Month: February 2015


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Today is last of the two presentations left on this course and there are undergraduates who will be watching us as they are learning from us.

The first to present is Jonny who has based on his on transgender and drag queens, showing us some amazing images and he explained what he liked and didn’t like about his work. One problem he had was he didn’t know when to stop the image which I also have a problem with, as you don’t want it to look unfinished yet you want it to look good.

Leah is also in the final stage of the MA, and is still doing ephemera – things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time. She wants to produce a set of prints that are a collection of ephemera that she has already collected. An interesting thing is she wants to create a set title for her exhibition, I had never considered this and maybe I should think of title or just base the exhibition on the title of my book.

Paul was next and he was going to create a motion book using Mayfly software. He is basing his theme and his rationale behind this is the climate round the freedom of speech, homogenisation and commodification, challenging status quo, propaganda and false flag attacks, politics and religion. He has looked at the golden ratio which I was aware of in first year but maybe I should consider this in my page layouts.

Ok I’ve just done my presentation and I have come out of it a little confused. I started to produce some work and asked which layout they preferred. I did get a response but I need to go deeper or remind myself what the focus originally was in my work and consider the following points that were made during the Q & A:

  • Focus on a core or concept more – so I am thinking to focus on the sounds more
  • What are the main focuses on the page – what stands out more
  • Use the body position and angles of the squirrel to express personality and emotion
  • Watch more videos of the animals to achieve more movement in my drawings
  • Try to not overcomplicate the texture – vary the detail to create depth. Not everything has to be really detailed
  • To develop some of the small thumbnail ideas straight away and not change them
  • To maybe to develop the sound first and then fit the characters around it

So looking on the positive side, I’ve got somewhere to aim for and have got plenty of work to do. I know I struggle with having a set idea and then it being blown apart but I need to learn from what I have done and why they haven’t worked to make something better. Some of the views were conflicting but I think I just have to pick and chose I decide whats best for me and what I want to achieve.

A company that was mentioned was G F Smith is a paper company that specialises in specific types of paper and has a vast range. I had a look at their link:

It looks very professional and good but for me I am not sure I need it as of yet due to my book pages possibly being the standard thickness of books. Also, I have just looked at a rough price for a book to be print and it is around the £100 mark which is not exactly cheap. Therefore, I am leaning towards making it myself as it gives me freedom with the size of the page and I can make a better quality book without the large price tag next to it.

In my next post I will have an update of where I got to and what I think I am going to do next.

Starting development…

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Ok, so far I have looked at other artists illustrations of squirrels, discovered roughly some key guidelines of what I want to achieve and so now I need start to crack out some work. I started off by looking back at the bullet points I had set myself for this weeks work and one of them was to watch video footage of squirrels and draw from this type of medium. Here are a few of my sketches, sorry it’s not a very good photo, it couldn’t pick up the light pencil very well.

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I found this actually a very useful technique as I found that my drawings of the simple yet complicated facial shape of the squirrel were improving. The drawings I came out with had more fluidity to them and gave me more movement which I will use in my book. I don’t want to draw them and then think right thats done and revert back to set images because I want a sense of movement and realism in the book. Also, just watching these creatures are amazing, they are so agile and they are confident in their moves and jumps across large areas of land and height.


From quick sketches to detailed drawings, I thought I would attempt to use the same materials and techniques I did with the Jay with the squirrel. I took a photo and sketched out the basic guideline, then using pastel pencils with water I painted the base colours of the image and then used the pastel pencils again, once the paper was dry, to build up the layers of hair and tone. I am pleased with the outcome especially how I’ve tried to create the flow of movement in the hair.


A closer view of the layers of lines creating the illusion of hair. I love illustrating the tail as it’s more complex than meets the eye, as there are many colours within the tail and there tends to be layers of colour, for example on the tips or edge of the tail there is a layer of dark brown/black and the rest is white, all the way to the end. This was difficult to incorporate as the white doesn’t really show up. From a tutorial it was suggested I could use masking fluid which I could then rub away revealing the white paper, but the problem with that is I could cause the pastel to smudge and due to this hair being so fine it may be a little tricky. I will have to combat this problem when I start creating the backgrounds to my scenes as the tail is an important part of the the visual identity of the squirrel and I want the white to show.


The beginning of the sketching process, my favourite part I must admit is trying to think of new exciting ways to show the full potential of a moment or scene in a book. Creating unusual angles or highlighting key areas of interest is an important part and there’s no restrictions of the imagination and there is no right or wrong at this stage as a ‘bad’ idea could lead onto the final piece.


Whilst researching into what a grey squirrel eats was trickier than I thought! I thought there would be tonnes of information on the web, as they are a common animal and most people know what and where to find them yet the information I found was quite vague, for example I read many times they eat berries, fungi and sometimes insects but there wasn’t any specific details of the types of berries or fungi. I had to do some detective work and watch videos of squirrels eat and work out what it was, obviously there was the common food of hazelnuts and acorns but I wanted to find something lesser known.

By researching into the squirrels diet I realised I wanted to base my book in September roughly, so the end of summer and beginnings of autumn. I chose these seasons as it means I can play around with the background scenes using warm colours, having a little green foliage alongside the beginnings of trees losing their leaves. I would think it is going to be a complex process but I like a challenge now and then!

Squirrel Mania

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Before I started to design my squirrel who is the main character, I decided to research into how the squirrel has been perceived and drawn in other children’s books. To my surprise there is quite a range, more than I thought there would be. Here are a few of the designs…


Illustrated by Axel Scheffler who also created the beautiful drawings in The Gruffalo created by Julia Donaldson. A very similar style yet these colours are stronger than the ones in The Gruffalo. A squirrel was created for the book The Highway Rat created again by Julia Donaldson. When looking at this design I automatically recognised it as a red squirrel purely by the colour and that it is an actual squirrel because of the thin yet bushy tail and the buck teeth but other than that I wouldn’t have known it was a squirrel. Making it more human like with the clothes and the stance it tries to relate to the working man. However, I am not keen on this style of drawing of the squirrel as I feel like it doesn’t have enough qualities and and characteristics of a traditional squirrel. I’m not saying that it is a bad drawing as it’s a new take on the animal but it’s just not my cup of tea.


A squirrel jumping in the air with excitement was illustrated by David Parkins and is the main character in the book Tick Tock created by Eileen Brown. This has a more playful sense to it with marks around the body showing movement and the expression on his face is happiness. Again, it is a red squirrel as these may be seen more as a nicer, friendlier character compared to the ‘dull’ grey squirrel. This squirrel has more characteristics and features of a typical squirrel for example the large long feet, the hairy body and the buck teeth. It has more of a personality I feel compared to the previous squirrel drawing.


The following illustrations of a squirrel are completely different and closer to the real animal. Above is the work of Sarah Fox-Davies who illustrated these characters for the book Moles Sunrise created by Jeanne Willis. Again another red squirrel who seems friendly with the slight smile on it’s face. It’s body shape is more realistic with the curved back parallel to the bushy tail, there are tufts of hair on the end of it’s ears which red squirrels are renowned for compared to the grey squirrel which has none and the paws that are shaped like well… a squirrels hand . It’s on all fours which the squirrel tends to do when looking for food on the ground or generally just standing. There are slight mark making on the coat of the squirrel suggesting the movement and flow of the animal.


This is the only illustration that uses grey squirrels as the main characters even though they aren’t completely grey. Mark making is heavily used here to define the different layers and textures between the characters, background scenes and other various objects. Different weight of strokes define what type of hair the animals have and the flow of the lines whether they are wavy or straight show the movement of the scene. The body is fairly close to the real animal but there are some areas that have been manipulated to show some character in the face for example the eyes are quite large and shows a clear pupil and whites of eyes which squirrels don’t tend to have.

So there you have it, a short but sweet overview of the various ways squirrels can be drawn and perceived. There are many illustrations out there that are weird and wonderful or precise and realistic but all I can take from this is what I like about certain aspects of the drawings and apply this to my own work. For example I want my character to be quite realistic but still have some personality and expression in the face and body language, I don’t want it to be cartoony but I don’t want it to be boring. A fine balance must be made. Also, I think after created the Jay illustrations with the lines creating the illusion of feathers, I feel I need to carry on this style throughout with all the characters including the squirrel. This means I will have to crack out the pastel pencils again and start drawing the individual hairs of the squirrels… easy… right?!


Browne, E., 1993. Tick Tock. London: Walker Books Limited.

Donaldson, J., Scheffer, A., 2011, The Highway Rat. London: Alison Green Books.

Donaldson, J., Scheffer, A., 2001, The Gruffalo. London: Macmillan Children’s Books.

Saunders, D & J, 1995. The Big Storm. London: Frances Lincoln Limited.

Willis, J., 2011. Moles Sunrise. London: Walker Books Limited.

Pastels and Jays

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The following images are two different techniques I used to create the images of a Jay. As mentioned before in a previous post, I needed to experiment using pastels pencils to see if I could achieve obtaining the look of feathers on the bird.


The comparison between the two techniques. On the left I have used thick watercolour paper (140 lbs, 300 g/m2, cold press) with a rough texture and I have used watercolours to create the base colours of the bird. On the right I have used cartridge paper (100 lbs, 220 gsm, medium grain) which is also fairly thick and I have used the pastels with water to create the base for this illustration. Already you can see the differences in colour strength and lines forming.

P1120704I am trying to avoid using thick or thin black lines which I normally do to outline an images, I have only used a faint pencil line for guidance which will soon disappear as I build up the other layers.
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Below and above are the finished outcomes, above is the watercolour (with pastel pencils) and below is the purely pastel pencil illustration. There is a big difference with the look and style as the watercolour illustration has stronger colours but the pastel image (below) has a more refined look to it with the individual feather lines. I know it is hard to create two images identically the same when using different materials as well as just creating the same mark making.


When creating my final images for the book, I may have to draw them numerous times until I achieved the balance I want with the correct strength of colour but still have the detail of the feathers. I think because I finished the cartridge paper with the pastel pencils first there is more car in the placement of the feathers whereas I find this is lost slightly in the water colour illustration.


A closer view of the feather detail which I think looks a lot better than the digital collage I created earlier. These look more realistic and have more character due to the colours and texture it has. I haven’t used pastel pencils before and so this was my first attempt at recreating a realistic image and at first I didn’t really know what to expect or how to use them but through trial and error I found my way and I have got to say that I am quite chuffed with the final outcome!

After my tutorial it was mentioned that I should maybe use a dark brown for the facial area rather than black (I used dark grey) so it doesn’t look so bold and in your face. I am unsure whether to take this advice as I know the Jay does have a distinct facial moustache if you like. I will have to draw it again and wait and see.

Magical Droplets

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When experimenting with the various materials (shown in previous post) I thought I would take photos of these little beauties…


When placing the droplets of water on the page and then adding the brusho the droplets became little gems. As the sun shone through the light highlighted the colours spreading inside the droplet. I wish I had a better camera because these photos don’t really do the droplets any justice.

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More intense blues, they look perfectly formed and with the brusho particles scattered around the domes it looks like a mini world. Of course, this doesn’t really have anything to do with the development of my work but I thought I would share it as I found them pretty.


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So after my initial drawings of the Jay, I experimented with materials to see if I could find a medium that would suit this book. The images below are a mixture of materials from acrylic paint to brusho.


This is acrylic paint that I have layered to create a ribbed effect. By placing a large amount of paint on paper, I used the end of a paint brush to draw strokes into the paint trying not to flatten the paint down. It has created a textured feel to the page and I tried to create a feather effect which would either go onto the Jay’s body or something else in a scene.

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These two photos are of brusho, I placed a drop of water onto the page and sprinkled a little bit of brusho to add the colour. I then used a hairdryer (a lot easier than the traditional blow trough the straw technique) to let the droplets of water take an unpredictable path. By angling the hairdryer I could sometimes control the direction it was going but if I tried to recreate this page it would be near impossible.


I love the variation of the depth in colour as well as the various forms and shapes it has created across the page. Eventhough it is very pretty I feel like it won’t be as useful as I thought it would be when creating the scenes of my book or the character developments.


Now that I had created some collage material I thought I would start to create some more illustrations of the characters to see if I could find a style that suited the animal. Using my digital collage technique that I had developed over the past couple of years, I placed material within the drawing I had previously made using photoshop making sure the lines or texture followed the bird natural feather alignment.


Both images have a different look and feel to them, the top image being more rough and unpredictable whereas the second image has more flow with the lines being in one direction. I can’t say I’m over joyed with them as I don’t think they will work in my book but I am glad to see how different material or textures can change the look of an illustration.


Using the same material as the image above I tried a different technique and organisation to the materials. I also changed the colours to fit the Jay more as before it was a little dark. To add more texture I used the blue brusho pattern within the wings to create a sense of movement. I like this illustration as there are a lot of various textures within the image yet it still has some depth with the shading I placed on top using photoshop.

However, when I went to my tutorial my opinions soon changed as the following bullet points show:

  • Avoid black lines as they are too harsh
  • Play around with materials such as pastel pencils and watercolours
  • Experiment more on various types of paper – cartridge & watercolour
  • Take sections of the Jay and create the feather effect

As we discussed the images, I realised that the images are quite flat and are nice illustrations individually but would not work within a children’s book as they may not appreciate the complexity of the layers. So, I soon made a to do list adding to the previous bullet points:

  • Start to form a colour palette which would run through the book
  • Research into the other characters of the book – what noises do they make
  • Start to create and develop alternative scenes – pick one at a time and create various compositions
  • Play with the borders of the scenes
  • Work out roughly what atmosphere/setting the story will be set in
  • Similar to the Jay experiment with the squirrel character
  • Watch footage of them and try draw them to capture the movement

So quite a lot to figure out in a week really but I think it’s doable if I knuckle down and work hard.

Work Begins…

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This week I have had ago at starting to create some images, I found it weirdly hard as I don’t know really where to start. Here are a few basic drawing I have drawn of a British Jay (one of the characters my Squirrel meets) as well as the squirrel:


For this image I was experimenting with sounds and how I could illustrate the sound of a squirrels warning call. Making the K quite thick to show the power the letter is forced out when pronouncing the word. I experimented with black and white to see if it gave a more dramatic effect, instead of using colour which can soften an image. I like the black and white effect but I would want to experiment further to get the best results from using just two colours. I want to tryout this technique out with the other animals as well and mix it up in the story board to see if it enhances particular moments.


Next are the sketches of a British Jay, I have just used fine line to create these images as I am going to photograph them and print multiple copies where I will experiment using various materials and colours. It allows me to have a base of which I can work from and I can go back to the drawings for reference on the bird. I chose various positions as I didn’t want the standard standing side profile which I think is predictable and boring when placed in a children’s book.


Flying away with an acorn in it’s mouth, a beautiful freeze frame shot where all the individual feathers are clearly visible. When experimenting with materials I will be able to play with light and texture to see if I can create a sense of individuality of the character.


I feel like I have been working quite slow recently but it is because I am in unknown territory which makes me question everything I do. I have created some other work but I think I need to step it up a gear and really focus on what I’m doing as time passes quite quickly. So the plan for the next week is to experiments with colour and materials on the photocopied drawings and apply the same techniques to the squirrel character. Hopefully by the end of the week I will have a good body of work which I can then work from to create the book scenes.