Category Archives: creative process

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 By the time I find a few minutes to write, I have a backlog of several things to write about and most of them are out of date!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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Brain Doodles (for want of a better name)

After my last post, I went away for the weekend. I had a great time, and made lots of things that may or may not be finished at a later date. Mostly I had a lot of fun with papier mâché and wire. I’ll put pictures up here when I have a chance to photograph them.

Then I came home to a house full of sickies and then I got sick and then I jiggered my back. So here I am at last back in the saddle (chair) and getting up every few minutes to make sure I don’t jigger it again. But it’s all looking good. I’ve picked up the pencil again. And the rain has been falling, and the birds are swooping around outside like mad and some of them tapping on the windows and jousting with their reflections, because it’s spring. And those reflections might steal their girlfriends.

Getting back in the (drawing or painting) saddle for me is always a bit tricky, (and I know it is for a lot of other people as well). I have to make it as fun and easy as possible, because if I try to do something excellent, it will all end in disappointment. But in truth, I’ve been drawing and looking at drawings for so many years, that the warm-up period doesn’t take long any more. There’s generally a little swirl, a dark, bold line, a smudgy bit or a light feathery touch that I really like in each drawing, even if the overall image is not a total success. And I love art enough that those little lines or smudges are enough to make my day.

Last night I picked up a pencil and started doing brain doodles. Doodles of animals from inside my head; animals who bear not a whole lot of anatomical resemblance to live animals.

In another variation on doodling in old books (fun and not scary) or making art from blobs (marvellously fun and not the least scary) I used second-hand computer paper from Scott’s work with those cute little rectangular grab-holes along the edges. Some of them had messages or notes scribbled on them already. How completely friendly and un-scary can you get?

And then I started with drawing chickens, went on to horses, then dogs and finally a couple of arty-farty-non-picture-bookish Leonards.

brain doodle chicken

brain doodle horse

brain doodle horses

brain doodle dark horse single

brain doodle horse single pale moving

I'm putting this one in sideways because I like the message about back for lunch!

This brain doodle horse is appearing on his side because I like the back-for-lunch message!

brain doodle dog with soft mouth

This brain doodle dog is not meant to be unhappy or cringing. It was more about the shapes and curves. It started with its head up, and then I wanted the bowed head because it’s a curling up figure. And the dog reminds me of our old Hungarian Vizsla with the soft mouth, that would curl in a spongy smile when she was pleased to see us.

brain doodle dog sleeping

This brain doodle dog has a large head. Or a small body. It doesn’t matter.

brain doodle Leonard with word tail

A brain doodle Leonard with plant species notes under his tail feathers.

brain doodle Leonard swishy movement

A brain doodle Leonard with swishy bits.

Happy doodling, all.

Bear’s campfire story

Here’s Bear with Boy.

Bear and Boy came about when I was working on the Share A Story poster with the team from the Australian Children’s Laureate.

bear campfire temp

Ann James and I were initially scribbling away at the same time, tossing ideas around for ways to illustrate themes like ‘grow a story’, ‘hunt a story’, ‘hear a story’. We had few preconceived ideas about how we were going to make the poster concept work and we were playing for all we were worth. During this process I drew Bear and Boy, which I later coloured, because I liked the sketch, but I didn’t bother finishing it off perfectly.

But I was primarily the designer for this job, and it quickly became obvious that for the sake of visual cohesion, Ann’s illustrations would look better throughout; not mixed with some of mine. I moved to the computer and started colouring and experimenting with pattern, until we found something that was starting to work. Justine Alltimes and Ann Haddon provided invaluable insight and art direction.

Asking Ann to produce all sorts of obscure drawings on demand was like popping coins into the Best-Ever-Slot-Machine, and watching exciting and unexpected treats pop out. At speed. So much fun!

While from Ann’s point of view, it was fun to watch her drawings merge with colour and pattern and start to form a composition on the poster.

Ann James' Red Riding Hood and friend wolf (with mysterious dark figure looming behind!)

Ann James’ Red Riding Hood and Friend Wolf (with mysterious dark figure looming behind!) © Ann James 2015

Add classic vintage Australian Stamps

Add classic vintage Australian Stamps

Merge using a bit of digital magic along with some V&A pattern.

Merge using a bit of digital magic along with a V&A pattern in the background. Voila!

Being a fan of blobs, I liked the original inky halo around Mr Wolf. But the consensus was that there was not enough contrast to identify his shape against the background patterning, so he had to have a digital bath… or perhaps shave.

If you’d like to download the Share A Story free poster-calendar, conceived by Laureate Jackie French and illustrated by Ann James, go here. It is a great, open-ended way to engage your children with stories.

Share a Story poster final art web