How to be an illustrator without really trying
(And other misperceptions)
by Martha Pineno
Choosing to be an artist was a decision – not a dream. I was not born with the ability to draw and paint. There’s NO talent here — just a decision based on interest – and the guidance and support of my parents. My first interest in art came late – in Junior High. Art classes in High School and summer art camps gave me the skills needed to pursue a career in art.
The first training I had was to be an art teacher. 4 years, 2 summers of art study in college gave me that opportunity. It is only in recent years that I have become an illustrator. I believe my years as an elementary art instructor gave me insight into how a young person’s mind works and what would get the picture across. I needed to motivate children to learn a new concept with a project that is stimulatingwith medium and idea.
When starting an illustration project, where do you start? For accuracy, ask the author what they prefer. Then do visual research. People, have many pre-conceived ideas about what something may be. For example, given the task to paint a dog: this can conger up at least a dozen images of various breeds. So the image needs to be narrowed down to one concept then begin to elaborate on that.
Doodles on scratch paper. Thumbnail sketches. Ideas don’t just pop and picture themselves on a paper. I read the text, let an idea emerge into a cartoon type image. Then comes sequencing. Putting the ideas in order to match the script. If working with an author who is receptive to ideas, I can even suggest a text that will be simpler, easier to illustrate in a more active manner.
Inspiration? Ideas are everywhere. Observe. Ask questions. Research online. I actually have to shut off my creative mind in order to get tasks of the day completed. I’m always looking in the future to the next project – yet trying to figure how I can fit illustrating in during the 24 hours allotted.
What keeps you motivated? I’m self-motivated, but being paid for a project gives me an extra boost of energy. I’m also concerned about pleasing the person for whom I’m illustrating. I need to be certain they are content with the work I do. I don’t assume that all my work is great. Small suggestions for improvement are welcome. Because I’m occupied with multiple jobs to do during any one day, I get a little annoyed if something needs to be repainted – mostly because of the additional time it will take to correct. Since I’m a bit of a perfectionist, getting things just right is more important than my feelings.
How to decide what medium? Watercolor, acrylics, and oils, pen & ink, cut paper, photography. Sometimes the process of illustrating is determined by the medium. Watercolor has a softer, more fluid, spontaneous look in general. For the first illustrated book it looked delicate for an early reader. The addition of ink on top for enhancement added clarity. I also decide based on variety for each book so each book is unique with the medium as well as text.
My Favorite illustrated book? The original Talented Tabby because it focused on one character: Leo. I had more time to complete with less distraction form other jobs. My next favorite: The Coffee Connection – because this book was a compilation of both designs and paintings created over a 25-year time span. I prefer to paint for illustrating. Painting is more personable than computer art – hand done.
What inspires my illustrations: characters more than story line. Background is determined by the story line. Photos are very helpful for accuracy in the character and to catch the motion and story line more accurately. I often combine several photos to create one page illustration.
Designing the complete book is also a challenge. When to turn the page? Using blocks around art? Where to put the words? Title page, signing page? Planning for the amount of pages that work best for printing and cost.
Lifeless illustration? Not with my painting. Paint has natural intrinsic motion by the brush – more flowing attention to detail in the line – plus I have years of experience with painting – particularly portraits – people and animals.
Focus on one action word or detail. Let the reader picture the rest as they choose. When working with manuscript, divide into sections and pages – ones that stimulate a picture in my head early on.
Illustrating is much more complex than painting a very complex individual work of art. Because each page has to relate to the previous and next page of story art. It is also more difficult to work with someone else’s idea when it is not something you personally choose to paint.