Saturday, December 31, 2011

MY PROCESS: A PICTURE BOOK ILLUSTRATION FROM START TO FINISH

 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:

STEP 1 - THUMBNAILS:
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.

STEP 2 - REVISED THUMBNAILS:
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.

STEP 3 - REVISIONS FOR BEGINNING ROUGH STAGE:
Revisions continue at a larger size

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




STEP 4 FINAL ROUGHS:
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










STEP 5 - COLOR 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.









STEP 6 - FINAL ILLUSTRATION:
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!

39 comments:

  1. I love seeing how others work, so I thought this would be a fun post. Thanks for checking it out!

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  2. Wow. The final piece is amazing. I love to see this process as I struggle with the same problem of losing the sense of life I got in my first sketch. Did I read correctly when you said this took 2 weeks? This is my problem with this method, I dont know how I could possibly make any money as an illustrator if I spend this much time on one illustration. But I hate the idea of shortcuts and producing work Im not happy with. Any thoughts?

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  3. Thanks Dan. Yes - two weeks from thumbnails to finished for this style, but not solid 8 hour days of illustration. Thumbnail through rough stage was done in short stints of time. In a real client situation I would have completed more illustrations during this time as well. Picture books can be a time consuming category of work. You've got to love the work and hope for big returns in royalties, but I guess it all depends on what you mean by "making money as an illustrator". :) My best money making jobs have been doing multiple quick spot illustrations for books and then re-licensing for new uses or for later editions of the books. Absolutely don't be tempted by shortcuts that don't produce results you want. A lot depends on the complexity of your style. My newest shortcuts have produced work I'm even happier with while being true to my illustration voice. Good luck to you!

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  4. Thanks again for the insight. Its tough to find people who realize what goes in to a solid illustration. There are so many people online who are willing to do work for so little money that I find I give up a lot of work I would love to do because I just cant justify the amount of time it would take me vs. what they are willing to pay. But I agree, if we all take short cuts and pay cuts, we devalue ourselves as professionals and our work.

    Thanks again.

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  5. I always enjoy seeing how other artists work. Your article has inspired me to try and work some more traditional methods back into my art. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Excellent Bob! I love sharing what I do. Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. Thanks for posting this, I love seeing the process!

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  8. You are welcome, Tina. Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. That is an amazing process. I am going to show it to my daughter, who wants to become an illustrator!

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  10. It is fun to see your entire process - thanks for detailing it.

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  11. You're welcome, Camille. Thanks for stopping by.

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  12. Beautiful work, Kristen. And so fascinating to see the process unfold. I'm going to have to pass this link along to our SCBWI chapter peeps.

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  13. Thank you Gerb. This has been fun to share.

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  14. Beautiful art. Thank you for sharing more about your process. It is so cool to see the step by step from thumbnail to finished.

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  15. Thank you, Carrie. I really enjoy seeing other artists at work, so I thought I'd share too.

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  16. Thanks for sharing your process. It's really interesting to see how we artists achieve a more efficient way of working as we work. The discovery is the fun part :) I really love the soft transitions of color that you achieved on this piece. Really beautiful!

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  17. Thank you, Juana. Yes - the discovery is the fun part in every aspect. If I didn't get such a kick out of problem solving, this would definitely be the wrong profession!

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  18. I'm so glad you stopped by my blog Kristen. Your work is gorgeous and your blog posts are so interesting and detailed! It's nice to meet you!

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  19. Thank you, Jill. It's nice to see you here! BTW - good luck on your new blog header. I just did that with mine. It's nice to change things up every once in a while. :)

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  20. This is an awesome post. It's great to see the process of illustration since I only see the side of the words.

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  21. Thank you so much for sharing your process, I LOVE to see how artist's work! You created a beautiful illustration! Wishing you MUCH LUCK and ah Happy 2012! :) (p.s. thanks for visiting my blog!)

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  22. @Rebecca - Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    @Nina - Thank you! It's fun to see how we all work and it's been great to visit new blogs this way.

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  23. What a fascinating process! Thanks so much for taking us through it step by step. I love to see how others work--I know nothing about illustrations!

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  24. You are welcome, Heather! I love to see how others work, also. I've been fascinating by process my entire life. Thanks for stopping by!

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  25. Thanks for sharing your process! I always learn something new from others way of working! I need to do a process post soon! Great illo!

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  26. Thank you and thanks for stopping by (and for the follow)! My next post will have a mini blog tour of process posts in it. Make sure to come back and add the URL of your process post in the comments!

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  27. So phenomenal! Thanks for sharing this whole process with us. It's funny, I don't usually think of artists creating so many versions of their works in progress, although now that I see it, it really makes sense.

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    1. Thanks Madigan! I'm having fun finding parallels with my author friends and how we work. In some ways our crafts are so different and in others so similar.

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  28. These are my favorite illustrator posts EVER! I love seeing the artist's process. (I'm a writer and illustrator-envier.) I think it's amazing how different the process is for different artists, and somehow it's comforting to know it takes a long time, even for people with talent and experience.

    Yay, you! Thanks so much for sharing.

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    1. I agree. At the SCBWI LA Conference, I found seeing the processes of all the well established children's illustrators quite comforting. It all takes time and we all have our unique ways of doing things. It's all so interesting. Thanks for stopping by Jen and for your enthusiasm!

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  29. This is fascinating. So glad I stopped by here for the comment challenge. (I'm behind, but maintaining. lol) I've been wanting to learn more about illustrating and the process involved and this was so interesting to see how you create such wonderful pictures.
    Great Work. Thanks for sharing your process.

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Jackie! (I'm a bit behind in the challenge as well, but still enjoying everyone's blogs.) Thanks for stopping by!

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  30. Fascinating to see inside your process. Thanks for sharing, and thanks as well for participating in the 2012 Comment Challenge!
    Keep on commenting,
    Lee

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    1. Thanks Lee! Thank YOU for bringing the kidlit cyber-community together with this challenge. It has been great!

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  31. I love getting the inside scope on illustration of which I know very little. Very nice!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for stopping by and for putting the Comment Challenge together with Lee. It has been a great experience.

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