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.


Bronze Award in Society of Illustrators Los Angeles Illustration West 52

Hurrah for One Word Pearl!
This is the image that got a Bronze Award in the Children's Market category of their 'Illustration West 52' exhibition.

I'm excited and so is Pearl!

Find out more about the competition here ... it was stiff judging and I was over the moon to be in the exhibit, let alone get an award.

OK .. winter is nearly over. I've been quiet lately, hunkered in the studio, finishing 'Imani's Moon' for Charlesbridge (Fall 2014) and working on an ABC book due Fall also. But we'll have a proper catch up soon!


Page 32

If you're a picture book illustrator you'll know the significance of Page 32. It's the end of a long haul during which you created illustrations for the 32 pages of a picture book, plus cover and possibly end pages. You've put together a pdf for final proof and you've pressed 'send'. A strange kind of peace descends. The moment before you launch into whatever else is lurking on your to-do list. It's the quiet when the wind drops and the snow falls soundlessly. Ahhhh.

You try not to think about the spreads that weren't quite as you saw them at the moment of conception. When they existed only in your head after you read the manuscript. Of the character you met and the world they occupied. Of the colours you might use. Those first frantic days of scribbling in notepads and the 'yes' moments (and the 'no'). Of how vital the first pencil strokes were as you made marks and textures and bold, incisive strokes.

Of how you struggled in the middle. And how the redraws of the first ideas diluted the energy. The long hours, nights and many cups of tea working to get it back.

Then you got to the colour and it was a surprise, because now there was another element on the paper dictating where this was going; musn't let it get away from you!  You were a child again and the colours made you smile. And you wondered if the child looking at the colours would smile also?

So, after weeks or months, you come down to final tweaks. Zoom in from outerspace, a view of the planet, the continents, then the country and finally you scutinize the town and streets and houses and focus on a particular room. Until you reach page 32 and you feel yourself sink into the armchair of nothing left to do. You send it into the world. Then you make a final cup of tea and reflect.

In the morning you are not living with those 32 pages anymore. They have launched into the atmosphere. For now, there is peace. An uncertain peace, granted. Tomorrow, the day after,  they may re-enter. Ready for more tweaks and changes.

But right now there is a space in my heart.

'One Word Pearl' by Nicole Groeneweg, from Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge Fall 2013.