Debi's process of illustration

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How do I illustrate? Since in the majority of cases, I’m probably illustrating a story I’ve written myself, I’ll have already spent some time dreaming up the characters inside my head, so I’ll have some idea of what they look like. I’ll already have drawn them in words, if you like. Now it’s time to start drawing them for real. Gulp. There’s always a moment of terror – that vast expanse of white paper in front of me seems to engender a ‘what-if’ moment. What if I can’t think up a new character? What if I’ve run out of ideas? What if I just simply wake up one day and can’t draw any more? What if I just Can’t Do It Any More.......? It’s like stage fright; the blank sheet of white paper is my stage, and I feel ill at the sight of all that blank space waiting for me to do something new, something to justify sawing down all those trees, something that you, Gentle Reader, might want to read. Experience has taught me that the best thing to do at this point is to get on with it. To start drawing. Even if I draw like a one-year-old. Even if I don’t even manage to be that good. Just do it. Make marks on paper. Daubs. Smudges. Trust that it will all be OK. It’s your job, Gliori. It will all be fine.




































The Process of Illustration

The Process of Illustration

By Debi Gliori

And it is. So I do my job. It’s a bit of a struggle. Oh, OK. It’s a major battleground, most of the time. Blood is shed. Fingernails are gnawed off and fall to the floor in little ragged crescents. Loud music blares out and then ominous silences descend. Strong language drifts out from under the eaves. The studio floor silts up with the little shreds of rubber from a much-worked eraser, but little by little and bit by bit, something, a wisp of something that looks a little like what I’m trying to draw begins to slowly emerge from the fog. I’ll play around with pencils (you can rub out lines you don’t like and tweak and adjust till you get close to what you hope you’re trying to say) and charcoal (there’s something very pleasing about the extreme smudginess and deep velvety blackness of a charcoal line, and besides, at the end of a day’s wrestling with a variety of smudgy sticks of charcoal, you look like you’ve been down a coal mine doing a real job instead of sitting on your rear making up stories and drawing fluffy bunnies for a living) and very wet watercolour (this is the medium of daydreaming, a perfect paint for teasing shy characters out of the recesses of your unconscious).

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Once the book’s editor and designer have had a chance to look at the drawings and suggest any changes, then I can move on to do the watercolour artwork. I work on a lovely old-fashioned 100% rag watercolour paper made by Winsor and Newton – ten years ago W&N stopped making this paper, and because I liked it so much, I hunted down the last remaining hundred or so blocks of paper, and bought the lot. I now have more watercolour paper than I’ll be able to use in my lifetime! For each painting, I soak a sheet of paper, lay it on a board, stick it down on all four edges with brown paper tape and wait for it to dry (this stretches the paper and gives a perfectly flat surface that doesn’t wrinkle or buckle when it gets wet). While I’m waiting, I trace over my original pencil drawing with a fine black ink line on tracing paper. Then, on the other side of the tracing paper, I cover the entire surface with graphite, then lay it on the dry watercolour paper and go over my traced-off drawing with a ballpoint pen, thus transferring a faint graphite line drawing on to the watercolour paper. I’ll draw over this in pencil, adjusting and making the drawing as clear as possible before finally inking it in with a waterproof fine ink pen. Then I’ll erase all the pencil and graphite lines, clean up the smudges and have a think about what colours I’m going to use. If I’m not sure, I’ll plitter around with various combinations of colours on scraps of paper before I begin properly. I’ll mix up several little porcelain dishes of various intensities of pigments if I’m going to lay down a big wash to begin with, and then I’ll find some music I really like, put the answering machine on, take a big deep breath and begin...

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Once I’ve established some idea of what my elusive main character looks like, I’ll draw some scribbly and quick sketches to find out what he looks like when he bends, runs, climbs, from above, from below, in profile, smiling, frowning, yawning etc. This is to make sure that my main character remains completely recognisable all the way through the book from the very first page to the last. Then I’ll begin to rough out each double-page spread of the book, starting with tiny thumbnail sketches which I’ll eventually work up to full-size black-and-white roughs; simply put, this is me more or less drawing the entire book from start to finish in pencil. This pencil stage is the most difficult and the most rewarding part of making a book. This is where the real magic of the book happens – the part where the pictures are being pulled out of thin air. I find working at this kind of intensity absolutely exhausting – I couldn’t do it all of the time, but to do it in short bursts of a few months at a time is tremendously exciting. Each spread takes at least four days of pencil-chewing, head-scratching, drawing, rubbing out, re-drawing and finally drawing to a very highly finished standard. Every book I’ve made has this ‘shadow’ book that nobody except editors, designers and my family ever get to see. The pencil drawings are the invisible underpinnings of each and every book I’ve made.

  

 

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