My entire process for illustrating pages 22-23 of “On Duck Pond”
Jane Yolen’s text for this two-page spread:
The heron left her nest and limb, Trout returned to quiet pools,
Turtles found new routes to swim. Their fingerlings in careful schools.
Thumbnail (1”x2.5”) for pages 22-23
Thumbnail sketching forces the artist to be quick and concise – no room for detail, just get the visual concept down! It’s also critical for quickly establishing the overall “flow” of the book. It’s like a 100-page storyboard for a movie – except for a 32-page picture book, it’s all on one page. In this example, my initial response was to feature the turtle and the fish in the foreground and, in the middle-distance, show a heron flying in from the left.
1st full-size (9”x22”) sketch
By the time I got around to doing this full-size sketch (above), I had done several others – and a better sense of the “feel” of the book had emerged. This led to a number of changes to many of the thumbnails, including pages 22-23. There are still turtles and fish in the new version, and there is still a middle-distance – but besides adding the generic trees and the hills beyond them, the main change was moving the heron to the foreground and quadrupling its size, so that it now dominated the left page. The thumbnail version was OK but rather bland: everything was spread out pretty evenly; the new version felt more dramatic, with the heron now leading the viewer into the scene.
I became unhappy with the heron itself: it felt clunky, plus the reference was terrible (almost completely dark). Luckily, I found a couple of references that were livelier and a lot clearer, so I erased the first heron and drew this one in the same background. So far, so good…
A bit further down the road, the publisher asked for as many spreads with color as possible (for early-reviewer peeks). At that point, all the finished pencil drawings were already on good watercolor paper, ready to go, and I was able to, relatively quickly, complete four watercolor paintings. As it happened, I had a little extra time, so I decided to try to add color to one of the scanned spreads (pages 22-23) using Photoshop (which is the technique that I had used for all of “On Bird Hill”). I began with the heron, as shown below – but, as it turned out, I didn’t have enough time to do the background.
To make the best of the situation, I added it to the pencil drawing, below, and off it went to the reviewers.
Below is the finished watercolor painting. The primary and secondary feathers had ended up being a little (ok, a lot) darker, relative to the rest of the wing and back feathers, than I (or nature) had intended, but I brilliantly rationalized that it was just a peculiarity of the early morning light. The bird experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology had the more righteous view, however: accuracy.
So… I could’ve conceivably fixed the problem by going back into the original painting and “lifting” the dark blue watercolor by repeatedly wetting and blotting just those areas – which took some time and might not work…
OR, given the pressing deadline, I could easily and quickly fix it by using the handy Photoshop overlay that, conveniently, already existed – and this is what ended up being used in the book:
I guess that the fix did the job, since the reviews were great and Booklist gave it a star. Off to a good start…