One piece of advise that I've decided to take up is to copy illustrators that I admire. The first person that comes to mind for me is Mark Teague. Way back in 2012-2013 when I first
decided to start painting illustrations for picture books, I looked to Mark Teague. Here was a guy with no formal art training who made a career of illustrating children's books. I searched for something like a video or a website that explained his process and luckily came across this blog post that showed how he worked through a page from one of his LaRue books. Following his techniques started me on my own painting techniques.
The original work was done in oil but I haven't stepped into that arena yet so I decided to work in gouache. Its versatile. It's frustrating. It's perfect for this project. I first sketched out the piece freehand onto watercolor paper. Next I began laying in some base colors for the image. Gouache dries fast but can be easily washed later with water. Its a push and pull process but I've found that if you wait too long to add water it just strips all color from the paper so I've found it best to not let it dry for too long. But what is nice is that you can work it like watercolor but then build up lighter colors on top of it later like you would acrylic.
Next up, the girl. Working on her made me nervous because her face was so small and I didn't want to over work the colors creating a muddy mess. When I worked on her, I laid in the basic structure of her face and then add water to pull away the pigment from the page. This technique worked well to blend the colors. I worked from large to small brushes as I added more detail as the night went on.
Finally I worked on the background. This turned out to be the most difficult part only in that I wasn't happy with my color mixing. Since I don't have a formal art background or a color mixing cookbook, I usually just pull straws as to what colors will mix to get an exact color. Also, gouache often changes tones when they dry, so what might look fine when you go to bed might look a shade or two different when you wake up in the morning. Now that my excuses are done, I felt like I got the background and the trees pretty much where I wanted them to be. Some of the brush techniques for the sky and trees were hard to mimic without having oil paints but I worked out a system of using some thick gouache mixed with thin to build up the image.
My next step is to try and do this digitally to see what I can come up with on the Cintiq. An artist study is something I used to do when I was a kid but didn't think doing it as an adult would be helpful especially when you are trying to find your own style and workflow. I thought it would be a waste of time like a side step from trying to reach my goal. Instead it ended up giving me more focus and definition of what I do want to do as an artist.
Ben J Hutchison
I am an aspiring children's book writer and illustrator.