A Painting without a good drawing behind it is like a body without a skeleton, like a jellyfish of of water. Well, almost. We usually don’t look at each other’s bones, but they are there underneath, forming what we see about a person. They are the unseen essence that gives form to life. Same thing with a painting.

This is the final pencil sketch for the book cover.

Pencil sketch From Moon of the Wild Pigs, by Jean Craighead George. 
My first illustrated kids book. Final painting is below.

Last January I had the pleasure of a studio visit from Karen Nelson Hoyle, Curator of the Kerlan Children’s Literature Research Collections at the University of Minnesota, my alma mater. She was interested in acquiring the correspondence and sketches from books that I illustrated by some authors already in their collection.

One of these files was from Moon of the Wild Pigs, by Jean Craighead George. I illustrated this special edition in 1990 and it was one of teh main reasons I quit my full time graphic design job at the University of Arizona to become a full-time illustrator.

We had a nice chat, but digging out these old drawings did something else for me. Why is it that the rough studies and sketches that lead up to a painting are often more interesting than the final work itself? Maybe it’s because that’s where all the juice is. They are records of that mysterious creative process: researching the subject, feeling it out, ideas are tried out, compositions carefully crafted, things deleted…

Sketches are often not seen or valued, but they are the parent, or the seed from which a final painting grows. And probably other final paintings could come from each sketch as well. They are not meant for anyone but the artist and are rarely seen.

These sketches were final pencils, compiled on tracing paper from many smaller elements. I sent these to Harper Collins for approval before starting the color art. The line work is very accurate, yet I still made small corrections as I traced these sketches onto my final paper on a light table.

The final art was created using a combination of colored pencils and pastel dust–ground up chalk pastels applied in layers with a brush and lots of fixative. I use to have to wear a gas mask while I was working in this technique.

Some of these pencil sketches have been in the dark for 15 years or more. I scanned some of them for my own record before giving them away.

A Spiny lizard. I got to handle this handsome dude back stage at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.


I had forgotten this: I flipped the image when I transfered it to my paper for color work.


This piece was deleted by the editors at sketch stage. I remember hiking up a canyon in the Tucson Mountains at night after a big rain, with a camera and flash to catch these Spadefoot toads mating in the short-lived pools. I still think about finishing a painting from this one.


I didn’t draw every hair here because I would do that on the final–all I needed was the outlines. I traveled to a ranch where the Game and Fish Department had some orphan  javelinas in a pen. I got to pick up one of the babies. They look cute, but it’s surprising how tough and wiry their hair is. 

I always want to touch what I’m going to draw if I can. If it’s edible or drinkable, I’ll taste my subject. I didn’t eat any wild pigs however.

The boar welcomes the new baby to the clan.

2 Comments

  • Paul, while roaming around the web looking for sketches of the Sonoran Desert (where I will soon visit (Tuscon)), I came across your website. I liked the little bit of art thereon, and I was struck by your name (and the UMN connection) since the Mirochas in St Paul have been friends for decades. You must be of that clan…?

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