Seth Boyes joined the Dickinson County News staff in March of 2017. In his first week at the DCN, he covered a train derailment near Graettinger. The tankers carrying ethanol burst into flames. Seth's photo of the event won first place for Best Breaking News photo at the 2018 Iowa Newspaper Association Convention and Trade Show. Since, Seth has won nearly a dozen awards for writing, photography and multimedia content. Seth graduated from Iowa State University in 2009 with a degree in Integrated Studio Arts. His original cartoons run regularly in the Spencer Daily Reporter and the DCN. Both he and his wife Janet hail from Clear Lake and have come to expect summers to be full of the hustle and bustle of tourists and visitors.
It's always just a little bit of a push to get a cartoon drawn while the normal news week still needs to be fed. This week, amid all the COVID-19 updates, cancellations and byline stories, I found some time while we were putting pages together Tuesday night to execute this simple little idea. Iowa had 124 confirmed cases of coronavirus when I began this panel, and it had 145 cases when I was finished. It had 179 cases the next day. I personally love the transitional seasons each year, but this one is the worst. It's not the rain or the cloudy skies we've had, it's the recommended social distancing (which I'm sure will make reader's three decades from now scratch their head and wonder what the term means) that's keeping us all isolated from one another both outdoors and inside. It's a case of casual terror every day (It's strange how the amount of traffic hasn't changed that much, but I've become much more aware of when it dies down). Fortunately, there are more and more local stories of people doing good during some of these hard times – teachers connecting with students, churches making sure the elderly aren't feeling forgotten, food banks adjusting their procedures to make sure people can still eat. Still, the spring is going to be clothed in COVID-19 concerns this year, and robin may have some competition as the official sign of spring.
I tried something new this time around. I knew I wouldn't have much time to do the cartoon while the layout was being prepped and proofed, so instead of capturing the panel periodically in Photoshop for later use as animation cells, I recorded my entire screen as I drew and made a time lapse video of about 80 minutes of footage (if you're astoundingly acute, you might be able to see me check my email and the live feed from the Senate floor in my internet window).
The idea was pretty simple. I sketched and blocked out the color of the piece before texturing basically the entire work. As opposed to most of my work, I didn't use a heavy ink outline for the form. In some ways it was quicker not to, and it also helped sell the texture of the robin. With renderings like this, color choice is pretty important for shading and highlight. The lighter shades of the robins breast are more orange and yellow than they are white. While straight white and a few shades of brown were used for other portions of the body.
It flies by quickly in the video, but it was actually the legs that tripped me up the most. Their position looked good in my sketch, but not when I blocked in the color. I changed them a couple times, and then slowed down the footage a bit to show how I decided to fix the situation by adjusting the angle of the branch and the feet. It's not always obvious to folks who are unfamiliar with Photoshop, but drawing in layers allows a pretty unique brand of freedom artistically speaking. In this case, it let me make changes to just a portion of my composition while leaving the rest of the rendered bird (which made up about half the work by the by) completely untouched.
From there, it was a matter of finishing the background. I'm still a fan of scatterbrush clouds, as exemplified in some of Steve Breen's work. Using an cool palette to contrast the warmth of the robin was the obvious choice. I did work a few other colors into the mix to give the background some texture. As an unanticipated bonus, the texture also kind of reads like some microbial petri dish.