Category Archives: creative process

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?

IMG_6630 IMG_6633

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

ATTEN….SHUN!!

ATTEN--SHUN

ATTEN–SHUN! (Even Lassie came to see me. It must be an emergency.)

I have received a few nudges lately.

Yep. I’ve been lost in a world of moving house; a barrage of bills and boxes; a wilderness of wrapping. I’ve been so pooped, I can’t even alliterate for more than one sentence and ‘moving house’ doesn’t count.

squirrel dog

Inane Squirrel Dog running hither and thither. This is not me, you understand. NOT me.

But I’m paying attention now. I’m here. Thank you to the nudgers one and all, for hauling me out of my box… or boxes.

I visited a friend the other day and sat down to do a few harmless blobs over a very nice G&T. To make it even easier, I made them dog blobs. Dog blobs are the easiest blobs, unless you count stay-as-they-are blobs. (Chickens can do those without even trying, so with all due respect to chickens I don’t count them as proper blobs.)

In the spirit of the whole blob thing, where the blob leads the whole story every inch of the way, I promise to include each and every blob in this post, even the ones that are SO WRONG!! All blobs measure around 2-3cm across so it’s really quite impolite to be enlarging them this much. A bit like looking up somebody’s nose.

Okay, I need to get this one out there. It’s hanging over my head and it is SO WRONG!

so so so so wrong!

So so so so wrong!

Phew! All I can say is

THE BLOB MADE ME DO IT!

irish terrier x bull terrier

Irish Terrier x Bull Terrier in a bad mood (from a very nondescript blob.)

Dog breeders would say that this blob is all wrong as well. But I don’t mind him. He has a muscular, hardy look and may be useful carting boxes.

blue dog

Perplexed Irish Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier born on the wrong side of the breeding box.

Being Blue-with-Brown-Spots has proven challenging for this Wheaten Terrier. It reminds me of studying the theme of ‘between cultures’ when I was at school…

hip dysplasia dog

A victim of perspective

Reminding us all that one’s situation in life is all a matter of perspective is this young Springer Spaniel x Staffordshire Bull Terrier. With his back half shown from above in the Stafford position of repose and his front half shown from the side in full Springer Spaniel spring, he could see himself as either getting somewhere or going nowhere.

what the

Reg, the Space Dog

I have never seen a flop-eared dog do this before. His ear defies gravity. But perhaps Reg is in an anti-gravitational chamber and is practising to become a space dog. Luckily these days space dogs get to come down to earth again… I think.

Quite wrong. Pretty wrong. Almost certainly wrong.

Quite wrong. Pretty wrong. Almost certainly wrong.

This is Graham. Graham is undergoing hypnosis treatment, but not the kind you pay for. The hypnotist is an alien who has landed in the back garden and Graham was in the process of confronting him when an eerie light was switched on and began to swing slowly backwards and forwards… After that it was all up for Graham. I hope the alien is just going to take botanical samples from the garden, and not canine samples.

lick lick lick

lickety-split

Lickety-split means fast, pell-mell, gangbusters, like a bat-outa-hell… well maybe not quite as fast as a bat-outa-hell. So I think these two dogs are engaged in a contest to see who can clean themselves more quickly. They are fairly evenly matched for size and white areas, but my money is on the brown and white dog because his tongue is larger. Stands to reason. Also the black and white dog looks like he is losing his cool a bit. He may be trying to wash his tail. If I were he, I’d leave it until last and trust to it’s being black. Nobody’s going to notice.

 

 

The Blob Dog of Discontent

Emerson, the Blob Dog of Discontent

This blob dog is the smallest of all the blobs. Emerson was squished into the top left corner of the page. Perhaps that accounts partly for his disposition. Or, indeed he may be suffering from worms. (His posture is suggestive). But in fact, I suspect he was born this way and has been inflicting his testiness on everyone around him since puppyhood.

Even a dog biscuit would not help here.

Book Signing Phobia

Here’s a lesser known part of the job of being a drawing machine. When we sign books for people, it  is a nice thing for them if the signature comes with a little doodle, drawn for them, right before their very own eyes. And it’s nice to be able to do that for them. It makes us happy too. If it works.

But the inscription is done in pen and can’t be rubbed out or corrected.

And when we draw during the usual course of our day, we usually do many drafts of any illustration before we get it right.

And if we mess up our inscription doodle we have the problem of either sending a deplorable doodle out into the world defacing the otherwise pristine title page of a newly purchased book, or replacing the book with a new one… which we might also mess up.

Now remember that some of us are very temperamental drawing machines, the kind whose engines won’t start unless the key is turned in just the right particular way, may never run very well on a Tuesday, and if the oil runs low we are likely to smoke. You will now realise that the aforementioned anxieties at the back of our minds can cause a little fumble in the fingers; a wobble in the wrist; a twitch in the felt-tip… and then…

Doom!

That is why I am practising my book signatures today.

With Best Fishes

With Best Fishes – practising my book signing today and this is page four. Ahem. 

I have spoken to illustrators who say they won’t do it any more. They will write anything but won’t draw. (And I’m not even going to discuss the issue of spelling difficult names correctly… or easy names for that matter.)

I have spoken to illustrators who say ‘it’s important to make the mark.’

I have watched with awe, some illustrators who sign and doodle with ease.

I have watched with awe, one illustrator who was CLEVER enough to get a rubber stamp made up in advance! (Yes, OtherJude, that was very clever!)

And I have used my bookmark giveaways to circumvent this problem with some success. (It’s much less stressful to draw on a bookmark, than a $25 book.)

photo 1

Anyway, see you at the next book signing!

I’m ready.

I think.

Enjoy your bookmark!

Enjoy your bookmark!

Leonard Chooses His Hues

I have given the medium for Leonard Doesn’t Dance a lot of thought over the last few months. I knew that I wanted the style to be very different from Thunderstorm Dancing, quicker, looser, lighter in touch and for some reason sherberty… Ahem. Don’t ask me why.

And during my time in Italy, I was immersed in so much illustration at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair that it was the perfect time to consider what I did and didn’t want to do, and what was already done too many times elsewhere.

Ann James and I talked about illustration styles, strengths and weaknesses too. She told me that the key to good illustration is authenticity. When she looks at a folio of work, if the expression of line or character feels genuine, as though it really comes from the illustrator’s inner self, then technical weaknesses don’t matter so much. You can see the kernel of the artist in the work and it’s good. I’m re-phrasing of course, because I can’t remember the exact words that either of us used. But this is the gist of it.

So where does that leave me as a wandering artist, prone to changes of style? What is my kernel?

I came to the conclusion that I am very comfortable with my pencil, and my line is probably most expressive of my style or styles. Most me. I had decided that I would use pencil or fine liner (for the lightness of touch), white backgrounds on most pages, and colour the drawings swiftly and joyously in bright, (sherberty) digital colour.

Here are some old artworks for the sake of discussion of medium. None of them were drawn for Leonard Doesn’t Dance

parrot purr judywatsonart lores

fine liner with quick sherberty digital colour. (originally drawn for 52 Week Illustration Challenge – theme WORDS)

Perhaps this parrot cartoon isn’t a perfect example of what I had in mind, but it’s me, and it has the fine line that I want, the simple, swift colour and the white background. And it’s playful. Playfulness is key to this book.

new hat judywatsonart colour lores

loose lines with digital colour (originally drawn for 52 Week Illustration Challenge theme – LINE)

This continuous line drawing is a little heavier in line (a thicker fine liner) and heavier in tone too, on the cream background of a vintage book which was the very thing that inspired the work for Thunderstorm Dancing. But even so, it is me at my most comfortable with a wandering line… making it up as I go along.

So there I was. All decided.

Then the discussion of clothes came up with the Frances Watts and the publishing team.

Do these birds wear any clothes? Should Leonard be wearing those breeches? Or should he not?

During the course of this (somewhat cheeky) discussion I whizzed through some ‘Trouserbirds’ as evidence of the way my bird drawings had been going in recent times. Most of them were wearing trousers. The examples I sent were from my series of blob birds; all painted by starting with a pale grey washy blob, and then transforming it into wacky creatures with watercolour.

stork seaside 2

Fine liner, white background, sherberty. Paint instead of digital colour… (a blob experiment from 2014)

blob birds lores

fine liner, watercolour, trousers… why not? (These blob experiments from last year are darker in tone, but that is mostly about the shade of grey used in the original blob. Partly too about their wintery clothes which seemed to ask for deeper, more tweedy tones.)

Frances Watts was taken with the watercolour. Which gave pause for thought. Because I really enjoyed making these blobs and was already planning a book for them of my own. But there’s no reason why they couldn’t launch with Leonard…

More soon.

Leonard Doesn’t Dance: A Bird of Character

In between racing around madly organising for our auction this coming Saturday, (I refrained from using hysterical capitalisation there. Did you notice?) I have REALLY enjoyed (emphatic, enthusiastic capitalisation) doing a few character sketches for Leonard.

Leonard is the main character for my upcoming picture book with Frances Watts, to be published by HarperCollins next year. Just to put you ever so quickly into the loop, Leonard started in my head as a little fellow with a disastrously swishy tail, inspired by our Australian Willy Wagtails, who swish their tails from side to side constantly.

Leonard Doesn't Dance

The colour sketch I drew for a spontaneous cover, the first day I received the manuscript

Leonard doodles2 judywatsonart lores

further tail wagging doodles drawn during a HarperCollins Author workshop

Then I found out that Frances had only one request: that Leonard be a bigger, galumphing kind of bird, and not a little tweety-bird type. So this sent me off in other directions and I did some galumphing doodles over a period of time while I was finishing Thunderstorm Dancing.

I continued with my doodles while I was travelling in Italy during April.

In the back of my mind there was a memory of a wonderful, lanky bird from Africa called the Secretary Bird. I looked him up and found him to be wonderfully elegant, wearing short black breeches to below the ‘knee’ and a fancy headdress (from which he got his name) and a wonderful set of wings for flying to bird parties.

His beak is quite different from the one I had imagined. I thought I might alter him to make him a unique bird bearing only a partial resemblance to the Secretary Bird. But as sketches continued, I found I enjoyed him very much, just the way he is.

Leonard

Leonard  1 Leonard  2 Leonard  3 Leonard  4 Leonard  5 Leonard  6

If he won’t work on the page for me with all those smaller birds, I may have to re-think him, but I am quite attached to him already.

More on this process soon, and I will tell you about the decisions about my medium.