn and Dan Moynihan, published by Roho of River Bird Comics, in partnership with the Boston Comics Roundtable.  The comic features stories by eleven artists, on the theme of creatures and monsters, and is called “Gulp!”

My story is called “The Garden Monster” and is about a boy who goes out in the garden to trim some vines, but the vines turn out to be more than he bargained for. The story is six pages long, and somewhat inspired by my own gardening adventures.

I drew the comic on paper, first with pencil then ink and brush.  Then I scanned and colored the art in Photoshop. The book was printed in two colors, and I had to do the color separations myself, choosing which pieces of art to render in which colors. Below is more process art with the final product.

The Garden Monster - process

The Garden Monster - process

Below is the cover, illustrated by Bob Flynn:

Gulp! cover

You can learn more about the official comic here and see more photos here. It is currently being sold in some Boston area comic stores.

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Also this year I’ve been experimenting with various kinds of storytelling, and one of these is the scrolling story. This is often called a “crankie” because there is usually a crank to turn the scroll, and you unveil the story as you tell it to a live audience. It’s a very simple, old-fashioned way of storytelling, but it has a unique charm about it, especially in this digital age where everything is electronic.

My first scrolling stage was made out of paper in about an hour. I wanted to create something quick and spontaneous to experiment with the form, and the result can be seen below.

After that, I made a larger crankie out of a shoebox, then a larger one out of foam core. Last month, my sister Nancy and I built one out of wood, for larger audiences. I used it to perform an original story in our local Puppet Slam, an evening of short puppetry-related works. The theme of the slam was Fairy Tales, and I decided to write a new story in the style of a traditional folk tale.

The story is called The Brave Fiddler, about a young girl who sets off on a journey to seek her fortune, carrying only her violin, and who overcomes many dangers before the happy ending. Below is one of the final images, which were painted on 18″ x 24″ paper and taped together into one giant scroll.

Crankie stage

I’m going to write a separate post about this show in more detail, talking about how it was made. For now, I will say that it was an inspiring experience to create a story in this format, and to perform it for a live audience. A scrolling story is a unique combination of art, storytelling and theater, and it really makes you think about your story in a different way.

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I have one more bit of news, I am currently redesigning the Sticky Burr website, and I plan to start writing new comics for the web this fall. Watch for an announcement soon!

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Winter arrives in Burrwood Forest

Sticky Burr waits for snowWinter is here, a time for snow (depending on where you live) and cold temperatures, and a tendency to hibernate until spring. I think it’s a very inspiring season, because it makes you stop and look around, and see things a little more clearly.

Here is a short animation I created to celebrate the arrival of winter, starring Sticky Burr and his friends, who are also featured in two of my books. The music was composed by my brother Tony Lechner, who also wrote the music for the Sticky Burr theme song. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you all have a happy and safe holiday season!

The Prisoner in the Dungeon – a short comic

The Prisoner in the Dungeon, a short comic by John Lechner

Recently I wrote about a new comic I was working on, and I am pleased to present it here in its entirety. It is eight pages long, and was included in a new anthology called Minimum Paige published by the Harvard Book Store.

The story evolved as I wrote it, and although it was conceived as a short comic, I would like to expand it into a full-length book someday. You can read the comic here.

Below are some images showing the process I went through to create the comic. It was a new process for me, using traditional and digital methods. I started with very rough sketches to write the story and map out the pacing.

Rouch sketch

Then I did a more detailed series of sketches to figure out the final layout, pacing and text.

Rough Sketch

I scanned the sketch and brought it into Adobe Illustrator do to the typesetting, and see exactly how much room I would need for all the balloons.

Rough Typesetting

I printed out the sketch with text, and using a light box, traced the final pencil lines on good paper, also refining any details that were missing in the last version. All the word balloons were drawn by hand to fit the text.

Final Pencil

I drew the final ink lines over the pencil using a Micron pen and brush, then erased the pencil.

Final ink

I scanned the ink drawings into Photoshop, painted the shading, then brought the image back into Illustrator, where the type was already set. (I could have also done the typesetting in Photoshop, but this is just the way it happened.)

Final ColoringSo there you have it! It was a new process for me, but I think it worked pretty well, and it was a fun project. I hope you enjoy the final product!

 

New comic, and exhibit

I recently finished a new short comic, which will be coming out this month in a new anthology called Minimum Paige, published by the Harvard Book Store. This comic was a new kind of challenge for me in many ways. It was eight pages long, it was black and white, and it needed to appeal to older readers. I drew it on paper and colored it in Photoshop, which was a new technique for me. It was a learning experience, but I’m happy with the way it came out, and hope to do more projects in this style.

Below are the first two pages. You can click on the images to see them full size. I don’t want to give away the ending just yet, but maybe eventually I’ll post the whole thing. There will be an opening reception for the anthology’s release on Thursday Sept. 22nd at the Harvard Book Store.

The Prisoner in the Dungeon - Page 1 The Prisoner in the Dungeon - Page 2

In other news, I have a painting in the art show Comic Art New England, at Lesley University. It is part of the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) happening next week. My artwork is an original watercolor from my book Sticky Burr: The Prickly Peril. There is an opening reception for the exhibit on Saturday Sept. 17th. More information here.

By the way, I’m still working on my Page-A-Day Flipbook, even though I’m a few weeks behind. I’ll try to post an update soon.

Spiderman the musical: why superheroes have a tough time on Broadway

Spiderman comic 100The new musical Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark has been all over the news lately, more for its production budget and offstage drama than its story or music.  As it makes its official debut this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about why this whole concept has never appealed to me, from a creative standpoint.  I love musicals, and I love superheroes — so wouldn’t a combination of the two be completely awesome?  Or is there something about these two ingredients that just doesn’t fit together, like oil and water?

I’m not saying it could never be done, I’m just saying that the superhero genre has unique characteristics that make it less easily suited to musical theater. Hence the lack of hit musicals based on superheroes.

Spiderman comic 121Musicals can really be based on almost anything, from Tales of the South Pacific to Romeo and Juliet. So what do all successful musicals have in common? Besides good songs, which is a given, they all have a central human conflict. They can all be boiled down to a core struggle between two (or more) characters — Anna and the king, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, the Sharks and the Jets, Galinda and Elphaba.

Superhero stories do have human conflict, but it is played out on a colossal stage, filled with larger-than-life villains and monsters, fireballs and explosions; at least, it is in the new age of Hollywood superheroes, who have become blockbuster techno-stars, leaping digitally from building to building. The longer, more complex stories of the original comics have been condensed and flattened into epic battles that leave little room for characters or ideas. (Who wants those during the summer?)

Spiderman comic 145Not that superhero movies can’t be serious or artistic, but they have all morphed together into a new mutant beast that is redefining superheroes in the public eye, pulverizing the memory of their comic book ancestors.

But this post isn’t about movies, it’s about Broadway musicals.

Yes, Virginia, it is hypothetically possible to make a musical out of a comic book. But here is the trick – it must be written in such a way that it would work without costumes, without flying, without any special effects. In other words, the story and characters must stand on their own. Despite all those chorus lines, musical theater is really about character and emotion more than spectacle, and upsetting that balance has destroyed many a producer’s dreams.

To work on stage, the story must be stripped down to its bare essence. Ironically, costumes and epic battles are such an integrated part of the superhero genre, it’s nearly impossible to extract them without losing the essence of the genre, and there’s the rub. The things we love about superheroes are what make them an awkward fit for the stage.

Would the movie version of Spiderman work on an emotional level without costumes or special effects? Maybe the first half, probably not the second half. Would the new Broadway production of Spiderman work without costumes or special effects? That is the seventy-million dollar question, and that is what will determine whether this super-musical soars or plummets to the streets of Manhattan.

‘Nuff said!