Recently I've been working on a brand new illustration for the Enchanted Forest exhibition (for the 200 years of Grimm's fairytales celebration).
I've been taking a couple of snapshots as I've gone along to show my progress. I don't often do this, but I think it's nice for people to get a glimpse into how I work!
As usual I started building the illustration using pencil sketches with ink brush lines on top. I always try to keep the lines loose and not worry about making mistakes. I rarely plan my drawings precisely, it's a bit cliché but I find there's a beauty in mistakes and it can often inspire a new idea. Aesthetically it gives it a more natural feel and is generally more fun (for me) to do.
After I've scanned in a few samples of the rough inkwork, I tend to delve into working out the basic composition and colours through digital means (often I do this before the linework, but I couldn't resist drawing some inky bears and wolves that afternoon). This is always really rough, and again I don't worry about being precise (er, as you can see!). I had the vision in my head of the composition and jumped straight to these colours as a basis. The story the illustration is based on is basically about a battle between the four legged creatures and the winged ones - so obviously that element affected the composition and positioning of the animals - but I wanted to keep the illustration working effectively as a standalone piece for anyone who hasn't read the tale as well.
From now on the process is more or less a case of refining lines, trying out different colour levels and building up textures. I'm never too precious over an element in the illustration, even if I've spent a long time drawing it - if it doesn't work I won't be afraid to completely change it, or scrap it all together. Here you can see textural elements coming in, most of these are brush marks in gouache paint that I've scanned and subtly layered. It just brings more depth and a feeling of 'the handmade' that I love to work with in my more digital based illustrations.
Well, here's the final illustration! As you can see I completely changed the style of the wolf and the owl. It usually takes me posting the illustration on facebook to notice tiny things I don't like - so I quickly delete the post and change it. I suppose making it public forces me to draw an objective eye over the work and scrutinise it down to the tiny details - I'm not sure exactly why I can't do this beforehand, it would save me a lot of panicky post deleting!
I knocked back a lot of the line work to make the whole image more cohesive, added flecks of light/dust/insects to give a bit more depth and a more 'magical' atmosphere. Colourwise I felt the white wolf worked a lot better tonally with the highlights of the white birds. If you squint your eyes at the before and after you can see the tonal difference between the four legged animals and the winged animals is much more even afterwards. I also made a big change with the owl, again due to colour tones. The rich, darkness of the tawny owl just wasn't working with the other birds, so the lighter coloured barn owl worked better in this respect.
There's a lot of variety in line and texturing techniques in this illustration, but I feel it works well - I did have to force myself to stop working on it at one point though! It takes a lot for an illustration to ever feel completely finished.
You can see above that I also tried playing around with hand-drawn text (of the title of the Grimm's tale this illustration is based on). I seriously have a thing for integrating white, hand rendered typography in illustrations - I'd love this to be some sort of wraparound book cover or poster!
Anyway, I hope that was insightful! Let me know your thoughts or questions in a comment below...and do make sure you come and see this in real life at the Enchanted Forest Exhibition in London (Foyles bookshop, Charring Cross) from 29th November - 7th December.