Category Archives: birds

Leonard dances on (part 2)

Having had a lot of fun with my digital collage and brushwork, I picked up the dip pen and filled my inkwell once more to explore Option One.

pen and ink crooner judywatsonart

Dip pen and ink with real wash. 

Having fuddled around with birds for some weeks, I felt warmed up. My drawing hand was in action again. I was feeling a bit racy. The big brushy birds were fairly cumbersome in terms of getting the dance action going, and I wanted to see how these birds might actually look dancing; particularly in pairs or groups.

So here’s where my trusty dip pen came in. I used the same one for the whole of Thunderstorm Dancing and I’m not sure what I’ll do when this particular ratty nib gives up the ghost. It’s pointy and twitchy and zippy and once the pen hand is warmed up, the quicker the drawing, the better.

In my first sketches, I referred to pictures of people dancing. The birds looked rather hilariously like people in bird costumes.

pen and ink crazy peoplebirds lores

pen and ink ridiculous birds

Seriously, what???!! Must be stuffy in those bird costumes…

pen and ink person to bird lores

Here you see me trying to figure out how to turn a human dance pose into the equivalent bird pose. Doesn’t work. The bird’s leg joints are so different that when forced into a corresponding pose, they become stiff and awkward. 

pen and ink john travolta lores

John Travolta? 

They were terrible. After that I put Fred and Ginger aside. Phooey! Better to just look at birds and make their gestures approximately dancelike. Despite my lack of dance expertise, I could put more of an expressive spin on a bird drawing without scrutinising a real dance move.

Then it became more fun. These birds were attending an imaginary ball. I gave them names. Just because.

pen and ink tiara

Spotted at the ball this evening – Miss Ophelia Oriole in yellow cape and tiara.

pen and ink orange pair

Melva and Gene Shufflebottom set the dance floor on fire this evening. Luckily, no one was hurt. (That’s from Thomas the Tank Engine. Some of you will recognise it.)

pen and ink blue green pair judywatsonart

Sparking rumours this evening at the ball, Adele Coiffe and Thomas Furle were inseparable on the dance floor. 

pen and ink cindermallard

A Mysterious Mallard wowed the guests at this evening’s festivities, but departed hurriedly at midnight, leaving behind a puddle of water. 

pen and ink crooner judywatsonart

A starling vocal performance was given this evening by Steve Brash, with backing vocals by the Fluffies. (not shown.)

Lastly, I spend about 40 minutes whipping up a page spread in this style to see how I’d go with drawing a crowd. It wasn’t so great, but it was good enough to act as a sample for discussions with the editorial team at Harper Collins.

pen and ink rough spread judywatsonart lores.jpg

This sketch is coloured digitally, so that I could get a quick idea of how it might look. It’s very rough, and fairly energetic. I like the energy. It reminded me of a picture I’d done for the Ernie and Maud series years ago. Particularly the duck in the middle, waving to a friend. (There was an excellent hot air ballooning duck in that story.)

Greatest Sheep in History judywatsonart lores

 

I’ll be interested to hear what treatment you would have chosen. But I have to say voting has closed and the team at Harper Collins voted unanimously for….

drum roll…

BRUSHY!

brushy green bird

Let the games begin!

pen and ink rats lores

Was it the shoes? Too much?

Leonard dances on

Well, enough of that frivolous sewerage stuff for now. Time to get back to Leonard because I’ve got some roughs to complete! (Sorry to those who were enjoying  my inexpert comics doodles. I’ll try to fill you in on the end of the story at some stage. Evil snigger.)

woodpecker colour flat

Option B. Read on…

Now where did we leave off? I think I was drawing finches in all sorts of styles.

After that, I drew a few more birds of other kinds… That’s rather offhand, isn’t it? I’m skipping over about 16 species without even excusing myself…

And then I spent a day or so researching and downloading images of various dances. I am much more familiar with birds than I am with dances. Seriously, you should see me try to dance. But what a great excuse to get a book about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers out of the library.

Then I spent a day drawing birds dancing, putting it together. And all the while my days and nights were filled with mullings and musings about medium. That’s just too much, right?

I am a person who could spend a long time making up my mind. So I wrote this shortlist.

shortlist worksheet

There was a third option but since it had a difficulty rating of 5/5 it soon dropped off. 

The fabulousness ratings are important for me because I don’t feel there’s any point in making a picture book if I don’t at least attempt to make it fabulous. But they’re hypothetical, and of course totally subjective.

So. Being me, I started with Option Two. 

Brush and wash with digital blocks of colour. 

I have to thank Clive Hicks-Jenkins for accidentally reminding me of the brush and wash option. He posted my bookplate blog post on his FaceBook page. And when I looked at the bookplate again, I remembered how much I had enjoyed painting that chicken with brush and ink and how the digital editing changed it into something I rather liked, with very simple blocks of flat colour over the painted image. It was easy to do and retained the painterly look, which many digital treatments do not. But it wasn’t something I had considered as a treatment for Leonard.

sepia chicken judywatsonart lores

This particular image would be rather dark and heavy in a picture book. But it’s really just the background that makes it heavy. With a different background treatment and a lot of white space, it could work. I had a vision with lots of white space but with some painted plants strategically placed, in paler tones than those of the birds.

With the chicken bookplate, I converted the original art to a sepia colour; still very inky looking. But I could make the brushwork any colour that harmonises with the overlaid colour blocks. Indeed each bird need not be treated the same way.

I made some quick mock-ups.

finch flap lores

unhappy secretary bird photo

brushy sketch

unhappy secretary bird test

brushy sketch with flat colour

 

several finches with flattened background 2 col copy

a digital collage with brushy finches, a woodpecker and digitally applied colour wash

These brushy bird paintings were large. Nearly A4 size for each individual bird, so I wondered if I might be able to work at a smaller scale using a pencil for details like eyes. And made this quick  sample. I think I prefer the brush alone, but it will depend how practical this giant size proves, when working on entire page compositions.

bluebird test judywatsonart

brush and pencil bluebird with digitally applied colour wash

And I made a few brushy background vegetation sketches. I could have a lot of fun with these, adding some colour and layering. We could go a little 1970s…

feathery tester loresfruity tester loresginkoish tester loresgrassy tester lores

flower tester levels loresjointed flower tester levels

I think that will have to do for tonight. Option One tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leonard’s Friends (part 2)

the finch who has forgotten the next step

Yikes! It seems there is a lot going on quite quickly, and I haven’t been keeping up with my blog posts. By the time I find a few minutes to write, I have a backlog of several things to write about and most of them are out of date!

Ah well. One step at a time. Or perhaps one Two-Step at a time in the case of Leonard Doesn’t Dance.

I seem to remember promising to post more on my visual exploration of the bird species of Leonard Doesn’t Dance; the finch being next bird on the wire. So here they are first.

I think the page of coloured birds below was my very first page of finches. I was sketching quickly, trying to keep loose and have fun, while getting the general idea of their shape. The ink was water soluble, which bled into the very saturated colour I was using, and the effect is not so great, especially in a group. It’s a bit like an over-cooked rainbow stew. Or perhaps something that a child might create with a mud pie and food colouring…

saturated finches

Another notable point about learning to draw finches is their beaks. They have a particularly fierce strength about them. They remind me very much of a crescent wrench or adjustable wrench. In this first page of finches, I had not yet cottoned on to the beak thing.

adjustable wrenchcrescent wrench

Wrenches. Distinctly finch-like. Compare with the two top right-hand images below.

Here you see where I cottoned on to the beaks. I did a series of head sketches, playing with character, expression and finchy beaks. I was pleased with this page. I think at this point I was also pondering whether Leonard might have a little finch buddy who is a more confident dancer than he. A non-speaking role. A kind of Cyd Charisse.

finch faces

I then went on to exaggerate the beak further, and added some wash over the pencil sketches. I drew this stolid fellow below. (That amused me, drawing a stolid finch.) And then the finch at the top of this blog post, who is more lively, and still with that lethal looking tool on the front.

the stolid finch

Next up, Christmas happened! Determined to wrestle every possible bit of finch drawing out of daily life, I painted finch Christmas cards for family and friends. Using a faint pencil guideline, I avoided all conflict between watercolours and inks.

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I think I liked this smiling chap best (above). You can see he came directly out of the head sketches I drew earlier.

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Now we move on to another day in late January where I took my sketching materials to the yacht club to get some work done while keeping an eye on the boys in the water. I didn’t have any of my earlier sketches with me and Christmas and New Year had completely erased my memory.

(…) That’s what it looked like inside my brain.

I had only a very soft graphite pencil and a red pencil with me. I started by drawing this fellow, starting with the beak. He looks horribly fierce, mostly because of the dark shading above his rather narrow eye.

I had moved on from beaks and was experimenting with a simplified way of drawing the feet. I’m not really wanting to get too anatomical with my birds’ feet; I think that would become a distraction for me while drawing, and for the reader while reading. So I need to find a shorthand for them, that expresses the bird (and the dance) and doesn’t evoke a biology book.

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These chaps were next.

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I added red pencil over the beaks, on a whim. The red pencil did not like the soft pencil. More rainbow pie.

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Euwww! Is that egg on your chin?

By this time, I was noticing that many of the finches in the reference photos sported black eye-makeup and red cheek patches. What was I to think? They looked a little clownish.

pencil finch clowns

But wait! Maybe they are superheroes?

pencil finch superheroes

Posting these now, I notice that the clown finches have more weight on their cheeks and bodies with not much forehead; it’s a sagging, comical shape. The superhero finches have a more compact, athletic shape and more cranial space. They look speedier and sharper. I’m not sure how much of that was conscious, and how much unconscious. (…)

I was pretty comfy at the yacht club, and I continued on with some puffins (deplorable) and some woodpeckers (passable).

But enough for now!

pencil woodpeckers

 

 

 

Leonard’s Friends

Leonard 6

As some will know, my current book project is a picture book by Frances Watts to be published next year by HarperCollins. Leonard Doesn’t Dance is the title, and it will feature a cast of feathered friends of many species.

Leonard and his friends have been forming on the page but I’ve yet to definitely decide on the medium that will best suit the book. As a way of exploring options, I’ve begun getting to know this list of species.

Magpies
Ducks
Pigeons / Doves
Rosellas
Galahs
Woodpeckers
Flamingos
Swans
Chickens
Turkeys
Quails
Bluebirds
Finches
Penguins
Puffins

First on the list, penguins. (Yes, I’m not even reliably back-to-front.)

Penguins come in several shapes and sizes and are attired in formal to smart casual. Their posture is generally upright, and they are fond of water sports. Some are tall and imposing. Some are small and wiry. Some are round, cuddly and ridiculously cute. Possibly too cute. (What kind of a kill-joy book illustrator am I? Too cute?)

penguin very first pencil sketch

A warm-up penguin. I liked to think I was channelling William Kentridge with my deft use of the eraser… but really, this is just a warm-up penguin. My eraser was employed in deftless ways.

penguin pencil and wash early 1

A second warm-up penguin. Sometimes the warm-up process temporarily takes one backwards.  (Watercolour and brush on smooth watercolour paper.)

the rather dull small fluffy penguin

See what I mean? (Noodler’s ink, watercolour and gouache on watercolour paper.)

the rather dull penguin

A half-warmed up penguin, using a soft pencil and watercolour. I need to bond with penguin feet. They are thick and sturdy and look like lumps of pink putty. These are not right. But I like the head.

penguin pencil and wash later

A tighter line. Testing the look of a more stylised shape. This penguin is quite athletic. I didn’t  realise that some penguins have rather long legs. Even if much of the leg appears to be inside their body. Rather like walking around inside a large pillowcase with your toes in the corners… Or not. I do like the watercolour over the textured pencil.

tighter penguin

A tighter outline again with an exaggerated shape. But still with a loose hatching technique. I don’t do tidy hatching. I associate it with things like ironing shirts. A useful skill that I don’t have the patience for.

penguin pencil sketch

Looser? Almost the same head. But loose and with added dance steps.

twin penguins

Looser with ink. I think this is a combination of the last two. Or three.

A question arising is the ink. This ink is water soluble. I often enjoy this, because it’s rather scrumptious to see the line dissolve under the watercolour brush to do unexpected things. I mostly like unexpected things. But would I like unexpected things to happen on my final artwork? Maybe not.

Also, it’s hard to lay clean colour over dissolving black ink. I will want some of my colours to be clean. I will have a try with water-fast ink later. But there are other ways around this. I could do the black part with water soluble ink and print out the illustrations onto fresh watercolour paper before adding colour. But all this can get rather complicated and size can become a limitation. There is much to ponder over the next few weeks.

I will share some finches with you soon.

 

Bookplates on Exhibition

The Australian Bookplate Award is running its exhibition until the 19 December at Library at The Dock, 107 Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands. I haven’t been down to see yet, but it looks as though at least one of our family bookplates will be part of the exhibition, judging from this lovely newspaper article. Click the link below to visit the article.

Under the covers: bookplates offer a window into ‘untold histories’

Robert Littlewood with some of the bookplates included in the exhibition.

Robert Littlewood with some of the bookplates included in the exhibition. Photo: Joe Armao

A Geoffrey Ricardo design.

A Geoffrey Ricardo design. Photo: Joe Armao

A Dianne Fogwell design.

A Dianne Fogwell design. Photo: Joe Armao

A Megan Fisher design.

A Megan Fisher design. Photo: Joe Armao

A Judy Watson design.

A Judy Watson design.  Photo: Joe Armao

A Larissa Macfarlane design.

A Larissa Macfarlane design. Photo: Joe Armao

My husband Scott thinks that bookplates bear a remarkable similarity to wine labels in many respects. I hadn’t thought of that (surprisingly) but had compared them with stamps. I can imagine opening a bottle of Amelia Beecroft Pinot Grigio though, it’s true.

I’m surprised that this biennial award doesn’t attract more entries. It’s a rather fascinating art form and so wonderfully relevant to book illustrators. It seems an especially appealing project for schools to participate in as well. But as I discovered The Australian Bookplate Design Award only this year, perhaps others too will fall in love with bookplates in the near future.

Bookplates – just for fun (part 2)

So here are my two quick bookplate designs. Unlike Hugo, my preliminary work was limited to one doodle in blue pencil. I then progressed straight into ‘make it up as you go along’, my strongest medium.

bookplate prelimiinary doodle judywatsonart

Wanting to play quite loosely with patches of colour, I used watercolour without any particular structure or organisation. Then I added ink with brush and dip pen, acrylic (to cover up the bits I didn’t like on the wing) and went for it with some lettering. I left it scanning while I started on a second one.

Bookplate2 judywatsonart stage 1

The second one was only black ink and dip pen with lots of splodgy bits. I scanned it before adding more texture, to give myself a way of going back. undo. (Am I the only one who mentally presses Command Z when I miss a turn off in the car? It doesn’t work.)

Bookplate judywatsonart stage 1

Then I took it back to the drawing board and added some very important dots and scratchy bits. (Chickens scratch. It’s symbolic, right?) Then I scanned it again. (undo)

Bookplate judywatsonart stage 2

Then I took it back to the drawing board for some wash, and scanned it a third time. (Actually, I blow-dried it first, and then scanned it and found it was wobbly, and then put it in the book press for 2 hours while I drove to school and back and then scanned it again, but that’s probably too much detail.)

Bookplate judywatsonart stage 3

Then I took it into PhotoShop and added some colour. Although it may have been better in black and white, it was too much fun not to add colour. (This process involved lots of undos.)

Bookplate judywatsonart tonal chookie

Then I went back to my first chicken; all loose and free and doing her own arty-farty, happy thing. And I had to mess with her. Cramp her style.

I desaturated her, taking her back to a sepia tone, then added very limited digital colour. She squawked in protest, but I took no notice. I told her firmly, ‘less is more… sometimes… Not when it comes to eggs, you understand.’ She gave me that bright beady-eyed look and then we sent the bookplates off to print.

The other chicken had been asleep through the whole process.

sepia chicken judywatsonart lores

Bookplates – just for fun

A few weeks ago I noticed on an artists’ noticeboard that there was an Australian Bookplate Design Award coming up. Not being sure what a bookplate actually was, I read with interest. I quickly concluded that it was just my cup of tea. Books, cups of tea and small, quirky collectible artworks go together perfectly. If you’re interested, try searching the internet or Pinterest with the search terms ‘artist bookplate’ or ‘ex libris’. There are some amazing ones out there, and they are so wonderfully varied in style.

Best of all, there were several categories for entry into the competition, including one for primary school students. We have two of those in the house.

Arthur (12) drew his bookplate about ten minutes after I flagged the idea, without any preliminary work apart from a little research into the meaning of his name and his sun sign. In keeping with the traditional model of a bookplate (the coat of arms of the book owner), he came up with a kind of avatar for himself; a heraldic creature with roots in the notion of courage, and I suspect some DNA from Chewbacca of Star Wars fame. See below.

Arthur's heraldic beast bookplate

Arthur’s heraldic beast bookplate

Hugo (10) decided at the last minute to join in, and only because he was home from school with a cold at the time and looking for a quiet activity. His process was admirably logical, beginning with a warm up, and ending with a bookplate. See below. 

hugo bookplate working 1

Stage One: loosening up, exploring ideas 

hugo bookplate working 2

Stage Two: brainstorming birds and books

Hugo working drawings Bookplate award 3

Stage Three: I love this. From top to bottom, working out the composition and the gag.

Bookplate Hugo Watson

Stage 4: The final bookplate.

I made my two entries in a rush on the final day as well, thereby cleverly avoiding thinking out what my perfect bookplate design would be… ahem. I’ll show you my bookplates in the next post.

We sent them off to be digitally printed and trimmed, then raced them to the post office the next day for last minute delivery into the competition. This involved the boys signing each of their bookplates with very sharp pencils in very small writing at the post office; a fun and exciting process in itself!

Finally, on the weekend, we tested out our bookplates on real books! Which was SUPER fun, even though some were a bit crooked, and as you will see below, some interesting questions came up about the hierarchy of ownership. For instance if your big cousin wrote her name in the book in 2002 with silver pen on the right hand side, do you trump that with your own hand designed bookplate pasted into the left hand side in 2015?

And does that depend on how big your cousin is?

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