Painting and book illustration, while related, are two quite different ways of thinking, and my approach to each is different. But even within the illustration work I am using different approaches, alternatively watching my choices and immersing myself in the joy of painting and drawing.
Danish author/illustrator Danish Henrik Drescher says “My books grow out of visual concepts. I ‘build’ the book as a picture book and apply the words last. I use whatever materials I need to express my ideas.” (Pg 47 Children’s Book Illustration and Design edited by Julie Cummins 1992, PBC international Inc, New York). I think that is an exciting approach, and maybe when I have finished the increasing number of books in my diary I can try that too. For now I am more a painter/writer turned illustrator and in creating the images take a mixture of approaches.
With the owl series the words came in prose. Some of them popped themselves into verse. Some images arrived with the text, and some images are still evolving. It’s little surprise that my family of owls is proving to be quite troublesome. It’s not because of Fluff and Scuff’s mischievous adventures; I can create them scampering up and down the tree without too much trouble. But I really would like to paint them in watercolour, and despite my best efforts they keep evolving into pen and wash or mixed media. I am being pulled towards acrylics too.
So what are the advantages of one medium over another? Watercolour can be fast, although I like to work with many washes which does slow the process down. Watercolour is a surprisingly expensive option, as each storybook has approximately 25 illustrations, and each sheet of watercolour paper is an invisible expense. Illustrations are usually created larger than the actual book page size.
Michelle and the Bumblebee was illustrated on 300gsm watercolour paper, on this occasion using cold-press rough. When Mum Fell Asleep in the Bath is on Bristol board, which is for graphic design but which will take a limited amount of water without the paper cockling (buckling). The Lost Happy illustrations are on cartridge paper, but will be reprinted onto a different more absorbent paper so that I can colour them at my leisure and release a hard-cover, coloured edition some time in the future.
I started the owl series of illustrations on 300gsm hot press smooth watercolour paper, my most expensive option. It was a thoughtful, reflective process as I created the characters, using many washes and building them up slowly. It is my favourite weight to work on, and that was the paper I had on hand at the time. I will change to a lighter-weight watercolour paper as I wont need to use so much water, and a cold press rough will give me some texture. I can add acrylic paint to it if I choose, provided that the paper is at least 240gsm. The acrylics I have chosen are Derivan Flow, as these are highly compatible with watercolour.
So the paper choice is made. The mixed media option has selected itself. Now to the dominant colours. Children’s books give absolute freedom of choice. I think I will clear off my desk, select a bright and happy palette, put the pens, ink blocks and acrylics aside, and get ready to start again in watercolour. I don’t want my drawings to be too tight. As the owls come down from the tree a more spontaneous, brighter, energetic look is called for. Tomorrow is a painting day. It will be fun!