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Smokey Bear

Smokey Bear  | Illustration

Smokey Bear | Illustration

This year has been exceptionally busy, but I wanted to come up for a breath of air to show one of the projects I am honored to have been able to contribute to: an illustrated poster for Smokey Bear.

I had the good fortune of teaming with FCB West, the Ad Council, and Luis Peña for this project and I worked in tandem with incredible illustrators such as Janna Mattia, Evan Hecox, and Victoria Ying. It was a humbling experience working alongside illustrators I have long admired, each contributing to a legacy of artists who have worked on Smokey Bear.

Before we dive into the creation of this bear of an illustration, I want to take a moment to say thank you to the folks at FCB & the Ad Council for allowing me to work on such an iconic piece.  I also want to thank my agent Deborah Wolfe and her team for their tireless efforts which allow me to focus on what I love doing most. And with that, away we go!


After I received the brief and initial direction, I took to Procreate on my iPad Pro + Apple Pencil to work out out a handful of thumbnail sketches, searching for a composition which would set the scene and allow for strong type placement by Luis Peña. The scene called for a back yard setting where we would see Smokey Bear dispersing a debris pile into a wheelbarrow. The idea was to have him actively working to keep the pile small, not tall. While we wanted the scene to feel like a backyard, we also wanted to have a strong outdoor presence - something like a setting you'd find in my home state of Colorado.

Once I'd worked through a handful of thumbnail sketches, I enlarged the sketch that was most favored, added a few quick tones help separate the forms, and began solidifying the direction. This quick iteration process is why I love working with the iPad Pro app, Procreate. I can move  quickly on sketches and get them to a more presentable state to get clients what they need, when they need it.

Smokey Bear  | Thumbnail Sketches

Smokey Bear | Thumbnail Sketches

Final Sketch

Once the composition was tied down, we opted to drop in a few homes in the distance and a home in the middle ground to help reinforce the back yard setting. I also added in planter boxes and moved toward a more manicured patio setting within the epic mountain scene in the background.

It was also at this point we shifted to having Smokey Bear use his paws to disperse the debris pile. I added a few leaves falling from his paws to the pile to indicate that he was indeed working to decrease the height of the pile into the wheelbarrow. We also added width to the overall canvas to accommodate a multitude of layouts, some vertical, some horizontal.

All these little nuances are meticulously planned out and discussed when dealing with topics as important as preventing wild fires so its important to be able to work through options without breaking the overall composition.

Smokey Bear  | Final Sketch

Smokey Bear | Final Sketch

Value Painting

The piece really began taking shape once I added tones and textures to everything in Photoshop. These black and white values are helpful for me when I'm looking to establish strong shape design and lighting within the piece. I'm also focusing on adding textures in key places which really help when you see the work up close.

I tend to think of this stage as an inker using a brush and ink over rough pencils. While the rough pencils establish a general guide, it is during this stage that my shape design decisions are truly solidified. Its important to pay attention to the implicit and explicit lines each shape creates, always working to maintain visual movement in the piece which guides the eye throughout the composition.

Smokey Bear  | Black & White Flats

Smokey Bear | Black & White Flats

Final Touches

Once I added color, we decided to add just a bit more room up in the tree canopies and sky to accommodate the type lockup. With everything was in place, the atmosphere and depth of the landscape really created a fun backdrop for our hero.

Smokey Bear  | Final Poster Illustration | Type by Luis Peña

Smokey Bear | Final Poster Illustration | Type by Luis Peña

Final Thoughts

One of my goals with this piece was to create a landscape that looked like it was worth protecting - something beautiful enough to positively reinforce Smokey Bear's message. Often I become immune to warnings when I forget what it is we're trying to protect. These kinds of places exist all over America and the world and they are worth caring for. My hope is this piece helps reinforce that.

Here are a handful of detail shots which show some of my favorite parts of the illustration. As strange as it may sound, when I'm painting these kinds of pieces I like to find spots in the scenes where I picture myself exploring. Sometimes it will be distant mountains, other times a cabin, and sometimes it's a pile of debris (which was oddly fun to paint...).  I spend lots of time detailing these portions of the illustration and it becomes quite cathartic as I travel from my desk & chair into these meticulously crafted worlds.