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Posted on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Dave!A couple of months ago Avitable filled me in on the plans for his annual Halloween Party Bash, which I had attended the previous year. It seemed impossible that he could outdo himself, given how amazing things turned out last time, but he was working hard to do just that. He began with the theme The Neverwas Fair, and started building around the idea of an old-time sideshow carnival... with a creepy edge to it. And he wanted me to design a T-shirt he could use for fundraising.

It seemed the least I could do.

At first I wanted to do something dark and macabre... kind of grungy, dirty and twisted. Perhaps in charcoal and spattered ink. I had images of a ringmaster holding out his hat with snakes and spiders escaping from it. Maybe a circus tent in the background with an assortment of scary circus performers.

But everybody in the blogosphere associates me with the simple DaveToons I draw here, not the works I do "in real life," so I begrudgingly set aside my dark fantasies and grab a pencil and legal pad to do something entirely different. I still liked the idea of a ringmaster, so I decided I'd make a DaveToon Avitable ringmaster, and populate the background with cute DaveToon circus folk.

Here's the initial pencil sketch, which you can make bigger by clicking on it...

Pencil sketch of my Avitable Halloween Party Shirt.

If you want to see the final design, it's over at Avitable's blog. He's got a pretty sweet contest going, so you might want to check it out.

If you want to see the steps of how the design was made, I've got that documented in an extended entry...

Usually with DaveToons, I'm in a hurry, so I don't sketch. I slap them together using Adobe Illustrator... mostly by cutting apart old toons and combining them to make new ones. Since nobody pays me to blog, I can't afford to take a lot of time on them. Every minute I'm blogging is a minute away from making a living. But this was a kind of complicated drawing, so I needed a place to start. Since I knew Ringmaster Avitable would be the focus-point. I drew him first, then locked him into place so I could build around him...

Neverwas Fair Work in Progess.

From there, I cloned a bunch of Lil' Daves as starting points for the characters. DaveDevil is one of my favorites, so I worked him in there... even though he didn't make much sense. I also put a Snake Charmer, Bearded Lady, Siamese Twins, and Wolf Boy. It was too crowded, so Tiny Tim and the Mime were dropped from my initial sketch. When shading Avitable, it quickly became apparent that the crest on his hat was a distraction, so I removed it. Ditto for the "starbursts" that I had sketched in, which disappeared after this step...

Neverwas Fair Work in Progess.

In the early stages, I mistakenly thought that the title was "NeverWHERE Fair," which you can see here. DaveDevil was obviously not going to work, so he was eliminated. I didn't know what was going to replace him, so I just stuck another Lil' Dave in there. The banner at the bottom needed to be a different shape, so I snagged one from iStock Photo so I wouldn't have to spend time drawing it myself. I shifted the Bearded Lady to the middle so the two ladies wouldn't be on top of each other. This left a hole, so I decided to make a Tattooed Giant in a diaper be there. Once I got the snake drawn, Bad Monkey made the left side a little too crowded, so I moved him in the frame. For a little racial diversity, I made Snake Charmer Black and the Tattooed Giant Asian...

Neverwas Fair Work in Progess.

Sometime between the last step and now, Avitable had talked about doing the shirts as a screen printing job. This meant that the number of colors I was using had to be dropped down to a maximum of six. This changed some of my initial ideas a bit, but I moved forward... drawing hair on the ladies... sketching out Wolf Boy... conjoining the Siamese Twins. The biggest change was when I decided to drop the harlequin at the top of the banner. I worried it would detract from the title too much. This was a little sad, because I liked him up there, but the good news was that I now knew what the new character replacing DaveDevil would be! Since the original pencil sketch was completely covered by now, I deleted it...

Neverwas Fair Work in Progess.

Now it's just mechanics. Going through character by character and drawing whatever was needed to make them work. I finally realized that the party was the "NeverWAS Fair," and simplified the typeface so it was more readable. Since it was shorter, I brought back the starbursts and put them in the banner... but hated them there. I needed something for Bad Monkey to be curious about, so I gave Harlequin Lil' Dave green lipstick and a star mole. Wolf Boy went through several versions of scary teeth, but I eventually shrunk them down to be less ferocious and more "cute." The tattoos were drawn from an actual tattoo I found via Google that was a dragon. But the dragon was distracting, so I dissected it and moved the parts around to create an overall pattern. To tie everything back to Avitable, I scanned in one of his drawings, converted it to vectors, and put it on the shirt of the Siamese Twins after I gave them new hair. I also found out that screen printing was out, so I could use more than six colors again (alas, I forgot to go back and add the diversity I had originally wanted in the characters)...

Neverwas Fair Work in Progess.

After a few color tweaks, I sent the illustration to Avitable, who requested that the name be changed to "The Avitables Present: The Neverwas Fair." This was a relief, because it allowed me to get rid of the stupid starbursts I had slapped in the banner to lengthen the text. I also decided to lighten things up a bit, and went through and made all the colors a little brighter and more "DaveToon-like." Tattooed Giant looked bored, so I had him stick his tongue out. I was going to add shading to all the characters, but once I got started the drawing looked overdone, so I decided to make everything flat-colors except Avitable (because he was in the spotlight)...

Neverwas Fair Finished Illustration.

And that was that. I exported everything as a transparent PNG file, sent it to Avitable, and then I was done. The entire process (after sketching) from start to finish took a little under an hour-and-a-half (once you remove the email back-and-forth with Adam). Looking at it now, there are quite a few things I'd like to change... but that's normal. As some point you have to force yourself to say "THE END" or else you could go on tweaking forever.

The finished product is over at Avitable's blog where you can enter his nifty raffle... just click right here!

And now...

Culver's Caramel Cashew Sundae... it's what's for dinner.

Categories: DaveToons 2008Click To It: Permalink


  1. You are very talented! That sounds dumb and does not express exactly how in awe I am that you are able to do all that. Maybe if I write it again you will get how much it impresses me. You are very talented! (did it work? do you get that I am very much impressed?)

    My 8 year old son is constantly drawing and wants to be able to do what you did. Is there a program I should get him that would be easy enough/cheap enough for him to be able to do what he wants to do at his age? His dream is to write comic books when he grows up. Oh, and be a dog trainer too. But his comic books right now that he draws on paper are pretty amazing. They are also sort of disturbing sometimes, but I guess real comic books are sometimes too, right?

  2. Mik says:

    The t-shirt is awesome and I really enjoyed seeing the creative process behind the design.

    Now to save my pennies to get one of the t-shirts.

  3. Avitable says:

    That’s really cool – I’ve always wondered how you go about doing your work. And I’d totally love to see some of your non-DaveToon stuff one of these days.

    What did you think of Liquid’s final design? Pretty cool, too, wasn’t it?

  4. Avitable says:

    Oh yeah – thank you again for doing a design. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it!

  5. Yep. Already ordered my t-shirt. You? Are amazing.

  6. kilax says:

    Wow! That turned out really neat. Thanks for sharing the process with us! I always wonder how you come up with your cool toons.

    P.S. (Yes, I am sorry I keep talking about this but) We used our Dave cards to play a few games this weekend! Wow! The quality was amazing! And I love the detail that went into the backs. My family was really impressed (too).

  7. Mike says:

    Sweet! Thanks for the steps, I really liked reading about them.

    That’s a kick-ass drawing.

  8. Chag says:

    This was a neat read. I liked watching your design go from inception to final product.

    I saw it earlier on Avitable’s site. It’s a damn cool shirt!

  9. Danalyn says:

    I totally conned the husband into buying one for me, thanks…I don’t even want to go into what it’s costing ME. 😛

  10. Iron Fist says:

    Always a pleasure watching you work, Dave.

  11. Marc says:

    Wow, what an awesome design! Thanks for the insights into the process, too.

  12. Sarah says:

    I love your DaveToons but it would have been really interesting to see your original ideas. They sound really awesome.

  13. Winter says:

    I really enjoyed reading how the cartoon progressed. I loved the hand drawn one also. I remember asking you on one of the radio shows if you could actually draw… like with a pencil. LOL I believed you when you said yes, but it’s totally cool to see the original sketch that you did. I’m always so in awe of people who can draw or paint. My father did the most beautiful delicate watercolors… I guess I learned from a young age to appreciate the artist’s genius.

  14. That looks Awesome Dave!

  15. Göran says:

    that´s one fantastic illustration!

  16. oo thanks for sharing.. it’s great to see how genius operates .. 🙂

  17. Catherine says:

    I loved seeing the step-by-step process. It’s cool to see how your creative mind ticks and get the hang of your judgment and decision making. Excellent, very entertaining work of art!

  18. NYCWD says:


    I feel like I just watched a “The Making of…” documentary on a DVD.

    Thanks for the insight!

  19. Very, very fun to see the behind the scenes process! And what a killer t-shirt!

  20. well done. way fucking well done. payday is friday and i plan to buy a few of the designs that adam is offering…certainly your shirt will be one that i order.

    loved this look at how you came to the finished product. thanks for sharing.

    count me in the group that would LOVE to see your original concept!

  21. I am so impressed with your work, Dave, really…you have such talent! I wish I could afford one of those shirts, since I can’t go to the party….but that’s OK, because we can’t have everything….

    although it would be an excellent chance to meet so many people *sigh*

    one of these days I am going to beg you to design something for me for my blog…but I have to wait til one of my daughter’s is old enough to offer her up to marry you as a fair exchange…hehe

  22. ETinNY says:

    Very interesting how you do this stuff, Dave but, do you ever design-by-committee? I think the tattoo guy should have a tatt on his tongue, too.

  23. Miss Britt says:

    Less than an hour and a half?

    Jesus, Dave. You are really, really talented. I hope you know that.

  24. Willie G says:

    Cool design process. Great drawing as well. I love your work, and would love to see some of your non blog work.

  25. Sam says:

    I hopped over to Avitable’s site and saw the tshirt – I want that! Methinks I’ll be ordering it. Excellent job. 🙂

  26. shari says:

    It is completely amazing to me that you can visualize an image in your head and then coax it to life on a page. Completely amazing. Watching the process just makes it moreso. Wow.

  27. I love the behind the scenes. Do more.

  28. Thanks for walking us through the creation process. I always try to break down the steps in my mind, especially when I saw your design over at Avitable’s, but actually being let in on the thought process and evolution is so different than just breaking down how the finished product was made… Seriously, I enjoyed this post a ton!

  29. penny says:

    Completely awesome! And I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look.

  30. Foo says:

    I can’t even tell you how much I geek’d out on your behind the illustration recap. I pretty much go through the same process with stuff and it validated that I’m not a huge hack. :o) You have mad skillz Dave2, mad skillz – I will so be buying a shirt from Avitable’s site.

  31. Yeah, I think I’ll be ordering one of those.
    That was an awesome post- really interesting to learn the process…

  32. claire says:

    That’s really hip, Dave! I really enjoyed reading about your process.

  33. Since I won’t be able to make it to the party, I HAVE to have one of those shirts…eventually. Bug (my 8 year old who wanted you to draw a lizard or frog friend for Bad Monkey and Lil Dave) said she needs one too. I told her to get a job and buy one herself. I’m such a mean mom.

    I love the behind the scenes. Like watching “Bonus Material” on DVD’s. Hee hee… Thanks!

  34. elfenkate says:

    I just bought mine! Hehehe…opps. I think I drooled a little bit on the keyboard.

  35. Danalyn says:

    @elfenkate – don’t worry…I’m always drooling on my keyboard when I visit this site. 😉

  36. serap says:

    Wow, you are brilliant Dave, how lovely to share your creative process with us… you made it sound so easy though! A testiment to how talented you are. I especially liked your sketch too.

  37. Hilly says:

    I’m continually amazed not only by how good you are, but also by how fast. You are amazing, my friend…simply amazing.

  38. Bec says:

    The process has always fascinated me. I used to love watching a graphic designer friend of mine work… and you have brought a great memory back to the surface for me. Thank you!

  39. Christian says:

    Hiya Dave, our t-shirts and cards arrived here in Aus and they look fantastic. If I can talk the others into a few photos I can send them on if you like – perhaps us all playing cards while wearing the shirts!

  40. G’day Dave

    Thanks heaps for making the effort to show us how you came up with the finished product. I would love to see some of your non Dave-Toon stuff – it sounds very interesting.

    My Caps and Cards order arrived today ! 🙂 🙂


  41. John says:

    Your design is amazing Dave, and I especially appreciate you sharing the process. I so admire great illustrators such as yourself. There aren’t all that many designers who are strong on illustration (definitely not my forte). I just helped Kapgar with a cutesy little parody logo, but in our correspondence remarked that YOU could do an infinitely better job than I on any corporate (or blog) identity piece. Like you, I like to help out our blogger friends, but I just don’t generally have the time to do something as good as the stuff I get paid to do. I’m sure I’d be blown away by your portfolio; I’d love to see sometime. : )

  42. michelle Jacobs says:

    Thanks Dave,
    I am off to order your tee shirt! Love the design and i loved reading all about how you did it!!!


  43. Jacki says:

    As much as I enjoy looking at your art – I think I enjoyed seeing the process even more!

  44. Karl says:

    Very cool, dude. Love the design and hearing about the behind the scenes stuff.

  45. ChillyWilly says:

    That design rocks. And so does your details of how it came to be, from start to finish.

    Awesome job.

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