Hazel Mitchell's TOBY

Thanks for inviting me to visit your blog, Elizabeth, Toby was happy dancing when he heard!
      I’d like to share a little about how I created the art in TOBY published by Candlewick Press Sept 13th 2016. It ‘s a departure from my previous books, which have tended to be brighter and using more digital creation. As the author and illustrator of TOBY (my first solo gig!) I knew the feel I wanted for the book from the get go and that was to create an emotional mood in the illustrations, coupled with a retro look. People have commented that it feels very ‘British’ in tone – which is fine by me! (As I’m British).
      Pretty much all of my art is created first using graphite, usually something soft in the 6B -9B area, or in some cases with dipping pen. In Toby I used graphite on 300lb Fabriano hot press paper. In previous books I’ve used cold press to get a rougher feel, but I wanted a smoother look for Toby. I start, as we all usually do, with thumbnails, rough sketches and incomprehensible scrawls, the meaning of which sometimes even the artist has no idea about! Sketches and visuals came first for me with this book.
I’d been drawing Toby since I adopted him in 2013 and these sketches turned into scenes.
     I began to weave a story around him and a young boy who adopts him. I linked scenes together, added more sketches to make sense of the story as I went along.
     I never did write a manuscript as such. The scenes were written on index cards and swapped around until the arc was achieved. I scan my roughs in to the computer so I can piddle around with them in photoshop, I add gray wash for depth and love being able to cut and paste easily.
It’s then easy to save in PDF format and send to the art director and she in turn can add notes and comments. I’ve worked with photoshop since the late 1980s, it’s second nature now and an important tool in my studio.
      When sketches (and revisions) are approved I move on to finals. Always an exciting moment! How will I create the looseness, not get too tight and detailed, create the mood I am looking for? I tried a few samples pieces and decided on the following technique:
      In a previous book (Imani’s Moon by JaNay Brown Wood, publisher Charlesbridge) I’d used a technique most commonly seen in oil painting (although J.W.M Turner used it in watercolors too) the grisaille. First I lightly trace the sketch onto the final paper on my lightbox then complete the pencil work in soft graphite. Then I paint the grisaille, which is a monochrome underpainting in one color, often burnt sienna or prussian blue or gray. My underpainting for Toby was in burnt sienna which gave me soft lights and darks. I didn’t stretch the paper because the watercolor wash I was using would be fairly light and without salting or much texture work. (In Imani’s Moon I stretched the paper, because I punished the paper quite a lot to get texture).
      Once the underpainting is completed and dry (the pencil does not smudge as much as you’d imagine, so I don’t fix it before the wash), I scanned at 400dpi CMYK tif file and imported into photoshop. Then I turned it to grayscale.
      (So why, you may well ask, do I use burnt sienna in the first place? Well, I somehow can see the light and darks better in that color and the mood, which was for a fall season in the book, so it made sense to me). I could have left some of the brown in once in photoshop, but it would have given the book a very sepia feel which my art director (Ann Stott at Candlewick Press) and I decided against. The overpainting of colors gave it warmth.
      The final stage in my process is to paint over the underpainting (on a separate layer in photoshop) using a brush set to ‘color’ and the layer setting is ‘color’ also. I use only a couple of brushes, a soft edge and hard edge at different sizes, and very light colors so that the texture and pencil work show through in the finished art.
      I find this is the best of both worlds! I get the happy accidents and freedom of hand-done work with the speed and ability to make fast changes with digital art. All the pages go ready to be sent to production as digital files.

      Hints – always work in CMYK. Work only a little larger than the page (125% ish) so that things don’t get ‘too tiny’ and the lines are standardized. Make sure you see a proof from the production department PRIOR to F&G’s. Try and get an ICC file from your production manager before starting work in photoshop ... it will help with color proofing on and off screen.

Hazel Mitchell has always loved drawing and still cannot be reliably left alone with a pencil. She has illustrated several books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? ‘Toby’ is her author-illustrator debut from Candlewick Press. Her work has received several awards and been recognized by Bank Street Books, Learning Magazine, Reading is Fundamental, Foreword Reviews, NYCReads365, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, Charlotte/Mecklenburg , Chicago and Maine State libraries among others. Originally from England, where she attended art-college and served in the Royal Navy, she now lives in Maine with her poodles Toby and Lucy and a cat called Sleep. She still misses British fish and chips, but is learning to love lobster. See more of her work at www.hazelmitchell.com. Repped by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd.

1 comment:

Patricia Lazarus said...

Hazel, your post about your process was enlightening and interesting. Enjoyed it!