Origin of Species: A History of O'Reilly Animals - O'Reilly Media

Today a conversation mired in Cyber Monday deals, of which surprisingly included half off Safari subscription services, turned to the wonderful illustrations on the book covers of O'Reilly. 

Yes, this is geek stream of consciousness in action around the water cooler. 

Tucked away on the O'Reilly web site is a brief article about the cover Animals and the wonderful artist who creates them, Lorrie LeJeune

From 1995 until 2003, Lorrie was a senior product marketing manager and then editor at the O'Reilly Cambridge, Massachusetts, office. She has since moved on to Assistant Director at MIT Media Labs and Center for Civic Media. With specialties that range in a Broad knowledge in life sciences and biotechnology, Web development, and mobile telecommunications, she finds time to be a freelance artist and play the mandolin. 

The Making of an O'Reilly Animal

Lorrie does her rough sketches in pen-and-ink, depicting the animal in different poses. Even after the designer selects a particular sketch, Lorrie may need to re-draw it several times. Once a sketch is accepted, Lorrie then draws a more careful rendering to use as a model in the final process. This detailed sketch is often used for the O'Reilly catalog mock-ups. Since the catalogs are usually printed well in advance of a new title's actual production, it's common for the final book illustration to have a slightly different appearance than the catalog version.

The challenge is that scratchboard requires Lorrie to use her drawing techniques in reverse. "I am literally working backwards," she explains. "Instead of drawing in the shadows, I am scratching out the highlights. The lighter the detail, the more work I have to do."
She typically begins with the animal's eyes, the pivotal feature of the entire image to Lorrie's way of thinking. Once she gets the eyes right, the rest of the drawing begins to fall into place. For the panther on Java Foundation Classes, she worked particularly long and hard at giving the animal an intense stare.
Don't miss the step-by-step making of an O'Reilly animal.

Her first round of scratching yields a basic line drawing. Then she establishes lighter and darker tones as she begins to add detail. If she makes an error, she can patch the ink and re-scratch, but she can't make major changes. Since the scratchboard surface can accommodate only one or two revisions, Lorrie says that she tries to have a complete understanding of what she's going to do and not make any mistakes.

She likens this process to watching a photographic image emerge in developing fluid. Moreover, Lorrie must recognize when the scratchboard image is "finished." After going over her work with an eraser to clean off excess ink and dust, Lorrie creates a high-resolution digital scan.
We love humble over-achievers and the roles they play in our everyday geeky life.  
Yes, the tarsier above is blinking at you.