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Sit on the shoulder of a children's book illustrator and nosy into the ups and downs of my world. Find out how my books are created from your spy-hole inside my studio, see sneak previews of all my new projects, celebrate with me when books are published, and help me tear my hair when it's not going to plan!
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The publisher is now setting up the final designs. My designer at Piccadilly sent me low-res versions of how the spreads will look with text. Now she has my finished digital illustrations, she will be fine-tuning the designs and placing all the text into position, ready for proofing. This is how the first spread is going to look:
They have also created designs for the 'extras', like the back cover and the title page, using sections from the existing illustrations. This is the title page design:
It's all perfect timing, because of course I am out of the studio most days at the moment, visiting schools. Today I am actually in a school in Sheffield, so nice and close for a change, but sadly no chance for train sketching.
With train tickets in my pocket, a sketchbook in my handbag and a case full of picture books, I have started out on the trail again, visiting schools all over the place, to help children celebrate World Book Day with storytelling and workshops, talking to them about my work and sharing the wonder and fun of books.
There's actually only one World Book Day, this Thursday, and of course only one of me too, but since there are lots and lots of schools, my World Book Day visits tend to spread throughout March.
The week started with a visit to Kippax Primary yesterday, in Leeds (I've been before and it's always a pleasure). If all is going to plan, I should right this moment be stepping off a train in Liverpool, ready to begin a 2-day visit, working with Whitefield Primary.
I'll be staying in a hotel tonight, which can be a bit lonesome, so I'll try and get out in the evening to do some drawing. That's if I'm not too done-in anyway. Last time I was there, I did loads of sketching, all through dinner. In the meantime, since I've not had time to scan my travel sketches from yesterday, I though I would decorate this post with some more of the sketches I did on my trip to London. As well as museums, we visited the National Gallery.
Obviously the paintings were inspiring, but the building itself is lovely, so I sat on the floor (resting my sore feet) and whipped out my paints.
I was not at all sure that painting was allowed (and have since found out it isn't!), so was waiting to be told off the whole time, especially as there were attendants about. Maybe it's because by then it was nearly closing time, but they left me alone just long enough to get these two quickies done.
A little earlier that day, we also visited the National Portrait Gallery. I got to sit on a proper chair that time and drew the folks passing by in front of me:
I have been playing in a Strathmore sketchbook I was given as a pressie at the last Urban Sketchers Symposium. I am really enjoying working on the grey paper - it changes the way you work, which is good fun.
When I did my illustrator-in residence project for the ASCEL Conference last year, I met lots of librarians, which is always a pleasure, since librarians are almost as lovely as children's illustrators :-) One of those I met, contacted me a little while ago and asked me to visit their library. So on Wednesday I took the train to Nottingham and spent a lovely day in Sherwood. There were no visible forests, nor merry men for that matter (probably a good thing at that time of day), though we did find a lovely deli for lunch and a lot of merry children from 3 local schools.
It didn't start well though. When I checked the departures board at Sheffield station, to find my platform, I discovered that the train I'd booked didn't exist. Not just cancelled - never was! Bit of a blow. A chat with Customer Services informed me there'd been a landslide near Chesterfield on Monday and all the train timetables in that direction had been changed. Wonderful.
Luckily, though half an hour late, I arrived just as the 60 children were filing into the library. Phew. My morning group was two Y3 classes, so I read stories, drew animals at the flipchart and generally played the goat (Giddy Goat, naturally). They were all lovely and I quickly forgot the stresses of the journey.
After lunch (with cake - told you librarians were nice), I had a Y5 group, so I talked about my work and showed them some artwork, like this monkey's tea party illustration from Stinky!. I also took roughs and books-in-progress (including a sneak-preview of Swap!), then taught them how to draw characters in motion. They too were a smashing group and asked me some brilliant questions, which is always very gratifying (if I have to answer 'what is your favourite book' one more time...).
I finished the day with something a bit different: an hour with the homework club. Normally it's an after-school drop-in session, with 3 adult helpers on hand to give assistance with any homework children have. Since I was there, it was billed as a creative writing workshop instead. At the start though, we had just one boy (with the 3 helpers, the librarian and me - poor lad).
It was okay though: I did him a personal illustration, adding all the elements at his direction, to use as the starting point for his writing and, thank goodness, before the drawing was done, five more children turned up. I showed them how to start a story in the most exciting way possible, and they all got stuck into a tale about a scorpion and spider who were trying to catch and eat a man in the desert.
The aforementioned lovely librarian bought each of the children one of my picture books as a special present to take home with them, which I of course signed, before heading off for the adventure of trying to find a train home.
It was a really positive day and a great start to the visit season (thanks Sarah!). It all kicks off in earnest on Monday - I'll be out every single day that week. Luckily I'll be taking trains in the opposite direction :-)
Last week, the scans of my Jungle Grumble illustrations came back from the repro-house. Things have been a bit fast and furious: I've had just a few days to get all the 'finishing work' done, then Dropbox the final digital artwork back to the publisher, ready for everything to be put together and sent off to the printer. Phew.
There were three 'finishing' jobs for me to do in Photoshop / Painter:
1 - text overlays
Children's illustrators never draw text onto their actual artwork, because of translations. All text, even wording that is part of the actual picture, is added afterwards, digitally. Unfortunately, because of the pastel texture of my work, ordinary, typed text 'floats', so I make my own text overlays, using Painter, which look like they are drawn in black pastel. Luckily there wasn't much intrinsic text in Jungle Grumble, only one lion roar and the Swap Shop sign, though that does appear a few times:
2 - legibility issues
To keep things as clear as possible, it's easiest when a story's main text falls over areas of sky. That wasn't always possible in Jungle Grumble: in several places I had to use trees or bushes as backgrounds for text. But it was tricky to be sure precisely where specific lines of text would need to sit and, because of my style, it was hard not to include undergrowth textures which might be visually distracting behind the words. Once my designer got the scans, she was able to layer the two together so we could spot any places where things were slightly too busy or too dark to be sure of maximum visibility. I then used Photoshop to make subtle changes. Spot the differences to the bush bottom right:
3 - vignettes
Not all my illustrations are full spreads with illustrated backgrounds. Some pages feature smaller vignettes: characters against a plain background. My biggest digital job is cutting vignette characters off my pink paper. It takes ages because of the pastel edge, especially where the pastel colour is close to the pink of the paper, like Lion's roar:
He looks so much better on green, don't you think? For anyone who wants to know how I do the cutting out, here's a detailed 'masterclass' (though my version of Photoshop is old, so many things may be slightly different on up-to-date editions).
Most illustrators don't do this digital stuff themselves, but I prefer to, as the pastels make it quite a bit more tricky than usual. It's possible that I'm being a bit of a control freak, as usual, but after all that time spent getting the drawings done, I like to be sure that these final alterations are exactly right.
Saturday was February's SketchCrawl North day and we had a trip to Buxton in Derbyshire. It was a beautifully sunny day so, although we were on a pub-crawl (much like the one we did in Sheffield recently), I braved a bit of street sketching outside the pub, to kick things off: But, even in my fingerless gloves, it was colder than it looked. It's always chilly in Buxton! I retreated into The Old Clubhouse when bits of me started going numb, only to find most of the rest of the crew tucked up in comfy chairs with cups of coffee and perfect views of the Buxton Opera House through the picture windows - no discomfort necessary.
By the time I'd got my own coffee, I only had 20 minutes before we were due to move on, so no time for colour, just my fountain pen. It's such a wonderful building. I managed all its colourful glory last time we visited Buxton, sitting on the pavement in September sunshine (oh, for warm weather...).
We did a quick detour on the way to the 2nd pub: one of our team had noticed a great 2 for 1 deal on sketchbooks at Rymans. We descended like a plague of locusts and left the shelves virtually bare!
The next stop was The Cheshire Cheese. I was about to settle in, when my friend (a local) said I really ought to be drawing inside the second-hand bookshop opposite, or at least should take a look. So the two of us went off-piste for a bit.
Scriveners is indeed fascinating: one of those crammed-to-the-rafters bookshops, but with all sorts of interesting bits and bobs as well as books (as well as help-yourself, coffee-making facilities upstairs). It went up and up, a twisty-turny place with lots of little rooms opening into yet more rooms. When we got near the top, this rooftop view called to me. Unfortunately, I could only see it properly by piling heavy books up onto the stool of a harmonium and perching there like a rather old pixie.
We next visited the New Inn, a quite small and very 'local' feeling pub. There was a roaring fire and a group of men at the bar, sporting a selection of dogs. I asked one man if I could draw his dog. He was bemused, but then got into the idea and pulled Elvis nearer the windows, so I could see better.
But Elvis, who had been quite docile and still till then, now got very twitchy. It turned out he was frightened of a tiny little dog, Axel (with ears like a fennec fox). The man said that was nothing - big but totally soppy Elvis was frightened of the dark and of his own shadow!
Axel didn't keep still either: he was too interested in everything. He was cute and very delicate, but we were warned he was inclined to remove your fingers, given a chance. Perhaps Elvis was right...
Having broken the ice with the locals, I got up the courage to draw a couple of the men propping up the bar. They never noticed me though:
When I was done, I weighed up whether to show them. They weren't bad likenesses, so I went for it. It was the right decision: they seemed pretty pleased and all their mates gathered round to have a look, as they'd done earlier for the dog pics, which were a great success. We left the pub with lots of waved goodbyes and promises to check us out on Facebook. I so love that aspect of Urban Sketching.
Unfortunately the Buxton Tap was heaving by the time we got there, so we returned to The Old Clubhouse for our 'sharing' session. We had to pull 3 tables together to get everyone round. It's such fun looking at everyone else's sketches from the day and you get so many new ideas.
Thanks to Kate and Stefan for organising the day - another great success and a brilliant turn-out.
One of my favourite buildings is the Natural History Museum. It's so very beautiful. Such lovely colours of brick and gorgeously detailed decoration, both inside and out. I love the carved fish swimming by you as you walk round and monkeys that climb up towards the ceiling! You won't be surprised then, that I spent a whole day in the museum during our London trip. John and I looked round together all morning, but I was itching to do some drawing, so after lunch he left me to it. I sat myself on the floor and got out my sketchbook:
There was so much to go at, it was hard to choose, but one thing I had to draw, as soon as I saw him, was this hairy warthog:
And, in case you think it's just my wonky drawing, here's a photo to prove that he really did have a head that flat. He's really not a looker, is he? Though I must say, his skinny, sticky-up tail is pretty cute, don't you think?
I couldn't walk by this wonderfully gooky rhino either, with his huge funnel-ears and slightly bemused smile:
...or this funny-looking fish. Sometimes a wee bit ugly is rather appealing, isn't it?
I did go for cute too though. These delicate features were simply irresistible:
As I was sitting facing the cabinets, I couldn't see behind me. Every so often I would catch some movement out of the corner of my eye and look round to find a huddle of people standing over me, looking suddenly embarrassed to be caught in the act.
I had a long chat with one man who got very excited when he saw my waterbrush and wrote down all the details, so he could go away and get one immediately. They really are a brilliantly simple invention and make wet-sketching in museums possible.
I drew my socks off until John came to collect me at chucking-out time. He told me that he had just been sitting having tea next to Peter Gabriel in the Science Museum cafe. Oddly, we also found ourselves sitting having tea next to Simon Armitage the very next day in the British Museum (Sorry - I didn't draw him).
This is what I am sketching in the photo near the top, by the way:
Disaster!! I just wrote this blog once, then managed to delete it after just 15 minutes. What a plonker. I'm not sure if I can remember all that I told you, but I'll do what I can. Grrrrrrr.....
Anyway, John and I went to London for a few days last week, which is why I have been blog-silent for a while.
We went to spend time in some of the lovely, big London museums, but we also went to see something rather special: we had invitations to see the London Symphony Orchestra perform a new musical version of an old favourite from my back-list: Giddy Goat.
The production was on at the Barbican Theatre. The place was rammed with children when we got there. Photos were not allowed during the performance, but I snapped the one below quickly, as they were setting up, just to show you the space.
The beautiful score was written by composer Paul Rissman, originally for a much smaller, touring production in 2008 but, when he got a job working with the LSO's schools programme, he revisited the work and expanded it for a full orchestra. He also wrote several news songs for the children to join in with.
Paul was master of ceremonies too, reading Jamie Rix's lovely story while my illustrations were projected above the orchestra. He was brilliant with the children, making them laugh, introducing them to different members of the orchestra and leading them in song (there were actions too - amazing to watch the whole theatre alive with moving hands).
John and I had special seats at the back, which was great as I could see the audience as well as the show. It was so lovely to see how totally engaged the children were. I had to stand up in my seat at one point and be clapped, which was fun.
Giddy has been one of my most popular books, but it is quite old now. I looked it up and discovered it was published in 2003 - over 10 years ago. It went out of print, but was re-printed for the 2008 show. It had sold out again but - hurrah - this new production has brought it back to life, yet again!
It's nearly 5 weeks since my op and my foot has been getting steadily better. It's taken quite a bit longer than last time though. I've been able to wear walking sandals for nearly 3 weeks now, but I've only been flirting with more mainstream footwear if I need to look a bit more glam and I know I'm not going to be actually walking much.
But this last week I've been noticeable better. Which is handy, since it's been so bloomin' wet that walking sandals just don't hack it.
Last night I donned my kitten-heel boots for a walk to the local pub and back (a suitable incentive). Then today we woke up to glorious sunshine, so John and I tested things further by doing the 20 minute walk to the coffee shop and back, for a decadent breakfast of coffee and croissants. All very nice.
It's quite a drag back uphill and I was pleased to get back into my boring old sandals by the time we got home, but I seem to have suffered no ill effects, so I think we're more or less there. Thank goodness.
This morning's sketches were done with my lovely Sailor pen by the way. I managed to lose the one I had last weekend (disaster!), so bought another one straight away.
It's meant for Japanese calligraphy and has a weird, turned-up nib end, as you can see, but that means it glides easily across the paper, allowing you to draw in any direction. You can get a real range of line widths too, depending on the angle you hold the pen.
I regularly get asked about where I got it, so here's a link if anyone is interested.
Yes, John has been editing like a demon and we have now finished the 2nd of our two new films about creating a set of roughs. This one tells you how I designed some of the many animal characters for Jungle Grumble. If you are new to my blog, Jungle Grumble is the latest book I have been working on with author Julia Jarman.
In this 2nd film, I show you how I begin with photographic reference and how I play around with facial features in particular, to turn each animal into a character more suitable for a picture book:
We shot the footage for this film back in September, at the same time as the one I published last week. I had just finished all the line-drawings and had submitted them to the publisher, so it seemed a good idea to talk about the process while everything was fresh in my memory.
But both films got put on a back-burner for a while, because of school visits and festivals. Then suddenly I had my artwork deadline to meet. We finally got round to editing them a couple of weeks back, while I was still having to sit around, because of my bad foot.
Anyway, I really hope you like our efforts. We have over 1000 views on the first film, which is great:
Please, please, please - if you enjoy the films, do share the links and tell your friends!
The next film to be uploaded to my YouTube channel will be another demonstration with pastels at my drawing board, showing you how I turn one of my roughs into a piece of finished artwork. Let's hope we get that one edited together a little more swiftly for you!
This year's Urban Sketchers' Symposium is going to be in Brazil, in the old coastal city of Paraty. The annual symposium is generally the most exciting event of my year, but I was a bit worried that I would miss out this time round, as Brazil is such a very long way from Sheffield. Each year the symposium is held in a different country, usually a different continent. My first time, in 2011, it was in Lisbon. I had the most amazing few days. I met so many other sketchers: people whose work I admired from the main Urban Sketchers blog site and people I was finding out about for the first time. Though many of us didn't even share language, everyone shared the same passion for drawing, so we all got on like a house on fire and I made many new friends. But 2012 was like this year - the symposium was half way round the world, in the Dominican Republic and I couldn't afford to go. Then a call went out, asking members to pitch ideas for the workshop slots. I didn't think I stood much of a chance but, having run children's workshops for so many years, I thought I could do it.
I tried to think about what I could share - what sort of sketching I was best at.
The following year I pitched another idea. This time I devised a workshop for helping people loosen up, called Sketches that Sing. I wasn't particularly optimistic that I'd be chosen, as the competition was fierce and I thought the organisers might well want to try new people. Imagine my delight when I was invited back! That was last year and, of course, the Barcelona symposium was equally brilliant. I felt a real part of the Urban Sketchers team too. I looked it up today - I was invited to be a correspondent way back in December 2008 and I am truly honoured to be part of the organisation, but sometimes feel like I am a bit of a long way from the main action, so symposiums are great for that too. Anyway, I pitched another workshop idea when the call went out for this year, not believing for a second I would get to teach a third time. I knew if I was to stand a chance, I had to make it good - something that people really needed help with. I thought long and hard. Running my regular SketchCrawl North group helped a lot with ideas - I considered which aspects of sketching most of my group found challenging.
I have noticed that many people draw in pencil or black pen. Some of them have consciously chosen to work in black and white, but a great many sketchers, even some experienced ones, are timid about colour. They are often not sure where to start, or find their attempts end up too fussy, too muddy or either too gaudy or too washed out. So, my new idea for this year's symposium was to offer a series of suggestions for ways to play with colour, called Afraid of Colour? - techniques for those who are unsure how to make the transition from black & white.
I just found out that my idea has been accepted and I am absolutely tickled pink. Not only does this mean that I'm going to Paraty after all (hurrah!), but it also suggests there must surely have been positive feedback from my previous workshops. All of which is wonderful news. I can't wait to meet up with my sketch-buddies from round the world and see what sounds like a lovely city.
If you are a keen sketcher and want to join us in Paraty, mark August 27th - 30th in your diary. Registration will open towards the end of March. Because it has been getting so oversubscribed, there are some new plans for this year, with different levels of participation and parallel activities. Here is some more information. Maybe I'll see you there!
Well okay, not quite literally, but the entire Jungle Grumble menagerie has been rounded up, tethered by John with masking tape and card, then popped in a package and posted off to Piccadilly Press: I made my deadline (cue applause...). It's an odd sensation, particularly with this book, which has taken quite a lot of graft, because of the complexity of the images. There is a sense of relief, a slight fear for the package's safe arrival, but also a vague feeling of disbelief that it's actually all done. Not that it is entirely done. Once all my artwork has been scanned, I will have the digital finishing work to do. All the vignettes need cutting out in Photoshop, like the piece above: the final piece I had to do (remember the altered end?). Also, because of the inevitable jungle undergrowth textures in the backgrounds of many of the illustrations, we need to get all the text in place and check for legibility issues. On my computer, I can slightly lighten background areas if necessary and tinker with any mark-making that interferes with the words. The schedule is pretty fierce, as Piccadilly want it proofed in time for the Bologna Children's Book Fair at the end of March. I will get the digital scans by Feb 19th and have to get all the Photoshop work done by the 28th. Then it's all put together at the publishers, sent round to everyone for a final once-over, then off to proofing on March 14th.
I can't wait to see how it looks!
This week, I have been finishing off the last stragglers of my Jungle Grumble artwork - mainly the front cover.
Sometimes publishers ask you to do the cover at the beginning, because they want to use it for early publicity, but I hate that: it's much better to leave it til last. As I work through the illustrations for a book, I get more and more comfortable with the characters and the colour palette. I sometimes have to go back and tinker with the first illustration I tackle, because I realise I've got better as I go along.
The cover illustration is so important. You want it to be as strong as it can possibly be, so I was really pleased to be allowed to leave it until the very end this time.
The Jungle Grumble cover is based on a detail from one of the spreads and, like most cover illustrations, it's not too complicated: simple, bold images generally work best. Because of this, I knew it wouldn't take too long to complete, so I thought it would be another good opportunity for John to do some filming.
The last demonstration film we made of me creating a piece of my pastel artwork, when I was working on Swap!, proved very popular. I've had such lovely feedback and it's had over 16,500 views so far, so I was pretty sure you would like another one. Here's that demo film, in case you missed it first time round:
I think it's far more interesting to film me working on an actual book, rather than a random drawing, but it can be a bit stressful to be filmed while I am grappling with one of my illustrations. I can get grumpy at the best of times, when things aren't working right and, as I'm sure you can imagine, the last thing I need then is John at my shoulder with a camera! That's another reason why we left the filming of the Jungle Grumble artwork until the cover, when (hopefully...) I knew pretty much what I was doing.
Even though the cover illustration was far simpler to pastel-up than any of the inside spreads, we still shot 1.5 hours of film. Poor John now has the task of whittling that down to something more appropriate, without losing too much of the practical information. We will probably edit the demonstration into two halves, which will double the film's length, so we don't have to scrap quite as much. I will of course let you know once it's ready (or you can subscribe to my YouTube channel to get automatic updates on new films).
My task now is to double-check all the Jungle Grumble artwork for continuity errors, and do any last-minute tinkering, before everything is mounted up and sent off.
On Saturday, my group SketchCrawl North got a mention on Radio 4! Okay, it was a 'cough-and-you'll-miss-it' mention, but it still brought in lots of enquiries by new members wanting to join our merry band.
The BBC were interviewing Simone Ridyard and James Hobbs, leaders of the Manchester and London Urban Sketching groups, because Saturday was World Wide SketchCrawl Day and Urban Sketchers from all around the globe were out with their sketchbooks. Unlike the lucky folks living in warm, sunny climes, SketchCrawl North decided it would be prudent to spend our day indoors.
This was my first visit to the natural history museum attached to Manchester Uni. It was also my first day out and about since my foot op. Things are healing gradually. It's a bit drawn out, but I am now able to wear shoes and hobble around.
The museum is a real treasure and much bigger than I expected. It's stuffed full with all sorts. As you can see, I really got into the cases full of skeletons. One room was dominated by a massive T-Rex (the favourite of all the children visitors):
One of my favourites was the elephant skeleton. I had no idea that inside their big, stubby feet, they have the bones for long toes:
As well as skeletons and stuffed creatures, there was a vivarium, with live snakes, frogs and lizards. I chose the chameleon because he was sitting nice and still. Only his eye swivelled round, keeping tabs on passing faces through the glass.
At the end of the afternoon, we met up with the Manchester group in the huge Kro bar. Together we were quite a crowd: 30 - 40 people, sharing our sketchbooks and getting to know one another. Fantastic. The home group had been drawing around Victoria Station and many of them had braved the street. There was some brilliant work, despite the cold (and often wet) conditions.
On the train home, by pure coincidence, the man opposite me got out a sketchbook, so we got talking. He was also a professional illustrator - what are the odds? The train was horribly delayed, so it was great to spend the journey chatting and checking out each other's art equipment (that sounds really nerdy actually...).
If you want to get involved with Urban Sketching in Yorkshire, just email me, or contact Simone Ridyard for the Manchester group, Tim Richardson at Urban Sketchers Birmingham or James Hobbs for London.
Surreal as that combination may sound, it was what I was drawing on Tuesday night, during a hilarious evening at The Greystones pub in Sheffield. It could only be a Dr Sketchy night! The Yorkshire Puddings are a group of ladies who are big and proud. I suspect they more usually perform in fishnets and feathers, but for our sketching evening they dressed up like something out of Andy Capp (okay, so who is old enough to remember that strip?). There were headscarves and slippers, feather dusters and overalls, with wonderfully broad bottoms and big bosoms beneath.
But what made it so funny was that they didn't just dress up, they got totally into character. They grumbled and quipped their way through the proceedings, with heavy Yorkshire accents, shuffling their way up and down from the stage, round-shouldered, mops in tow. The whole thing was brilliant.
Then half a dozen char-ladies did a dance routine, still in character, which gradually evolved into a striptease, revealing bumper brassieres trimmed with sequins or ostrich feathers, black basques and big, lacy bloomers!
At half time, to keep up with the theme, there was a game of bingo, incorporating some rather unexpected calling names, quite clearly being made up on the spot. The bingo was followed by a 5 minute pose where we were asked to draw only with our bingo-dibbers. Unfortunately, I had a lurid orange one:
At intervals, prizes were given for the best sketches (chosen by the models). I won for a round where one of the ladies posed up on the bar between the pumps:
They got all the prizewinners up on the stage at the end, for a group photo:
I really look forward to my Dr Sketchy evenings, because I love the crazy dressing up, but I also love drawing to music and, although it's pretty exhausting, I really like the relentlessness of the pace: five or ten minute poses, one after another. There was only one pose I think that was as long as twenty minutes and that was because we had about eight models up on stage! I only managed to tackle three:
If you live anywhere near Sheffield and like life-drawing, but fancy something a bit different, for goodness sake check out the Dr Sketchy events at The Greystones. They are every couple of months: the next one is on March 8th, 7.30 - 10pm.
Yes, at last John and I have got another film finished - hurrah!
This is the first of two films about creating a set of roughs (the next one will be out in a week or so). This first film talks you through how I get from a simple sheet of typed text, emailed from the publisher, to a set of finished designs.
I show you how thumbnail drawings work as a great way of capturing first thoughts, then how those are enlarged and redrawn in various stages. I talk about using a layout template and how I work around the text and the central gutter. I don't like to draw at a computer, but it is still an invaluable tool and I explain in the film how I use it to move the drawings forward.
The films John and I have created over the last year have been made as a direct result of writing this blog. Telling my readers about what I do has been really useful for me, as it makes me analyse my process and consider precisely what it is I am doing at the various stages. When you've been doing something for so many years, it can be hard to explain it to other people, because so much of the process becomes second nature.
If there is any aspect of my work which you would like to know more about, do please let me know. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the film. If you do, please leave me a comment. And it would be wonderful if you could help me by spreading the word on Twitter, Facebook etc, because every little helps!
If you have watched my little film on drawing cats, you will know about the lovely, really old book which my mum gave me: Drawing a Cat. It was a gift from my Dad, who we lost recently. Mum is having a bit of a clear-out and came upon this companion book he bought for her, Drawing Dogs. She thought I might like it:
As you can see from the title page above, it was first published back in 1940, but this edition is way more recent: 1949! Mum and Dad had been dating for just 3 years: they met soon after Dad got back from conscription, when my mum was only 15.
Apart from its sentimental value, the book is also a lovely resource. Unlike cats, dogs come in very different shapes and sizes, so an illustrator can never have enough reference. it would have come in very handy when I was illustrating my very dog-centred book, Swap!
Diana Thorne sketched with pencil, but also litho crayon. As well as her lovely drawings, there are some good tips, such as how to cope with drawing a constantly moving subject (use doggie-buzzwords, such as 'cat' to get him to look at you!).
I like her quick sketches best - they capture the life and movement, and are so much better than a photograph if I want to get ideas for poses.
I love sketching dogs too. I mostly use my Inktense watercolour pencils and a waterbrush - so speedy for capturing colour. Unfortunately we don't have a dog at home, so my drawings are usually crafty quickies of dogs I spot travelling on buses or trains, like this little one:
I've bagged quite a few in pubs too, where they often like to lay down at their owner's feet:
You never know when a dog-opportunity will arise. It's one of the reasons I always have a sketchbook and pencil tucked about my person somewhere. We had just pitched a tent when this soppy Labrador mooched across the field and befriended us:
Diana Thorne did dog portraits as commissions. I did one or two of those myself, but working from photos, to make a bit of money when I was a teenager.
It's not the sort of thing which interests me these days, though I did do a dog portrait in my illustration style a couple of years ago. It was commissioned by a school where I had worked with the children, as a retirement gift for a much-loved Headteacher. I was told that his two favourite things were his little dog and golf:
Remember, there was some conversation about changes to the end of Jungle Grumble? We had a slight problem pleasing the German publisher, who is doing a co-edition. Julia came up with alternative possibilities, but they were all rejected. Above was the original rough for the final spread. In the end though, I created the final spread with just the lion asleep. No thought-bubble joke. The thinking is, we can have two different versions. This slightly boring end was what the German publisher wanted (along with altered text that, for our market, rather over-explains the moral). For the UK edition though, we can have our own text and add back the visual joke.
Of course, we can't have a different piece of artwork for the final spread - that would be prohibitively expensive. But there is an answer - there is an extra, single page available, after spread 12. The plan is to add back the joke for the British version, as an extra piece of artwork, on this final page.
But my Art Director asked me to do a re-draw: she felt that Lion's fantasy multicoloured mane / stripy coat idea was not enough, that it would be better if Lion was made up from parts of the other animals instead, showing that he too has a secret desire to swap.
I tried out various possibilities, narrowed them down to these three and have sent them off:
There is something bothering me though: the actual 'thought-bubble' has been removed from around the fantasy lion. Without it, I worry that the reader will be confused. Now that the sleeping lion is no longer on the same page, there is nothing to suggest that this is a dream / daydream. It looks as though somehow he has actually swapped. Which doesn't make sense with the rest of the story. I have passed on these concerns. We'll see.
At the moment I am still working as best I can from an armchair, with my foot up, wedged under a bag of frozen peas, but next week I have the dressings off my foot and my stitches snipped. Come Monday afternoon, I will be able to put on a shoe (and have a shower!) for the first time in 2 weeks. I should be able to sit at my drawing desk too, at least for part of the day, so I can get on with the front cover artwork.
The rough I sketched out last week has been approved - hurrah! Piccadilly Press has been working in close conjunction with a German publisher, so it had to be approved by their team too.
They sent me this idea, which I think works pretty well, so most of the work was done already. I love the flamboyant text, picking up colours from the animals:
The hippo has been taken from a section of my existing artwork, from spread no 8 - the mega-parade. If you look closely, you can see that the texture is very peculiar in places. That's because the designer has done a quick Photoshop job on it, to get rid of things they didn't want. You can see what's changed by looking at this detail from the original illustration:
I popped the monkey/giraffe character it next to Hippo, instead of the elephant, to add more colour, with his dappled neck and flamingo wings. He was the only other character with sufficient height to tuck neatly into the space next to the title. I've created a little more room for our names too. Here's my sketch:
I still can't get up into the studio, so the artwork will have to wait another week. It shouldn't be too problematic to do though, since it's pretty much just copying the existing characters. I'll keep you posted.
As you know, I am now laid up, so only able to work in a very limited way, but I can put a laptop on my knee, so thought this would be a good time to tell you about an interesting bit of jiggery-pokery, to do with the Jungle Grumble artwork, something I never got around to telling you earlier.
Those readers who are very observant indeed, might have noticed a visual anomaly. See if you can spot it before you read on...
No? Well, remember I was asked to do a couple of pieces of advance artwork, so my publisher had some colour for their Frankfurt presentation? One of these pieces was spread eight, the illustration with all the animals parading. There was a blue sign attached to one of the trees:
This came about because, when I was drawing the rough for spread five (below) - the point where Lion's swap-shop idea is first introduced - I decided we needed a 'Swap Shop' sign, because otherwise it was hard to make it visually obvious what people were looking at:
Now, one of the reasons I get nervous when I am asked to start on artwork before all the roughs are confirmed, is because things change. Once my publisher had thought further about the rough above, they made some alterations. They had already asked me to use leaves rather than canvas, which was a definite improvement, but now they also pointed out that it would be nicer if the animals were running into the swap shop in the same direction the book was travelling. They flipped my drawing:
Trouble is, that put the Swap-Shop sign on the wrong side of the changing room, compared to the artwork I had already completed:
I couldn't move the sign to the correct position, as it would now be well out of shot, but it had to be in the picture, as it was for spread five that I introduced a sign in the first place. I couldn't keep the sign where it was though, as we would then have two signs: a ridiculous overkill.
I thought about artistic license: maybe I could draw the tree with the sign on the correct side, but much nearer, so I could nudge it into frame... But I didn't have room for it in the foreground without blotting out half the animals. In any case, we had the issue that, in this illustration, we are looking in from a different angle, so we would be seeing the back of the sign. Big problem!
Eventually, I had a brain-wave: I would remove the existing sign altogether and hang a new sign from one of the existing trees, above the action. This wouldn't blot out the animals and could work from both sides, because it could have wording on both front and back!
Of course, I then had to go back and remove the blue sign from the original piece of artwork. Luckily, because I hadn't fixed it, I was able to rub out the pastel and patch it up, then rub out the area for the new sign and draw that in over the top:
Can you spot any other changes, by the way?
The palm tree fronds on the inside of the changing room were introduced after this original piece was done, so I popped those on at the same time, plus I also added some extra background trees to tie in with the spread below, where I wanted them for twilight atmosphere:
Once I had the new sign idea sorted, I had to go back and rework all the other spreads where the sign appeared. Mostly it just meant changes to roughs. Luckily, of all those which needed altering, only the twilight illustration above had gone to artwork stage. It wasn't too hard to correct:
I am not in the studio this week. I am instead spending my days sitting in an armchair with a laptop perched rather precariously on my knee, because my right leg is propped up on a pouf, which is wedged onto the seat of a cane chair. You can't see my bandaged foot, because it is swamped by a huge bag of frozen peas. Do you have a picture?
This is of course because of the foot operation I had on Monday morning, for a Morton's Neuroma. Basically, I have to have a small section of inflamed nerve removed from the intersection of my toes.
As you can see, I took my trusty little A6 sketchbook, like last time. There was lots of hanging about, getting prepped and then waiting for my turn: drawing is the perfect way to both pass the time and keep myself from thinking too much.
As this is the 2nd of 3 identical ops, I knew what to expect. Everyone was very friendly and I was very relaxed, especially once the injections were over - that's the worst bit. They have to do them in a ring round my ankle, but twice, for both a quick acting and also a long lasting anaesthetic. There were nine (!) but I was extra lucky and got to have an additional one, because it turned out my nerve ran down the wrong side of my ankle bone!
The op itself was nothing - the work of a moment. There was one snag though. I get cramp. I am on medication which stops it, but unfortunately, my muscles REALLY don't like the tourniquet they have to use during surgery. I got a small cramp last time, right in the middle, but luckily, when they eased off the tourniquet a little, it passed. This time I got a full-on attack. My calf turned to rock. I started with a 'Ooh, ooooh, I have cramp...' and a second later had reached 'Aaaaaaaahhh! Jesus! Help!!!'. I got quite loud. Actually very loud.
I couldn't get to my calf, to massage the muscle and it was getting worse and worse. The surgical team just stared at me, waiting for it to calm down I think. Eventually, when their ears were bleeding, they gave in and took the tourniquet off.
A bit of massage set things straight, but I was quite anxious about them putting the tourniquet back on.
'What if it happens again?' I asked the surgeon. There was a worrying pause.
'It won't happen again,' he said, with not quite enough reassuring confidence.
But thankfully, it didn't. I was wheeled back to the prep room for tea and biscuits, where I quickly reassured those patients about to follow me into surgery. They, and the prep team, were white with anxiety, having listened to me apparently having the wrong foot operated on!
Anyway, all is well now. I have got away with no post-op pain at all. John is having to wait on me totally, which is some consolation for being stuck in this chair for the next couple of weeks.
I timed things so all the artwork for Jungle Grumble was finished, but I can still sketch with a board on my lap, so I have just designed a possible front cover and sent it off to Piccadilly Press. I'll let you know if they like it.
'John... Where are you..? Can I have a cup of tea..?'
Well, of course, the 'beginning' we're celebrating is the start of the New Year. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas holiday and enjoyed your New Year's Eve festivities. I wish you all that you would wish for yourself in this coming year.
The 'end' that I'm celebrating is my finishing the final spread of Jungle Grumble. Hurrah!
You remember I told you about the changes to my rough? Well, because we have lost the impact of the joke on this spread, I wanted to make sure we had a lot of visual impact. Since the actual content is very simple (for once!) I decided to use colour to make sure we had a visually striking note to end on.
The final illustration, of Lion dozing in the tree, follows straight after the one where the sun is going down over the waterhole:
Luckily, we've had a couple of cracking sunsets here in Sheffield recently, so I knew the effect I wanted to capture for my final image. There was a spectacular sun-down on the evening of our Sketch Pub-Crawl: we were on our way into the Sheffield Tap at the train station, when everyone stopped in their tracks and stared up at the sky, which appeared to be on fire. One of my fellow sketchers, Lynne McPeake, (who fortunately for me is also a photographer), caught this photo, which I used as inspiration for my illustration:
I laid down the basic colours and the sky texture first, which took one day. It was lovely to let rip with a bold, simple image, without too much fiddly detail. I was also having a lot of fun feeling my way, not knowing quite how it would finish up. I accentuated the gold a little more than in the photo, so I'd have a wider palette in play and kept the blue of the sky a little lighter, so the text placed over it would still be easily legible:
At the end of the day, I gave the artwork a thorough spray with fixative. I knew this would darken everything, but I wanted to work over the top, to establish darker shadows, so at the same time I just re-brightened where I needed to.
It took just over one more day until I was happy. This is how it looks finished:
The only thing I am not 100% sure about is the top left corner. I think I will go back and simplify it slightly, so it is more like the earlier version. Then it's done. Yippee!
Actually, I can't totally celebrate yet, as the cover still has to be done. I'm taking a break for a couple of weeks though, as I have the operation on my foot
on Monday morning, which is going to put me out of action for a while. This is the 2nd of three identical ops, so I know what I am up against and know from last time
that there's no way I can sit at my drawing board for at least a fortnight. Still, now it's just the cover to go, I should be fine to get everything to the publisher in time for my end of Jan deadline.
Last week, I finished the final piece of artwork I could for Jungle Grumble. This illustration comes quite early on in the story, where the animals first get into the changing room and begin to experiment. Lion has got fed up with hanging around waiting for them to emerge (it's the spread before this one):
But there was still one spread outstanding, waiting for approval: the final spread of the book. My publisher, Piccadilly Press, has been negotiating the ending with a German publisher, who they signed up for a co-edition, as a result of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
This was my original rough, illustrating Julia Jarman's initial ending (the idea is that, despite his wise words earlier, in his fantasy, Lion is wildly multicoloured):
The hold-up has occurred because the Germans are keen to have something less jokey and more moralistic. Julia has come up with various other endings, but nothing has proved acceptable. In the end, Piccadilly have agreed to keep the illustration element simple, which will allow two different endings to be created, using text changes alone.
This is the image we have now: just the lion in the tree (the text is the UK version, left over from the first idea above, the German text is far more along the lines of 'be thankful for what you have'):
To be honest, I am a little concerned that, by removing the fantasy joke, it could leave our version with a rather limp ending, but hopefully Julia can come up with something clever for the text, to make the UK edition sassy again. Julia is really good at this stuff, so I am casting misgivings to the back of my mind, remaining confident and getting on with the colouring up.
I have been desperate to get the go-ahead for this final spread as my artwork deadline is tight. It's because I am having another foot operation
on Jan 6th, which means I will lose a minimum of 2 weeks working time, sitting with my foot in the air, packed in ice.
In the end I only had 2 days last week waiting around, without being able to work. To be honest, that was pretty handy at this time of year. So now, Christmas shopping all done, I am back down to it. I have around 2 weeks working time to do this spread 12 artwork, plus design and pastel the cover artwork. Then, after a final continuity check and general touch-up, all the artwork has to be packaged up and sent off to Piccadilly Press, for Feb 1st.
I invited everyone over to my place for the afternoon. I made sure all the Christmas trimmings were up and the dining table was dressed with candles and crackers etc, but everyone who came brought food and drink contributions, so I didn't have to spend days in the kitchen beforehand.
We loaded the table with all the goodies, then stuffed as many people as we could into the dining room. This was quite an early photo. Both the table and the room got much fuller as time went on, with people perching their bottoms on every surface!
They all sat around nibbling at the food, but also drawing it and each other. As yet more people arrived, the overflow tucked themselves into the living room.
The sketch below is me in the living room (painted by Kerry Davies), sketching the image above. Because I was playing host (and because John had selfishly gone out, and so abandoned his kettle duties) I only got these two little drawings done, with my watercolours and Inktense watercolour pencils. Between taking coats, making tea and popping food in and out of the oven, I seemed to be constantly on the move, but it was still really good fun to hang out with friends old and new.
If you would like to see some of the other sketches, look at our website.
As we are in festive mode, this is probably a good time to wish all my readers a thoroughly merry Christmas. I hope you all have a not-too-stressful Christmas Day (!) and enjoy your holidays. Here's looking forward to an exciting New Year full of interesting possibilities and fun encounters!
I have just had a rather nice email from Egmont, publishers of the wonderfully silly, lift-the-flap book I did with author Peter Bentley a few years ago, called A Lark in the Ark. It's basically a game of animal hide-and-seek, but with dressing up and funny rhymes: 'Baboons in pink pantaloons... Bears in flares and wombats in combats!' You can see how this illustration works with the flaps by the way, on a simple animation I've set up here.
Anyway, Egmont were emailing to tell me they are doing a reprint of our book, which is great news in itself: in these tricky times, a lot of back-list titles are finding their reprints have been cancelled, so books are going out of print all over the place.
But the thing I really wanted to tell you about, is the new-look cover design:
Because A Lark in the Ark is a few years old now, Egmont thought a slight refresh might give it a boost and create a more contemporary feel. The cover above is the new one, opened out flat, so you can see front and back; below is the original:
I love it. I think the texture of my pastel illustrations works well when contrasted against a flat background. If you have a look, you can see that quite a few of my covers have been created that way. I like the way the brighter blue really makes the ark jump forwards too:
The new text font is great as well. It feels less formal and really rather funky. I didn't have to do anything - the designer did all the boring cutting-out at their end. All I had to do was approve the design, which of course I did with enthusiasm.
As with all my titles, if you would like a personalised, signed copy, with your own little illustration inside, all you have to do is email me. Egmont have raised the price for next year by £1, to £7.99. I suppose that's fair enough, since it's been held at £6.99 since its original publication in 2008.
I hope you too like the funky new look!
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When I am working on a complex spread, my progress always gets slower and slower, as I work from the bigger sweeps of the background colours and shapes, through the gradual definition of the various characters and then on, to finer and finer detail, finishing with my pastel pencils for sharp definition and the tiny, broken shards of pastel you can see in the littlest box below:
The sunset spread for Jungle Grumble has been exactly like that. And because I am working in a new colour palette, different from the rest of the book, I have also had to constantly re-evaluate the tones and colours of highlights and shadows, balancing objects against one another, to make sure everything 'sits' properly in space. If things at the back are too bright or too black they jump forward, but I still had to go back and darken the background bushes and tree, once the values of the rest were established.
I'm not complaining - well, a bit perhaps: I would have liked the spread to come together slightly more quickly, since time is tight. But no, this 'feeling my way', making constant colour judgements and readjustments, is what makes the artwork stage of the project fun. If it's too easy and predictable, it's just painting by numbers.
I suppose that's a part of what I was moaning about earlier in the week. I know one illustrator calls this stage of the book 'knitting' (I can't remember who...), because she finds the designing and drawing stage by far the most creative. Now I think about it, that sounds a bit of an insult to knitters! Sorry knitters: it wasn't me that said it - no textile-based hate-mail please :-)
Anyway, it's taken 4 days, but now it's done, as you can see. Not quite the record, which goes to spread no 8: on of the earliest I tackled. Two more (plus the cover) to go...