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Smithereens, Post No. 7: Picture Book Illustration

Posted on by Rebecca Green


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Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration. 

What goes on behind the illustrations in a picture book? (I'll give you a hint...way more work than I ever imagined!) I'm just skimming the surface, having only finished three, but each one gives me a new light into what I know, what I definitely don't know, and how I can improve. 

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Today I'm sharing a behind the scenes look at Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea, which is a Citizen Kid book written by Elizabeth Suneby and published by Kids Can Press. An excerpt from the publisher:
"It's monsoon season in Bangladesh, which means Iqbal's mother must cook the family's meals indoors, over an open fire. The smoke from the fire makes breathing difficult for his mother and baby sister, and it's even making them sick. Hearing them coughing at night worries Iqbal. So when he learns that his school's upcoming science fair has the theme of sustainability, Iqbal comes up with the perfect idea for his entry: he'll design a stove that doesn't produce smoke! With help from his teacher, Iqbal learns all about solar energy cooking, which uses heat from the sun to cook --- ingenious! Has Iqbal found a way to win first prize in the science fair while providing cleaner air and better health for his family at the same time?"

This book proved most challenging in the area of research, though the publisher was quite generous in providing reference materials which are always incredibly helpful. I began the project was by first testing what style would capture the characters and setting in a realistic but interesting and playful manner. I also tested materials to see what worked best, and decided ultimately to do the entire book in colored pencil. (Which later turned out to be a short-sighted decision - more on that later.)  

*** These reference drawings are drawn from photos, and since I no longer have the original reference materials, I'm not sure who to credit for the originals, though these drawings are for study only.*** 

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Once the publisher had approved the initial hand drawn look of the first sketches, I developed the main characters, Iqbal and his sister Sadia.

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I then drew thumbnails to share an idea of the layouts and concepts. I find it best to work this simple from the beginning so if there are any major changes, they can be addressed at this stage.
The Art Director made suggestions on adding more white space and varying the perspectives of the illustrations. I tend to draw everything from eye level, but I'm trying to challenge myself to add interest in the from of perspective (worm's or bird's eye view) or adding the ground in at an angle. These drawings are only about 3-4". 

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Once we finalized the layout and design, I sketched the drawings at full size, which was around 9x18" (I draw them in spreads, meaning both pages at once). I draw most sketches in blue or black colored pencil. 

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At this stage the art director and I went back and forth, making subtle changes to layout, setting and characters to prepare for the next stage, which were the linears, or final lines before colors. I should say at this point - I'm sharing this as an experience, but not as a complete instruction for what you should do, because I, as always, overcomplicated the process by doing the final linears on tracing paper, which only meant the final lines had to 'finally' be drawn once again on the actual paper. *face palm*

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I used a lightbox to transfer the linears onto bristol paper, and created the finals in colored pencil. Here's where the poor medium choice comes in - while I love the look of colored pencil, I didn't realize I had so many full bleed illustrations at 9x18". For colored pencils working one little line at a time, that's quite the undertaking! While it's not the biggest book in the industry, for someone like me who is quite new to picture books, it felt monumental! In the beginning I planned to be a purist and only use traditional media without digitally editing but either my fear or smarts saved me and I added all the rain digitally. I did do the smoke traditionally with gouache and neocolor crayons and I gotta say I was proud of that. (!) 

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There you have it! A simplified behind the scene version of a picture book. What did I learn from this process? A couple of things...

1. Make it simple. I did too many drawings here - between the sketches and linears and finals, I was essentially drawing the same thing three times and that's where I start to lose my spark and spontaneity. 
2. Check the size before finalizing your material. I would have saved lots of time had I allowed myself to use gouache or watercolor as a base layer. Alas, I'm happy with the colored pencil look, but it added lots of extra hours. 
3. Add variation and white space. This is a hard one for me. For some reason, I always plan for illustrations to be rectangles with full bleed. I'm trying to loosen up and not cover every square inch of paper. 

Have you worked on a picture book? What are some of the lessons you've learned? I'd love to hear them! 
 


ALSO. 

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Interested in more behind the scenes? I recently joined up with Sketchbook Skool to teach a class where I invite you into my studio. I share insights on the creative process, I walk you through my sketchbooks, dive into materials and of course, provide you with a painting demonstration. (and...there will be homework!!)  

The Whimsical Sketchbook:

"This kourse is designed to inspire your creativity as well, by immersing you in the lives and the studios of five brilliant artists who use their sketchbooks as incubators of stories, emotions, and vivid new worlds.
We’ll learn by sharing their step-by-step process in a 12 different demos using everything from gouache, markers, ink, crayons, collage, iPads, colored pencils, watercolors, pastels, and more.
Their passion and invention is sure to rub off on you every week, and inject creativity and whimsy into the pages of your sketchbook too."

Instructors include: Mike Lowery, Vanessa Brantley Newton, Miriam Bos, Anna Denise Floor, and myself!

If you're interested in signing up, the class begins June 18! 

That's it for now friends, have an absolute lovely weekend. xoxo