Illustrating a book has presented an interesting challenge, the likes of which I have never faced. Consistency! Of course I am always keen to be consistent in the quality of my work, if not improving with each piece, but never before have I needed to be consistent one page after another in style, theme, colors, and most importantly character design.
As I discussed last week, character design presented its own challenges, but then consistency comes into play. To create a successful illustrated story, the characters need to be recognizable from one page to the next. Furthermore, my goal is to make the characters not only recognizable over and over, but consistent, so you can believe that if it were a photo, a picture had indeed been taken of the same character multiple times.
Color has been one of the biggest challenges when it comes to consistency. Obviously there is some leeway when it comes to color, depending on the setting and lighting on each page. Nevertheless, it presents a challenge because characters can look completely different or completely odd if they show up as different colors on the different pages. Many of the characters have multiple layers of color, which makes it even more difficult. It is very helpful if you actually take at least a mental note, if not actually writing down, the colors used in creating a character. The second time I painted one of the woody saplings I stared at him for several minutes in complete dismay.
HOW ON EARTH did I create that color?
It probably doesn’t help that I am using watercolors to illustrate this book, where color combining and creating is an art in and of its self (one which most artists actually study at some point). Luckily after some trial and error I managed to recreate this poor little sapling’s bark so he could appear more than once in the book.
Creating a cohesive style is also quite important in illustrating a book. Unless you are going for a very specific effect, you don’t want one page to look drastically different in style and technique than another. There should be a cohesiveness about the pages that carries throughout the book to make it feel like one story. Using the same medium throughout is an easy and obvious start to this, but I wanted to take it a few steps farther. One thing I decided early on was to create a consistency in the style of the backgrounds. The author was wanting a mystical look and feel to the environment, so I decided to use the salt effects on my backgrounds and skies.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with watercolors, using salt in your piece can create a really interesting look. After painting a wash, or largish area of relatively consistent color, you sprinkle salt across the wet paint. As the salt sits there it sucks up the water, and color along with it, leaving the background extremely textured. For one night sky I was even able to paint bright colors, as a base layer, and then put salt on a wet midnight blue top layer, exposing the colors beneath. The use of this technique throughout the books backgrounds has been a great way to tie it together.
Another way of tying the book together through consistency is repeating not only characters but certain environmental features throughout the book. This means with each page layout I had to decide, is this something I can use again? While not everything has to be repeated, having matching elements in the environment does help make it feel like a cohesive world. I purposefully chose certain flowers to repeat in several paintings, as well as repeating the style for trees and up-close grass blades. The key is to repeat things but still make them unique so it doesn’t become a flat repetitive world. This has certainly been a challenge, but with the use of varying color schemes and mixing in other un-repeated environmental elements, it can be done!
I have learned a lot through this project, and while the challenges have been numerous, it has been an overall positive experience. I am confident that forcing myself to think about consistency is only going to improve my artist skills as a whole. It makes me think about the details in a new way, and makes me consider each step I take in the painting process. Any time you analyze your own work in progress and after completion there are things to be learned. So it is time to press on with the painting…may the learning continue!