Illustrations: The Process

In my own illustration projects I particularly love to work with line.  Various types of line can be used for different purposes: smooth and flowing lines for elegant projects; choppy or vibrating lines for lively and informal subjects. Thick and thin lines may appear, not only to create variety, but to suggest the presence of light and shadow. I like to use traditional form-following cross hatching in more developed styles in order to create a wider range of values and suggest light, shadow and texture more effectively.  

Watercolor washes are often combined with line in order to help define forms and add color to the work - an attractive and important element in books meant for young children. I like to let the washes flow outside the lines in order to give a greater suggestion of movement and life to the work. Touches of complementary colors are used throughout in order to complete the color scale and tie the various part of a composition together. If, say, blue is used in one area of a painting, I try to add some orange nearby as a foil; I may place touches of that same blue in non-blue areas to connect them.

It is important for me in my own work to use models. I find that models—both in nature and in other artworks—help my imagination to get started. They give me a place to begin, something to react to, to adapt and change as I progress with my own work. I like to draw from life and  also from photos, from actual things and places and feel that this process gives a compelling authenticity to illustration. I also believe strongly in learning from the work of other artists and illustrators—particularly from the great Victorians—Tenniel, Doyle, Crane and Caldecott — but also from such stylish art deco masters as Rockwell Kent and Eric Gill.  

When starting a project, I always ask myself who has done something like  this before, and done it beautifully; who can teach me? I study these  people, learn from them, and then find my own way. There are several thousand years of art; several thousand years of teachers out there from whom we can learn!

Another important element of illustration is to think not only in terms of individual pictures but of the whole book. Following ideas picked up from the writings of Walter Crane, I’ve learned that it is very important to make the various kinds of pictures in a book work together.  

Each kind of illustration has its own role to play. Endpapers, title pages and frontispieces act as visual introductions to the story. They should anticipate important themes, characters and ideas. Chapter headers should do the same for individual chapters. Tailpieces, on the other hand, placed at the end of chapters, should provide visual summaries of their chapters—something that reviews an important point in an intriguing way. Illustrations in the body of the text should wherever possible not stand alone, but bring up some previous event or allude to a future one. Or even better, they might do both at once and help tie the whole story together.  

Chances are, readers who start to notice this sort of thing will read a book—and look at its pictures—many times, since they will find more and more in the pictures with each reading: “I didn’t notice that before—that character is in the background of this picture, and he doesn’t show up in the story for ten more pages!”  

“Look—do you remember in that last picture that the king was hiding his crown under the tapestry—he was behind the tree, so you couldn’t see him very well—and here he is in this picture in front, finding it again!”  

Coordinated pictures are simply—or complicatedly—much more exciting to read and interpret and unravel along with the words, than pictures are which stand alone. They create visual connections, jog the visual imagination—and make us visually smarter!