I thought I would share my process with you as I am completing the 19th illustration for my portfolio. It is an insight into the way an artist/illustrator uses all their  visual technical ability and the way they design a work. I am a children’s illustrator and so my style is focused aesthetically on simplified form and colour. Infantilised elements and exaggerated forms. The initial idea for the work has been floating around my mind for a while. I wanted to produce an illustration that would include a number of different monster characters. I came up with The monsters reunion. I wanted to have a small boy in amongst the monsters, with the text/story, ( I will include later when its finished ) to include  a monster named Rob, who is a friend of the boy and has introduced him to the annual monster reunion. I wanted to include some flying dragon like creatures and a city in the far background. I also wanted to place a large bridge and an enclosing wall, then I thought well some monsters would be seated and some having drinks. I began the drawing with the foreground monsters and worked forwards/upwards including two tables etc. The initial drawing is the point where the basic design is mapped into the work, It is worked out at the concept stage where I have a focal point and all the elements should work as a whole to focus the viewers gaze. Occasionally I will produce a thumbnail or plan sketch/drawing. Commissioners may require this, but for self initiated work I generally just start drawing pick a starting point, I think it was the foreground character on the right on this occasion) Then I work outwards from there composing the design as I proceed.The drawing stage took me around 6 hours to produce, the illustration is A2 in size, and I have filled the sheet almost completely. When I had completed the drawing I then applied spray mount to the rear and then glue the drawing down upon a sheet of white mount board. I have shown in the image below the starting point for the first layer of paint (watercolour).

                                   
                                                    Initial drawing and a start on the paint.

The first layer of watercolour is applied in a thin wash, I cover the whole area quite quickly The colours are chosen arbitrarily, I obviously don’t know what a monster in reality looks like and so I am picking the colours randomly and thinking on my feet so to speak, where each colour should go and what the right colour should be. When I say the right colour I mean not just for each character to work with the next, I also mean that these base colours are important as they are the basis of the design by colour. Do individual coloured elements work as a pictorial whole, is the colour balance correct. I have in my minds eye a general feel I want to achieve, and aim for that. I am also mindful of the light source, and the strength of the application of the washes as I need to create depth with a foreground, middle and background, I tend to lay in a nominally lighter tone wash for the first paint layer. I work from top to bottom until all, the drawing is covered in colour. As you can see from the image below, the first paint layer is very light, a vague indication of form is indicated, but as yet there are no shadows or dark tones The first layer of paint takes around 4-5 hours.When its dry I begin the whole process again, for the second layer of paint. following this time, the first paint colour , I lay a slightly thicker wash over the top of the first. I may begin to define certain areas of interest, and or find ways in which to promote or not promote areas with thickness of wash and variation of some tones of colour.I began from the sky and worked down for the second paint layer.

                                                                First paint block in layer

The first and second layer are very close to each other in tone, and so I will jump ahead one layer  and show you the third layer. You may say why don’t you just paint the  whole picture in opaque paint to begin with, and just add highlights and darks all at once? Well, my technique has been developed, over time, through experimentation. In the past I realised that I could gauge the nuances of the paint and visual aspects as the work progresses in a more sensitive way, which enables me to play with tonality and depth of field more readily, because I vary the paint  transparency very finitely giving me more scope as I develop the work. If I just painted it all thickly from the first I would have to manage all the nuances at the end, and as I’ve tried this before I found that the painting becomes something other than what I am trying to accomplish with my style. ie a painted drawing, rather than a painting of a drawing. I am also aiming to produce a light rich, work, and by utilising the white of the paper for my whites I can create a far more airy generalised  light. Also if I complete the whites as I go, this cuts down the time of production. As you can see by the third layer things are beginning to become more defined, as I build the opacity and the strength of tone. I tend to define the eyes at this point. The psychological impact of producing work this way always is always the same , the thing is I am not looking at anything else for reference. From the second layer point, I equate with climbing a hill, You can vaguely see the top , but you know you have to do a lot more walking uphill, You just keep building and building until you reach the top, when you look over the top of the hill that’s when the work is virtually complete.

                                                              The third watercolour layer

The fourth layer is when I begin to use the coloured pencils exclusively. I have experimented with many types of coloured pencil to find the best feel texture and depth I prefer, and require for my style. I eventually settled on three types that I use exclusively in my work. The first is a cheap pencil you can buy in a supermarket, they are generally poor quality and quite hard and difficult to gain any colour mark from them, I use this fact to my advantage, for certain jobs within a picture, I dont use them often but when they are needed they are invaluable.The second type I use is Derwent procolour.They are really rich and you can attain great depth when they are mixed and layered on top of each other, they are really nice to use with strong colour definition. and the third coloured pencil I always use is Derwent coloured drawing pencils, these are particularly dense, almost like a pastel, if you need to fill an area quickly they are perfect, and for strength of depth they are brilliant. they have a slightly deeper depth achievement than the pro colours both are excellent. So, using watercolour as a base layer enables me to build quite quickly from the third layer of paint with coloured pencils. Using this technique I  can also leave areas without pencil intervention, and these areas can be used to fade areas and make less opaque for background and far away areas. Plus, the base layer of paint gives a solid ground. the paint layers are the mid tones and highlight definition,  The pencil stage is for the  dark low tones, which almost  immediately bring the picture into view and define everything, Its with the pencils that the good stuff happens with development of form and depth of field, and the hill I was talking about earlier suddenly the top is in view and you begin to run, instead of plod.

I have around 80 pencil colours at my disposal, The colours can also be mixed to a degree. I also use various graphite pencils, I use a 6 H for lights work and a 4,and 6 B for the darks and variations of the two for detail. The forth layer then is a building process upon the grounding of the base watercolour. I have started with this particular illustration at the foreground, but this is not always the case, for other pieces. The two characters on the left and right where blocked in as with a few others in the semi foreground. The reason for starting here is two fold, firstly I can gauge the strength of application whilst being wary of how this interacts with the middle and background, all the time gaining a feel of the whole ambiance and the work required to facilitate the whole, in a comprehensive ideal. and secondly, the light source is further defined. and sets the scene for the rest of the picture plane.The light source in this case is coming from the back of the composition. I use this technique of the behind light quite often in my work as it adds to the illusion of depth quite readily. This particular illustration, because of its many characters, and subsequent depth indicators, offers a complex scene to gauge correctly, There are many ways to achieve depth of field, one of the most common, involves, lessening the opaque levels as it recedes, into the background, another way is to lessen, and /or adjust  tonal variations. In this instance, I began with the foreground characters building high opaque colouration to the foremost characters. As you can see some areas are not clear at the moment, and will only become apparent when other areas have been established. its a matter of engaging with the image as a whole , adjusting and rectifying as you proceed. the stage I have shown here is not entirely finished this will not happen until the whole image is near to completion and then a final overview layer is applied, in the last layers I also build further detail into the work. The pencil stage is not without the use of extra watercolour, here and there, again altering the tonality and opaqueness as you proceed.

                                           Stage 1. Beginning of the forth layer Pencil and paint

From now on the illustration is built up piece by piece, I tend to focus on one element/character at a time, building it up until it feels right for the time being, as long as the tonality is just about ready for details, I will go onto another element and build that until that element fits with its surroundings, in tone and colour depth. I work across the illustration in this particular case because of the depth of field, and the multitude of characters.  I need to make sure in this instance, that the foreground, semi foreground, and the mid ground are unified as far as strength of colour is concerned as you will see in the stages after this one, that it starts to look as if there is depth (the illusion) because I have paid attention at this stage to the points outlined above. In the image below you can see that I have now completed to a large degree, the foreground semi foreground and the mid ground. There is only a slight variation in the tonality and depth of colour at this point, I will probably keep reinforcing each as required  as time goes by. I have started adding more detail generally, and have worked up further the foreground characters. The initial colour selection at the beginning of the paint is now becoming apparent as the base tones can be used to build complexity and the design by colour of the illustration, is proving its self. An image works when the structural design and the colouration design knit together and balance the work. The focal point is the boy, and Rob the monster. that’s where the structure of the design will be pointing towards, I have done this with pointing fingers and other gestures like the monster on the left waving, the glasses of the foreground monster. (offers another pointing diagonal) the stripy head of  the monster on the right holding up his glass is another design pointer. The flying monsters white bellies offer another visual pointer and the bridge on the left mirrors slightly the monster belly is another design mechanism.there are other smaller indicators as to where the eye will travel and the direction I would like the viewer to visualise the work.The colour design is generally quite logical, where there is a red tone, there is another red tone opposite , or near opposite, which counter balances the composition. The same is true of any other primary or secondary colour. either a single colour on its own or a block of colour across a number of objects, it should all be balanced. At this stage when everything is not yet worked up this design will not be completely apparent, but I give you heads up so you can see where there should be relevant tonality/colour when the work is completed, for the whole illustration design to work

                                                         Stage 2 of the forth layer progression

As you can see,in the image below, I have now begun to work on the middle ground, including the bridge, work on the background buildings and the sky, I have only to work on the flying creatures being the last thing I haven’t touched since the last paint layer. To suggest depth I have changed/lessened the tonality to a degree, and worked up some of the colours and detail, I have also worked into the previous work from yesterday, strengthening areas in colouration and detail. The blacks I have used for example, are less dense, as is the general colour, to assist in the illusion of depth (being further away to the eye) I hope you can see better now the colour composition, and how the colours relate to each other to assist in the overall design of the work. You can see the Greens are in a arrow shape bank, with Bob being the tip. The reds are evenly dispersed throughout the image weighing each other up and the picture as a whole, as are the blues, and yellows which  are dispersed so that a colour balance exists throughout the design. The development of the flying creatures will be particularly interesting as they are mostly within 2 pictorial distances, the heads being closer than the the majority of the rest of the body. In particular The head of the flying  monster on the right is almost the same level as the stripy head monster.The flying monster in the centre is mainly in front of Bob and the boy, the boy is looking up at it. The monster figure on the bridge is behind all of them.Once the rest of the work has been worked up , then the next layer is when I look at the whole image and decide which areas require more information and depth, the rest is fine tuning until I believe its finished. I am working in sections on this illustration because of its complexity .When I produce smaller less complex work, I tend to review and work into the image as a whole.

                                                       Stage 3 working towards the rear

The image below is another 6 hours work on this illustration. As you can see, I have now blocked in the majority of the illustration, I have only the monster on the bridge to bring up to the same level as the rest. I have worked further  into the sky and the buildings. reinforced the monsters in the foreground, and begun to develop the flying monsters.I am nearing completion now and will probably finish within another day or so. It is a crowded piece and fairly complicated and so there are a number of problem areas to remedy, mostly to do with readability, and there is a lot more detail to be finalised, along with some colour adjustment, in some areas. I liken it to tuning in a radio, the devil is in the detail, and just the right amount for each element, will dictate  the image as a whole, fine tuning is a funny thing, I mean when is something finished? I guess when it finally works, in my eyes at least, There is a lot to be said for leaving it out of sight for a while, when you think its finished. Then on re evaluation with fresh eyes, issues may present themselves. Its always an agonising process, finishing. I desperately want it to be right. Because There is nothing to compare it to, no reality, its a question of relying upon your experience and knowledge and whether the work fits within the parameters of my initial Idea and my minds visualisation. I mean I wouldn’t of even started the work if my initial mind visual didn’t work, the actual illustration is the physical product of my imagination.

                                                              Stage 4 further working in.

Below is an image of another 6-8 hours work. The work  is now finished. As you can see, I have further strengthened  all the foreground monsters, inclusive of modifying one of the monsters mouths, I did initially, want a monster with a grumpy closed mouth but on reflection, I needed more detail in that area with a complimentary colour and so I opened his mouth wider. The foreground creatures required further work as did  the background figures and the city in the further background along with the bridge.with some more work on the flying monsters.  To finish off I processed the work digitally, cropping, and adding a white background, and then adding the text I had written down at the beginning of the process enabling me to illustrate part of a story. And that’s it..My process.