Me Tie Dough-ty Walker!
May 17, 2012 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Art technique filter: How did Stephen Gammell (the original illustrator of the haunting book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) accomplish his nightmare-inducing style?

I have vivid memories of reading this book series as a child; nauseous with fear but so enthralled by these gruesome images that I would occasionally cover the illustrations with my hand as I read. Now as an art-hobbyist I would love to try my hand at a similar style, so any tips/tutorials/suggestions would be interesting to me.

My poking around has not uncovered any confirmed information, though I have seen suggestions that his art was done with pencils and a lot of smudging. I am not completely convinced pencils alone would account for the range in values. To me the artworks have a watercolor look to them, with possibly some inking. I am especially interested in his unsettling, wispy lines (sometimes used to depict hair, spiderwebs or long grass, sometimes not representative at all) that branch out from most of the illustrations. Of course his own personal style, imagination and distortion of shapes/perspective plays a huge role in the outcome, but I am looking more for information about the tools used to accomplish the texture.
posted by halseyaa to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Splattering, bleaching, sponging, masks, and very dilute ink built up in layers would be my guess.
posted by The Whelk at 10:28 AM on May 17, 2012

It's definitely powdered charcoal, applied with a soft puffy brush or a cotton ball, with details in stick charcoal of various hardness. It doesn't look like ink to me at all. (This assertion is entirely based on pictures from the Internet that I saw on my phone.)
posted by milk white peacock at 10:54 AM on May 17, 2012

On rereading your question I see you're more interested in the line than shading, so I direct you to the work of Chloe Piene, who gets a very similar spidery line in her charcoal on vellum drawings.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2012

The few I looked through on google are definitely charcoal. Hard to tell whether he used powder or extensive smudging for the really soft stuff, but I definitely see stick marks and eraser marks. It's possible that he uses ink for the really dark, hard details at the end, but it's perfectly possible to work charcoal that dark. It's also possible to use water and charcoal for a watercolor-like effect. It's also possible he lays in the atmospheric stuff with watercolor/ink and then uses charcoal.

Really, I can think of any number of ways to accomplish the overall look. The wispy lines, though, are almost certainly natural stick charcoal. Delicate lines are precisely what I used that for when I had to use charcoal in art school.
posted by cmoj at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2012

Definitely charcoal; a mix of vine charcoal for the lighter shading/background washes and harder charcoal for the darker bits; finely sharpened charcoal pencil for detail.
posted by smirkette at 11:50 AM on May 17, 2012

Anecdotal: I've got similar wispy lines by blowing india ink around with a straw.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:20 PM on May 17, 2012

You might like this Mudkin book trailer. Its of him painting a quick drawing of the character Mudkin from his latest book. It's not exactly the same style but a nice peek into his technique.The publishers blog also has a couple pictures of his studio/tools from the making of the video.
posted by ljesse at 8:06 AM on May 20, 2012

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