Tuesday, September 26, 2017


I returned to Venice this year for research on an upcoming book (2019!), and it was just as beautiful as always! It's such a magical and improbable city.

Nothing exemplifies this more than the elegant gondole that slide down the narrow canals and under the dozens of little bridges. Developed as a means of transportation through the shallow lagoon, these flat-bottomed boats have been a symbol of Venice for centuries.

Like the world's most elegant traffic jam, the gondole emerge from the tiny side canals into the bustling Grand Canal, twisting and pivoting with ease.

It's fascinating to watch the boats turn at fantastic angles, and watch the shapes distort and change so quickly with the leaning of the gondolino.

On the Grand Canal, they glide past elegant palaces in a dream-like cityscape that appears nearly unchanged since the Renaissance.

You can imagine, with not too much extrapolation, how incredible it would have been to look out from one of these palaces, with intricate pierced windows and marble mosaic walls and floors, as dozens of gondole and other boats passed by, with none of the speedboats or ferries of today. (This view is from the elegantly restored palace The Ca D'oro.)

As they continue down the Grand Canal, the towering Rialto Bridge emerges from around a bend. Replacing an ancient wooden bridge, the immense stone structure, completed in 1591, bends at a surprising angle over the water below.

As the Canal winds through the rest of the city, it finally emerges into the Venetian lagoon, crowned by Piazza San Marco.

Surrounded by the elegant colonnades of the Doge's Palace and the Venetian library, there is ornate and impressive architecture on all sides. The entire city is made up of overlapping influences from Turkish and Muslim sources, Gothic, and Roman architecture.

The Campanile soars above the Doge's Palace. It's hard to believe that this tower was built twice! Originally in 1549, and again after its collapse in 1912.

The square is surrounded by the endless Procuratie Vecchie and watched over by the elegant clocktower.

But nowhere exhibits Venice's eclectic architecture better than the incredible Basilica San Marco. With its patchwork of marble, columns, and influences plundered from the Byzantine and Roman empires alike, it eschews simplicity in favor of way-too-muchness. Crowned with Gothic, Byzantine, and Roman arches with glittering gold mosaics and elegant stone relief, it's hard to believe that it was once even showier with it's arched peaks covered in gilding.

If you get tired of the overwhelming architecture, the throngs of tourists (and occasional Venetians) make it a wonderful place or people-watching.

But really, who could get tired of that architecture?

For more of Evan Turk's travel illustration, check out the link below: 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

MUDDY is here!

MUDDY: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, written by Michael Mahin and illustrated by me, is finally out in stores! Check out the trailer above (with music by Michael!) and a few snippets of some wonderful reviews so far.

“Lyrically told with a lilting cadence by debut author Mahin. . . . Turk’s mixed-media illustrations leap off the page. . . . The soul of the blues sings out through the pages.”
School Library Journal

"This poetic celebration of Muddy Waters' musical truth is lifted still higher by Turk's extraordinary art.”

“Mahin’s text is engaging, rhythmic, soulful, and written to reflect the blues that influenced Muddy Waters. . . . Turk’s expressionistic mixed-media illustrations, many of them double-page spreads, aptly convey the emotions associated with Muddy Waters’s music.”
The Horn Book
 “Like Waters’s music after landing in the Windy City, Turk’s artwork is electric—wild strokes of marker and oil pastel vibrate with energy. And Mahin’s equally vivid writing will almost certainly send readers after Waters’s catalogue.”
* "The words and pictures here mix exuberance with melancholy. Mahin’s words have a beat all their own, capturing the  lows and highs with poetic verve. Turk’s watercolor, ink, and collage artwork fills pages, exploding with a neon intensity— the equivalent of a dynamic guitar riff . . . Read the book, then get kids the music.”

 * “Turk’s mixed-media and collage artwork roils with waves of darkness and explosive color, even as it models compositional control, and Muddy is always defined with an electric hue that keeps him in sharp focus. . . .  Mahin’s lyricism and rolling cadence make the text a readaloud delight.”

"All along the way through the book, beside those sweet and longing words of the author, are Evan Turk’s amazing illustrations that take your breath away...one of the most extraordinary picture books we have seen this year. Muddy is a wonderful introduction to the life of a legend as well as an inspirational and evocative experience of art so well matched to the man and his blues that you can almost hear the music playing."

So if you haven't already, go pick up your copy at your local independent bookstore or at one of the following links!
And if you do love it, don't forget to leave a review!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Muddy: Behind the Art

I'm so excited about the upcoming release of the next book I worked on, Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, written by Michael Mahin! It won't be available until September 5, but here's a sneak preview and a little "behind the scenes" about the creation of the art for the book.

Research drawing from Clarksdale, Mississippi

With every new book comes a new research process! You can read more about the research for this book in two blog posts I wrote last year about my trips to the Mississippi Delta, where Muddy was born, and Chicago, where Muddy created his signature sound.

Research drawing from Chicago
Another part of my research is always to look at artwork to help create a visual style and language that is specific to the topic and the story. Whenever I do school visits (more info here), I like to talk to kids about this step. I hope that it will inspire them to take a look at artists and art they may not have known before.

For this project, I was very excited to get to take a deeper look at some of my favorite artists, including Ben Shahn, Matisse, Picasso, and particularly Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and William H. Johnson.

I also looked at quilts by the Gee's Bend Quiltmakers of Alabama, a group of African American women who have been creating unique, varied, and innovative quilts for decades and generations. Many artists of the Harlem Renaissance (including Lawrence, Bearden, and Johnson) looked to the African American quilt-making tradition and African art for study and inspiration, as well as contemporary European art movements.

The incredible composition and rhythm of their quilts inspired the design for the artwork in Muddy. If you look at the small color thumbnail pagination I made while planning the book (below), you can see the influence of the blocks of color of the Gee's Bend artists.

Color pagination of thumbnails for Muddy

I wanted the illustrations to show the journey of Muddy and his music from his roots in Mississippi, the electric explosion in Chicago, and his synthesis of the two. I showed this in a few ways:

One was in the newspaper collage. In sharecropper cabins, like the one Muddy grew up in in Clarksdale, Mississippi, they only had newspaper to wallpaper their walls. So I collaged newspapers from the local Clarksdale Daily Register from 1918 on the walls.

In progress collage

You can see what it looked like here before I painted on top of them. Here the headlines are mostly about small town things like the cost of cotton or stories about World War I.

When Muddy moves to Chicago, he is surrounded by the headlines of the Chicago Defender, a legendary black newspaper. Here the headlines are about African American triumph and struggle, and civil rights issues of the day. And once Muddy becomes famous, he finds himself among the headlines of African American heroes in the Chicago Defender.

Preliminary sketches for Muddy

I also used color and a style shift to signify Muddy's journey.

Final art scenes from Muddy in Mississippi

In Mississippi, Muddy is surrounded by warm, rich colors: the yellow, red, and brown of the earth and heat; the deep indigo of the Mississippi River; the yellowy green of crops; the black and white of the cotton fields; and the vibrant purple of his grandmother's dresses.

Final art scenes from Muddy in Chicago

But when he arrives in Chicago, he is surrounded by the clashing neon colors of the city. The green is no longer earthy, but slick and electric. The blue is not deep and powerful, but bright, cool, and modern. The bright red halo of Muddy's country roots makes him stand out among the city slickers.

But once Muddy begins to let his true self out in his music, everything begins to come together. There is the electricity and intensity of the city, but also the richness, and depth of the Mississippi River, the cotton fields, and the memory of his grandmother. Everything pieced together like a quilt.

 The illustrations themselves were pieced together like a quilt as well.

I drew out the composition, and then cut out each of the shapes to make stencils. Then I filled in the shapes thickly with oil pastel on top of a watercolor/gouache background. 

Then details and patterns were created by adding more oil pastel, or scraping it away with a palette knife to make textures and different effects.

Muddy learning the bottleneck slide from his hero, Son House

The whole progression of art throughout the book was to show how Muddy grew and changed with his music, but also how he always stayed true to himself.

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters will be released on September 5, 2017.
More information and pre-order links here:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

100 Views of the Hudson River Valley

It's been a while since my last post, but I've been busy drawing! Since moving up to the Hudson River Valley, I've been somewhat compulsively making pastel paintings of our new surroundings.

It began with a few small thumbnails, and then grew, day by day from there.

It's amazing what living surrounded by nature allows you to notice.

And on the river, the changes happen minute by minute.


Sometimes it's hard to stop drawing because by the time one drawing is finished, there's another one waiting outside! This is a small selection of the pastel paintings over the past few months.

There's a freedom that comes with being able to observe the same general scene over and over. It allows for abstraction, naturalism, and exaggeration to come and go.

I'm looking forward to seeing where this new inspiration takes me.

And now that spring is finally here, everything changes once again!

To see more, follow me on Instagram: @evanturkart