Sketchy Pencil Point: Part l – Confessions from a Rejected Illustration

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I absolutely love this illustration. I think it’s fabulous, yet at the same time, a complete failure. In the end, it turned out okay, at least for me, and to a certain degree, for everyone else. I’ll try to explain. In this issue of the school newspaper, The Lowell, there is an opinion article about the Lowell Confessions page, a column where anonymous Lowell students can post their various struggles and thoughts regarding their student life. Some of these posts are quite silly and serve as a great source of entertainment. Some of these post are dark and twisted confessions from suffering students. The piece offered an opinion about about how the admins of the confessions page should follow up on these posts and find ways to help the students.

A graphic was needed for this page, and that’s where my illustration comes in. The editor of the article and myself went back and forth with drafts and ideas. I did some quick sketching on the spot and then I made more sketches. Finally, I did a few legit and not-completely-sloppy ones before slapping on some quick coloring so I would have something concrete to show others. After going through this process, a decision was finalized and I proceeded to dig into the final illustration.


The Idea

Now, back to the idea behind the illustration and how I successfully –  and unsuccessfully – managed to convert ideas from chatting with my editor into something a bit bigger and more complicated. Originally, the editor of this article wanted something that showed a struggling student in front of his computer screen. My editor and I concluded that a demon lurking behind the student (in the form of his shadow) was the best way to go. I suggested that this demon should bloom out of the text of the page, something to make the illustration the root of the page (and the visual source of all the text). I wanted it to look as if the text was part of this demon, or that the demon fueled and gave rise to the text. The idea seemed cool to me.


Afterwards, I played around and experimented with how I wanted the dude, the shadow and the desk to be positioned. For the student, I finally settled with a three-quarter view from the back, so that the viewer would get a good look at a portion of his face while as he reads the computer screen.


As for the shadow demon, or the student’s own demon, I wanted it to reach out to the side, along the ground, appearing long and drawn out. This would’ve made for the best composition in my opinion, and I stand by that even today, after completing, submitting, taking back, and neatly storing the finished product in a folder. But this also implies that the drawing would be sideways, an inefficient usage of space for the paper. Our school newspaper magazine (which is either a magazine made of newspaper, or a newspaper trying to be a magazine) is small, with no space for me to do a giant illustration that would only be suitable for a spread. Besides, where would the text go? On the next spread?


Hence, I settled for a different composition, the one currently resides neatly on the top of this page. This is a composition that I like, hate and slightly regret. Sometimes I wished that I switched the shadow to the other side, instead of having to stretch it out from the right side (the side with the computer screen). Life would’ve been so much easier, and perhaps made the illustration more fitting for the article. But I didn’t, and I am somewhat glad about the decision I made. Partially because it wouldn’t be so interesting considering the events that followed. And definitely because it would not have been interesting enough to deserve such a long post. It might have actually been published in the paper though.



Two problems stemmed from this decision, or at least took a huge part in causing these problems. First, it looks as if the demon is coming straight from the computer, not the dude. This misled everyone, including the editor and myself, into thinking that the theme for the illustration was cyberbullying. This ‘everyone’ included the advisor and the reporters of the article. Then there’s the problem with the theme of the illustration itself. Not only was it too ‘dark’, but the drawing also seemed to convey a different message than the piece. In other words, it was a great illustration for the wrong article! This was my fault of course, especially because I never read the article in the first place.


Believe it or not, this wasn’t the end of this illustration. More ideas from my Journalism peers and the advisor came pouring in so I began reworking the picture in photoshop. Given that my photoshop skills are limited, I didn’t make much progress with our newly acquired Wacom Bamboo pad. The original idea for revising the illustration included shifting the shadow to the other side, so as to avoid confusion with monsters from the computer (the ‘cyberbully’ effect). But that didn’t work and neither did adding some quotes from the article.

After actually reading the article, I suggested the addition of an angel reaching through to the student, either from the computer screen or from the side. This would portray the ‘help’ that the troubled students would receive through Lowell Confessions, an aspect of the article that I didn’t include in my original. Once again, the editor and myself agreed to use the illustration after this alteration. But once again, the advisor did not agree. He raised many questions about possible interpretations of miniscule details, far too many for me to fully comprehend and remember, so the illustration was rejected.


The Final Product

In the end, I followed through with my idea of adding the angel, since I thought that would help improve the illustration, regardless of whether or not it would be used with the article. Since that was my intention, I no longer felt obligated to bend my illustration to the limiting demands of a newspaper. I decided to complete the drawing without centering my focus on the message that the illustration should convey. Instead I simply drew what I thought looked best and left the interpretation up to the viewer.


The demon shot was a definite failure for the paper but the final version really worked. It had traces of the original message accompanied by the warmth from an unexpected guest, but honestly, I messed up a little on the angel’s face. When you take a close look, that little fellow looks more like a creepy clown than a saintly messenger.

Await Part Two. The journey continues.


Illustration and text by Stephan Xie

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