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Childhood: Suddenly It’s Over And You’ve Got A Teenager

August 13, 2013

I illustrated an essay called The Empty-Nest Yard Sale. It was for The Rumpus, which features writers who tackle a wide variety of subjects.

As the title suggests, it was about children growing up and passing out of childhood.
The author was a father faced with a familiar challenge: trying to communicate with his teenage son. At one point he asks his son whether he’s engaging in certain behaviors: smoking, drinking, drugs, sex.

father teenage son tough questions talk with father asking about smoking drinking drugs sex, with images of cigarette, whiskey bottle, hypodermic needle, male female symbols in dialog balloons

Here’s a close-up. It was a good chance for me to experiment with skin tones and related lighting effects.

You’ll notice the dad’s hair has gradated color indicating reflected light. The son’s hair, however, is solid yellow. Experience has taught me that “gradated yellows” are usually ineffective, and tend to weaken an image. There are exceptions, but I usually leave yellows alone.

It’s also interesting to note that a single simple line makes a very effective pouty lip!

detail image for father teenage son tough questions talk with father asking about smoking drinking drugs sex, with images of cigarette, whiskey bottle, hypodermic needle, male female symbols in dialog balloons

Perhaps the most poignant moment in the essay occurs when the teenage son decides
to have a yard sale and sell his large collection of stuffed animals. It signals that his childhood is at an end. I came up with an image that literally spells out that fact.stuffed animal plush toys on yard sale table with big empty nest in background for article about teenager selling all his stuffed animals signaling an end to childhood

I used a “camel’s hair” Photoshop brush to color the empty nest. It produces a pleasantly streaky line that simulates the woven texture of an actual nest.

A good illustration makes things easy for the viewer. A key point here is helping the reader see the word CHILDHOOD. It’s trickier than it sounds.

It means keeping the letters uniformly spaced, and in a fairly straight line. Also: a couple of the letters had to be fitted into very small spaces. The final effect seems pretty natural, but in real life, of course, shirt images and text are often obscured by wrinkles.

detail image for stuffed animal plush toys on yard sale table with big empty nest in background for article about teenager selling all his stuffed animals signaling an end to childhood

The essay ends on a hopeful note. The father shows his son how to poach eggs. They talk while they wait for the timer to go off.

Finally, they butter toast and slide on the eggs. The son stabs his yolk with a fork, and the father, in an inspired moment, does the same.

Male bonding. It can be a messy business. It can also be a beautiful thing.

poached eggs on toast with stabbed yolks running off plates and merging together to form love heart for article about father and teenage son bonding over shared breakfast meal

One of the Photoshop brush settings is Dissolve. It applies color in grainy specks, as opposed to a smooth stroke. You can also adjust the Spacing and Scattering settings, and change the brush shape to vary this effect.

I’d never used the Dissolve setting before. I learned it makes great toast!

detail image of poached eggs on toast with stabbed yolks running off plates and merging together to form love heart for article about father and teenage son bonding over shared breakfast meal

Have you ever witnessed an event and thought: my little boy or girl is growing up?

Do you stab your poached eggs with a fork, or do you let them “live” till the last possible moment??

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48 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2013 1:57 PM

    Brilliant as always ! πŸ™‚
    And the tip about gradated yellow is very interesting ! πŸ™‚

    Like

    • August 14, 2013 9:42 AM

      Thank you, my dear Vandy! I couldn’t help but notice that the smiley faces in your comment are solid yellow, not gradated yellow– a very prudent choice, in my professional opinion… : P

      Seeing you is always a delight! : )

      Like

  2. August 13, 2013 2:15 PM

    AAHH! Your toast has made me want to go and make some!! Great post!! : )

    Like

    • August 14, 2013 9:47 AM

      Thank you, Annie! I embedded some of those new aroma-pixels in the toast illo. You must have smelled them, that’s why you were seized with that sudden compulsion to make toast. Am I making all this up? Well, yes… : )

      Your cheery presence is always a delight– thanks as ever for your kind support!

      Like

  3. August 13, 2013 2:18 PM

    Excellent, Mark. The teen’s expression is priceless. Even the stuffed animals are sad [well, with the exception of the last D which is …laughing at the boy!]. And the bonding in the last one works so well. Bravo & chapeau, my friend!
    πŸ™‚

    Like

    • August 14, 2013 9:56 AM

      Thank you, my dear Marina! I often have that same pouty expression on my face, especially when I haven’t had my first cup of coffee… : P

      Now that you mention it, that last toy does look like a bit of a wisenheimer. My personality must have rubbed off on him… : )

      As for the toast, I guess that was more of a yolk than a joke… : )

      A tip of the chapeau from a great artist like yourself means a lot– thank you, my friend!!

      Like

  4. August 13, 2013 2:59 PM

    Fascinating to hear the technical process, beyond the thoughts that go into the cartoons!

    Like

    • August 14, 2013 10:13 AM

      I appreciate your appreciation, sir, and I’m very happy you enjoyed that aspect of the post. I always enjoy hearing some of the details behind other people’s creations, and I try to remember to share some of my own. I also try to remember to keep it short, because it’s always embarrassing when readers’ eyes glaze over… : )

      Your kind support is most sincerely appreciated, SeΓ±or Handsome! : )

      Like

  5. August 13, 2013 6:19 PM

    I loved this illustration, Mark. It does bring back memories when my two little girls weren’t so little any more. (They did keep a couple of their stuffed animals and dolls, though.) Sigh. Now my grandchildren are growing up. I will just have to savor this experience to the fullest while I can.

    Thanks for the memories.

    Like

    • August 15, 2013 11:45 AM

      What a lovely comment, Judy– thank you very much. There is something about seeing childhood slip away that conjurers up all sorts of emotions. I suppose it’s like so many other things– we never appreciate them till they’re gone.

      Funny– I’d never considered that grandchildren represent a second chance to enjoy childhood. As we grow older, we seem to develop a keener appreciation for its special innocence. We also seem to forget all the “hard knocks” it so often involves! Ah, well. One thing I’m sure of– you’re a top-of-the-line grandmaw!!

      Thanks again for a great comment.

      Like

      • August 15, 2013 7:24 PM

        Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mark. I do think that being a Grammy is a 2nd chance to get it right. (Remember Bill Cosby’s line about his parents spoiling his own children: “These are not my parents. These are not the people I grew up with.”) Yeah! That kind of grandparent. πŸ˜†

        Like

        • August 20, 2013 11:27 AM

          Ha! The Cos always had a way with exasperation. I know you’re a wunnaful grammy, my dear Judy, and I’m convinced you did OK the first time around, too. : )

          Like

  6. August 14, 2013 3:18 AM

    Things are a bit raw on these subjects for me right now, Mark, but I promise I will be back to my witty, sporting form soon.

    Like

    • August 15, 2013 11:54 AM

      Memories of childhood can be pretty raw, Jak. I can certainly remember my share of painful moments. Sometimes I’m wise enough to remember that all we really have is the present moment, and we must do our best with that.

      Always good to see you, even when you’re only at 99% of your usual witty, sporting form! : )

      Like

  7. August 14, 2013 4:29 AM

    Reblogged this on Scope Freak.

    Like

  8. August 14, 2013 12:27 PM

    Great illustration! The pouty lips – you crack me up – like the Baroque painter. On a first glimpse it looks so elaborate, then, when you come closer it’s just a brushstroke.

    It’s amazing how quick these brads grow πŸ˜‰ The most weird thing for me was sitting next to my son while cardriving. Kid’s doesn’t drive cars!!!

    Like

    • August 15, 2013 12:01 PM

      Tutti!! How lovely of you to suddenly appear and spread your special brand of joy! A day without Tutti, is like a day without sunshine, as the weatherman likes to say… : )

      Yes, I’m a master when it comes to pouty lips. I stand in front of the mirror and practice for hours… : P

      Your son is driving a car now?? But he’s just a baby!! I fear a policeman will be giving him a ticket for underage driving, and he’ll be giving you a lecture for being an overly indulgent mother!! Oh, well. I’m sure you’ll be able to talk your way out of it… : )

      A great pleasure to see you, my dear Tutti!

      Like

      • September 18, 2013 5:21 AM

        Hey Mark, you truly understand a womens nature! To disappear sometimes gives me a secretful aura πŸ˜‰

        Like

        • September 20, 2013 12:51 PM

          My dear Tutti!! You have suddenly popped up out of nowhere, and brightened my universe! It’s amazing, the effect you have… : )

          Yes, I understand a woman’s nature. I can see into her soul. I’m probably the only man who has this ability. And if you believe that, I have a can of Brazil nuts grown in the Black Forest I want to sell you… : )

          Many thanks to you and your mysterious secretive aura for visiting my blog!! : )

          Like

  9. August 14, 2013 3:16 PM

    Great post Mr. Armstrong, or should I say toast!

    You certainly keep delivering the goods my good man, keep it up!!

    Like

    • August 15, 2013 12:07 PM

      That ain’t a blog post, it’s a blog toast!! HAW!! Only The Genius Of Murray is capable of such witticisms– thank’ee, my dear fellow!

      Buoyed by your support, I shall endeavor to keep delivering the burnt toast and other charred delights! : P

      Like

  10. August 15, 2013 7:06 AM

    This is too close to home Mark, my boys are 18 and 15. The yard sale is so poignant and you’ve illustrated it beautifully. Luckily, my boys have kept a few of their soft toys πŸ™‚

    Like

    • August 15, 2013 12:15 PM

      The lads are 18 and 15? Ouch! That did hit close to home for you, Jen! Ah, childhood. It does have a habit of slipping away, and we must enjoy it while we can. The wonder of a child is a glorious thing, and hopefully we can keep a bit of that in our hearts…

      Oh, dear. I’m starting to wax poetic. Time for another cup of coffee!!

      Always delightful to see you, Jen, thanks for that lovely comment! : )

      Like

  11. August 16, 2013 4:34 PM

    No one can achieve a 10/10, right. So 9.99/10 for this one Mark. πŸ™‚

    Like

    • August 20, 2013 11:31 AM

      Ha! My dear TT, you done bowled me over with that one. I’m something of an expert when it comes to imperfection, but nobody ever made me feel so good about it before!!

      Thank you for one of the most delightful comments I have ever received. : )

      Like

  12. August 17, 2013 3:41 PM

    I love this one, Mark! The “story” of child becoming adult with parent. The garage sale of stuffed toy animals and eggs male bonding..just great stuff. Funny with a tiny tinge of poignancy that we all know since we are each a daughter or son.

    Like

    • August 20, 2013 11:51 AM

      Thank you, Jean, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and all the images.

      Interesting– I hadn’t thought about the poached egg bonding as a “child becoming adult with a parent.” You’re right, that element is there: what was previously only a child-parent relationship has moved toward an adult-adult relationship.

      I also like your point about us all being sons and daughters. No childhood is perfect, but most of us are lucky enough to have some happy memories. They do come rushing back sometimes with special poignancy…

      Thanks again for that lovely comment, Jean! : )

      Like

  13. August 17, 2013 3:43 PM

    And that simple pout line is an excellent discovery!

    Like

    • August 20, 2013 11:55 AM

      Ha! Wiser souls than I have pointed out that cartooning and illustration are the art of knowing what to leave out. Sometimes a single line is all you need– perhaps that’s why so many of us are good at pouting!! : )

      Like

  14. August 20, 2013 6:35 AM

    The yard sale skit is too funny!

    Like

    • August 20, 2013 12:11 PM

      Yes, it’s odd how some people can make you laugh just by sitting in a big lump. I have some relatives like that… : )

      Nice to see you again, thanks for your comment, I sincerely appreciate your support!

      Like

  15. August 20, 2013 12:54 PM

    Great blog, very interesting to think about a story or article, etc. from the perspective of the illustrator who has to think about how and when to capture the story in an image. And to answer your question – I stab my yokes early on so I can soak them up in the bread, delicious!

    Like

    • August 22, 2013 9:13 AM

      Many thanks for visiting my blog, and I sincerely appreciate your kind comment.

      You stab your eggs early– excellent! You can’t stab them too soon, IMO– gotta get them soaking into the bread straightaway! Do you ever make that “Psycho” sound when you stab them? I think it makes them taste better… : P

      Nice to meet you! : )

      Like

  16. August 20, 2013 1:36 PM

    Beautiful! I feel as if I read the essay along with this post. Plus, That toast made me hungry πŸ™‚

    Like

    • August 22, 2013 9:16 AM

      Thank you, my dear Malvika– what a lovely comment. Always delightful to see you here.

      The toast made you hungry? Ha! I hope you rewarded yourself with a hot buttered plateful– you deserve it after visiting my blog!! : )

      Like

  17. August 22, 2013 3:01 PM

    This is a classic my friend, I peeked inside the mind of a genius, my son is sliding towards his teenage years and I can’t help but dread the inevitable. I love this, I’ll invite my husband to take a peek too!
    Blessings. πŸ™‚

    Like

    • August 23, 2013 3:08 PM

      The mind of a genius?? Goodness me, I really had no idea! I’ll have to take better care of it, take it out and dust it once in awhile… : P

      Thank you for that, er, mind-boggling compliment, my dear Seyi! Yes, it’s bittersweet to see childhood draw to a close, but every age has its charms– even the teen-age! And I know any son of yours is a good lad, and is sure to grow ever more solicitous towards his mom. (He may have an off-day now and then, but I know he’ll bounce back!!)

      Glad you enjoyed the post, thanks again for your lovely comment. : )

      Like

  18. jmbenga permalink
    September 3, 2013 5:13 PM

    Reblogged this on Jose Miguel Benga.

    Like

  19. September 3, 2013 5:17 PM

    Doing anything much with yellow in digital art is a total bummer, ditto in photos, though adding tints of purple can help shade it a bit. I like to use Dissolve too, but for its spacey effect – can get a great night sky full of stars effect with it if the spacing is down.

    Can’t say anything about teenage children as I haven’t any kids, but I sure as hell remember the lectures from my parents when I was a teen myself and they were pretty similar!!

    Like

    • September 5, 2013 12:44 PM

      Yes, yellow is a pain– which explains why I never put mustard on swiss cheese while wearing a canary-colored suit on a sunny day.

      Altho a yellow suit works to advantage if you happen to spill the mustard, if you know what I mean… : P

      Should have guessed you were a Dissolve person. You must try to pull yourself together… : )

      Glad you survived your traumatic teens, Val, and it’s good to hear from you– thanks!

      Like

  20. soul . to . earth permalink
    October 4, 2013 12:24 PM

    Hi Mark,
    I just came across your blog (don’t recall how!). Your sketches make me think, laugh and even cringe because they’re too close to home. This means you’re getting the message across. πŸ˜€ Kudos and keep going!
    Radhika

    Like

    • October 4, 2013 9:26 PM

      Every so often, a comment comes along that knocks me outta my chair. I suffered a slight concussion, but man, was it worth it!!

      Thank you, Radhika, for making my day!! Also, for reminding me that I need to vacuum the rug… : )

      Like

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