This week, the color work on my newest Floyd illustrations is finally underway. For those of you just tuning in, the title of the new book is Floyd and the Mysterious Night Time Noise and again features Floyd, Tiny and Larue, three Welsh corgis who look suspiciously like my own dogs. This is the second of three books I have planned in the series. The first was Floyd and the Irresistible Cookie which is currently being made into a fabulous e-book/DVD by the Somerled Arts Foundation.
Last blog post, I wrote about how I got started on the drawing process, so today I thought I’d share some of my color process. First, I begin with colored pencil outlines (except for the cover where the title only is outlined in .05 black Micron pen). I used mostly gray, dark brown and small amounts of green and black.
The outlines give some definition to the edges of the images, but with a softer look than pen and ink or cartoon styles. Later, I’ll add more detail with colored pencil using other colors, too. Next, I erase the extra wacky pencil lines that are still hanging around at this point to get ready for paint (watercolor is transparent, so pencil lines will show through the color).
The first painting step I decided to work on is filling in the big background parts. I’ve been working on this in the last couple of days since it’s been less humid and the drier air seems to help the paper stretch nicely. Remember when I taped the edges of my paper to the boards with masking tape during the drawing phase? That is “stretching”. It helps the paper flatten back out after it has gotten wet from being painted.
It might seem weird to start with a back ground, but for me it works. It's actually the step I like doing the least, and so it gets it out of the way so I can focus on the detail and characterizations in the rest of the illustration, which is my favorite part. Also, backgrounds are kind of scary to me. They can wreck an entire finished work if you put them in last and hate how they came out. At this point, if something was really barfy, I can redo the drawing and I haven’t invested all that much time into everything else yet. So I’m less stressed about that part!
Materials I use at this stage are large brushes and a medium brush now and then, sea sponges, watercolor paints (I use both paint in a tube and dehydrated paints depending on what colors I need), palette, and clean water. I also always have a white paper towel handy. Don’t use one with designs printed on them even if they’re really cute. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
To create the backgrounds, I dilute the watercolor paints with water in my palette to create a wash. This is ideal for large watercolor areas. For this book, I am going to do a lot of layering with greens, blues and purples to get a feeling of night time without being too scary and spooky for the youngest readers.
I dip the sponge or large brush in the wash and streak it across the largest areas. I use a smaller sponge or brush to get close to the objects in the composition. Sometimes I’ll go on top of the wet color with another color or I might dab at areas with the sponge to take away pigment for an interesting texture. It’s important to work quickly to avoid weird overlaps with the brushstrokes. Sometimes it helps to wet the entire background with clean water first so the brush/sponge sections blend together more easily.
I let it dry, then I might swipe again with another color later. I try to keep the areas where the text will go light enough so that black text will be very visible on top. If I’ve painted too dark, the thickness of the paper does allow me to adjust the darkness even after it’s dry by wiping some of the paint away with a brush, sponge or paper towel without damaging the paper surface.
Once the backgrounds are done, then I get to the detail painting work. I’ll write about that in the next couple of weeks!