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

Frog & Fish study from today

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.

Finding the right colour

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.

Spashing in green paint

I’ve been splashing a lot of green paint in the last few weeks for my new book.  It’s been fun drawing and painting frogs.  I haven’t done that since ‘In My Backyard.’

These are practice pictures.  Painting water lilies has been a challenge. I’ll be doing quite a few more to get it right.

pencil study of a frog