Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Christmas card

When Jeannine and I shared our first Christmas in Dover, NH, I drew our first Christmas card, a tradition I kept up with for around ten years (I've posted one or two of them on this blog). As time went by, I moved from drawing the cards to creating them with various computer graphics programs like KPT Bryce and Photoshop. And for the last few years, I've just taken some wintry photos and tweaked them a little bit in Photoshop to make them more Christmas-y.

They were fine, and served as decent Christmas cards, but I felt then and now that something was lacking. There was something about actually drawing the card that brought me closer to the holiday somehow… and I'd lost that. I'm not completely sure why -- quite possibly it was in part due to laziness -- but in any case, this year I wanted things to be different. This year I wanted to go back to drawing our card.

And not only that, I wanted to try to recapture some of the -- well, let me be blunt and call it what it was -- wackiness of some of those cards from past years. I recall things like "The Christmas Snail", a drawing which depicted a slightly anthropomorphic Christmas tree riding a huge snail on a beach.

So after I told Jeannine of my intentions, and she enthusiastically approved, I started thinking… and within a few hours an idea came to me in the form of an image of an octopus standing on its head on the ocean floor, its tentacles twisted into a rough approximation of the triangular shape of a Christmas tree, and holding in those tentacles, at the very top of the "tree", a starfish.

I got to work and within a short time had sketched out the idea.

Over the course of the next few days, I inked it with a variety of black brush markers.

Around  this time, I asked Jeannine if she would be willing to write a poem to go along with the art, and to my delight, she agreed. So while she was musing about that and trying out different rhymes, I had to decide how to color the piece. I'd thought about doing the colors in Photoshop, but decided I wanted to keep more of a hand-drawn look (though I knew I would probably tweak the art in Photoshop). So I got out my new box of Pitt brush markers -- I think there are sixty-four different colors in it -- and got to work. This was the result.

I liked it okay, and Jeannine thought it was fine, but for some reason, I wasn't totally happy with it. I decided to try a second version, this time using watercolors over the black and white line art. (I think I was inspired in this not only by that Jerry Pinkney show I talked about a few blog posts back, but also by seeing some of the beautiful watercolor art Jim Lawson has been doing recently.)

I don't have a lot of skills in this medium, but I figured I should just jump in and try it. And it went more easily than I expected, and I liked the results.

Now I had to put a background into the image, and rather than try to carefully mask out the image and attempt to do a watercolor background, I decided to cheat a little bit and use my computer to create something that I could play around with until I got the look I was going for… and after a few tries, I was satisfied with this one.

By this time, Jeannine had finished her poem. I made a few suggestions, of which I think she may have used one, and she tweaked it a bit further. This is the version that ended up inside the card. (You may have to click on it to get a bigger, more readable version.)

(Here's the poem in plain text in case the above is too difficult to read -- it isn't the clearest font, though I like the shapes of the letters.)

"Some say reindeer can't fly to rooftops

and holidays don't happen in the seas.
They say the sky is up, the ocean down,
and octopi can't be Christmas trees.

But there's more than one side to a story
and more than one side to a tree. An octopus
can twinkle. And special stars can swim.

We wish you many merry days with fishy lyricism!"

And because I was a little concerned that my original idea (that of an octopus pretending to be a Christmas tree) might not come across as clearly as I wanted, and also because I wanted to make sure that Jeannine got her due credit for the poem, I put the following on the back of the card.
It took more work than the cards I've done these past few years, but I have to say that it was much more satisfying than all of those. And I believe it marks the first (though I hope not the last) time that Jeannine and I have really collaborated in a words-and-pictures fashion. -- PL


  1. This is awesome! What a cool way to celebrate the Holidays with your family and share your wonderful talents.

    Happy Holidays Peter, Jeannine, and Emily! From the entire Turtle Doc team. And all the best in the new year!


  2. You know, the idea of using water color with ink never occored to me for some reason. After seeing this I may have to try it.

    Also while I'm at it, I'll add that I'm a college student working to become a secondary art education major at the moment, and I just wanted to say that despite the fact that I rarely comment on your blog, your work you've shown here has been inspirational to me.

    Happy Holidays!

  3. This is really a return to form for you, I suppose both in the Christmas card business, but also in the highly detailed illustration style we've all grown accustomed to seeing from you. Definitely my favorite piece of new work you've posted on here. Keep up the good work!

    Oh, and definitely keep up the collaborative effort, it actually kind of shocks me you've been married so long and haven't already tried to work on a project together before now!

  4. Turned out nice, I thought the original colored one look great as well, I just thought it needed some blue ocean water behind which I saw later you did with the final version =)

  5. This is a unique work and the card is much more special than something Hallmark would do for the two simple reasons its made instead of bought and its made by the the husband/wife team of Peter and Jeanine.

    The octopus is also unique. I doubt there is one depicted on any other card! :)

  6. I received my card. Thank you. I love the stamp!

  7. This is a really cool post!

    It's great to see you starting to draw again!
    It looks really good!

    On a side note, have you ever thought about creating anything (comic-wise) with your wife? I think that would be cool. Your wife could write, and you could purely draw! I think that would make an awesome collaboration! And it would be something non-turtles, so you wouldn't have that stress! Lol!

  8. " Dinoff said...

    On a side note, have you ever thought about creating anything (comic-wise) with your wife? I think that would be cool. Your wife could write, and you could purely draw! I think that would make an awesome collaboration! And it would be something non-turtles, so you wouldn't have that stress! Lol!"

    We have talked about it several times. THere are two main problems. First, Jeannine -- while she can appreciate a well-done comic book or graphic novel -- is just not really a fan of the form.

    But second -- and probably more important to this question -- Jeannine is not that into collaborating on projects involving writing. She prefers to work alone... and I certainly can't fault her for that, as she has produced some wonderful things in that way. I'm hoping our small collaboration on this card could be the beginning of a change in that stance, but only time will tell. -- PL

  9. "usagiguy said...
    I received my card. Thank you. I love the stamp!"

    Thanks, Stan... but what did you think of the CARD?!

    By the way, which stamp was it? -- Pete

  10. Splendid artwork on this card—very good use of colors. I hope eventually there'll be more Laird-drawn comics, whatever ideas you come up with.


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  12. I was searching for the perfect art for our office Christmas card. It's a challenge, since our mascot is an octopus.... Are your cards and/or your art available for sale? Regardless, thank you for sharing both the visual and written artistry & whimsy! (I don't have time to research on my own at the moment.)