Rabbits at Royal Winter Fair Toronto: studies for characters.

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

Stages of a book in 5 easy steps

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.’

From the Inside Out: Stages in a Picture 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.

Putting a book together

Ever wonder what it’s like to illustrate a picture book?

Putting a book together, from first idea to finished covers is an adventure. I’ve always wanted to share the process and here’s where it’s going to happen.

Every week there will be lots of pictures and lots of suggestions on what you might consider illustrating your own book.

Join me as I share the fun of new work and old. And when I can, I’ll answer your questions too.

See you soon.