I-F: Burning

Elsie's ears were burning after Stuart didn't return her feelings, and walked to class with Peony instead.

...I'm trying to get some more sketching into my life -- getting inspired by The Sketchables and this post by Alicia Padron. I haven't joined PiBoIdMo or SaeMo or anything, just trying to take 10-20 minutes whenever I can for sketching, no pressure.

I'm doing a drawing exercise that Sam Hughes told me about - she learned it from her critiquer Cecilia Yung at the SCBWI conference:
Have different jars with different scene elements, pick one out of each jar, and draw it! You could have:
Jar 1: Character (girl, dad, pig, rooster...)
Jar 2: Emotion (relieved, angry, sad, excited...)
Jar 3: Location (on the roof, under a tree, on the moon, in the supermarket...)
optional additions:
Jar 4 : Lighting/time of day (more for a finished piece)
Jar 5: Time period
Jar 6: Story twist (and then someone arrived, and then the dog got out, then it started snowing...)

The main one I am focusing on is emotion because I know I don't bring that out enough.

So for the elephant above my drawing was: The elephant was disappointed at school.

Below, the rabbit was relieved, on the roof when someone left.

Fun, no? Maybe you should try it!

I-F: Early

Here is an early sketch for a commission I am working on for a young boy called Ashton. (sorry for bad photo)
Here is even earlier one - very quick in a small journal to figure out basic composition:

I'll be showing the sketch to Ashton's mum tomorrow - hope she likes it!

**edit: she did like it! thank goodness :)

. . .
It's good to be back online after some weeks of computer troubles. Oh how I missed thee, internet, and invisible cyber buddies....

every day in may : days four & five

Day four : I started a sketch for Illustration Friday's word this week, "Hierarchy", but I'm not totally happy with it. The girl looks okay but the giraffe is a bit confused. Is it real? or is it a toy. Needs work, but I hope to finish it in time.

Today I have done some preliminary cutting and slashing on the first draft of my children's book. Much work to be done there too! But it feels good...

21 days creative exercise: Days 1-5

Some lovely illustrator-blogsters, Alicia and Gina, have started up a 21 day creative exercise. The premise is it takes 21 days to form a new habit and the goal is to get (at least) 15 minutes of creative time into each day.

Others are focussing mainly on trying new things and pushing boundaries. For me, I am pretty busy at the moment and don't feel like I have the headspace to push myself into new realms, so I am approaching this a bit differently. I am just hoping to get into the habit of sketching every day, and getting more whimsy into my art. I'm hoping that at the end of these 21 days I can have a catalogue of ideas I can refer back to as ideas for bigger paintings. (I also hope to perhaps make a few ATCs along the way as Diana is doing, but I'm not holding myself to that one.)

So... this is the 5th day I've been doing it (just haven't had time to post yet!), here we go:

DAY 1: I started off just sketching out a realisation I had that teapots look like elephants (or vice versa) - not sure where that idea is going yet but it's good to get it down on paper.
Then moved on to birds. I don't like the way I draw birds so trying to work that out a bit more.
DAY 2: Fish! Just having fun. Some from my head, some looking at pictures. I wrote down things next to them that might spark 'whimsy'!
DAY 3: Ever since I did this illustration I have wanted to elaborate on it - possibly create a line of greeting cards someday. For the moment I have some good friends who are having a baby soon so I thought I'd do a card for them.
DAY 4: Doing some sketches for Illustration Friday's "Wrinkle" - I hope I can get this done in time! not sure!
DAY 5: Just feeling really good today - had a productive day and a few nice emails, conversations with friends that have made me fly. so trying to capture that feeling....

I'll try to post my 15 minutes of creativeness a bit more regularly! And don't forget to check out all the other amazing illustrators doing it too - check Alicia's blog - she's got them all linked on her sidebar. Thanks Alicia and Gina!

Surprise Monday : Week 5 : Title page

Well I'm done with pretty much all the internals, and now get to do other fun things like the title page and cover. Karen and I are still discussing the cover a bit, so here are a few ideas for the title page.

I think whereas the cover has to be striking/interesting to make you pick up the book in the first place, the title page is a nice place to introduce the characters. For this book, that is a bit tricky because there are 4 main characters, and they don't actually meet in the book - they are all separate stories. so how could I link them together?

first i tried something like this, but it was a bit too boring.

then something like this but it was a bit too brady bunch:

There is a real giving aspect to this book, and I wanted to reflect that. But again because the characters don't actually meet each other in the book, I didn't want them meeting on the title page! So I came up with this...

which hopefully imparts the feeling that they are somehow connected, yet without ever actually meeting.
Last week, Isabelle asked me "I was wondering if you could talk about how you decide which "moments" to illustrate, if you talk this out with the author or if you make this call. How much of the finished layout of the book do you worry about at this point?"

These are great questions which I've been thinking about a lot. In my experience, it has always been left up to me to decide what to illustrate (and I like it that way!) although sometimes the author/editor will have ideas that they pass along but it is up to me whether I use them or not.

As for how I decide on what moments... that is a tough one. I suppose I tend to think more about what feeling i want to portray and then decide on a composition that relates that feeling, but also works with the text on the page, of course.

For instance, here is a spread that is a bit sad - Meg's dog had to go to the vet, so she is being consoled by her grandma. Regardless of what the text says exactly, the feeling I wanted was of something intimate and sweet. So I drew Meg sitting on her grandma's lap with a favourite toy, and we are quite close up to them in the frame to get that feeling of something private. And of course Meg's expression is a bit sad. I guess as long as you get the feeling right, the illustration will work with the text.

In terms of the finished layout of the book, I am always thinking about that as I am illustrating. I guess you tend to design the book as you go along, because you have to think about text placement and leaving space for it in the illustration. I am lucky that I also do graphic design so have the software to put a whole book together, and then can easily play around with the text and size/placement of illustrations. I asked the author what font and what size she would like to use early on so that I could work with that.

Sometimes you will find that you haven't left enough room and will need to adjust the illo accordingly. As you can see with the spread above, I left room on the left side of the right hand page. When I layed it out with the text, I found I had left more than enough room (for once!) which means I can add other little details in the final illo if I want. With this book there is also a designer involved so I have done a mockup of what I think works, but will consult with her before I start any final illustrations.

Hope that all makes sense and hope it was of some use! Thanks again for stopping by!

Surprise Monday : Week 4 : Composition

Welcome to Week 4 of Surprise Mondays! First of all let me say, I can't believe it's already week 4!! It's gone very fast, but I got a lot done this week so feeling good. I have one more double page spread to do, and then a few single page/spot illos and then I'm finished with the roughs!

This week I thought I'd focus on composition by taking a double page spread from storyboard to rough, and discussing why I made certain decisions.

As I talked about in my previous post, I start off with very quick storyboards that are only a few centimetres in length and take me about 30 seconds each. I might do upwards of 20 of these as the composition comes together. This spread is of a little boy who has just emptied his toys onto the floor, and his mum gets down a book for him to distract him.


I knew I wanted this illustration to take place in a kitchen. From this perspective we feel very far away from the action.

I brought the viewpoint a bit closer in.

I wanted the little boy Thomas to be more the centre of attention, so made him a bit bigger in the frame.

This is getting better, Thomas is more important in the spread because he is closer up, we are getting some good perspective in the cupboards, but they are leading our eye to the fridge, which is not very important in the spread! (maybe if the fridge was featured in an illustration later, this would work as a 'foreshadowing', but that isn't the case here)

Change of perspective to see if this works - (text in the bottom right hand corner) - this is nice as the cupboards lead our eye from Thomas to his mum, but then there's just a big hole at the end where we fall out of the illo. no good.

Tried a 'galley' style kitchen. This is good. Our eye starts at Thomas, leads into the illo, and then back out to the mum. The kitchen feels enormous though!

Brought it all in a bit closer. Feeling good.

Took out the cupboards in the upper left to make a bit more room for text. This is working! Time to go to the 'rough' stage.


I print out a page template that has the exact dimensions of the book pages, and start where I left off with the storyboards - I sketch everything in very lightly and loosely, focussing on the major elements.

I start sketching in the characters more, and some of the angles. I have decided to go a bit 'quirky' with the angles and not worry to much about exact perspective. This has been a lot of fun and has let me be a lot freer when sketching.

This part was interesting. In all my storyboards, I had the mum reaching up to get a book down for Thomas, because that is what is in the text. But when it came to draw it, I couldn't make it work - it didn't seem right to have her back to us. I erased and redrew, erased and redrew, just couldn't get it right. As soon as I turned her around and drew it like this, it was obvious. And now it's got this nice playfulness of the boy giving her his toy and her giving him the book.

Done! Added a few details of his toys on the ground and trees out the window, but not much more at this point.

Did a few little fixes in Photoshop - I moved Thomas more into the centre of the page, and made both him and his mum a bit bigger.


Well I hope this has been interesting/of some use to you out there? Or this is just way too much information? Please let me know if there's anything in particular you'd like me to talk about in this process too.

Have a great week!

Surprise Monday : Week 3 : Let's get physical

Who said illustrating isn't active?

I know when I'm sketching characters, I'm constantly jumping up and striking different poses to see how something should look, or hand modelling (my least favourite thing to draw!) or contorting my face in the mirror to see different expressions or angles. Sometimes, the best way to make something look real is to DO it so you know how it feels!

One of the harder things to capture I think is perspective and foreshortening. For instance, for this little illo of Alice drawing, I was having trouble getting her legs behind her to look right. Because we are down at her level, there is a lot of foreshortening going on, so I ended up drawing this one the floor with a mirror in front of me in the exact same position!

The only problem with that is that you end up drawing yourself instead of your character, but if you're having trouble making it look 'right', it's the best way to solve the problem that I've found!
Here are some of my feet, you can see how I turned them into Alice's by just making them a bit rounder (and less bony! yes okay I have bony feet the secret is out :-P )
I didn't get much time to work on the book this week, but got a fair bit done today, even in the 39 degree weather (yes, celcius.) Ack! my house is like a sauna! I can't even sit and draw without the fan on me, and it's now 8:50pm. We have one room in the house which has an air conditioner but I always feel too guilty to use the energy to turn it on. Well, I succumbed tonight. But it looks like there is a cool change in sight thank goodness.

Surprise Monday : Week 2 : first 2 spreads

This week I've been working on the first two spreads of the book. I wasn't sure if I would start out by doing all the storyboards and then all the roughs, but because the book is made up of four separate stories, it's easy to treat it that way. So i ended up doing the storyboards and roughs for the first story, pages 2-5.

I did sketches for some of the secondary characters, Hamish's dad and Alice's mum, but kept them quite quick, and let them develop throughout the storyboard process.

To start, I do extremely quick sketches of the major elements, just trying to get the composition right. I try different positions of people and objects, and different angles to view them from until something 'feels' right. I've got a pad of really poor quality A2 paper that I use for the storyboards, and for some reason I prefer sketching them in pen (it just feels better than pencil on this paper!) Plus, I'm doing them so quickly, so there is no time to erase anyway.

As I come up with a composition I like, I start to add more and more detail, as you can see towards the bottom of this page:

Once I've got the composition pretty set, I start to work on the rough. I make up a page template of the exact size in Illustrator, (just an outline of the page edges) and print it out so that I can sketch on top of it - just so that I am always working with the correct proportions for the page. For Surprise!, a double page spread is much bigger than an A4, but I only have an A4 printer, so I reduce it down. This means I am working much smaller than actual size for my roughs, but I will blow them up to actual size for when I do the finals. I tend to sketch quite small anyway so this works for me.

I might do one or two roughs. But I generally just work and rework one sketch. I erase and redraw A LOT! so sometimes it means when it's scanned in it's a bit hard to read, but that's okay. I just need the major lines, not all the little details. For instance, for page 2, I went from the storyboards above, to this:

to this:
I always make sure to have the characters sketches that I did earlier close by to refer back to, to make sure I am getting my proportions right (as you can see in the first 'rough' above, Hamish's head was way too big!) Also you have to remember to leave room for the text! I often get carried away and forget that.

Sometimes with a rough, I will draw something that I quite like, but it is a little bit small or a little bit too much to the right, etc. That's where the computer comes in! It's great for moving things around and trying new things out quickly.

I'd be interested to know how other people do roughs. Do you use a page template or sketch free hand? Do you play around with your roughs on the computer afterwards if they don't fit quite right? Do you always 'know' when you find the right composition? Do you put all the details in in your roughs or do you leave that for the final so it is a bit more spontaneous?

Thanks for checking in. I hope you are enjoying this so far!

Next week: two more double spreads

ps. as you can see I've put a graphic in the sidebar where you can click to see all the posts on Surprise! at once x

Surprise Monday : Week 1 : Characters

Welcome to Week 1 of Surprise Monday!
Each Monday I will be giving a little behind-the-scenes look into my process in illustrating the book Surprise! for Miscellaneous Press (aka Karen Andrews).

This week I have been working on the main characters. For me it is really important to get to know the characters I will be illustrating as much as possible. I find that sometimes they take on a life of their own! I think the more you can draw them, the better you know them, so it's where I always start.

This book is sort of like 4 stories in one, with four equally important main characters - Hamish, Alice, Meg and Thomas. They are about 4 years old. Karen had provided a few notes on character traits, which helped a lot. Then, in reading the text over a few times, their personalities sunk in a bit more. I had pretty clear ideas of what I wanted for each character right from the beginning, except for Thomas, for some reason he was a bit harder. I wrote down several character traits, and kept referring back to them while sketching. I also looked at photos of 4 year olds to make sure I was getting the proportions right. Here is what I ended up with (with the character traits I used in the right hand corner):

When sketching, I mostly just did a lot of heads to try to capture the personality traits I had written down. For some, my initial ideas were it, but others surprised me. For instance, I was sure Meg was going to have pigtails, but once I drew this one (circled) I knew that was her.
It's weird creating characters, sometimes it's like they were always there, just waiting for you to find them. Does anyone else experience that or does that sound crazy? I promise I don't talk to them or anything! (not yet anyway!) Where do your characters come from? Do you like to draw them a lot first or just start the project and they evolve along the way? Do you use much reference or is it all from your head?

Next Monday:
Secondary characters and storyboards

I-F: Theory

It is my theory that an octopus would make a great DJ! Check out all those arms - one to hold the headphones, one with the next record, one to twiddle knobs... perfect.

This is a colour test for just a small piece of a sketch I did for an underwater rave party. I want the finished painting to have much more contrast and energy than this, but I think it's a good start anyway. This is the original sketch:

Note the black light eel, jellyfish lights, psychedelic fish and crab with legwarmers! I had fun with this one, and it will be fun to finish.

Oh, and I still can't quite reveal my news yet, but hopefully very soon...

I-F: Visitor

We had one of these visit our house last night. They are so cute! I haven't seen him today so I just hope that our cat didn't get to him. I don't think so though - she's not that quick. I'm sure he was frolicking outside in the springtime weather today.

The first image that popped into my head when I saw the IF word for this week was a trail of ants. Whenever my father would discover a bug of some sort sitting on his sleeve, he would announce that we had a 'visiting species' - but my ant sketches didn't work out very well, so instead here is a sketch for the next acrylic painting in the series of paintings I will sell in my friend's shop, and hopefully other shops here in Melbourne. (see previous post)

I've got so much to tell you about - I've been through all my travel photos and have many to share, as well as all sorts of inspirational books, cards and memorabilia from the trip. I'm also setting up illustrator pages at Illustrators Australia and the Stylefile. more soon! xx