Some readers like to see the process behind a product. So, here’s the backstory behind the Ocean Commotion jigsaw puzzle.
In 2015, I launched a Kickstarter project to produce a limited-edition letterpress print I called Sea Monster Jamboree. It was an excuse to draw my versions of the creatures you see in the wild places of early Renaissance maps.
In 2016, I enlarged parts of that drawing to create the world’s most whimsical shower curtain featuring the same assortment of creatures frolicking in ocean waves.
That should have gotten sea monsters out of my system, but in the fall of 2019 I found myself returning to the idea of fanciful creatures swimming in ocean waves. This time I wanted them to be in color. Making a jigsaw puzzle seemed like a perfect excuse to draw 40 or 50 new aquatic monstrosities.
Fairly early in the process, I looked at different ways to depict waves. To test alternatives, I drew the white bits and then reversed the image to create whitecaps on dark waves. My favorites were these zigzag waves that can be layered to create an ocean sea scape.
At one point I considered including a ship for the creatures to menace. But that idea sank. I preferred an approach that could make the scale of the creatures ambiguous.
I spent many pleasant winter days drawing exotic sea creatures. That’s my idea of a good time.
My technique to create a sea monster is basically my process to create anything else. First, a pencil sketch. Next ink that drawing with a brush pen. Then, break the inside of the line with white strokes or dots. I wrote a nerdy blog about my technique with details about how I draw tentacles.
Finally, I scan the drawing to bring it into Adobe Illustrator (my favorite drawing application.) There I add colors and build the final composition. Sounds easy, right? So why does it take me more than two months?
People tell me they like a puzzle to be challenging, not too easy. So I used a limited color palette to force people to pay special attention to other details such as textures, shapes, and orientation.
People also like it when I include unexpected details. That’s why you’ll find a rubber duck, capybara, and even a tiny cat.
I’m pleased with the final result. A challenging puzzle with lots of intriguing details. Best of all, it gave me an excuse to wile away days drawing beasties.
Don—Pittsburgh, September 24, 2020