Saturday, December 31, 2011


 I used to spend a lot of time trying to recreate the gestures and facial expressions from my initial sketches. I was losing magic every time I re-traced my work to head into a new stage of my illustration process. To remedy this, I now let my scanner capture the details so I don't lose what's important and then I continue scanning, enlarging and revising at each stage until I'm ready to begin the final illustration. I've spent the last few years making my process more efficient and it has paid off, not only in saving time, but I'm having more fun than ever.  Here is an illustration from start to finish:

Beginning rough thumbnails
I get my first batch of ideas on paper as thumbnails. I use cheap white printer paper and a Number Two pencil - nothing special. I don't want fear of wasting expensive materials to hold me back. I make my thumbnails the approximate proportions of the final. The thumbnails shown here are about 3"x2". They're super quick and mostly for my benefit. If I were doing work for a client, I would pick 2-3 of these thumbnails to work up for presentation. The client would then choose the preferred direction(s). In this case I was the client and chose the lower right thumbnail in this group to illustrate a single block of text.

I picked this thumbnail to illustrate
I begin revising in miniature
This thumbnail is evolving, but it needs more work to get the POV (point of view) right. I want the little chicken to feel a bit left out and small because everything in his world happens over his head - in more ways than one. I take the image into Photoshop and start playing with angles and placement of characters. I also straighten up the overall shape of my drawing and erase areas that need to be revised by hand. I always scan at a higher resolution than needed so I can continue to enlarge and print at each stage.

Revisions continue at a larger size

Here I made revisions to the image by hand after enlarging 10% and printing out.

I scan again, enlarge more, print again and continue revising.
Larger still - it continues to evolve

I continue in this way - scanning, enlarging, printing and revising in pencil until I have a full size rough (in this case 16"x10"). I lighten the image in Photoshop before printing whenever I need to. I'm using a higher quality inkjet paper at this stage. It is thicker and able to hold onto all the details I'm adding. It's about $10 per ream.

Almost full size, I finish smoothing out the details
Black and white full size final rough

This may seem a little backward, but at this point I take my 16x10 final black and white rough and reduce it by about 65%. Exploring color goes much faster at this size. I print it out on untextured, matte photo paper and make my color decisions. I write lots of notes so I remember what colored pencils and layers I used. This will be the map I use during the final illustration. The color and detail are as complete as I can make them at this size and on this type of paper.
This is the color rough at 25% of the final size.

On the left is what I enlarged and printed onto my drawing paper.
The "color map" with notes that I will follow is on the right.

To begin my final illustration, I scan the 6x4 color rough at high resolution and enlarge to full size in Photoshop. This is what I will print onto my drawing surface. It will give me my basic drawing and under layers of color to work with. I have to complete far fewer layers than I did when I started my drawings on blank paper with a pencil outline. I also retain more details and gestures from the beginning stages. I'm not concerned with the roughness of the color I'm printing because everything will be smoothed out in the final process. Along with the color from the initial printout, I will be adding pen and ink stipple for the shadow areas and colored pencil over everything. All details need to be worked out before this stage, but minor edits can be done in Photoshop after the final scan. Start to finish this 16x10 illustration was completed within two weeks while working regular hours. (While I finished the illustration within two weeks - I was not working solid 8 hour days on this project alone. I finished it comfortably within this time and also made sure to take days off.) In the past this illustration, without the thumbnails and roughs, would have taken 3-4 weeks of working long hours - maybe even without taking days off.
The final illustration
So, that's my illustration process - getting better and more enjoyable all the time. My new method is far more conducive to completing a picture book while maintaining sanity - not to mention a relationship with my family.

Here's to the best in 2012!

Friday, December 16, 2011


My interpretation of Chicken Licken for the 2012 Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award
In the past I have considered myself a skilled technician at what I do. Although my current work still shows technical skill, I have moved into a new realm and because of that, I can't really "see" my work right now. It is still uncharted territory. Even though this style comes naturally, there are times when it feels like drawing in the dark. There are no formulas or rules or much of a basis in reality - except that there is gravity - most of the time.

One thing remains the same. When I start a new piece I am still filled with hope that I will be creating my best piece ever. Along the way there is always a momentary feeling of loss as I perceive that I have slipped away from my goal. This is when I have to remember that my real goal is to produce my best, not the best illustration I have ever seen. There is a difference.

Along with creating the best end result, I strive to improve my process, shave off time, be more productive. Last month I cut weeks off of my process doing the above illustration in a new way. I'll share how I work in an upcoming post, along with my new drawing set-up which allows me to work standing up.

Until then - Happy Holidays and an amazing New Year to you and yours!