Another quick behind-the-scenes post (my How I make my Honeycomb Jewellery post was super popular, yay!), this time how I make create my illustrations. Its not a particularly complicated process but I’ll share it anyway.
I start out with some doodles…
I’ll doodle pretty much any animals that catch my eye into my sketchbook – I watch tonnes of nature documentaries so it might be an animal from there, or just ones that are interesting or I’ve seen a picture of somewhere. As I want to focus on endangered animals, most of my drawings have been from books or the internet (I don’t have easy to access to lots of real-life endangered animals to draw!) – using lots of different images to combine and create my own drawings.
Once I’ve got something I want to work up I use my lightbox to trace over the sketch and redraw it a bit neater – I do this onto loose sheets of paper as the next stage is to scan it into the computer so its easier if its not in a book.
Once on the computer and in Photoshop…
I usually play around with the composition even more, as its so easy to chop up the scanned drawings and move things around. I also adjust the levels and contrast of the scanned drawing so that the line is nice and clear, and set the layer to ‘multiply’ – a setting in Photoshop which means the white of the paper disappears and I’m just left with the line which I can overlay with colour. I like the texture and sometimes scrappy line art, and even the odd marks and scratch on the scan, it gives the digital colour more life.
Now to colour in! I use a mixture of my mouse and my wacom tablet, depending what I’m working on. I start by blocking out the main areas of colour so I can make sure that the general feel is right. I also sometimes make myself a little colour palette on the side of the page, getting the right shades of each colour is so important to how they work together and how the picture feels.
Once the main colours are down I can work it up by adding different tones, colours to the smaller details, shading and highlighting, and keep on playing. I use tonnes of layers in Photoshop, this way its super easy to delete a colour I’ve added, change something, move it around etc. I can also layer colours and textures over each other to add depth. Most of my pictures have a square grid texture in them which is just a scan of a piece of square paper, but stops backgrounds just being flat colour.
I often add words in as I love how illustration and text work together (that’s why I design books for a living!), even if its just the name of the animal. I usually do most of this colouring up stage in one go, then leave it a few days so I can come back to it with a more critical eye and decide if I want to change anything or add in any extra details.
Once I’m happy, I save a high res PDF of the file and send it to the printers. And then keep my fingers crossed that the colours look alright when I get it back (always nerve wracking!).
Starting a nature journal…
As I said at the beginning, because I want to focus on endangered animals I have to use books, TV and the internet as my source material. This often creates a bit of block on creativity though because you’re already looking at someone else’s image and interpretation (even if its a photo) rather than seeing the animal moving and interacting, and making your own creative version on paper. This is why I started up a Nature Journal! I haven’t been doing it that long but it suddenly seemed like something I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done already. I like going out for walks on my own, and when I do I walk really slowly to try and not scare off the birds before I’ve figured out what they are, or to try and learn what our most common trees are. So now I have a small notebook and a pencil case of pencils and crayons that I take out, as well as my binoculars and bird book. I don’t record everything that I’ve seen, and I don’t take it out every time, but when I do take it, I see everything in a really different way. I count how many petals are on a flower so I can draw it or really listen to the bird song to try and write it down.
The act of trying to draw something makes you see it so much more, because in trying to recreate it, you have to understand it, or at least see how its made. Sometimes if they weather isn’t great I do a quick drawing and take a photo on my phone, and then add to it or do the colouring at home, but I try to do most of it there and then. It’s really changed how I feel about drawing, and how I look at things when I go for a walk now. I definitely recommend trying one if you like to go for walks – I set up a Pinterest board for Nature Journals if you want some inspiration.