I was asked to take part in this blog tour by San Francisco-based illustrator (and fellow gecko fan) Jessica Lopez who does beautiful nature-inspired illustrations. Thanks Jessica!
The idea is for authors/illustrators to answer the same set of four questions, then pass the baton to another few people. You can read Jessica’s by clicking on her name above. And here’s mine:
1) What am I working on currently?
I recently came to the end of a batch of commissions which was a nice feeling as I’d been waiting for an opportunity to get back to some personal work. I have an ongoing graphic novel project that I wanted to get back to, specifically to start work on a re-write. Alongside my recent commissions I’ve also been doing a lot of reading around the principles of writing & storytelling in an effort to raise my game. For too long I’ve been saying that I’m not as confident at writing as I am illustrating, so these are my first steps towards rectifying this!
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is tricky as I’ve recently had a big change of direction from working in children’s books towards working in comics, and I’m still quite new to the comics medium. I tend towards the genre of autobio comics, and I’m not sure how my work differs from others working in autobio other than perhaps I tends towards a more realistic drawing style than many other comic artists (though by no means all!) In order to allow myself to work fast enough for the labour-intensive medium of comics I’m looking for ways to simplify my style while still allowing it to feel like me.
My Scotland comic that I made in May this year was an experiment in working in as pared-back a style as possible to see if I could finish a 25-page comic in just a couple of weeks.
One of the things I love about comics is the broad range of ways in which people work. I found the children’s book world to be quite rigid and restrictive and I think my children’s book work differed from other people’s in a way that made it tricky to sell. I wanted to specialise in multicultural stories but was advised to tone down the multicultural angle of my portfolio. I was also told that if I wanted more commissions that I needed to draw more girly things like ballerinas and fairies. That all felt so far from what I was interested in that it made me decide to move into a different field altogether.
For a long time I avoided working in my favourite medium (pencil) as I didn’t see many other illustrators using it for their final art (and I assumed that was because it can be a labour-intensive medium and also harder than others to reproduce well in print.) I thought that comics in particular HAD to be inked, and I think that put me off drawing comics for a long time. Recently though I’ve discovered more and more comic artists working in pencil which has made me very happy!
3) How does my creative process work?
With comics I tend to write and thumbnail at the same time. My initial thumbnails are a barely legible scrawl, just a reminder to myself of how I see the panels working. These three unrelated examples give an idea of how rough they are. They’re usually riddled with arrows and asterisks too.
With my current graphic novel project where I’m working on my writing skills, I’m at the stage of going back over these early scribbled thumbnails and not only restructuring but I plan to type up a script too (not something I’ve done before.) Hopefully this’ll help me focus on the dialogue and the written side more. In the past I’ve been mostly focused on the art and then fine-tuned the wording at the end of the process almost as an afterthought.
When I’m happy with the idea I’ll draw the pages up in rough form. These roughs will also be riddled with arrows and notes like ‘persp’ (perspective) and ‘prop’ (proportions) to remind me of what I’ve done wrong that needs fixing. I then scan them into Photoshop and make final corrections of compositions, proportions etc. After that I print them at the same size I draw (usually A4) and trace on a lightbox. I used to work in watercolour, but these days I do my final art all in pencil then if there’s colour I add it digitally. I colour the pencil lines themselves in Photoshop and then add layers of background colours and sometimes textures. I almost always use several overlaid semi-transparent layers to merge or intensify colours, thinking of the layers in a kind of screen-printing way. With textures I play around with layer blending modes to see what works.
With illustration commissions there’s obviously much more in the way of back and forth with the client at the rough stage, though even on personal projects I’ll usually show my work-in-progress to somebody at some point to get some feedback. It can be really amazing what useful feedback a fresh pair of eyes can bring.
4) Why do I write and illustrate what I do?
I’m definitely drawn to autobio comics above other genres… I think I just try to write and illustrate the kind of thing that I get the most out of reading myself. I’ve always liked small-scale personal stories that deal with everyday life. Although I read a very broad range of stuff I particularly enjoy writers who can find meaning and truth and humour in small moments. In my personal work I’m usually trying to express something about things that mean a lot to me… travel and the natural world inform a lot of what I end up drawing. My Graphic novel will be travel-related… with that I hope to convey as much about the places I write about as possible while also keeping it very entertaining. I want to make people laugh. I’m also coming to terms with the challenging but crucial fact that when you write autobio you have to be extremely open and honest. The stuff that you’d be most reluctant to reveal about yourself is what a reader will respond to the most, and that’s an unavoidable part of writing about your own life!
Now I’d like to pass the blog tour along to Amber Hsu and Dan Berry!
Amber is a multi-talented writer/illustrator who does many other creative endeavours as well. We collaborated together last year on creating the Tiny Pencil anthology and she’s just recently made a short film!
Dan is another very hard-working individual who creates numerous wonderful comics of varying lengths every year and also creates the fantastic Make It Then Tell Everybody podcast.
Their blog-posts will go up next week so keep an eye out! :o)