Travel and Adventure Themed Digital Illustration


I’m currently working on a little experimental digital piece. I’m exploring ways of telling a story through environment and props, rather than character. This piece shows a corner of the little boys bedroom. He’s interested in travel, adventure, space and science, so I included a collection of globes, space posters and a camera.

I initially wanted to focus on textures again but got a little carried away with with the piece and didn’t get round to adding textures until the very end. The piece isn’t finished yet – I’ll work on it some more and see how it turns out.

I’m learning a lot while working on these digital illustrations. Even when the piece doesn’t turn out as I imagine, I’m learning new techniques and ways of working, and I’m really enjoying seeing an improvement in my pieces.

Where to take the project next…

I’ve recently been wondering whether or not to change the direction of my project. I’m going to switch focus for a little while and consider some other options, rather than children book illustration, for my story. I’ve always been more interested in environments, buildings and props when it comes to making (and looking at) artwork, so I’d like to explore that avenue a little further.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to focus on exploring the potential settings and overall look to the story, possibly imagining that it was going to be made into an animated film.

Part of me does wonder, though, whether I’m just shying away from the children’s book illustrations because they aren’t my strong suit…

I found this book in the library that was just the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and it’s definitely the initial inspiration and starting point for the new direction for the project. It’s the Disney Animation Studios, The Archive Series, Layout & Background book. I thought I’d share a few (ok a lot) of the pictures with you…

Digital Texture Techniques

I said in a recent post that one of my main struggles with digital painting was my paintings looking flat. In this post, I wanted to share the ways I added texture and interest to my recent picture book illustration.

The texture above was achieved by painting with a textured brush with the flow set to low.

The textures in the image above were achieved by adding photo textures. I took photos of paper, painted wood, canvas and stone, and set the layer mode to ‘soft light’.

The third way I added texture was through patterns. I watched this quick youtube tutorial on how to make textures in photoshop, then made a few of my own. I made polkadots, stripes, crosshatch and a wave pattern. This was by far my favourite way of adding interest to the image and I’m excited to experiment with the technique again.

Bedroom Illustration Process

In yesterdays post I shared a new digital illustration that I’ve made as part of my uni work. I talked about some of the ideas behind why I made it and what I learnt from the experience.

Today I want to share some pictures of the work in progress…

I spent a while drawing and re-drawing the line work. I then started adding colour by using the gradient tool in photoshop.

The premise of the piece is a transition from day to night, so I was keen for the values to shift gradually from light to dark across the piece.

In an ideal world, if I could make the piece as I initially intended, the piece would have shifted from blue to maybe oranges or yellows, but as I explained in my last post, I stuck to blue to make the process a little more simple.

The main technique I used for the initial painting process was to create selections using the lasso tool in photoshop and add gradients to individual sections of the piece using the gradient fill tool.

For example, I added an overall gradient to the entire piece, then sectioned off the wall at the left and added gradients to that, then sectioned off the ceiling and added a gradient to that… taking into account the light source for each side.

I then started blocking in areas of colour using the brush tool and a textured brush. These are areas such as the characters, the bed, the bookcase, the toy chest etc.

I then started playing with textures like the ones I mentioned yesterday. In an upcoming post, I’ll be sharing how I produced the textured effects. Adding the textures was so much fun and completely changed the look of the piece. I’m looking forward to experimenting with more textures in future work.

Going forward, I’ve decided to shift the focus of this project a little. I’m currently working with my own story, inspired by the book The House That Sailed Away, and imagining that I am illustrating a children’s book for the story. Going forward, I’d like to work with the same story, but imagine that I am creating the initial visual development work for an animated film.

In my first year at uni, I thought I wanted to be a visual development artist, designing environments, props, scenery etc, but shifted focus in my second year to making paintings (similar to the paintings you’ll see if you know of my personal work).

The reason I feel the need to change the project slightly is that I feel I’ll gain more from it. Making pictures of places is what I want to do after uni, whether that’s paintings or illustrations… I’m hoping this project will help me improve my ‘painting places skills’ and provide lots of new ideas of how I can paint places going forward…


new digital illustration

As you know, I’ve been working on a children’s book illustration project for Uni. Over the christmas break I worked on this piece. It’s a two-page spread showing the main character going to bed on an evening, then waking up and looking out of his bedroom window in the morning.

I wouldn’t call the piece is finished, but I’m not sure where to take it next… or whether I’ve already gone too far with it…


I’ve done a few fully digital pieces in the past, and I’ve made work that was a mix of both traditional and digital, but I’m definitely not that experienced in working digitally. One of the things that has put me off working digitally in the past was how flat my digital illustrations looked. I knew that texture could be added to digital illustrations, but I’ve not been too pleased with the results when I’ve tried it before.

One of my main goals with this piece was to experiment with textures and avoid a flat ‘digital’ look.


I decided to create a monochromatic image to try and simplify the process. I thought that getting to grips with working digitally and thinking about colours might too much at once.


In this piece, added texture in a few different ways. I used the ‘add noise’ filter to any flat colour or gradients, I created patterns such as dots, checks, stripes and the waves above, and I overlaid photo textures such as the wood texture on the bed frame above. In a future post I’ll share how I created these textures.

For now, I think I’m done with this piece. I’ve feel I’ve learnt all I can from it and I’d like to take what I’ve learnt and apply it to a completely new piece.

experimenting with digital colour and texture

I’m pretty new to digital illustration. I’ve made a few pieces before, but the process was long and a little confusing. I’ve wanted to improve my digital skills for a while.

The biggest struggle / annoyance about working digitally is the flat, airbrushed look that it produces. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about a smooth gradient when it comes to my traditional paintings, but I also love the canvas texture and the imperfections that painting on canvas and paper gives.

Whilst working on this illustration project, I’m keeping in mind how this kind of work might translate into real commissioned illustration briefs, and thinking about creating processes that can be put to use after Uni.

I’ve heard from many working illustrators, whether they prefer to work traditionally or digitally, that when working for clients, the benefits of being able to make quick adjustment to their work digitally, is essential to their process. This is one of the main reasons that I’d like to experiment with working digitally. I’m particularly interested in developing a working process that combines both traditional and digital media.

As an initial experiment into working digitally, I drew a few small illustrations in my sketchbook and explored adding colour and texture digitally. Knowing that I wanted to avoid the flat, colouring-book look, I did some research and thought about different ways of adding interest and dimension to the illustrations.

The methods were – colour gradients, adding a ‘noise’ filter, using photo overlays, using textured brushes, creating and applying repeat patterns to select areas.


The illustrations in this post are my very first experiments with the methods listed above and some are more successful than others. It was definitely an enjoyable and worthwhile exercise – more to come!

designing the house that sails away and main characters

Before I go further with my research, I felt I needed to get to grips with drawing the main elements of the story. The house, and the main characters.

There’s a little boy, his grandma and a cat (as well as some other supporting characters butI’m not sure I’ll include them in the story).

I’m really, really inexperienced when it comes to drawing people and animals, it’s something I’ve actively avoided since I started making artwork in 201o. Partly because I just haven’t been interested in making that kind of work (I’ve always been interested in environments and buildings), and partly because its hard!

In my first year at Uni, I focused on ballerinas and realised just how hard drawing people is. Theres so much to think about. Proportions, anatomy, expression etc. Tricky business.

Anyway, after some encouragement from my tutors at Uni, I’m giving it a go. How will I know whether I want to make this kind of work if I never try it out?

Below are some of my refined initial sketches of the main characters and house. They need a lot of work but I was pretty pleased with them as a starting point.

little boyre-drawing again and again to see if I could get the character looking the same each time I drew him

Next I’m going to work on:

  • condensing the story down to it’s main plot points to help with planning what to illustrate.
  • decide what age range the illustrations will be aimed at.
  • start testing out traditional and digital methods of creating the illustrations.

Illustrator Lynne Chapman on creating her drawings for picture books

As you know, I’m working on first book illustration project – I found this video online recently where children’s book illustrator Lynne Chapman, describes her approach to illustrating a children’s book.

The process is as follows:

  • The publisher sends the basic text which Lynne reads and then decides whether she’d like to illustrate the story.
  • Once she has accepted the project, she goes through the text and considers how the story is broken down into pages. If she feels that any changes need to be made, she’ll let the publisher know.
  • She then asks the publisher to to reformat the text to the size and font that will appear in the final book. This will enable Lynne to easily place the text within her illustrations.
  • When starting her illustrations, she explains that she would usually work on large sheets of paper to plan out her illustrations but that she now works with thumbnail sketches which saves her lots of time.
  • Once she is happy with her thumbnail sketches, she scans them into the computer and enlarges them to the size that the final book will be.
  • She’ll then print the large sketches out and use layout paper, over the sketches, to refine the drawings and make any changes.
  • She’ll then scan these neater drawings into the computer again, make any digital changes she needs to (such as resizing, rotating or moving an elect of the image), adds gutter marks and sends to the publisher.
  • The editor, art director and designers then look at the images and give any feedback on anything that needs changing.

I’ll give this method of working a go when I come to making my illustrations.



Picture books for Older Children


In my last post, I gave myself some ‘to-do’s’ for my current illustration project. One of them was to look at some illustrated books that are aimed at older children. I’m working on a project where I’m aiming to create some illustrations in response to a children’s story called The House That Sailed Away by Pat Hutchins.

I’m currently undecided about whether I want to aim the illustrations at older children, like the original story, or adapt the story and create some illustrations for younger children.

The other day I went to my local library and looked at some illustrated books that are aimed at older children. Before I looked at the selection, I had no idea what kinds of picture books were available for this age range. In this post I’m taking a closer look at the books I found in order to learn more about the different approaches taken by the different illustrators, the printing restrictions and the size variations on the books.


Grandpa was an Astronaut written by Jonathan Meres and illustrated by Hannah Coulson


Book Specs: full colour illustrations, illustrations every few pages, some full page, some double spread and some spot illustrations.

I love the illustrations in this book. I really like the desaturated colours. They give the illustrations and almost vintage feel.

The illustrations are simple and the line work is quite loose. Although the colours are mostly flat, the illustrations have depth. This is something I’ve struggled with in the past – avoiding …

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The Pirates Legacy written by Alain Surget and illustrators Annette Marnat


Book Specs: monochromatic illustrations, a two page illustration at the beginning of every chapter, some smaller half page illustrations.

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Claude on the Slopes by Alex T. Smith

Book Specs: Black, white and red illustrations, hand drawn simple / minimal style.

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Ottoline goes to school by Chris Riddell

Book Specs: black and white hand drawn illustrations with select areas of blue, double page illustrations and spot illustrations.

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My research has shown that pretty much anything goes when it comes to illustrations aimed at older children. The main difference between books for younger and books for older children in the size of the books and the number of illustrations.

Sketchbook doodles – Initial ideas for my children’s book illustrations


These sketches were made in response to the story The House That Sailed Away by Pat Hutchins. As part of my final year project for my degree, I’m creating some illustrations of scenes from the story.

As a starting point for the project, I read the story and sketched anything and everything that came to mind. I find it helpful to get my ideas down on paper, either as a drawing or as text. I’ll use these sketches to generate new ideas going forward.


I think that before I go any further with the illustrations, I need to decide what kind of age range the illustrations will be aimed at. I’ll either create some illustrations aimed at older children, maybe 7 – 12, like the original story (around 7 – 12?) or I’ll adapt the story and aim at a the 5 – 7 age range.


To help me make my decision, I’ll look at some book illustrations and covers from books aimed at younger children and older children and see which appeals the most.


Next on the to-do list:

  • Look at lots of children’s books.
  • Do some research on illustrated books for older children. I want to find out more about the sizes of the books, whether they are printed in colour, image to text ratio, what kinds of illustrative styles are used.
  • Start testing out some possible methods of creating my illustrations.
  • Watch some videos and read some articles by professional illustrators to find out more about the process of creating book illustrations.



Author and Illustrator Sarah Dyer on her Creative Process

I’m currently working on my first children’s book illustration project. I find it fascinating to hear about other illustrators creative processes.

I recently found this video where author and illustrator Sarah Dyer talks about her creative process for writing and illustrating her children’s book called Batty.

Sarah initially begins work in her sketchbook, recording all of her ideas in both pictures and words. She then moves on to creating a series of dummy books (a mock-up of the book), making changes and improvements in each new dummy book. The dummy books get larger in size as she works. I assume that this is because its much easier and quicker to make changes to smaller dummy books, which would be useful in the early drafting stages.

Once she has a layout she is happy with, she adds the text and then gets feedback from the editors and publishers. Once she and the editors / publishers are happy, she creates the colour illustrations by painting over her black and white line drawings on a light box.

What I found most interesting about this video is the amount of dummy books Sarah makes. I imagine they are a very important tool for planning a picture book and in understanding how the readers will experience the final outcome.

Illustrator Deborah Allwright – A closer look at her book illustrations

A Patch of Black by Deborah Allwright
In a previous post, I took a look at illustrator Deborah Allwright’s creative process for creating illustrations for children’s picture books. In this post I’ll take a closer look at some of her work for the book A Patch of Black written by Rachel Rooney in 2012.

A Patch of Black by Deborah Allwright

I’m planning on experimenting with some of the interesting techniques (mixed media, collage and printing) that Deborah Allwright spoke about in the video in my previous post. Before I do, I want to take a closer look at some of her illustrations. I’m particularly interested in starting to think outside the box when it comes to adding colour to my artwork.

Drawing aside, there are a million and one ways to construct an image. When it comes to adding colour, texture, depth and interest to my work, I’ve pretty much got a default setting that I go to every time. I really, really want to push myself to start thinking differently about how I create my pieces.

A Patch of Black by Deborah Allwright

What inspires me most about Deborah Allwright’s work is how she uses texture, pattern and decorative elements within her pieces (the image below is a great example of this). She makes use of many different types of media within a single piece, which adds so much variety and visual interest to the image, yet the visual language is seamless.

A Patch of Black by Deborah Allwright

I haven’t really used mixed media within my work before. If I’m painting, I’ll paint the whole piece in one kind of paint (acrylic, watercolour etc). If I’m drawing, it’s either pencil or pen, that’s about it.

The nearest I come to using mixed media is scanning my traditional drawings and paintings into the computer and working on them digitally – which I really enjoy. I never really experiment with combining different kinds of traditional media, though.

Over the next few days, I’m going to experiment with lots of different ways of adding colour to my drawings – taking into account all of the things I’ve learnt from looking at Deborah Allwright’s work.

A Patch of Black by Deborah Allwright

 The images used in this post are my own photographs of the book A Patch of Black (2012) written by Rachel Rooney and illustrated by Deborah Allwright.