Sunday, April 6, 2008


This is a book cover illustration of Sacajawea I recently completed for Harcourt Publishers -- a very fun job and a very cool job.

The project called for a fairly straightforward portrait of her at about age 17. Several challenges arose. My first became finding a model about that age and shooting photos in clothing and hair style that as closely as possible replicated my intended depiction.

The problem was, I didn't yet know what I wanted to depict or how I wanted to portray the figure. That usually comes after the photos are shot. I'll see some great lighting or unpredictable nuance that will drive the illustration.

I lucked out with the model -- a friend's daughter just happened to be the perfect age. I had a few ideas to get us started. Then, as we tried different angles, I started to zero in on the lighting and compositions that seemed to be working best. Things started to come together in my mind's eye. I took several hundred photos, and I cannot more greatly express how pleased I was with the shoot and resulting photos. That always bodes well for a job. The next task was weeding down the shots to a manageable number of the best, from which to create my sketches.

Hair and costume were the next challenges. Since there are no photos of Sacajawea, her face is fairly open to interpretation. We know she was a member of the Shoshone tribe and died in 1812. Of course, she was integral to the Lewis and Clark expedition. I scoured the net for others' depictions, as well as general research about her and her tribe, so as to not portray anything unacceptably inaccurate. I believe what I've depicted doesn't violate this goal. I integrated the clothing, necklace, hair style, hair decor, and braids after the photos were shot.

The end-goal for me was not just a straightforward portrait, but one that also says dignity and strength. I think that is accomplished with the expression, posture, lighting, and color.

I wished to keep the colors on the warm side, complimenting the reds and yellows within the figure. The subtle blues in the beads balances things out.

My preliminary sketches.

My client chose the camera-right-facing pose, you see, above.

You can order the book, written by Joseph Bruchac, HERE.

My thanks to Harcourt Publishers, for the project, and to our model, Caitlin Brady, for helping re-create Sacajawea, for the world to see.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Flydesign said...

Sweet post Allan and I love that you have posted your sketches! I think if I had this commission I would be up against the wall on how mush Indian characteristics that I would put into her face, growing up a little bit around the Hopi and Navajo Indians that would be my inspiration. You pulled it off nicely and great job.

Flydesign said...

Thanks for the comment on the Steve Harris image. Can you believe I created the image by using a mouse, I still don’t know how I did that. Now I have two Wacom tablets and a laptop note book that I do my art on and I think the picture was a dare. At that time I was fresh out of college and was big into graphics and websites. Now I would just like to focus on illustration work.

That brings up a question that I have for you. I have not done too much research into the subject but maybe you could point me into the right direction. Illustration for books and magazines, this question could cover a lot of area because of subject matter, but how did you get started in the field. Was it a matter of just constantly being at a publisher’s doorstep or just sending your portfolio out to publishing houses and getting picked up for commissions here and there? For me, I’m in the marketing arena and there are clients that I’m privilege to because who I work for. Basically I’m not selling me, but the major clients come to us for a wide scope of business. I see that self publishing has become a big business due to the internet. I see that many artists are taking this avenue and hear the self gratification stories from this type of venture. Still I think I need to start somewhere and was wondering if you might have some advice on the matter.

Thank you,

Flydesign said...

Thanks Allan for the information. I'll follow up on those links that you have provided. Nice to see that I'm not to far from how to get started as an illustrator. I think I'm going to hit up my PR department at my work for some contacts and I'm no stranger to the library or Barnes.Just a little patients and then before you know it, I'm beating them off with a stick, lol. I'm sure it happens to you all the time.

Oh yeah, she still looks good Allan!