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.
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.
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!
See more of my work at http://hazelmitchell.com
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