Tag Archives: illustration

An Intoxication of Elements

(or Kill Your Darlings)

Poor dangling darlings

When I’m illustrating a page for a picture book, I sometimes find that I capture a mood that expresses the meaning of the text in a very rough form. It feels right, but it’s just a framework. When I work on the final art for that scene, I add layers of detail, making decisions as I go along, and at some point, the juxtaposition of colours and shapes becomes intoxicating.

Once intoxicated, I find myself off on my own little adventure, with my eyes open in wonder at all the pretty colours, textures and shiny things. And then at a certain point, (often when I place the image into the layout to check the flow of the narrative) I find I am hit with a bucket of cold water.

Sober up, Sister. All the shiny things are beautiful. But they don’t work on the page.

Or they don’t work with the text anymore, or they don’t work with the sequence of illustrations. The original truth has been lost under the shiny things. And then it’s time to kill off my darlings. That phrase applies to illustration just as much as writing.

For example, this week, I’ve been making a ghost ship for my current picture book project When You’re Older by Sofie Laguna. It’s my first ghost ship, in my first enchanted lagoon, with my first ghost pirate. The ship is fun. I’ll need to paint it again, because it isn’t there yet but I can see it’s going to work. Yay! Under the ghost ship, there is a mermaid swimming. Yay! And everything is all blue and green and wet and shimmery and deep looking. But to make it truly ghostly it needs some heavy weed and barnacles and stuff hanging from the hull in a dark, spooky but beautiful way, right? Of course, right.

This is where I got intoxicated.

Oh boy! You should see what happens when you start layering up seaweed under a black ship in a turquoise sea! You seriously can lose your head!

These were my building blocks.

I started with this.
Then I made some smaller embellishments. The wet one was key. I wasn’t so chuffed with the one on the right. But we’ll see. Mmmmm.
I’m looking for that HEAVY draped look. So heavy, the ship is just drifting slowly, groaning, becalmed.
Wait, I might want the weed to drape deeper, and and to curl forwards to enveloping the mermaid. So here are some wild and woolly tentacle-weeds.

Then I put them on the image, with the ship and a few mermaids. (This is a corner detail.)

There are already too many mermaids, but the weed is making me tipsy.
Deep dark squelchy, wet bits contrasting with hard, branchy drawn bits
Oooh, that purple is going crazy in there.

My psychedelic dream here came to an end. The page needed a rock or island in front of all this weed, in order to give a sense of the waterline, and to visually anchor the image on the page. With the weed visible in the bottom right hand corner of the spread, all the energy was leaking off the page. No, not leaking …pouring torrentially.

Besides this, was all this weed adding anything to the mood, the action or the experience of the main characters? No.

So I have killed some darlings. I’ve taken it all back to serene. Sorry. You can’t see that yet.

But I’ve added a skeleton. But not one of those up top. And some palm trees… Yay!

Searching for Cicadas

A book about summer and family… and cicadas of course

Two books in one year is outrageous for me. I’m a slow cooker of books. Especially picture books. Each one is for me such a journey of discovery and striving and learning and change. So they emerge slowly.

Portrait of the artist as a very young person, before I illustrated this book.

But speaking of emergence, this is a book about cicadas… cicadas emerge slowly too! Some of them spend several years underground in their nymph form. One species spends seventeen years underground, which is longer than I have ever taken to illustrate a book… thankfully. Then they dig their way up into the light, shed their outer casing, dry their wings and sing a song to the summer. The boys do, anyway. And I’ll bet not many people know that they cover their ears when they are singing so that they don’t deafen themselves. Lesley taught me that.

The skeletal pencil and ink background of a spread from Searching for Cicadas
Ghostly shadows of the child figure for the same spread
The spread with colour and characters added

There are so many bits of fascinating information in Lesley Gibbes‘s text. And there are more than insects here too. There’s a narrative featuring a grandfather and child who go looking for cicadas on an overnight camping trip. And that is what I call fun.

Dirt and pine needles between the toes. Nothing beats bare feet.

Cicadas, summer and grandparents go together like cheese and biscuits. There’s something about these wonderfully noisy creatures (the cicadas, not the grandparents) that fascinates adults and children alike, and while we are sharing our fascination, we share a time, that later becomes a treasured memory. It did for me. I remember holding cicadas on my hand and collecting the empty shells (exoskeletons) and attaching them to the front of my clothes by their hooky little feet. They looked very decorative, along with the ripe cherry earrings hanging from my ears.

summer days in the country with my brother and Mum. I have no cherry earrings on in this photo.
Soundtrack: cicadas, magpies

I consider myself lucky to have been offered the opportunity to illustrate a Nature Storybook for Walker Books. It’s a series that I’ve admired for a long time. It features a double layer of text; story and scientific fact alongside one another in a child-friendly format. There are quite a few in the series, all beautiful. (I’d love to own an original painting from Dingo by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks. And check out Tannya’s dog paintings!)

Camping with Pa: bliss!
Soundtrack: cicadas, magpies

A few years ago I did quite a bit of illustration work for Museum Victoria where I got a taste for illustrating New Things That I Knew Nothing About. You research, scribble, take notes, panic, draw, draw again until you get it right… or right enough. (It’s never perfect.) This was a bit like that. It was really satisfying to learn to draw a cicada. I’m not confident I’d be able to draw a convincing one now, but for a few moments in time, I could do it.

This was my favourite cicada. He didn’t make the cut. I think it was because he had just a bit too much personality for a non-fiction title. He is my little friend.

And best of all was illustrating the Australian bush and the leaf litter. It made me want to make great big paintings of leaf litter.

Me with my grandfather, the irrepressible Pop Worrall who wasn’t with us for long enough. We never went camping but we did lots of swimming together.

Here I am

After the longest time!

Hi there. I’ve missed you. Work on Leonard Doesn’t Dance is going well. And I’m also working on another exciting project. A picture book by Sofie Laguna called When You’re Older. It’s a bit tricky working on two; just when I’m submerged deeply in one, I have to haul myself out by the scruff of the neck and focus on the other. But it’s fine, because both are lovely books.

Leonard and his pigeon friends are learning the can-can. I can’t do the can-can. (I might yet learn… A fake leg might be helpful.) But pigeons can can-can.

Here’s a small section of what I’m working on today. The background is in progress so the yellow area is sketched in. And all around what you see here are plants and other birds and a couple of beasts. But this is one of the white pages. The full colour pages look different.

Leonard and the Can-can pigeons

Detail of the can-can page from Leonard Doesn’t Dance by Frances Watts

They look like this.

Leonard colour page sample

Detail from a full colour page as the sun sets in Leonard’s world.

I’m using a big mix of media in this book. I’m printmaking, painting, drawing, collaging and digitising. (I’m doing the same for When You’re Older, but with a different colour palette.)

The printmaking is the most fun part. There’s something so intoxicating about printmaking. When the outcome is uncertain, due to the variability of the process, you are always on the brink of something… and it could be wonderful. It could be a treasure. Those op-shoppers among you will understand the feeling as it’s rather similar.

The print below is saved to my computer with the ignominious title ‘Disappointing Flowers’. But once colour and collage treatment are added, it actually works very well.

‘Disappointing Flowers’

This is a quick mock-up showing how the application of colour and a trim here and there, bring a disappointing print into a context that works. At least, for me. It’s not from the book.

A quick digital collage of my disappointing flowers to see if they rise to the challenge.

This one I was truly delighted with. It’s such a simple pattern, printed with a single block and roughly aligned. The roughness appeals to my deepest instincts in a way that nothing tidy or perfect can do. And the print has become a raw material like a delicious cheese that I might put into some cooking.

repeat pattern lores

Rough, ready and rambunctious, this print appeals to me like a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

And here are some of the inky painted areas I’m using. These too, will be barely recognisable when I’ve finished colouring and ornamenting them on the computer, but for me, the shapes produced with a brush have more animation than anything I can draw directly on the screen.

8-9 tree shapes lores

Inky tree shapes for Leonard Doesn’t Dance… Or maybe for When You’re Older.

Now it’s back to the page. Some ducks are calling for my attention.

Yes. I think some of them are Call Ducks.

 

Studies in blue

Today I have been working on the mid section of roughs for Leonard Doesn’t Dance. It’s a difficult time for poor Leonard.

As I was drawing, in search of the right feeling in his posture and expression, I thought it might be interesting to picture book enthusiasts to see some of the thought that go into each illustration. So here we go.

Leonard RHS studies lores

An A2 sized page of studies for a vignette on page 15. (8 scans later, boy do I wish I had an A2 sized scanner!) I have numbered my drawings in order in case you are interested to see the progression of ideas.

I’m not sure if you’ll be able to read my notes on the page. Leonard is feeling sorrow, resignation, defeat, regret, longing. Expressions I want to avoid include alarm, fear, guilt, anxiety or furtiveness.

Those who draw will know how a tiny variation in the curve of an eye or eyebrow, or the tilt of a head may change an intended sorrow into an accidental horror.

L sad 3

No.3. The heavy line at 10 o’clock on the eye gives the expression wretchedness. Otherwise the large, round eye looking backwards might have indicated a fear of pursuit.

 

L sad 4

No.4. This is my preferred facial expression. It says best what I think Leonard is feeling.

L sad 1.jpg

No. 1. The expression seems a mix between extreme mortification and horror, with a bit of disgust thrown in. The up-curving neck shows too much energy. I want Leonard to look a little defeated. 

L sad 6.jpg

No. 6 Although I like the body posture with raised wings, the face here is not quite as good as  that of No.4. The head tilt is less submissive, more head-butt. The crest is more raised, the eye less miserable.

L sad 2

No.2. Utter dejection with 1920s silent movie era eye makeup! Leonard is not even looking back, just downwards. I think I’d rather he looks wistfully backwards as it indicates a suppressed longing to join in. I don’t want our boy to be completely bereft of spirit. Poor lad.

Sometimes a thing like this can be positively excruciating if you can’t get it right. But today I enjoyed it. Leonard is  very accommodating.

In Leonard’s case, I have the eye to work with and also the caruncle (a patch of coloured skin) around his eye, which acts as an eyebrow or an underscore for the expression in his eye. And living with a flock of chickens has taught me what a sick or miserable chicken looks like; the hunch, the fluffed up feathers, and sometimes the dropped wings.

L dejected.jpg

But with Leonard’s crest I depart from the nature of birds. A fluffed up crest in the real world might indicate bird misery, but I’m using Leonard’s crest more in the way of ears like a dog, that drop when miserable, raise when interest is sparked. That is probably a language more readily identifiable to children, since more have dogs than chickens… in Australia at least.

So that covers the face. What about the body?

dejected posture.jpg

He’s retreating, so he’s best drawn partly from behind. The fluffed up hunched shoulders, I mentioned earlier. He should look clumsy, so I experimented with leg postures. He has just alighted so I need to suggest the flight just finished. And he’s walking away and downwards, so I have to suggest the forward downwards movement as well.

One challenge is the wings. Raised wings (6) could suggest a certain lifting of spirits. Spread wings look nicely clumsy (5) but tend to get in the way of the main subject (his lowered face). Lowered wings (2, 4) may be best for misery but are not so good for movement and flight. (In 2 he looks positively beaten. It’s a bit much.)

wings raised.jpg

Today as I was working on this, I once again remembered my fabulous school art teacher Cecily Osborn. I remember her explaining how artists can seek to depict movement in a motionless work of art. She used the ancient Greek sculpture of a discus thrower Discobolus by Myron as an example. The sculpture doesn’t depict any real life movement employed by an athlete whilst throwing a discus, but instead attempts to creatively suggest the movement that came before as well as hinting at the movement to follow the instant in time depicted by the sculpture. The sculptor borrows our imagination to evoke a movement that he can’t create in reality.

roman bronze reduction discus_thrower_Myron

A Roman bronze reduction of Myron’s discus thrower. The original artwork was made around 450BC.

“The potential energy expressed in this sculpture’s tightly wound pose, expressing the moment of stasis just before the release, is an example of the advancement of Classical sculpture from Archaic.” (says Wikipedia)

I’m very serious today, aren’t I? Do you think I am overthinking this?

I don’t think so. These thoughts take longer to describe than they do to think. All this and more goes through an illustrator’s head as he or she is drawing. And a lot of it is subconscious too. But it’s part of what makes the pictures work, it’s part of observing our world, and how the experiences of life feed into an artist’s work. I love that about my job.

But here are a couple of over-excited woodpeckers, because I wasn’t just drawing misery today.

Cheerio!

woodpecker black and white judywatsonartwoodpecker judywatsonart

Bird Immersion (2)

This is another quickie post. It’s all terribly busy around here.

Even the birds are looking a bit concerned.

call duck

I’ve often seen ‘Call Ducks’ advertised when I have been browsing the chickens-for-sale ads (as some of us do). I feel this may be what they look like.

 

worried galah

And this galah barely knows which way to turn.

light box in action

I’m still excited about my new light box. It’s much bigger than the trusty old one. It gets brighter or dimmer if you hold your finger on the power button! Sometimes I do that just for fun.

You may be able to see that one spread looks rather a lot like the (empty) stage of a theatre. It’s not a stage, but I quite like that it looks like one. And I like that I can sketch the characters freely on a separate sheet of paper over the top of the scene. I suppose this is what animators used to do all the time.

20-21 muso initial sketches

These are my first drumming bird sketches. It’s been interesting to work out how the bird might play the instrument and how much to simplify or modify the instruments from those in the real world. I liked the bounce in the woodpecker trio at top left but I came up with a much better drawing later. The first one I drew here was the duck and that drum looks most unstable. I’m not sure it’s even three dimensional!

I worked out a great plan (my 25th) for the cover of Leonard Doesn’t Dance in the shower the other day. I often draw Leonard covers on the shower screen. It is an important part of my process and one of the more literal interpretations of bird immersion. Luckily I have imprinted the idea almost perfectly on my brain, because when I went back to the bathroom to photograph the cover design, it had melted away….

That reminds me, I need to buy another back-up hard drive for my computer.

And lastly, for those of you who are interested in bird immersion in general, (you may be the kind who browse the chickens-for-sale ads) did you know that some chickens can swim? Go here to see the most gorgeous Buff Orpingtons in a swimming pool.

It should be added at this point, that we had to rescue Stella from the fish pond a few weeks ago as she fell in and did not seem to have the required flotation skills.

(Why does ‘floatation’ look wrong?)

 

Bird Immersion

Sorry I haven’t been around in Blog Land.

20-21 Leonard with 2 heads

 

Happily, this is mainly because I’ve been so busy drawing my roughs for Leonard, (and turning 50, and looking after an extra child because we have an overseas student staying with us at the moment).

I have to say, despite the fact that I’m multi-tasking like crazy (bad) Leonard is really fun (good!).

I can’t show you very much (bad). Many of the roughs describe the finished image. And this book, true to Frances Watts’ Style, will be brimming with humour (good!). So by showing you the full page roughs, I would be giving away all the gags (terribly, terribly bad).

But I can share with you bits and snippets and here-and-there touches.

chickens lightened.jpg

It’s interesting that the roughs have reverted to pencil, maybe my most natural medium. And this will pose its own challenges when it comes time to make the final art with broad paint strokes. The roughs began as large paintings, then switched to charcoal, and finally, to pencil.

singing

swingin Leonard

And something I’m excited about is my new light box! Wowsers! It’s so cool.

But I’m going to leave this and write more later.

I’m multi-tasking, remember?

 

 

 

 

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?