Picture Book Illustration – The Process of Illustrating “Hagga’s Last Vattiegirl” Pt. 2

Picture Book Illustration - The Process of Illustrating "Hagga's Last Vattiegirl" Pt. 2

In my last post, I shared the beginning of my picture book illustration journey with “Hagga’s Last Vattiegirl”: how I got the job, the thumbnails I sketched and the early character designs. Today, I’ll cover the rest of my work process from rough sketches to the coloured final illustrations.


Rough Sketches

After some discussion with the client, where they picked the best thumbnail per scene, my next task was to convert the thumbnails to more discernible rough sketches. I know that ‘discernible rough sketches’ sounds like an oxymoron, please bear with me. You’ll see what I mean in a bit. Unlike with the thumbnails, I decided to go the digital route for the rough sketches. Why? Doing it digitally made it easier for me to scale and compose the scene’s elements far more precisely than if I’d tried with pencil and paper – and believe you me, I went through quite a bit of trial-and-plenty-errors before I finally cranked up Photoshop.

 

Digital rough of 'Gloom Hovers Over Castle Osun'.
Working digitally first made it easier for me to scale each character properly and create a greater sense of depth in such a crowded scene.

 

Another benefit of rough sketching digitally was that it let me play with various poses for one character without impacting the other elements or running the risk of wasting paper.

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Option A

 

160925_hagga_layout08b
Option B

 

160925_hagga_layout08c
Option C

In the end I chose Option B for Daphne because it allowed the viewers to see her while still keeping her hidden from Hagga’s boys, and that pose appeared more comfortable for her rather than crouching on one knee in the dirt. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.


Drawings

Even with the ease of manipulating ideas in Photoshop, not to mention that Undo (CTRL Z) option, I still love and prefer doing the final drawings on paper. I doubt that will ever change.First I printed the digital roughs on to scrap paper and then I used a light box to trace the roughs on to fresh Bond paper. Just a quick note: I only mention Bond paper because I have a good stack left over from college. Otherwise, I say use whatever good-to-great quality paper you have available.

After tracing the roughs, I also drew in the details using Col-Erase pencils. Again, this is just a personal preference. I used to use regular drawing pencils for my work up to when I encountered this type and made a switch. What I like about using the Col-Erase pencils is that I can create greater contrast between the characters and other scene elements by, say, making the characters one colour and the remaining items another – or use several different colours throughout for even greater distinction. It’s purely up to what approach I feel like using when I draw at that moment, not to mention how many pencil colours I have on hand. I’m down to Light Blue at the time I write this, but I digress.

 

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I gave the girls their faces and other features. Now we can tell who’s who and that they’re glum – and we haven’t started colouring yet.

Final Illustrations

Thirty-two (yes, people, thirty-two) drawings later, I was ready to colour. After drawing so many pieces in a short space of time, I wasn’t all that up to inking them either traditionally or digitally. Seriously – there was no gas in the tank for that. So I decided to colour them all without any prior outlines save for the drawings themselves, which was something I had never done before and figured that my first high-stakes project was the best time to experiment. Let it not be said that I lack a masochist streak.

Oh, remember when I said ‘so many pieces in a short space of time’? While I was finally able to shake off the mental self-deprecating funk around mid-late 2013 and hit quite a productivity streak on ‘Hagga’, the client’s understanding nature had worn thin. She might have had Job’s patience initially, but even Job started cussing after a while. When you consider that I had finally – finally – hit my professional illustrator groove and had started to enjoy working on the project, I wasn’t about to lose it all at that stage.

The colouring process went like this:

  1. I use the basic paint brush tool to block out the various base colours in the scene, with each element getting coloured on its own layer (e.g. skin colour was on one layer, sock on another). At the time, I wasn’t skilled enough with the Lasso tool to isolate certain areas and fill it with the Paint Bucket but you live and you learn.
  2. After I’d established the base colours, I moved on to the darker shadow tones and then the highlights, followed by minor lines to distinguish certain areas – each on their own respective layers, of course.
  3. Once the colouring was complete, I added a paper texture layer on top of the illustration to give it a bit of an aged and interesting aesthetic. Rinsing and repeating thirty-one times later, my role in “Hagga’s Last Vattiegirl”s development was over.

And within the final deadline to boot.

 

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From Drawing to Coloured with all the steps in between.

 

Conclusion

And there it is, gentle people – my beginning-to-end process of illustrating the “Hagga’s Last Vattiegirl” picture book project. In addition to learning about how I approach my work, I hope I also gave you some insight into my mental struggles along the way. Those heavily overcast days made working a tremendous challenge many times, especially in the beginning, but (in hindsight) I believe that I’ve emerged stronger, more skilled, and more knowledgeable as a result. I’m more in touch with my physical and mental weaknesses and I’m better able to work around them; I’m better able to structure my time around prior fixed commitments and respect both my health and the client’s time table, and I’ve learned more about book dimensions and printing profiles through trial-by-fire experience than I had in a classroom setting. Honestly? If I came out of all of this not being a more professional and decisive illustrator, something would be wrong.

Now I turn the keyboard over to you. What do you think of my process and my work? Leave your thoughts in a comment below, and join my mailing list to get blog updates (and more – later!) fresh in your inbox.


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Peta-Ann Smith

Head Cook and Bottle Washer at Langi Lala Studios
Peta-Ann is a chocoholic nut who loves to draw, and loves to make a living by loving to draw. She's also recently began learning to animate, and is a long-time closet writer.