Just for fun, I’d like to share a small anniversary with you: this month marks 10 years since I turned in my first cover illustration for my first issue of Junior Skeptic (bound within Skeptic magazine). It’s an especially meaningful occasion for me because I usually consider myself an artist first (or at least an illustrator) and a skeptical writer second.
Featuring Cadborosaurus (Vancouver Island’s own regional, West Coast iteration of the Great Sea Serpent of the North Atlantic), this cover was something of a labor of love. It was my first shot at Junior Skeptic, as a one-time thing. It could only be about Cadborosaurus. I’ve previously described how I (like many skeptics) came to the skeptical literature as a direct continuation from my passion for paranormal mysteries. Of all paranormal topics, cryptozoology bit hardest and deepest—and of all the roaring, stomping, kickass (yet elusive!) cryptids to fall for, I have always most loved Cadborosaurus. An 80-foot sea serpent sliding undetected through the very waters off my childhood home? A cryptid I might glimpse while roasting marshmallows on a storm-swept beach? Who could resist—especially when my own parents once saw Cadborosaurus with their own eyes?
This cover was not my first involvement in skepticism; I had discovered and fallen in love with the skeptical literature over 10 years earlier. By the late 1990s I was involved in campus organizing and grassroots skepticism, and from there I became involved with magazines related to skepticism and humanism. (I did a Free Inquiry cover in 2001, and a number of spot illustrations for Skeptic.) But deep down, I was born to make stuff for kids. Give me monsters! Give me aliens! Give me things that go bump in the night!
For my first Junior Skeptic cover, I decided to start with a handmade physical model or puppet—an approach I later used for quite a few Junior Skeptic covers (including King Tut and the Loch Ness monster) and also for illustrations in Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be. The sea serpent was first roughed out with fencing wire and newspaper. (Cheap, and easy to work! See detail images below.) The skin was scultped from a relatively inexpensive children’s modeling material called Crayola Model Magic, which you may enjoy trying at home. That stuff works like clay (they don’t tell you this, but you can work it with water) and then air dries in a few hours. It sets up to a lightweight and highly paintable surface that is much like styrofoam. I painted the creature with acrylic paint, then lit and photographed it to work with my background photography (a composite scene built using location shots from Botanical Beach on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia).
And all that somehow 10 years ago already. It’s fun to reflect upon how much has changed in what feels like a very short time. (The eternal surprise of age, that.) When I made this cover, there were no skeptical podcasts, and blogging was in its infancy. There was no Facebook, no Twitter. Skeptic.com looked like this. And as a technical matter, building this sea serpent composite image was a more difficult task 2002 than it would be in 2012. I created this image on a (now-Antediluvian-looking) PowerMac 6500, a machine orders of magnitude less powerful than the machine I work on today. At the time, the composite’s 145 MB Photoshop file seemed staggering; today, this seems modest. (My illustrations now regularly involve Photoshop files that are well over a GB each in size.) There were also amusing barriers of skill. For example, though I’d been using Photoshop for a couple of years by that time, I did not know about the “Clone” tool. (I stuck to a large extent then to tools and tricks I knew from my years in the darkroom, such as dodging and burning or combining two images with either soft blended edges or masks.)
Thanks for coming with me on this little look back. Today I’d do things somewhat differently (as inserts within Skeptic magazine, Junior Skeptic covers don’t have to compete on newsstands, which has allowed me to gradually strip all the extraneous copy from the cover layouts) but I reckon this old illustration holds up fairly well. It was fun to make, and fun to look back at. Which is just how I would have wished it, as a kid: that I’d grow up to make professional pictures of monsters—and that Cadborosaurus would swim ever on.