Monday, June 10, 2013

The Evolution of Illustrations : Why Being Pushed is a Good Thing

On the first evening of my writing/illustrating class at MAM (The Montclair Art Museum), my instructor gave us several handouts, including one that showed how to lay out a book with thumbnail sketches. She explained what usually goes on each page. She also shared a current dummy of one of her books with us. Everyone was enchanted...or entranced...or overwhelmed. Everyone wanted to have a dummy of their own.  But most of us were not ready for that step...yet.

I had decided to use my 17 year old poem as the text for a picture/counting book, I chose to focus my homework assignments, whenever possible, on my chosen story. The class had received my story very positively during a critique session, so I decided to begin on the illustrations. The second week of class my assignment was to pick one page from my book and illustrate it in three totally different ways. Since I had already decided that I wanted to do the book in my favorite medium (ink and colored pencil), this was a challenge. I had considered other options before, but had chosen not to use them.

Ink & Colored Pencil
Now I was going to have to push myself to create in a different way. First I did the easy one. I rendered one page in my chosen manner. I liked it. It was detailed and scientifically accurate. It was colorful and fun. It told the story and enhanced the counting concept of the book. I really liked it.

I wanted to leave it at that, but my homework was not complete. Sigh!!  I forced myself to try watercolors. My old watercolor set was not completely dried out, just mostly. A few tubes of colors were useable, so I unearthed my brushes and gave it a try. To be honest, I was rather intimidated, as watercolors had always seemed beyond my ken. My Grandmother Travis was skilled at watercolors. My friend Carol had given us a gorgeous watercolor of wisteria for a wedding gift. I knew the medium could be mastered, but I didn't think it was going to be by me!

Watercolor Paints

I played, and worked, and experimented, and watched a dozen "YouTube" videos on watercolor techniques.  Who knew there were so many things one could do with those concentrated tubes of color? A little lifting with paper towel. A dab of wet in wet. A slash of dry brush. It all came together. I ended up with an illustration I was willing to share. Not bad. Not great, but not totally embarrassing.

Now what could I choose for my third medium? I had played a bit with collage in the studio at the Eric Carle Museum of Picturebook Art in Amherst, Massachusetts when I had visited that extraordinary site. If you haven't been there, GO!! One time when I visited, Hardie Gramatky's daughter was there, discussing and reading her father's classic, Little Toot. What a joy to learn more about that old friend from my childhood. On that visit, I also learned a bit about Carle's collage techniques, and how he went about creating papers to cut and paste for his charming illustrations in The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Using the recently resurrected watercolors, and a fun fan brush I  recently purchased, I created some unusual patterns. While they were drying, I used crayons and did some rubbings of various textures I found in my studio. Then I sketched my basic design in pencil and began cutting a pasting. The result was bright and cheery. Not realistic in the least, but possibly something that young children would find inviting. I would love to hear which picture you like best, and why.


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