Whenever I start illustrating a new book, the process invariably starts with a discussion with the art director – in this case the highly talented Rebecca Essilifie. As this book was the third in the series, we were hitting the ground running in terms of its visual style, but initially we would have discussed colour palettes, layouts and the sense of action each page might require in the context of Karl’s text.
Firstly, to get an idea of the overall composition of each page, I rattle out some rough thumbnail storyboards. I’m not worrying too much about text placement here – although that is lurking at the back of my mind so that I’m not rejigging images too much in the later artwork stages. The storyboard helps give me and Rebecca a sense of the pacing of the visual story: when to use full bleed illustrations and when to break the story down into smaller vignettes, etc. Once we are happy with this, it’s on to the rough artwork.
As the name suggests, they are still just rough black and white sketches. But they are drawn to scale and this is when I liaise with Rebecca to finalise the text placement. I’m continually being reminded to leave some extra room to incorporate any longer translated text in international co-editions – something I always seem to forget!
Nailing down the layout as accurately as possible at the rough stage means that the colour art is essentially a case of tracing, with some inevitable adjustments. I worked as an animator for 15 years before switching to picture books and, as such, I became rather adept at drawing in what was then Adobe Flash (now Animate). To this day I find it the most proficient way to digitally draw my book illustrations, much to the disdain of more qualified artists. However, that’s just the first part of the process. I then export these flat colour files to Photoshop via Illustrator before adding texture and additional shading.
Et voila! A fully realised picture book illustration is then ready to be pored over, amended, tweaked and prodded before it hits the printing presses.