Working with traditional and digital illustration methods - Imani's Moon

In my new book 'Imani's Moon', by JaNay Brown-Wood, I utilized traditional and digital illustration methods, much more so than in my previous books. This part-folk-part-fantastical story cried out for much more texture and depth of colour to reflect the diverse culture and life of the Maasai people.

Here's a look at how I worked up one of the illustrations ...

First thoughts on the layout for this spread. Mama is telling Imani about the legend of Moon Goddess, Olapa, I felt a great way to show the story would be in the swirling stars  in the sky. 
The sketch is letter size. 

The finished graphite drawing, which is a little bigger than the finished book size. 
I work on Archers 300lb cold press and with 2B-8B pencils.

I tape the paper and work over it with a wash of prussian blue (grumbacher) watercolour 
to add value and texture, using salt, splattering, scraping and blowing techniques.  
The hair dryer is a requirement to aid drying time! I try to keep the painting as loose as I can.

Here's the finished under-painting.

Next, I scan the image at 400dpi (not too high a quality as I want to keep some muzziness 
and not have the art too 'sharp') and start to overpaint in photoshop, particularly paying attention 
to getting the right levels in the sky tones.

I work with colour in photoshop 'descriptively'. The layers are light, mostly using 'multiply' mode so the pencil and watercolour textures show through. (I'm not into dense digital colour paintings, it doesn't work for me. And this is how I work in watercolour also ... lightly, letting the ground show through, so it is just the same way as I think, on screen). I don't use many brushes. I don't like to complicate things! Sometimes I will make notes on what I used and colour paletted. But mostly, I wing it. Usually I'm using a soft edged brush in different sizes, at 50% opacity or less. Sometimes a brush with a little texture, usually when I am burning or lightening. I use the dodge and burn tools  a lot, with the same principles. I do use several layers, but I also mix colours on the same layers. For example in the skin tones and the landscape. I work in CMYK (and try and get a printer colour setup driver from the design department, to colour proof on screen, if I can).  The actual colouring in photoshop takes me much longer than the drawing and underpainting. Probably 2 -3 times as long, depending on detail and size. (To those people who say painting digitally is cheating ... ok, you try it!) I love digital 'finishing', because it gives me immediate options to change and correct -er - mistakes. And I can also do things with colour much more easily than on one flat painting. AND it's fun! I've been using photoshop for over 20 years now. It's a major tool in my studio. But I'm also enjoying the fact that I can incorporate my fine art training and get the best of both worlds.

You may also notice a couple of changes in the finished painting. (That photoshop thing is handy again!) I wasn't happy with the profile of Imani, so I redrew and scanned and pasted over the first drawing. I also made the moon smaller, so it doesn't overpower the stars.

  I added the stars last, and I did do them digitally. I tried them by hand first, but because the image was quite complicated, they were too lumpy and didn't look right to me. So I DID use the star brush in photoshop, then I added 'glow' around them and around the moon. I read a review that said that the watercolour images were 'enhanced' digitally (ie the stars and glowing bits). It made me chuckle as they failed to understand the extent of work I did digitally. So it quite pleased me! But digital or traditional, is the end effect pleasing? Does it serve the story? I do get tired of people trying to 'spot the digital'. So misguided in these days when so many top illustrators work with both digital and traditional methods.

Here's where the text went in the final image. Another changes along the way that worked well.
Thanks to my art director at Charlesbridge. Susan Sherman, who had so many great suggestions in the making of this book.

Imani's Moon is available at all good bookstores online and on the high street.

Find out more about the author at
Find Imani's Moon on FB
Check out the teacher's guide! 
Check out the publisher's page.