Evolution of Goats – A New Illustration Style

I have written and created sample illustrations for a new picture book called The Rockabilly Goats Gruff. It’s the story of three southern, rock’n roll goats trying to get across the bayou to a gig they’re playing at the Shimmy Shack. However, under the bridge lurks a grumpy old troll who doesn’t like the ruckus the goats make with their hotrods and instruments.

The above illustration is the first sample I did. My agent and my editor at Hyperion really liked the story and worked long and hard with me on getting the manuscript just right. They appreciated the image above but thought it was too busy, sophisticated, and overwrought for the young audience. They liked the simplicity of my little storyboard sketches and asked if I could try something similar to them.

The above is what I gave them. This is the kind of stylized work I did when I first graduated from college and was looking at Lane Smith and Steve Johnson’s illustrations. My agent and editor liked the addition of white space and the simplifying of shapes, but thought I needed to push further and leave my comfort zone.


So I left my comfort zone and acrylics behind and did this series of character studies of Billy Lee, the youngest goat. I started with the fully rendered, fully detailed, acrylic goat on the left and started using watercolors and simplifying. I tried  introducing non-local color by outlining the character. I was told close but not quite. At this point my editor, who fully supported the book, gently told me to shop it around elsewhere. He couldn’t convince the higher ups, art director, or marketing to acquire this project. I got the blues. It’s hard reinventing yourself mid-career especially with everything else in the industry changing. All of my newspaper and magazine clients have been scaling back or disappearing and all of my book publishing art directors keep leaving their positions. Wiener Wolf seems to be quite successful, but I need another kid’s book to get picked up, now!

Soldiering on, I went big. I broke out a large sheet of watercolor paper and watercolor crayons and got loose with them. This is the result. I’m happy with it and my agent thinks it is very fun and marketable. Now to find a publisher!

These are new character studies in the new style. I had fun with them, especially their body shapes. Billy Bob, Billy Joe, and Billy Lee sure are handsome fellas. And below, they are rocking out. Go, Daddy-O, go!



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