By Jan Wearmouth
I’m a student on the children’s illustration course, and I’m loving it. I started because I hope to write and illustrate my own children’s book, even though my baby grandson may be the only one to read it one day. However it’s such fun it’s worth doing just for the enjoyment. There’s something special about spending time thinking like a 7-year-old with a paint brush in your hand, creating fun, colour and humour.
I think I can break down the way I completed this assignment into 3 distinct phases, research, drawing, and painting. It stops me from feeling too overwhelmed.
Research. I started off by spending my lunch-breaks in Waterstones, checking out the illustrated books. Despite being fictitious, there are expectations about how a dragon should look. The internet was a good resource too, and I found lots of photographs of lizards and bats which were helpful in creating my own dragon. I put a dozen sheets of printer paper onto a clipboard, and produced lots of scribbly pencil doodles, a dragon’s tail, a head, lizard’s feet, and bats wings, then put them together. Some of the sketches were a bit scarey, so I ‘cartooned’ my dragon to make him suitable for younger children. I have a few how-to-draw-cartoon books which give lots of ideas on funny expressions, eyes, body shapes etc.
Drawing. I produced an oval vignette shape using the elipse tool in photoshop, printed a few off, and started to draw my dragon into the shapes. I wanted him to fill up most of the space available, so I used perspective, having him large in the foreground and the cottage small in the distance below. It took a few goes, but eventually I had my shapes and drawings, and traced my design onto a stretched sheet of A4 watercolour paper, and inked the lines in using a dip pen and waterproof ink.
Painting. I wanted the flames to look bright, so chose a dark background, dusk/evening, to give contrast. I used watercolour, mixing some thick bright colours on my palette, plenty so I wouldn’t run out. I dampened the paper in the dragon shape with clean water, careful around the eyes and up to the edges, not too wet. Then I dropped thick brushloads of colour onto areas of wet paper, purple here, green there, a bit of red down the back of the dragon where the fire would shine on him, and a darker blue on the shady left side. I left the colours to run into each other. I lay the painting flat and went away, forbidding myself to look at it until it dried, otherwise I would fiddle with it. Once dry I added more dark blue into the shadow detail of his wings, and painted his eyes yellow. Same technique for the other elements such as the fire, cottage, and the little man.
Onto the background, which had to be dark. I wondered how I could wet all that background behind my dragon, and drop colour into it all in one go before it dried. I once tried masking fluid to protect a painted area, but when I tried to remove it I damaged my painting, so that doesn’t work for me. So I added some lines to suggest a hilly background, breaking it up into four smaller areas to work on, one at a time. I dampened the paper in the first area, working carefully around the shapes, and dropped thick dark colour into the wet paper, and waited till it was dry before moving to the next section of background.
I finished off by signing my illustration which I shouldn’t have done. My tutor Maggy has pointed out that the credits and copyright go elsewhere in the book. Oops! It’s invaluable things like that I’m learning during my course. I felt I’d done as well as I could with my illustration, and received positive feedback from Maggy, which was very rewarding. I’m now half way through the course, and feel very motivated to get on with the next assignment.
One look at the work of the students on the course shows the immense talent and diversity out there. We are all different, but I hope that sharing my experience of an assignment will be of interest. Good Luck everyone, and enjoy!
By Jan Wearmouth