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Writer | Illustrator

Posts tagged picture books

These past two weekends, I’ve been at work on an illustration for a potential picture book project. The story, featuring two mourning doves, was drafted during a prompt for the Remarkable Monkeys on “Why Is the Moon Late?”

Mourning Doves by Priscilla Mizell
I started with a rough sketch.

FullSizeRender (3)Next, I mapped out my layers, a highly scientific process where I use a lightbox to trace the general shapes from the sketch (e.g., head, eye with pupil, bit around the eyes, top layer of beak, underlayer of beak, etc.) on a separate sheet of white paper. I cut out those mapped pieces and used them as patterns for the fine paper.

By last weekend’s end, I had put together Little Dove, Mama Dove, and a version of their nest. It was a solid start but it wasn’t working yet, so I decided to let it sit.

IMG_0656Throughout the week, I returned to the illustration to consider changes. By the time Friday evening rolled around, I had a pretty good idea of what to do.

I remembered a talk Peter Brown gave where he said, “You cannot get the eyes wrong in a picture book. If you get the eyes wrong, you will have a problem.” It was clear that Little Dove’s eyes weren’t right. So, I pulled off his pupil, cut it down, and tried a few different placements. That was much better.

Then I added layers to the little guy, including a division between his breast and his mama’s, a tuft of down along his forehead, and lots of little feathers. Finally, I ripped up the nest and layered different papers over and under. At last, I was satisfied with my characters.

IMG_0753Because this scene is set at night, I needed a deep, blue paper for the sky. The week before, I had laid my birds and nest onto various shades until I narrowed my options down to three.

On Friday night, I tested them again with the revised doves, nest, and tree to make my choice.

For the tree, I started with a piece of plain, brown paper into which I cut wiggly lines to serve as grooves of bark. Then I cut and pasted other colors and textures on top. This step involved quite a bit of trial and error, hence the pile of cut-up squiggles on my desk.

fullsizerender-2.jpgThen I glued the sections together!

FullSizeRenderThe final illustration is 9.5” across by 5.5” high. The collage was cut with my trusted EK Success Cutter Bee Scissors and adhered with an Elmer’s glue stick and PLUS’s 6mm-wide, honeycomb glue tape. I used the following papers, all from my beloved Paper Source:

IMG_0760It can be a challenge to scan a cut paper collage when there are multiple layers. While the colors are subdued, this one scanned pretty clean. A victory!

Mourning Doves by Priscilla MizellThanks for reading!

Like many of my illustrator friends, I’m in the process of revamping my portfolio for the L.A. SCBWI conference. This weekend I took an existing design that I liked and gave it an update.

“The Dance Lesson” is an illustration that my marvelous agent pulled from the slush, so it will always be close to my heart. It also inspired a picture book WIP that I love. But two years have passed since I finished that collage and I knew I could make it better.

dance lesson redo

Before: The Dance Lesson, circa 2011

So, on Saturday, I set to work. I began with Owl and Ostrich. These characters have evolved somewhat since the original design, so I wanted to make sure they would be consistent with the most recent O&O illustrations. Both Owl and Ostrich lost a toe to better resemble their real-life counterparts (ostriches have two toes and great horned owls have three in the front and one in the back). Owl 2.0 is a bit more solid with a larger beak. Ostrich 2.0’s legs are a bit longer and more muscular. I also adjusted the tilt of the birds’ legs and wings so they’d look more active. After all, they are dancing!

The revised characters have different papers, too. The first version of the illustration featured three patterns for Owl and two patterns for Ostrich—with one of these papers (the pattern with the text) being shared by the two. To compare, Owl 2.0 and Ostrich 2.0 have five papers a piece. Happily, I had already planned out O&O’s new looks in an earlier color study, so I didn’t need to start from scratch when picking their papers.

20130602_015926 - 2

Owl and Ostrich 2.0

As for the background, I knew that I wanted to keep some elements of the first illustration (i.e., the natural palette, the floorboards, the border along the top, the music notes), but I didn’t know which papers I wanted to use. So, on Sunday, I spread out every blue, green, and brown paper pattern I owned and did a lot (ahem, a LOT) of pairing and considering. Yesterday was one of those days where the scene just wouldn’t come together. At one point, the husband suggested we get out of the house to think and eat pie. (Always a good idea.) At another point, we went out to buy yet more green paper. (Another good idea.) Finally (finally!), I figured it out and was able to finish the illustration.

The Dance Lesson 2 by Priscilla Mizell

After: The Dance Lesson, circa 2013

The floorboards are still dark, the composition similar. The biggest difference is the backdrop. Instead of incorporating the sheet music into the floorboards, I cut waves from a sheet music paper pattern and layered them atop a different shade of green. My hope is that this detail adds more movement and interest to the illustration.

What about you? Do you have some “before and after” illustration examples to share? I’d love to see them.

ETA: I still wasn’t happy with the background, so I tried out a few more greens, including one from a different Owl and Ostrich composition. I shared the results with a trusted critique partner and she agreed that, in this case, darker is indeed better. (Thanks, Courtney!) The after after illustration is below. This just goes to show that there’s always room for revision!

Edited and Revised Dance Lesson

After Again: The Dance Lesson, circa 2013

“The other penguins gobbled their meals. Pip preferred to taste his fish.”

I am in the early stages of a picture book starring Pip, the penguin at the right in the illustration. I sketched this image for my first set of thumbnails. Since then, the story has shifted—as stories often do—so the scene will no longer be part of the book. But I grew fond of the picture, so I thought I’d make it for my Facebook Timeline cover photo. (The cover photo dimensions are wider than they are tall, which is why I included extra snow.)

For this illustration, I mostly used your run-of-the-mill scrapbook paper and cardstock with a bit of the “good stuff” (a.k.a., Japanese Yuzen Paper from Paper Source) on the fishtails and fin. The snow is a plain rice paper set on a blank sheet of watercolor paper.

Thanks for looking! I hope that you enjoyed meeting Pip.