Saturday, November 24, 2012

Anatomy of an illustration from Hazel Mitchell

I'm sharing the thought and physical process of an illustration I recently created for the Tomie de Paolo SCBWI award 2012. 

This year Tomie gave us three books from which to chose a passage to illustrate in black and white. Tom Sawyer, Little Women or The Yearling. I chose 'Little Women'. I have fond memories of reading it as a child. Beth and her kittens always touched me, maybe because I am crazy about animals and found solace in them always.

 So that's where I started ... I found my favorite passage in the book and began to sketch ...

 Here are my thumbnails. Immediately I knew I wanted Beth to be in the lower left with a slightly above few point and the kittens around her. I wanted to show the love she had for them and how that reflected her kind and loving nature. So, THEN I sketched lots of kittens ...

And more kittens ... (this was fun! I like drawing cats).
Thanks to a friend's cat (Smittens) for modelling).


I did a 'frame' drawing of Beth, curled up.
And then I did a more detailed sketch of Beth and the mother cat.

I wanted the drawing to show the sadness and foreshadowing of Beth's death. But somehow have that as a beautiful thing. What to do? I decided to work with imagery that suggested a light shining into the room ... Beth's room ... but not a fierce light, rather the light streaming through a sunny window.

Here's a montage in Photoshop, using the initial sketch and some of the kittens from the thumbnails. I liked the idea of the cats rhythm, and the shadows and their curiosity. What do they see in the light? Maybe they are a metaphor for Beth leaving us? It all seemed a bit stark though and I wanted to give the picture some cosiness, given that the descriptive passage by Louisa M. Alcott is so evocative.

I also wanted to use digital layering techniques in photoshop. I had been working digitally for ever, but I wanted to incorporate more of my painting skills and utilize the versatility of bringing a finished illustration together digitally.

I had just returned from a week of working by hand on a Highlight's Illustration workshop and being mentored by Eric Rohmann. I realised I missed the fluidity and happy accidents of working with paint and ink. How could I combine them with years of working digitally?

I had also just read 'A Monster comes to Call' illustrated by Jim Kay .. and was blown away by his powerful images!

Now I had my idea on paper, I wanted to try some different techniques and see what happened ...

Straight graphite outline.

 Brush pen outline. (note the floating hand ... I forgot to ink it when I was working on the lightbox!)

 The outline I went with finally ... dipping ink pen and spatter technique.

I did the same for the kittens.

And here's how I created the layers and put them together.

First I painted a base for the floor shadows, all the painting was in ultramarine, then I turned to grayscale in photoshop. I used salt for texture.

I painted the values for Beth and the kittens also in watercolour.

In photoshop I white blocked out the area of Beth and the kittens. Also, to give the whole thing that cosy feel, I scanned a photo of a rug and changed the perspective and value of it to give that homey feel. I made everything point towards the light.

Then I added in the grayscale values as a new layer.

 Finally I dropped in the outline layer and added some shadows. I decided not to go with the very dark shadows of the original digital sketch, they seemed too dramatic.

Below you can read the passage from the book  I illustrated. I could have gone the literal route and made this a very cluttered and overworked illustration (my worst fault). But I decided at the start I wanted it to be about emotion and not the things around her. They are all there .. but out of the image.

Was I pleased with the end result? Somewhat. I love dipping ink pen and I enjoyed getting more texture and a painterly feel into the drawing. I was not content in the end with the girl's position, and I think there are issues with the skirt. If I was doing it again I would have set up a model to get the folds of the skirt right and more natural. When I look at the first pencil sketch I did of Beth at the beginning, somehow I feel I lost the immediacy and the pure love in her face. Perhaps there is more unconsciousness in a pencil sketch
and those first moments of communication from brain to hand to paper.
I do feel the beauty of Beth here, and that's what I wanted.

I hope you enjoyed seeing the evolution of this piece!

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