I have been taking courses and working on illustrations for a website called SVS Learn. I like what the teachers are doing and enjoy the courses that I'm taking and every month they hold a sort of contest every month where they give you a prompt and you come up with an illustration for that prompt. While there are winners in the contest, the point is to get people working on illustration projects that can move them towards their goal of becoming an illustrator. This month, I chronicled my journey so others could see my process but also for me to see what my process is now and maybe in the future see where I could change or improve.
The prompt was: As Charly walked deeper into the forest he heard singing and dancing. He peeked out from behind a huge tree and saw...
First off here is my initial sketch.
This sketch was really small. I did it in a pocket sized note book. I thought about what I wanted to focus on so I made Charly and what he saw all animals. Since I decided to do pigs dancing around a fire, I looked for inspiration/reference from the movie O'Brother Where Art Thou? The scene is from a KKK rally, but I remembered the shot of this big group of dancing in circles in the woods.
So after I scanned in my small sketch into my computer, I took the image into photoshop and began rough sketching over my original sketch.
After this stage, I spun a little out of control. One of the things that I find difficult is to marry the way my brain works on a traditional painting and the way it works on a computer. I tried a few different methods for adding color and tone to this sketch. First, I tried using the lasso/gradient technique that is taught at Oatley Academy. I was able to work through the piece fairly quickly but once I got to the point where I needed to start brushing and adding color, I didn't know what to do. I felt like I had all these different points of reference in my mind as to how to move forward on the painting, but nothing felt married together.
So I started over again. This time, I was working from a blog post where Dan Santat showed the process he goes through for coloring his illustrations. So I divided and colored each section seperately which kind of acted as a color coding system while also acting as a mask for each part of the painting. But what threw me off with this process was that I felt like nothing was merging together like I wanted. For instance, look at the fire below. I liked the way it looked and turned out, but I struggled to figure out how I could get the ground, trees, pigs, and Charly to all mesh together well. I thought the logs were just always sticking out like a sore thumb. So I moved on.
My next attempt involved a few Will Terry Courses. His technique for using a digital pencil seemed appealing. I liked the way it was going and things seemed to be merging better in this one, but at this point I got frustrated with the digital. Here I was, re-sketching for the fourth time and I was tired of re-sketching the image again. I knew that if I switched to traditional, I don't know if I could work faster but I felt more comfortable. So after my many digital attempts, I went back to good old paper.
Since I knew this image inside and out by now, the move to paper in terms of the drawing phase was very fast. I knew that I was going to be using gouache to paint since I liked how versatile the medium was. You can build up the paint like watercolor but then also use it more like acrylic paint if you went undiluted. BUT I had to be cautious because the image can get real muddy real quick if you aren't careful. Once again, I went to another illustrator for guidance on process with a blog post about Mark Teague's process. When I first got into painting a few year ago, this post was my blueprint for how to make a painting so I go back to it often.
Though I usually do a burnt sienna underpainting first, I decided to just go for the value study. Since I couldn't find a paynes grey tube of gouache, the guy at the art store gave me a tube of blue and black that usually would go into a paynes grey. I like how the blue sets the toned darkness of the piece while keeping the imagery clean.
This is where I start building in my tones. What was nice with the gouache was that it could really build up the painting like watercolor. I didn't loose all the tones I had set originally.
At this point, I've added the color tones and the piece is fully blocked in. Next I have to add details to the piece.
This was my final illustrated piece. For some of the more detailed parts of the picture I ended up using watercolor pencil. I wanted there to be line but not too much so the watercolor pencil could easily be blended or washed away if needed. At this point, I scanned my image into the computer to do my last work over in photoshop.
So here is my final image. Using the Wacom and Photoshop, I was able to paint the darkness and the light I wanted into the piece. It also allowed me to fix little problems throughout the painting that I felt needed attention.
I'm fairly happy with the outcome of the project. Though I went through many different stages in both traditional and digital, I was glad that I was able to try different things and when I seemed to hit a wall I didn't stop. Hopefully in the future I'll be able to get my bearings with the digital and feel as confident there as I do with traditional paint.
Ben J Hutchison
I am an aspiring children's book writer and illustrator.