I will be sharing pencils with the publisher of Crow Not Crow
tomorrow, and I thought I'd walk you (and them) through my process for this book. I say 'this book' because rarely do I do things the same way. But this is the process that seems to work for this one, so here goes.
The book is full of birds and will be vetted by ornithologists, so I have to get the birds right. So my first stage was drawing birds, tons and tons of birds.
For the layout I'm going to share, I did this crow.
I've also been playing with thumbnails, going back and forth between drawings. They can be quite crude, something only I would understand - like this.
I start drawing the elements that I see working in the drawing. For this one, my husband posed for me. I also looked up leaves. Working with hand sketches and some digital, I came up with this.
But this is still a mess. I don't like the tree I chose, the branches are too delicate. And I want all my elements to feel like part of a whole. I printed this stage out to an A4 piece of paper, then put it underneath a thin marker paper because I can see through it without a light table.
This is the stage where several things happen. First, I changed the leaves. Second, I added atmospheric elements. But probably most importantly, I softened up the bird. Because, while I want the bird to be correct, I don't want the book to be so tightly drawn that it looks too realistic. If I wanted that, I could just take pictures. I want my artistic, illustrative hand to come into play, to stylize things. This is how I hope I'll find the happy medium between being anatomically correct for the ornithologists and artistically inspired for myself.
You'll notice I bumped the contrast, and played with value to make you look where I want you to look. I'm also seeing the transparency of the colors I'll be using - but that part is in my head for now.
But wait, I'm not done yet! Again, to balance the anatomically correct birds, I really needed to use some photo reference for the people. So, I arranged a photo shoot. Well, I tried to arrange a photo shoot. What ended up happening was quite off the cuff.
A friend from studio agreed to pose for the father figure - Antti. For the boy? I walked out of the College of Art to the sidewalk as kids were heading home from the George Heriot school. (Yes, that's the one that supposedly inspired Harry Potter.) As luck would have it, a mom and her son of about the right age were walking by. I asked if he'd mind posing, with mom's permission, and VOILA! And yes, his name is Harry! Here's the pose for this layout. The binoculars were cans of spray mount.
I put those poses into my storyboard...
And then it was back to the drawing board, literally, again. Just drawing them this time to drop into the illustration digitally. Some of these I did larger to maintain the same level of detail as the birds, but in this case, they'll be seen at a distance, so too much detail would be contrary to what the human eye would see anyhow. And again, there's that opportunity to stylize.
So, with all that done, I come finally to the final sketch for approval. You'll notice the characters are now much smaller in the layout than before, and they may need to go even smaller to make the perspective believable - a challenge throughout the book in trying to show the birds and
the people, all main characters after all!
This was the process for all of the drawings in the book - the cover, title page, and all the interior spreads. At this point, every drawing in the book has been done and redone about three times overall. And, of course, there could be changes. Because all of this has to make Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple happy (the authors) as well as the publishers. Fingers crossed!