Friday 11 September 2015

Illustrating Peter Pan - Secret Illustration Process & Behind-The-Scenes Peek!

So, the new edition of Peter Pan that I illustrated for Egmont Publishing's new classics range is now officially out! 

It was definitely one of those dream book cover illustration jobs. It's such a beloved story, full of magic and illustrative potential! I know that with other artists, I love to see the behind-the-scenes breakdown of their work when tackling various projects, so I thought it would be great to share my process with you.

This commission flowed smoothly (like, um, delicious custard?) although we did run through a few different iterations of Peter's stance and outfit colour. It can be surprising how differently a slight change in head tilt or shift in colour can communicate with the viewer; and with book covers in particular you have to get that balance between intrigue, representation of the story, a unique style and (definitely with classic stories) a certain relate-ability and recognition that "Oh yes! That's Peter Pan!".

When we first started discussing the commission, I was given a few pointers of what the publishers might like to see on the cover: a scene with the mermaids, a London-at-night flyover or the instant Wendy, Michael and John start floating in the nursery. I had a lot of fun imagining these scenes and ended up feeling inspired to add an extra option of Peter and Tink gazing out over Neverland from a tree, which, quite happily, Egmont decided to go for as a night-time scene.

Hopefully this gif showing each stage of the process will load for you.

These early sketches are always the most loose and un-bridled, and the publishers wanted to retain some of that hand-drawn feel from the Peter character sketch for the final illustration. I did a lot of research on early interpretations of Peter Pan, and particularly fell in love with the theatrical costumes showing him (often played by a her) in a gorgeous feathery, leafy tunic. 

You might be surprised to hear, but before the oh-so-famous Disney version of Pan, his outfit was most often featured in shades of brown, said to be made of autumn leaves and cobwebs.  Although in the book itself Barrie never describes Peter's outfit in detail, leaving it to the imagination of the reader and various adaptations, I think these days when someone mentions "Peter Pan" we often instinctively think of a green outfit. I won't delve too far into the theories and psychology of all this (maybe another time!), but as you'll be able to see from the prep work I did try going with a 'classic' brown leafy outfit, but eventually this was swapped for green after some uncertainty from the sales department that it wouldn't instantly communicate Peter Pan, which is completely understandable.

Okay, so let's knuckle down to process. With this project I wanted to make sure I really paid attention to my tonal values, as a) this is a book cover, so had to look good in print, on a bookshelf, on display in a shop, or indeed as a tiny thumbnail on amazon - and b) it was a night-time scene, but needed to remain vibrant and cheerful. So to start, I sketched the cover digitally in black and white and slowly introduced colour, keeping in mind the elements that needed to stand out and where the light would fall naturally. At the beginning I wasn't paying too much attention to having a really refined line or shapes (as these would be developed a little later), just a basic indication of what would be where and a real focus on the general composition and, as I mentioned, developing strong tonal values. 

As you can see, there were only really a few fundamental changes to the original composition: the position of the pirate ship, Peter's stance, and the size of the moon; the rest remained relatively similar throughout with just a few minor shifts as the linework was defined.

Peter's pose cycled through a few versions to allow us to get more of a sense of his cheeky, confident (slightly arrogant?) personality. The hands on hips pose is definitely another one of those classic Pan-signifiers, which I did initially bypass, but I think that along with the fact he's now looking up at the moon lends itself really well in terms of shape, balance and sense of fluidity as your eye is led around the cover. 

This cover is part of a series of a new Classics range from Egmont, so the moon was tweaked a little to be cohesive with the yellow-heavy colours and bold shapes of the other books in the series. Again though, this was one of those tweaks that really brought the final cover together as an individual piece.

For the majority of the cover I built up the linework and colour using customised textured brushes in Photoshop (most often set to 'dissolve' as it's yummy and chalky), with hints of scanned watercolour overlayed for texture (see the moon etc). As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to retain a sense of sketchiness from the initial drawings, so my linework in the tree and on Peter in particular is slightly scratchier and pencil-like than a lot of my finished illustrations; but I really love the sense of the hand-drawn and childhood nostalgia it brings to it.

The book itself has gorgeous hints of Spot UV printing on the cover, highlighting the leaves on Peter's tunic, Tink's glow etc which gives it a really nice tactile quality to it. I always love elements of physical printed media that you can't get from just an image on the computer or an app. Long live books I say (although, yeah, I love the Internet and apps. Best of both worlds?).

As a pretty lovely little extra, proceeds from the sale of this book go to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, carrying on J M Barrie’s bequest and support of the hospital. If you fancy picking up a copy it's available now from Amazon, Waterstones and a bunch more. Keep an eye out for it in bookshops, and then you can impress all your friends by knowing cool facts about how the cover was designed. Oh yes!

If you have any questions on the process or the book, feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment here! 


  1. This is so lovely! The colours are beautiful :) xx

  2. Love this! It's beautiful and your behind the scenes are really inspiring! x

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