This is my third year illustrating the Google doodle for Veterans Day. It has become a tradition I look forward to each year, one that is challenging yet greatly rewarding. Here is a look at the first two followed by the story of making the third.
I enjoy these older doodles for their quietness. Veterans also enjoy them, but were quick to point out that Veterans Day is a more festive occasion (with Memorial Day being the more somber counterpart). It's a day to put on their old hats, sometimes along with the parts of their uniform that still fit, though often times street clothes will do, gather with old friends and share stories over a pint or two. Younger veterans might put on their sporting attire and run a benefit race. It's also a day for recognizing family and loved ones, who contribute a valuable service in their own right, and are often significantly impacted as well.
I was not yet born and thus did not directly experience anything while my dad served in Vietnam. The only real "significant impact" I experienced was being born a few years later thanks to him surviving the war! I did grow up hearing his stories, and have always had a deep appreciation and respect for not only his time in Vietnam, but his 20+ years in the military.
So I thought a fun idea to explore this year would be something I did experience while growing up – a small town parade. Townsfolk, veterans, and veterans' loved ones all participate or observe the festivities.
Although it was fun to try and figure out a way to involve the whole town (I really wanted those shriners in there!), I ultimately decided it needed to be more about the vets, so I narrowed it down to one float featuring several generations of veterans.
Once the concept was approved, I got going on the actual making of the illustration. I drew everything as individual components on a stage, cut them out and scanned them in.
And then did a digital painting to establish overall mood and color.
I was answering a lot of questions for myself in these early stages, while realizing a few things were not working, on both technical and contextual levels. Technically, I knew the background was going to have to get pushed way back. There were a ton of competing lines and values and a simple monochromatic light alone wasn't going to solve this. Also, I just wasn't digging the digital paint route. It seemed like all the fun stopped after I scanned in those cutout shapes. I didn't like the feeling that I was just coloring in a line drawing. I wanted the painting to have some of the spontaneity as the original drawing.
On the contextual side, an early draft was shown to a few veterans who work at Google. This is always a very important step for me, to get feedback from actual veterans besides my dad to make sure what I'm doing is appropriate. And yes, the obvious pun is I vet my ideas through vets. The key takeways this time around was that the star had to go (I thought it made a good first O in Google, but it did seem obtrusive), that the younger post-911 vets would most likely not be in dress uniform, and finally, even with a parade of vets, they typically still have family on board.
So with all of that in mind, I went to work transferring an edited drawing onto paper and painting it in watercolor (obviously leaving out the truck that should be pulling the float, as I knew the crowd would be mostly blocking it anyhow).
I did the same thing for the foreground crowd, then layered it on top in Photoshop. After a few digital edits and a looksee with the fresh eyes of a teammate, I had three options.
I generally liked the third the most, which was a halfway point between background and no background. Of course, now it felt as though the watercolor stage had taken me away from the look I wanted for this piece, which was something more crisp and somewhat graphic, at least in how the shapes are treated. The colors were also looking a little polarized in contrast between warm left, and purply cool right. And finally, the crowd, while not meant to draw attention, felt a bit like an afterthought. In conclusion, I decided to touch everything up once I got home...
...Only to find that I had not saved a highres version of my working file into my cloud storage. SO, I repainted everything you see between the watercolor stage and the digital edits that evening. The silver lining was that I had "rehearsed" everything that went into making the illustration the first time. The second time around ended up flowing much more quickly, and as a result I think I managed to capture that spontaneous lighthanded feel, while addressing the things I originally wanted to touch up and then some. The remaining Google letters are meant to look like arranged float confetti and are taken from the float painting itself.
And there you have it. Thanks for reading, Happy Veterans Day!