Posts Tagged 'photoshop'

How to Make an Illustrator

Rabbit - balloonThe other day, Kathleen, a writing friend of mine, asked how I got into illustrating. This got me thinking.  My path has been quite a meandering one, which has happened in a few stages. I suppose it started back in the ice age (when I was at school):

  • School: I was always known as the ‘arty’ one, who people went to when they needed something drawn, designed or an assignment decorated (if I was more enterprising I would have started charging). However it took a new high school art teacher to really open up my creative mind – he pushed me to explore new mediums and techniques, and got me really excited about communicating visually
  • University: I considered studying graphic design, but for a creative person I’m also painfully practical. The thought of trying to earn a living creatively terrified me. So I took my love of people and science, and studied occupational therapy instead. At uni, where exams and assignments (and a little partying) took over, my art became more practical, only happening when specifically called on: ie. making people cards or creating posters for events
  • The Real World: I’d always wanted to work with kids, so as an OT I specialised in paediatric counselling and play therapy. For over six years I worked with children experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties, a job I adored, but it was draining and left me with no creative energy. I reached a point where I was working in my ideal job but just wasn’t happy. So I started drawing (and writing) again, and after a while realised that everything I was doing was aimed at kids. It made sense – through my work I was passionate about kid’s needs and their world, and had been collecting kids books for years. After dabbling in a few art courses, I decided to take the leap:
  • BACK to University: I studied graphic design part time at the QLD College of Art. It was strange to be back doing what I’d always imagined when I was growing up, but this time I had direction, and the thought of pursuing something creative no longer terrified me. I got to study art history, art theory, digital design, visual communication, typography and book design / binding, which only concreted my goal: I wanted to create books for children
  • Genes: There are a lot of creative souls in my extended family, which I only truly realised in the last few years. I grew up in a house with the art of my mum (gorgeous water-colours), grandfather and great-grandfather lining the walls. My brother had an instinct for music, and both plays the guitar and sings. My American aunt and uncle are children’s singers – The Battersby Duo – who have performed on Sesame Street and in the White House. My English uncle is a film editor and aunt is both a fine artist and author. My two New Zealand aunts are highly talented artists who work in oils, mosaics and jewellery. Even my dog is creative (see image below). So I suppose it seems obvious that one day I’d listen to the creative call of my genes

So that’s how this illustrator was made. Everyone’s journey is different: there are many ways to bake a cake. Personally, I prefer to think of myself more as a chocolate brownie, although I have in the past been described as a strawberry shortcake. Make of that what you will.


Illustration Wednesday

Many prefer illustrating in full colour.  And yet there’s something striking about the stripped back palette of black and white art. With their carefully balanced tonal qualities and the bold use of contrast, they hold an appeal which possibly has something to do with evoking memories of the past (like an old photograph).

That said, it’s a very different skill to working in colour, but it’s something I really enjoy. Working in black and white forces you to spend longer in the designing phase, focussing on contrast and laying out the elements. Although I always design an image by hand, I often construct it digitally, using Photoshop curves and channel mixers to adjust the tones of each component. I also use texture as an extra element – as a way of adding contrast – which, combined with positive and negative space, gives me a little more flexibility.

Below are some images I finished today. My goal was to illustrate three scenes that evoked entirely different moods.




Picture Book Baby

Rabbit - runI must apologise. I’ve been neglecting this blog horrendously. But that’s because I’m a new mother … of a picture book baby.

As mentioned previously, I’m currently taking a break between novel drafts to focus on a picture book project. She started off small and pink, wailing for attention, and once I gave her some she demanded it all. Over the last month or so she has grown in fits and starts, and is slowly blossoming into all I know she can be. At times it’s been joyous. Other times painful. But so worth it in the end.

In many ways, illustrating can be tricky. One illustration may take an entire day, and even then it may not be working the way I hoped.  After spending so many hours of focussed attention on one image it’s easy to get too close, making it impossible to pinpoint what isn’t working. Each time this happens I have to remind myself to go through the following steps:

  1. Get a non-illustrators opinion: their unbiased eye is often the best at spotting problems (my fiance is an absolute star at this)
  2. Get an illustrators opinion: it’s easier to talk craft with other illustrators
  3. Try illustrating the scene from a different perspective: this can make a flat scene more dynamic
  4. Jot down a series of words about the scene, focussing on character motivation and emotion: it helps to pinpoint exactly what the image should be capturing
  5. Go back to the drawing board: get away from the scene, pull out fresh paper and start playing

Just today I finished assembling all the text and images – there are only a few fiddly things left to do before it’s ready to be sent off into the submissions ether. Below are a couple of scenes I’ve been working on over the last week, using watercolour, collage and digital art.




Illustration Wednesday

This is an illustration I’ve been developing over the last week for a picture book text I’ve written.  I coloured the mum and daughter using watercolour paints, then constructed it digitally in photoshop using collage and some digital shadowing.  I’m really enjoying this technique – it certainly feels like the most natural way for me to communicate visually.  It also means I forever have a pile of strange things on my desk to scan in and use for background texture.  Like right now: I cleaned out my wardrobe on the weekend and have three skirts and one pair of pants that I like the fabric of, and need to scan in before I drop them off to St Vinnies.  Probably the strangest thing I’ve collected for texture so far is toilet paper while I was in Europe – they have really interesting patterns and imprints on theirs.  And just in case you’re wondering, it was CLEAN toilet paper – I’m not that weird.  For this image I used mainly recycled papers, but also easter egg foil and wood.

Anyone else got any strange collecting habits to admit to?  No holding back now.  Come on – it’s liberating.

Illustration Friday

Today I set myself a new illustration task: to create an image that could go at the beginning of the first chapter of my mentorship novel.  It’s important to vary things up a bit.  I’ve been doing a lot of sketching lately, so it’s good to then do a more finished piece so I don’t get too bogged down in details or stuck.  Finished pieces also give me more of a sense of achievement at the end of the day.

It can be quite challenging to try to summarise an entire chapter with a single image.  My goal was to convey the core point of action and change for the main character, and to capture the emotion of the situation.  I’m still learning to work in black and white.  I’m enjoying breaking images down and playing with the balance of positive and negative space.  Experimenting with contrast.  It’s a purely digital image, created in Corel Painter and Photoshop using digital ‘ink’ and collage.  A fun exercise anyway, and a good way to build on my portfolio.


The Forgotten Illustrator

I have been drawing a lot lately, for the exact reason Sherryl Clark so eloquently discussed over on her blog.  It’s in a vain attempt to fight a phenomenon that occurs after finishing a large writing project.  For the last few months I have trained myself to be thinking about a certain set of characters, having their scenes roll out in my head and gluing my bum to the chair each and every day to write some more of it down.  Then last week I finally typed the final word and that was it.  Done.  Finished.  Kaput.

But the characters are still there in my head.  They are still running riot and demanding my attention, but I’m finished with them for now.  There’s nothing more I can offer them.  Yet the routine I’d developed has the unfortunate side effect of making me feel guilty when I’m not on my computer and I feel pressured to jump straight into the next writing project.  But as Sherryl discusses, it is healthy to have a break.  I was complaining to Andrew about this phenomena and how I didn’t have anything to ‘do’ to distract myself.  He looked at me and said, “What, have you forgotten you’re an illustrator?”  Well, yes, maybe I had.  Writing can do that to a person.

So here I am, drawing and sketching and painting and forcing those other characters out of my head like a landlord on a rampage.  Today I have just done some sketches and experiments (which are of little interest to anyone outside myself) so I thought I’d post another image I did recently:


This is the climax scene for a picture book I’ve written, and I created it using my favourite combination of media.  I sketched the girl and her toy, then live traced them in Illustrator to get that wonderful bold chunky outline.  I then painted them using watercolour – which I love because it forces me to free up and not always be so controlled (which us Virgos need sometimes).  I scanned this in and combined it all in photoshop, using textured paper for the comic book style rays in the background.  My goal was to capture the heightened emotion of the scene.  Oh, and I love hand made typography (which people like Shaun Tan use to great effect) so I’ve created my own.

Illustration Monday

I have recently been playing with possible illustration styles for the novel I’m currently developing through the mentorship.  I have been through about eight different styles so far, and have finally settled on something that feels most suited to the tone and feel of the story.  I have always loved manga and anime: their stylized illustrations have largely influenced my own developing style, starting back when I was a small child obsessed with ‘The Last Unicorn‘.  Certainly for this project the bold outlines and large expressive eyes and faces are really suited.  Over the years I have also been developing a love for collage – namely the bold textures and contrast you can build up using different materials.  In the image below I’ve used recycled papers, carpet, lace and even foil.  I sketched her in Corel Painter using my wacom tablet and then constructed the finished image using Photoshop.


Although I may initially work in colour, any final images in children’s novels are of course black and white.  The image seems to translate well even without the colour, however I’m still perfecting this.


I may post more as the style develops and as I design other characters.  So far I am just enjoying experimenting and am still very much in the early designing phase.

About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:


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