Category Archives: School

Summer School, Part 3: Picture Book Media

The second class I’m taking in the Children’s Book Illustration certificate program is ART 523, Picture Book Media. It’s taught by the fabulous Ashley Wolff. Her latest book is Baby Bear Sees Blue, and is completely gorgeous, using linocuts and vibrant watercolors to bring her characters to life.

The object of this class was essentially to try as many media that could be used in illustration as possible, in six weeks. Most of the time Ashley picked out reference photos for us to chose from, which was great because we didn’t have to worry about coming up with concepts for our illustrations, and were able to concentrate fully on whatever media we had chosen.

So here’s what we did!

We tried watercolor! (This is a sample board.)

And painted peppers using various watercolor techniques.

And did watercolor value/color studies from the portrait of a child.

And made color wheels.

We tried gouache (a kind of opaque watercolor)!

This is the first step of a really cool technique called gouache resist. You paint all the parts of your image that you don’t want to be black in gouache, very thickly. Then (this is a scary part!), you paint over the whole thing in india ink. Once that dries, you wash the paper. The gouache washes away, leaving behind just the ink; the parts you painted will retain a hint of the pigment from the paint.

Here’s the result! Pretty neat.

We tried acrylics! (This is another sample board.)

Then we painted a forest scene in acrylics, featuring orchids.

We tried scratchboard!

A scratchboard is made of a backing that is covered in a layer of white clay and then black ink. You then use a sharp tool to scratch away where you want there to be white. First we experimented with our tools on a sample board. Once we had the hang of it, we moved on to another board to create a finished piece (this is a picture of a loon).

We tried linoleum block printing!

Linocutting is similar to scratchboard in that you carve away all the parts of the image that you want to be white. You also have to work the carving in reverse, as the image gets flipped when you print it on the paper.

Here’s my print! Since the printing ink is oil-based, it’s easy to go in afterward and add color with watercolors–the black lines resist the paint.

Finally, we tried collage!

These are my sketches and chickens-in-progress. I cut out all the little paper bits first, before I started gluing. Then I glued it all with an adhesive called Nori paste (it’s acid free, and has a really pleasant smell and texture).

And here are my collage chickens in Kentucky Derby hats!

For our final project, we each chose an illustrator that inspires us, and we’re creating three illustrations in the spirit of that illustrator. I chose Virginia Lee Burton (you may know her as the author/illustrator of the Caldecott-winning The Little House), who is completely wonderful. I’m going to be illustrating scenes from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. I’ll post the result next week!

That concludes our jaunt through my time at school this summer. I hope you’ve enjoyed it! Don’t forget to check out part 1 (about Hollins) and part 2 (about my drawing class)!

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Summer School, Part 2: Picture Book Drawing Fundamentals

The first class I’m taking in the Children’s Book Illustration certificate program is ART 568, Picture Book Drawing Fundamentals. It’s taught by the lovely Lauren Mills, who has a portfolio of the most sensitive portraiture, sculpture, and illustration (to those of my friends who may be worried by such things, you might want to stick to checking out her illustration work, as her other work does occasionally feature classical-style nudes)–you may recognize her picture book The Rag Coat, which is one I remember loving when I was younger.

I’ve taken several drawing fundamentals-type classes in my life, and this was the first one that actually applied the basics of composition, perspective, proportion, etc., toward a particular goal–that is, creating an engaging image that communicates exactly what you want it to, in the manner you want it to. I suppose this is the true purpose of all drawing classes, but I have never been in a class where it “clicked” quite the way it did in this one.

This class was difficult for me because I tend towards a little wonkiness in my drawings, and it took a lot of patience to work with such precision. I am certain it was good for me, though. As with any venture, it is good to know and be able to follow the rules before making your choices about which ones to break!

Lauren started us at the very beginning, with basic perspective.

Then we began applying perspective to a generic bear character.

This was a revelation for me! I’d learned perspective before, but (as obvious as it seems now) I had never learned to apply the same principles not just to scenes and buildings, but also to bodies and characters.

To assist us with drawing our bears in perspective, and with light and shadow, we modeled characters in plasticine (a type of non-drying clay), and lit them inside cardboard boxes.

We did value and composition studies.

To begin drawing clothes and fabric, we started by copying a master drawing of a draped cloth.

Then we used that knowledge to give our bears clothes.

We began incorporating movement into our drawings.

We learned human proportions and studied movement by sketching these basic frames from photos of dancers.

We drew facial features and learned their placement on the face.

To help with drawing faces, we sculpted a head, starting with a basic skull shape.

We experimented with pen and ink, using a crow quill pen.

We copied master portraits using vine charcoal.

This was my first experience using charcoal, and I quite enjoyed it–it’s a very forgiving medium. Lauren described it as almost like sculpting, the way it allows you to apply tone, remove it, build it back up, and continue to work with it until you achieve the effect you want.

We acquired a ton of handouts over the course of the term, which I compiled into a notebook for future reference. I’m sure I will be coming back to this information for years to come!

For one of our final projects, we had a three-year-old (the daughter of a faculty member) come to the studio and model for us, so that we could learn how to take reference photos and practice drawing from them. Then we each picked out poses we liked, and planned a composition using our reference. This is the photo I chose to work from.

The planning stage.

And here is the final piece! I’m happy with the result–I feel like it truly reflects a culmination of everything we have learned this term, and I don’t think I could have produced this illustration before having taken this class.

Even this lengthy post reflects only a fraction of the work we did in the last five weeks! It has been so challenging and so rewarding. We have one more final project before the end of the term: creation of a magical forest scene. I’ll post that one once it’s finished next week!

If you missed it, check out part 1 of this series, in which I introduce you to the magic of Hollins University.

Up next: part 3, Picture Book Media!

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Summer School, Part 1: Hollins University

I’d like to introduce you all to one of my favorite places: my graduate school, Hollins University, located in Roanoke, VA.

This is my third year attending Hollins during their summer term, pursuing an MFA in Children’s Literature. This is also my first year as a student in the Children’s Book Illustration certificate program. After this year, I’ll have two more summers left to complete my coursework.

We just finished week five of the six week term. It has been one of the busiest summers of my life, but I have learned an incredible amount in this short time. The next couple posts will give you a peek at what I’ve been doing in my classes.

The Hollins campus is stunningly beautiful. I like to tell people that it’s magical place here in the summertime, and hopefully you’ll be able to see why. Let me show you around:

The campus apartments (ok, so this isn’t so beautiful, but it’s home sweet home while I’m here).

Carvin Creek, which I cross every day on my way to the main campus from my apartment.

My first year here, there were some muskrats that lived in the bank of the creek. I had just reread The Wind in the Willows, so I was calling them water rats in my head, and spent a lot of time watching them. They’re mesmerizing swimmers. I’ve been on the lookout for them this year, but no sightings so far!

The Visual Arts Center (VAC), where I’ve been spending anywhere from 6-12 hours a day, working hard! This building also houses the school’s art museum, which is currently showing an exhibit of Clement Hurd’s illustrations for the bedtime classic Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.

A glimpse of the studio space in the VAC.

The creative writing building, Swannanoa.

My favorite library!

The library, the chapel, the mountains.

The quad.

And some of the great details around campus.

I hope you enjoyed the little tour! Up next: Picture Book Drawing Fundamentals, and Picture Book Media.

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