Another day, another practice piece. I’m getting closer every day.
Even though my deadline is looming just a few weeks away, I’m still rehearsing for the live performance. Admittedly it’s not a theatre peice, but for this book I want a feeling of fresh immediacy and for that I have to be sure of every brush stroke and colour before I hit the final sheets. My plan is that the 15 spreads will take 15 days, and for that I need 15 weeks of practice.
Today I was practicing frogs. I admit I’m getting happier with the results.
It’s November, and in Toronto it means it’s time for the Royal Winter Fair. Every year I go with my college students to draw the beautiful animals. This year due to a very tight schedule, I won’t be going, However, I thought it’s a nice time to post some drawings from past fairs.
From the books I’ve written and or illustrated in the past, you can easily see that I love drawing and painting animals . I take every opportunity to study animals when I can. Whether pets or farm animals, or even at museums, it’s always best drawing live animals from life and not just from photos. That’s why the Royal is so special: so many animals together in one place, and all so close you could touch them.
For me, creating good characters for books means studying them, especially from life. Photo reference is good, but being able to see an animal from many sides, especially if they move, makes for the greatest understanding. I feel if you understand your subject, you are more able to be in control of your character regardless how you pose them or even change them in caricature.
Rabbits are some of favorites at the show. Here are a few of my sketches.
Coming soon: Drawing pets
Well, I suppose ‘easy’ isn’t the right way to describe it, but when illustrating a story, there are a few steps that must be taken. I’m using the images here from an exhibition I once put together called ‘From the Inside Out: stages in the making of a Book.’
For this I’ve taken examples from ‘In My Backyard’ written by John DeVries and illustrated by yours truly. I admit I’ve chosen it because for it, just as I am doing currently, I drew a frog.
Step 1: divide the story so that it will fit into the number of pages for a book. This is important because for cost reasons and simplicity of printing and cutting up the pages, picture books are generally either 24 or 32 pages. I don’t think there are many people who would like to buy a book with the end missing, or a bunch of empty pages at the end unless I suppose you got to draw in them. Some stories are easy to divide up, but others take a lot of thinking on what page which words will go. Sometimes a page has no words at all. If you’re doing a book, give this a lot of thought.
Step 2: Characters (or places). Most books will have characters. It’s very important to take time to know your character. Taking time to sketch your character from every possible angle and view, and every possible expression is valuable. No one wants a character to change from page to page, unless of course that’s part of the story. Keeping your character the same is a challenge and takes practice regardless how simple or complex.
Step 3: Rough linears. They are called that for two reasons: 1) they are rough, and 2) they are just lines. This is important. Never get into details too soon. This stage is when you sketch out your ideas for the whole book, not just individual pictures. You want to work fast, small, and therefore quite rough. If you put too much detail in at this time you will be hesitant to want to toss the drawing or make changes should there be a problem with any particular drawing fitting in to the overall story and look of the book.
Remember, it’s a book, and not just one page you are drawing.
Oh, I forgot to add, and never forget this: this is when you decide where the words will be in the pictures. It is important that you consider the words a part of the picture, and not an afterthought.
Step 4: Clean linears. This is when you clean it up before you put on any colour . This is when you can finally put in all the details you want. In fact, this is when you decide what will be in the picture and what stays out: NO ADDING AFTER THIS! No kidding, this is when all the decisions about design other than colour are finalized. If you don’t, you will only have horrible confusion and a lot of tears later. Well, maybe not so bad, but if you make changes after this, it truly can be confusion and tears. I write from experience. Trust me.
Step 5: Paint! Yes, this is when you can have fun and splash and toss and smear and….Ouch! I didn’t say that, did I? Yes you get to paint or use whatever technique you want, but at this point you should have everything figured out so that there won’t be any surprises. And yes, there will be, but that’s part of the fun.
Good luck! Enjoy!
p.s. you may have noticed that one of the sketches in the book ended up not only in the book but also the cover. It doesn’t always happen that way, but when it does, Bonus! You get some time off to go play.
Just as important as finding the right words for a story, finding the right colours for a book takes a lot of consideration.
Colour of course is only one of the many things that make the pictures in a book both interesting and pleasing. Colour sets the mood for the book. It sets the ‘feel’ that the author and illustrator want the reader to experience. Colours also move the eye through the book.
I have a lot of colours to chose from, and yet I have to narrow it down to just a few. That’s not to say you could use as many as you want for, lets say, a garden of many flowers or people with different cloths. Of course that would be ok. But I have found that a few well chosen colours can tell a visual story much better, at least for me.
For this new book I need to paint a goldfish pond. I’ve chosen mainly greens: for lily pads, for the water looking down into the pond, and for the frogs. But goldfish are anything but green, and yet even though they are very orange, they have to fit to the picture. And of course what is a pond without a water lily. This one is white. But every artist knows there is no pure white in nature.
The last problem that has to be solved is how my paints get along, not as colours, but as chemicals. It’s true that some of my colours are really just dirt, but others are chemicals, and they don’t always get along. Combinations which should be simple can be disasters since they just don’t want to mix. Or they don’t like being put on top of each other; pulling the bottom colour off the paper even if it’s dry.
So you see, choosing the colours for a picture book is both fun and a bit of work. And for that reason you can see there are many tests and tries just to get it right even before I start the actual pictures that will end up in the book.
Today, with a few spare hours to spend at the AGO, I took an ipad2 into the gallery to do a few sketches and studies of the paintings of the Group of 7. That I love their colours is no secret, and copying something you love in order understand it is a good thing.
As long as you are learning and not just trying to make a copy, I am all for doing it.
I chose a lovely autumn painting by Tom Thomson. While working on it two very bright fellows looked in over my shoulders. Naturally, I invited them to help.
That’s when Zephyr and George stepped in to assist.
I’m not sure their ages, maybe 4 and 7, but when it came to handling an Apple pencil, they knew their thing.
Regrettably I messed up with saving the image with their additions. What you see below is an attempt by myself to replicate their masterwork. I hope, if they see this, they will accept my apology.
Next time we meet at the AGO, I hope you two give me a hand again.
It’s been 30 years since Farmer Joe appeared. Thanks to Scholastic Canada, Nancy Wilcox Richards wonderful story about a farmer with a big heart but sometimes different way of doing things got put together with my drawings to appear in Farmer Joe’s Hot Day.
Farming will never be the same! Happy Birthday Joe! Thank you Scholastic and Nancy!
Join me as I celebrate over the next few weeks with peeks into who inspired him, how it was made and stories about the other two books that followed.
And if you have any stories of your own, I’d love to hear and share them.
See you soon!
I’m about to start painting the new book for the fall. Sketches are done and approved and now a new level of work starts: painting. It’s a bit scary to start since I’m never really sure if it is going to work out, and if it doesn’t, I get to start all over again with the painting. That’s why I do small sketched like this one to try out colours and make my mistakes early.