The internet face space of designer, illustrator, type designer, writer, and humorist Terry Biddle.

In the first installment of the “Process” section of my new site, I’ll document a current project that I’m working on. To be honest, this is uncharted territory for me as I don’t normally “give away my secrets.” But seriously, it’s not like I’m revealing the secret recipe for Popeye’s Fried Chicken or anything. If you happen to know it, though…hook a brova up… nomsane?… (Pst!) CALL ME. 😉

Back to the task at hand… I am currently designing a book. Much to my surprise, the client was interested in using illustration for the cover. The design work I’m normally tasked with is very conservative in nature, hence my surprise. So in addition to the task of the actual book design and text layout, I would be doing a cover illustration.

I don’t normally do both illustration and design at the same time…at least not on this level, so I found myself in the “harder to do than you think” position of having to “Art Direct” myself.

I discussed the concepts with the client and came up with two “tight” sketches (for me that is). The client wanted to convey a person in their office being interrupted. So I worked up two sketches for him with which to build the final.

The first…

From the “interruptee’s” perspective. The second…

The “interrupter’s” perspective. The client chose this particular option. Again with the honesty, this was not my favorite choice. 🙂

And here’s where I dive in depth into the actual failed experiment. Since I actually use a lot of illustration where I work as a designer, I was wondering if my style is being seen as “too cartoony” and not “artistic” enough. Meaning, more texture, more painterly. That tends to be what most decision makers gravitate towards. So, I have admittedly been feeling a little self-conscious about my illustration style.

I actually do paint, mainly in oil, but I’ve since developed a particular illustration style which is structurally at odds with how I paint. I have a painterly, realistic style of oil painting, my illustration style…not so much. Now, I can paint with acrylics, but I don’t use them as often as I’ve used oil paint.

I recently bought a new acrylic paint set to try to bridge the gap between my two ways of working. The problem I run into with acrylic paints is that the translucency of the paint varies greatly and I never know how the paint will react to the paper once I start using it. On this particular occasion it wasn’t working the way I wanted it to. I like my paint to be as opaque as possible.

To add the texture and the artistic element I was looking for I decided to paint the image.

Um, yeah…I was not feeling this. It didn’t feel like me. Taking a step back (and playing Art Director) it didn’t feel like a Terry Biddle illustration. The colors weren’t there, it just didn’t feel right. I also felt much of my inking was clumsy. I wonder also deep down, since this wasn’t my first choice, whether that might have been sitting in my subconscious. Yeah, I don’t really need to go here

So, what to do? This illustration could not be used as is. It just wasn’t up to snuff. So…I decided to use it as an underpainting, like I normally do with oil painting. But this time the canvas would be Photoshop.

Luckily, I was able to salvage my original ink lines (since they were dark enough). I isolated that on it’s on individual layer.

I did end up using the “imperfect” nature of the paint shadow outlines from the original painting in the final. What we ended up with is this…

I am happy with this version. I still have to crop the cover and add the typography, but this is pretty much the finished illustration. A far cry from where we started. This feels like I did it. At a later date I’ll show the cover and full book after it’s published (at this time sometime in August.)

This is my style, this is what I do, so cartoony, or comic booky…I should just embrace it! Do any other illustrators struggle with this I wonder?

Thanks for letting me share my personal screw up! See you again soon! 🙂




  1. Screamin Lou Rawls #
    April 26, 2010

    I have the secret to Popeye’s fried chicken. Meet me in the alley behind 1400 Irving Street for the goods.

  2. April 26, 2010

    Holla! BTW, this isn’t the “Lou Rawls” that mumbles incoherently in front of my apartment building is it?

  3. Screamin Lou Rawls #
    April 26, 2010

    Why yes it is! I type much better than I mumble.

  4. April 30, 2010

    Great recovery! So glad that you were able to salvage the work and do something really nice with it.

    As far as “natural media” goes, for opacity and painterliness, nothing beats good quality gouache as far as I’m concerned.

    No, I have no recipe for Popeye’s, but if you’re ever in the mood for hummus …

  5. May 1, 2010

    Thanks, Michael!

    Ah, yes! Gouache! It has been a long time since I’ve used it. The colors can’t be beat! I might pick up a new set, as my old set has dried out by now.

    As for hummus…well, you might need to pass on that recipe! I am often in the mood (for babaganoush as well)! 😉

  6. June 12, 2010

    Great post!

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