Tag Archives: birds

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 By the time I find a few minutes to write, I have a backlog of several things to write about and most of them are out of date!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 – 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

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.

Doodle Galumphers at the Swimming Pool

I’m not sure why my book projects seem to happen at the swimming pool. Pippa who modelled for Thunderstorm Dancing was at the pool, and many of the sketches I did at the pool while the boys were having swimming lessons fed into the book.

Here are some from that time, that have been posted before.

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drybrush sketches in the bombing zone of the local swimming pool. Ink on vintage book page.

Today I took the boys to the pool because it was pelting rain and they were stuck indoors. And there I happily began doodling for Leonard Doesn’t Dance, my new picture book project for HarperCollins, written by Frances Watts.

In truth, I set out to re-read the manuscript and ponder layouts, but I got as far as the first two lines and found I had to turn over the paper and doodle birds on the back. I think it was because Leonard was groaning. ‘Groaning’ is a very suggestive word. It conjures all sorts of pained expressions, and it wouldn’t wait.

Galumphing bird doodles judywatsonart lores

The first bird at the top is about to groan. Or has just groaned. He may have been groaning for some time. But after this, the others became more cheerful. I’m not worrying about style at the moment. Just going for Galumphing. That is my brief. It’s a brief brief.

It’s not hard to see the inspiration for these particular Galumphers.

Rose in the foreground... just in case the camera is edible.

Rose in the foreground… just in case the camera is edible.

Lily looking for something to step in

Lily looking for something to trip over

Here are Rose and Lily, the Terrible Pteranodon Twins (Araucanas) and Lily in particular, is the most impossibly clumsy bird you could ever meet. If you were to put a champagne glass in the middle of a football field and let Lily go and graze in that field, the first thing she would do would be to trip over the glass and spill the champagne. Here she looks like she is marching, but she is really galumphing.

My Leonard bird will, I hope, not be any species of bird in the real world. There will be plenty of those in the book, but Leonard I think may dispense with such restrictions.

In the next drawings I started to exaggerate the trousers on the bird, a thing that I’ve done before with my blob birds. It occurs to me now that if we choose to make Leonard a young bird person, his trousers might be shorts. These three fellows seem to be older bird persons.

Galumphing bird doodle2 judywatsonart lores

Here is a younger bird person wearing short trousers. And that is not a codpiece. (The bird tails might be tricky in some instances…)

Galumphing bird doodle 3 judywatsonart lores

And this drawing raises the question of whether Leonard ought to be more of a Bird Person, or a Person Bird. He will have to fly at one point, but he prefers cupcakes to cockroaches. He’s a multi-layered Bird Person. I’m sure there will be many more bird doodles in the coming weeks.

By the way, my advance copy of Thunderstorm Dancing arrived on my doorstep while we were at the pool. How appropriate, given that the rain had been bucketing down all day. We have all been looking through it with pleasure this evening. It is a very advance copy though. The book won’t be in the shops until April, I believe.

A Thundery book in the cloudy evening light.

A Thundery book in the cloudy evening light.

Leonard Doesn’t Dance and Trudy loves Dodds.

I’m excited to have two new projects to work on over the summer. One is another picture book with Frances Watts called Leonard Doesn’t Dance. The other is the beginnings of my own picture book with the working title Trudy and Dodds.

I’ll be posting here about both of them as I go along. Leonard will be about birds… something I shouldn’t have too much trouble loving! I’ve posted a couple of very early ideas about Leonard already. And you can follow the images alone if you want on my Pinterest page here. The more wordy stuff will be on my blog. (…rambling, rambling…)

Leonard Doesn't Dance

Trudy and Dodds was a concept I had just come up with at the time I was offered Thunderstorm Dancing and to my surprise, I received a grant from the Australia Council to get the project started. But I found I could only focus on the one big (Thunder) project, and so Trudy and Dodds was put on hold. Now is the time to revisit it, and I’m really excited to be booked into a masterclass in mid February with editing maestros Jane Godwin (Penguin) and Erica Wagner (Allen & Unwin) along with book design maestro Sandra Nobes. I’ll be taking my dummy book and manuscript along to that masterclass as a part of my grant project to get some feedback and help.

So, in the meantime, on with birds and…. dog-monster-thingees. Probably.