dinsdag 4 december 2012

Little Striped Books part 2

I have been very busy this year and as a consequence I've neglected my weblog somewhat, I'm very much afraid. However, now that I'm back again I'm just gonna pick up where I left off.

My previous entry was about the illustrations I made for a book called Kamelenkind. I ended that entry with the announcement that the next time I would tell you more about the illustrations I made for another book titled De Bezoekers van Zirk (Visitors from Zirk).

Both books are written by Emma van Andel and are part of a series called De Gestreepte Boekjes. One of the main characters of Kamelenkind is a girl named Jen. In De Bezoekers van Zirk Jen experiences another adventure. This time not with her father Tattoe, but with her neighbour Mik, who is a reporter for the local newspaper.
Here are some of the illustrations I made, which will give you an idea what this story is about.

I got some very complimentary comments on my last entry, for which I'm thankful. Especially the sketches seemed to please quite a few readers. With those sketches I wanted to show you the process of making an illustration - from the first rough sketch up to the execution of the finished illustration.
I would like to do that again. I think it will be sufficient to use a little less detailed explanation this time. After all, the process is very much the same as described in the previous entry and I don't want to repeat myself unnecessarily.

Let's take a closer look at the third illustration of the book. This scene depicts Mik and Jen on their way to a pasture just outside the village, where - according to Jen - an UFO might have landed. Mik is very eager to get a scoop so he really puts on a spurt.

Here's my initial rough sketch:

Although this is only a first attempt and nothing more than a hasty scribble, I immediately notice that I'm on the wrong track concerning the shape of Mik's head. To accentuate the speed that Mik's making, his chin has to be moved forward and his head has to be twisted a little more backward. Something like this:

Mik's countenance is still very rudimental. I don't know quite yet what I want Mik to look like. In the book Mik is described as someone with spiny hair and freckles, so these two features have to be applied to his looks for sure.
Readers of the previous blog entry can probably guess what the next step will be. In search for Mik's countenance I sketch various little portraits of him. I don't think too much about it while doing so. I make a scribble of anything that comes to mind, trying to find the right lines that will suit Mik's character.

The following images show the process of working out a sketch in detail. I still haven't made up my mind about Mik's looks. So while I plunge into working out the finesses of the sketch, I'm still exploring other variations on his physiognomy.

The sketch is actually ready now, but I'm still a bit uncertain about Mik's features. Sometimes it's better to put a sketch away for a week or two. When you take it out again after some time, you have a renewed vision. Suddenly you see much clearer what can be improved upon the sketch. Alas, most assignments usually come with a deadline. In practice it's almost impossible to make use of this tactic.
I'll have to come to a decision. Although Mik didn't look that bad at all in the previous two sketches, in the final sketch I decided it would be better to provide Mick's body with another head.

This is the sketch that will be presented to the publisher. It's quite customary to show a sketch to your principal. That way he or she can form an idea of what the illustration is going to look like when finished. It also gives the principal the opportunity to suggest some small corrections if necessary. Adjusting a sketch is easier then making alterations after the illustration is all done.
The author Emma van Andel also gets to see the sketches, which is quite self-evident since I'm visualising her brainchild. Emma made a small - but nevertheless significant - remark about the sketch shown right above. As I wrote before, Mik is very eager to get a scoop. That might be a bit of an understatement. In chapter one of the book Mik confides to Jen that he can't find a subject to write an article about for the local newspaper, simply because nothing ever happens in the small village. He's even afraid he might get fired if he doesn't come up with a story soon! One can well imagine how Mik is delirious with joy when Jen tells him she has spotted an UFO flying over the village.
However, Mik looks rather grumpy in my sketch. I'm afraid I've modelled Mik too much on myself in this particular case. I always look grumpy whilst cycling. Or with any other physical exertion, for that matter.

I alter Mik's facial expression so it fits his ecstatic mood. With this last adjustment the sketch is finally ready and I can start to ink.

For the background of the illustration I want a shape with a rough edge. To achieve this, I use watercolour paper with a rough surface. On this paper I draw the outline of the shape using a brush and ink. I make sure that there's not too much ink on the brush, which will result in a "dry" stroke. After I've drawn the outline, I fill in the shape itself. This can be done by simply using brush and ink, not using the dry brush technique this time. Another option is to scan the outline first and fill in the shape in Photoshop, using the paint bucket tool. It doesn't make any difference really. The result will be the same and will look like this:

One might also use other materials on watercolour paper to get more or less the same effect. Sometimes I use crayon or soft lead-pencils (from 2b up to 8b). I always use the black & white option on my scanner for these kind of images. Even so when the drawing itself is in grays, which will be the case when using pencils. The reason for all this is that I will need a digital file which is easy to edit. That would be rather difficult with a file consisting of numerous pixelated shades of gray!
Next step is making digital files of the background shape and the line drawing. With the use of Photoshop I retouch all the little slip ups of the line drawing, paste the shape into the background and fill in all the colours. At last, the illustration is all done!

I got two remarks on account of my previous blog entry. The first one was about the colouring. It wasn't all too clear if I did my colouring by hand or on my computer. Well, concerning my work which is meant for publication, all the colouring is done digitally. However, sometimes I make work that's all done by hand. The inducement to do that is generally when an exhibition is at hand. For the colouring of this kind of work I use a wide variation of materials, such as liquid watercolours, acrylic paint, colour pencils, pastel crayons, markers or even cut paper. Here is an example of such an original drawing, made with acrylic paint.

The other remark was a request to show more of the digital steps I take to complete an illustration. I'm afraid there isn't that much interesting to say about that. To tell the truth, I'm nothing like a computer wizard and I use as little filters and digital tools as possible. It's very unlikely that I could mention anything noteworthy that someone remotely familiar with Photoshop - the program I use for most of illustrations - wouldn't already know. Nevertheless, I'll give it a try.
My files are always at a resolution of 600 dpi. That's way more than needed for printwork, but a higher resolution avoids my inked lines getting too much pixelated. I also make sure that the anti-aliased checkbox in Photoshop is not checked, otherwise the lines or shapes I make in my file will get a bicubic blurry edge. These blurry edged lines and shapes are very unpractical to edit, for instance when I want to select them or change their colour.
For that same reason I'm not too fond of the tools in Photoshop with a dry brush, pastel, charcoal - or whatever there may be - effect. All these tools give the same blurry result. Besides, it seems a bit silly to me to use a digital effect that is an imitation, when it's just as easy to use the original drawing-materials on paper and make a digital scan of that.

I will try to make myself more clear by using a detail of the "Mik and Jen on a bicycle" illustration that so conveniently has been serving as a display model so far. If you look at this illustration, you'll notice that the cobblestones have a rough edge at the bottom. I could make such a rough edge in Photoshop by using the line tool with dry brush effect, but I will not do that for reasons I've given before. Instead I draw a line with a real dry brush on real watercolour paper and make a black and white scan of that line. Now I have a digital file of that line. I already had a digital file of the line drawing of the illustration, which I scanned before. Next step is to select the white background of the line drawing. Thereupon I reverse that selection. Having done so, I cut the background out of the rest of the illustration using "cut" and "paste". The illustration itself is now cut loose from its background and on a different layer. Next thing to do is to select the dry brush line, copy it and paste it into the illustration. I place the layer with the dry brush line in between the layer with the illustration and the background. Then I move the dry brush line to the right place in the illustration. That will be at the bottom of the cobblestones. With the use of the paint bucket tool I give the brush line the colour I had in mind for the cobblestones. I merge the layers back to one using "flatten image". Now it's quite easy to fill in the remaining cobbles with the same colour. As anyone who is familiar with Photoshop will know, you can fill in any space with colour using the paint bucket tool, provided that that space is enclosed by lines.

I have to admit, it's not that easy to describe all those digital steps in a few simple sentences. I can well imagine that you've lost track halfway my elucidation. Therefore I've made a diagram that gives a summary of this digital procedure in three surveyable steps:

It might well be that this is all common knowledge to some of you. On the other hand, it might be all technical balderdash to you, even utterly boring! But there it is. This is the best I can do.

Back to the subject of the book itself: aliens and UFO's. I would like to express that I was very pleased indeed with the assignment to illustrate this particular book, because drawing aliens and UFO's is fun! Needless to say I've drawn quite a few extraterrestrial creatures in my life, with or without their spacecrafts. Here are a few examples (click on image to enlarge):

Each image in itself is a topic for a new blog entry. I could pick one myself as the subject for a new entry, but I prefer giving my readers the opportunity to choose an image. So just let me know which one you would like to learn more about!

zondag 1 januari 2012

Little Striped Books part 1

The idea of illustrating a children's book has always appealed to me. So you can imagine I was very pleased indeed I was given the opportunity to illustrate the book Kamelenkind (Camel Child), written by Emma van Andel.

The book is part of a series called De Gestreepte Boekjes (Little Striped Books) and is published by Pica Educatief bv.
The parents of Dutch children can subscribe to De Gestreepte Boekjes. Once subscribed the parents (or rather their children) receive two books every month. One of the books is part of regular series about Borre, a character created by the writer Jeroen Aalbers and illustrator Stefan Tijs. The other book has a different writer and illustrator each month. Books can also be bought seperately by ordering them on the website of De Gestreepte Boekjes

Although illustrating a children's book every month - like Stefan Tijs has to do - might be a little bit too much of a good thing, I've enjoyed illustrating Kamelenkind ever so much. The book is made for children aged nine to ten (classified as Group 6 in the Netherlands). It's rather an adventurous book. The story is about the girl Jen and her father Tattoe (nicknamed that way because of his tattoos) who are leaving for Akkamassa in the Sahara to start up a camel rental company. A very unfortunate business while camel thieves are also hanging about . . . . .
Well, I won't tell too much of the story. I wouldn't like to spoil the fun for those who like to read the book themselves. For that same reason I won't show too many illustrations from the book. Just enough to make you - I hope - curious for more.

What I would like to do, is to tell you something about the making of the illustrations. Several times I've noticed that some people don't realize how an illustration is made and how much work is involved. One might think that I just take a sheet of white paper, draw some lines on it , add some colour and Bob's your uncle! Or one might even think that all my drawings are made with only the use of a computer (and what could be easier than that?). Nothing of the sort, I can assure you. It may look as if my illustrations are done with much ease, but appearances can be deceptive.

To show you the process of how an illustration is made, I will use the first illustration of the book as an example.
First of all I make a very small and rough sketch, just to see for myself what the main elements of the picture will be and what kind of composition I would like to use. In this particular case the first sketch is the actual size of the illustration that is going to be used in the book.

The next sketch is still very rough, but this time I try to fill in some of the details. I haven't figured out yet what the characters will look like. I give it a first attempt, but at this stage it's not the most important thing. This sketch is mainly to figure out what the posture of Jen's father will be. The first chapter of the book mentions the tattoo on his left upper arm. Of all the tattoos on Tattoe's body, this is the only one that is set out in detail. It's a significant tattoo, because it represents the bond between Tattoe, Jen and her mother who died when she was born. However, it's also mentioned that Tattoe enthusiastically spreads his arms when he tells Jen of his camel rental plan. This is the most essential scene in this chapter, but with Tattoe's arms spread out, the tattoo on his left upper arm is out of focus. So I'll have to make a choice.

After making this rough sketch in which Tattoe's tattoo is visible, I decide it's better to choose for the other option, because I think the contrast between Tattoe's keenness and Jen's scepticism is ever so characteristic for this chapter.
I also decide to adjust the perspective of the table so it's easier to distinguish the different objects on the breakfast table.

The basic construction is now good enough to be worked out in a more detailed sketch. With the use of a light box I make a mirrored image of the sketch. By doing so, I get a different view on what I've drawn. This way it's easier to spot little slip ups, such as a limb that's longer or shorter than the other one, or an unintentionallly askew face.
I read about this little trick in a book about the life and works of none other than the grandmaster of comics, Hergé. It was many, many years ago that I read this book, but I've been using this trick ever since. If a light box is not at hand, one can also hold the sketch before a mirror or even hold the sketch upside down to achieve the same effect.

I'm already quite pleased with the looks of Jen. Tattoe however, is not to my liking at all. So for the moment I put this sketch aside and draw my attention to his looks. In attempt to find a visual image suitable for Jen's father, I make quite a few scribbles. Some of those scribbles look rather stupid, don't they? But bare in mind that you've got to draw a lot of wrong lines in order to find the right ones. That's what sketching is all about.

In this sketched search for the right features for Tattoe, I finally find the lines that meet with my approval. Now that I've got more or less figured out what I want the illustration to look like, I can make a final sketch in detail.

Before I start to ink, I transfer the sketch to paper with a very smooth surface. Ink runs out on paper which hasn't got a smooth surface. Don't like that at all! But a smooth surface only isn't enough. You'll also need a brush with a sharp point in order to get a nice sharp line. I prefer to work with brush and Indian ink. A brush no.2 or no.3 - preferably one made with marten hair - will do the the trick. But Indian ink is quite aggressive and the brush will only last a couple of drawings. By then it has lost too many hairs to draw another decent line. Sometimes I use a brush pen. The point of a brush pen always stays sharp. However, the ink of a brush pen doesn't dry as quickly as Indian ink. It takes up to 24 hours to dry when used on a smooth surface! I always get smudges on my drawing whilst working with a brush pen, because my hand had accidentally touched an already inked part.
Of course all those smudges have to be retouched. I do a lot of retouching anyhow. Although I'm quite experienced with the use of brush and ink, my brush still slips every now and then. Like I wrote before, I like my lines sharp. So sloppy lines won't do at all!
I used to touch up my lines with Schmincke Dekweiss, the only paint that does that job well enough in my experience. But my local art supply dealer doesn't sell that brand anymore and ever since I make use of digital resources, it's just as easy to do the retouching on my computer.

Now that the inking is done, the next step will be to make a scan of the line drawing. There's still some work to be done before I can fill in the colours. I'll have to touch up the lines and I'll have to adjust Tattoe's tattoos, because I don't want black outlines there. The same goes for the cow and clouds on the milk carton. And of course I need a background. For the illustrations of this book I thought it would be nice to have a background with a rough edge. To achieve this effect I use watercolour paper with a very rough surface and a rather dry brush.
With this background and all the adjustments made, I can finally do the colouring of the illustration.

Although not bad for a first attempt, I'm not quite pleased with these colours. The dominant colour blue in this illustration gives it a rather cold feeling. That doesn't seem right. A warm, domesticated feeling seems much more in place for this scene. So I add a little yellow to the colours to give this illustration a little more warmth.

There, that's much better! This is how the illustration is published in Kamelenkind. Well, it took a lot of steps to come to this end result, now didn't it?
Some of you might have identified the - simplified - logo of the Ramones on Tattoe's T-shirt. I don't think that's something that today's children will immediately recognize, but I love to put such clues - or maybe a little homage might even be a better word - in an illustration if the oppurtunity arises. It's not unthinkable at all that some of these youngsters will discover many years from now what the emblem on the T-shirt stands for. Call me a silly old fart if you like, but that thought certainly gives me a little bit of fun.

If you like the illustrations shown in this entry, you might like to know that I've made the illustrations for a second book, also part of De Gestreepte Boekjes series and also written by Emma van Andel. It's called De Bezoekers van Zirk (Visitors from Zirk). I will tell you more about that book a next time.