Christmas Pigs and Cozy Barns

Animals have to be my favorite things to draw and paint,  As for favorite times of the year, Christmas has to rate  near the top.  And finally, barns have always been places I’ve been drawn to for both their size and feeling of coziness in the stables.

That’s why illustrating Pippin the Christmas Pig for Jean Little & Scholastic was a special treat for me: all three came together in one story.

Pippin the Christmas Pig

Cover of Pippin the Christmas Pig

There were many drawings made for each of the paintings in the book, and although I’d love to share all of them, I’ve chosen to post the drawings of the barn.  The exact building doesn’t exist other than in my imagination, but it was drawn on from barns I’d known since my childhood.  Maybe one day I’ll own my own.

sketch of barn interior

A peek through the door

When I create a scene for a book, I like to create a space in which I could move around in and see from all angles.   This image never appears in the book. I drew it so that I would know what entering the barn would look with all the important elements like the manger and even the door in the ceiling in place.

view from above

Looking down from above

Barns often have trap doors in the upper floors to allow hay to be dropped down to feed the animals below.  I used this one to give the reader a peek from above onto what was happening below.

I like putting different viewpoints into my pictures. Perspective changes add drama and excitement. Perhaps it may be because I’m not too fond of heights and this lets me conquer that fear, but never the less I find it fun.

interior of stable

barn interior set up

I needed to set the stage for the scene where Pippin brings the woman and child into the warm stable from the cold outside.  I chose a wide view to allow the cold of the open door to contrast with the warmth at the other end.

I also wanted it cozy, so I chose to create the warmth in the middle surrounded but the walls on three sides and the barrels and tractor  creating a front wall.  The mice on the barrels are spectators to the scene just like the readers who find themselves watching from behind.  The stairs on the back left lead up to the upper barn and ultimately to the trap opening above.

Of course the empty stage is nothing without the actors, and here it’s Pippin bringing the woman and child in and confronting the surprised stable mates.

animals in the barn

Pippin bringing in the visitors.

After the pencil there are colour studies to help set the feeling for each scene. In this book I wanted to contrast warmth of the stable with cold whether outside or upstairs in the barn loft.

colour watercolour of the stable

Colour study of the stable

Painting in the book

Barns often have trap doors in the upper floors to allow hay to be dropped down to feed the animals below.  I used this one to give the reader a peek from above onto what was below.

Pippin the Christmas Pig is a book about the contrast of warm and cold hearts; hearts that eventually warm too.   Jean wrote a lovely story and I was pleased to have been given the chance to illustrate it.

Mr Christies Book awards 2004

Winning the Mr. Christie’s Award 2004

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.