The text is my cue. I interpret the story as I understand it.
I imagine the settings, characters, props. I don’t like being given extra visual suggestions. It puts blinkers on my imagination. The best texts are spare and often leave much of the emotional story content to be suggested visually.
I type the manuscript into my computer and know it by heart very soon.
I know from the start that about three quarters of my work time will be spent developing roughs and storyboards.
First thing is I’ll have a few goes at spreading the text for the story over the 32 (sometimes 24) pages allocated.
Creating the characters is my first major job. It’s like choosing the cast for a play. I get to know them by drawing them over and over till I know them inside out.
Place is key also. Sometimes very important to know in detail, sometimes less so. Sometimes all you need are characters and props.
Finding the moments to illustrate is all important. The writer and the artist are definitely not trying to do the same thing. It’s far more powerful to illustrate the moment of anticipation rather than to depict the action already described in words. The pictures are there to tell more than the words – they should see around corners and under the skin.
Soon roughs are developed, of characters doing things, feeling things, wearing things. Drawing is my first language so my first roughs are nearly always in brush or pen and ink. I don’t work in pencil because I’ll be tempted to rub out. A waste of time because you need to see your mistakes!
When I feel fairly confident and reasonably pleased with these, I’ll show my editor – and if I’m lucky, my art director. Am I on track? Just as writers need wordsmith editors, illustrators need confident, sensitive visual editors!
Technique and medium
are important choices. My choice may change along the way depending on my sense of success – and that’s often based on the feedback I receive.
Your style is in your thinking. It’s not your technique. If you are an emerging illustrator your folio should show how you think. Reflect your personality, interests and your skills.
You want to attract stories that will suit you, stretch you and reflect you.
I’ll choose my materials and tools, and the manner I work with them, to interpret the text and the way I feel I can best tell the story.
Illustration is great fun – there are so many ways to approach it. I don’t always draw or use watercolours. If I think something is better illustrated with photographs or squashed mosquitoes, then that’s how I’ll do it.
in the telling is so important. So that I can work out how to unfold the story at just the right pace, I make small concertina dummies where I can turn the pages. You can spread the concertina out flat to see the whole story in a stretch!
Ever more complex storyboards and dummies with visual detail can be developed later, when the pagination is really working. This is the stage for the actors to move across and in and out of the pages.
You don’t know what you don’t know. So the looking and finding and stumbling happens all along the way.
happen somewhere around the middle of all my projects. I get to a point when everything is flat. I lose heart. I think that someone else should be doing this project. But the best thing is, I recognise this moment. I have it always. And so, I have discovered, do most creative people. I’ve almost come to welcome it, though it tastes horrible!
Sometimes it’s just a matter of leaving the work and going for a walk – or having a good sleep. When you look at it later you see what is working.
I realise it for what it is. I’m at a point of growing. I need to walk on new ground. It’s difficult to invent and create and go somewhere you haven’t been. I believe, if I don’t feel this, I’m just treading water, reinventing the wheel, polishing something already made. I need to grow. So, onward and upward and forward!
Finished art time is a breeze, usually! I have everything worked out and sorted. I have had the go-ahead from the publishing team, which includes the author. Full speed ahead – which is why this is usually the last quarter of my slice of working time.
But every project is different.
A few Pointers
Drawing from memory is an important skill. Build you visual library by looking, noticing, and remembering. Drawing from life will help.
Life drawing itself develops a connection between the eyes, the hand and the heart. Photos and film can be very useful reference and great prompts. But illustration depends on imagining and retelling – and this is where you’ll find your voice.
Don’t ask for feedback from everybody. You need just one or two colleagues who can spot where you want to go, can prompt you to find your own answers and not lead you off track. Having a range of ways to express your ideas and moods is useful. Become confident and fluent in techniques and with media. Develop skills through practice till you are comfortable they won’t limit your ideas. You’ll find your voice as you practice and experiment.
It’s not about fashion or cleverness or whether you use a limited palette or a vast one, it’s what you say and how you say it.