Monday, December 31, 2018

Digitally Editing Wood Engravings into Picture Book Illustrations, Part 4

In this last post I wanted to show you how I edited the printed wood engravings into digital illustrations ready for a book. In order to not burn myself out by engraving illustrations back to back to back, I would take a break in between each one to compile it into the final illustration. It also gave me the satisfaction of being able to cross it off my list of illustrations.

I had all the spreads pinned to my wall, so I could manage the process and be aware of what was still left to do in the time frame that I had to do it in. Every time I sent a finished illustration to the publisher and they accepted it with no changes, then I could unpin that image, and could visually see my load diminishing. I don't know if you are a list maker, but checking off items on lists is a big motivator in me.
You could also see a glimpse of my manuscript all marked up in the first video I posted in the series. 😉

All cleaned up  -- With the extra marks
 The process to convert the prints into digital illustrations wasn't hard, but it was tedious at times. All the work was done in Photoshop.

I began by cleaning up all the extra marks from around my images. See the before and after image on the left. Some prints that had a lot of details, took a long time to clean up.

After the images were cleaned, I dragged them into the same file, and converted the different layers into color. This was the fun part. Sometimes I'd spend a while tweaking things back and forth, to get just the right shade and relationship between the colors.

During the process, I had also taken the margins and gutter into consideration, and in the last steps, I would set the illustration in a template I had made, to make sure everything lined up right, and nothing important was too close to an edge to be lost. On the right you can see the above illustration, finished and laid into the template with the margins layer visible.

Everyone at the publisher's side was so great to work with. They rarely had things to change, they were fast to communicate with and they listened to the ideas I had. I really couldn't have imagined a more pleasant team of people to work with on this whole project.

Below is the last video in this series, where you can see more in detail the whole digital part of the process.

I hope you enjoyed this little series on how the book Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book, was made. I look forwards to launching the book in March. It also coincides with World Earth Day on April 22nd. Their theme for this year is Protect Our Species - exactly what our book is about! It's a great coincidence and I hope lots of schools will be able to use our book as part of that celebration. We'll have some activity pages related to that theme ready by then.

If you know of schools or other groups who would be interested in illustrator visits, feel free to contact me.

This month I am working on promotional things: stickers, a coloring and activity book, and a kids crate. More of those to come as soon as I get them ready to show you.

Have a great New Year!

You can see the previous posts related to this one at:

Engraving the Illustrations for Otters, Part 3

After all the sketches were done, I waited to have a baby. My hands were getting so swollen at the end of the pregnancy, that it was hard to hold a pencil to sketch, let alone try to do fine detail engraving.

We also moved into a new house right before the baby was born, and I took a month off, so we could pack and unpack our things before the baby came because I knew I wouldn't have time for it after.

As soon as I got a chance to hold an engraver in my hand, I dug back into it. Three kids and illustrating is tricky business, and I did the best I could to balance both sides of the coin. The whole process of engraving all the color layers and finishing them on the computer took from April to end of June.

If you have done printmaking before, then the process of carving a plate and printing is pretty familiar to you. If you haven't here is a brief synopsis:

I use sharp engraving tools and a thin plastic called HIPS (high impact polystyrene) to carve the images into. Once the image is carved, I roll it up with ink and print it on a piece of paper on my printing press. While the ink is drying, I took the same printing plate, and carved it some more. I then print the image a second time, on a clean sheet of paper, and then I repeat the process one more time, to get 3 variations of the same image.

See the image on the left. The printing plate is on the bottom and the three printed layers on the top.

I made a video, that shows the process more in depth: image transfer on the plate, engraving and printing process.

I hope you enjoyed that tour into my studio process. I'll add one more process post after this, showing the final steps of editing the engravings on the computer into the final illustrations.

You can see the previous posts related to this one at:

Illustrating Otters, Part 2

In the last post, I wrote about how I got started with illustrating the book "Four Otters Toboggan: an Animal Counting Book". I showed the original thumbnails of the book illustrations and how I made the first complete illustration for the proposal. After the proposal was sent we waited...

Soon enough we got the exciting news that the publisher wanted to hire both of us for the book. Many emails were sent back and forth in the next months, about the contract, and when that was finally signed by all parties, it was go time for me. The author had already finished her manuscript, and now it was time for me to actually start doing the hard work.

We agreed on a rather long time for me to work on the book, as I was pregnant and about to give birth in the next few months AND we were moving into a new house. My plan was to sketch everything out in detail before the baby, and then carve, print and assemble the final illustrations after the baby.

I started the work by researching every animal: their habitat, distribution, nesting sites, coat variations etc. If I had questions, the author, Vivian Kirkfield, was available to talk. We are Storm Literary Agency mates, and hit it off from the get-go. We have a warm collaborative relationship and I am so happy I've gotten to know her so well through this experience.

When working on the illustration sketches, I liked to jump around the book, leaving the cover as one of the last illustrations. We were still balling around for a catchy title when it was time for me to start working on it.

I tossed about 20 ideas in the hat. Everyone was brainstorming in our parts of the country. Then one night I was thinking about what kids would gravitate to in the book. It was the animals of course- foxes, owls and ... otters. I realized Vivian had already written the perfect title in the book: "Water splashes.  FOUR river otters toboggan down a slide of mud. Dripping onto glazed rocks, they hold fast with furry-soled feet...".  

Four Otters Toboggan was the perfect title for the book! Everyone agreed and we added the subtitle an Animal Counting Book. Then I was able to design the cover illustration knowing how big the title was going to be. (See the video for the sketching below.)
Final color proofs from the publisher to check for color accuracy. 

I always start sketching with a rough pencil sketch for basic shapes, that then gets more refined. For wood engraving purposes, I then traced that sketch into a light gray silhouette. Then I multiplied that layer, made it darker, and erased areas to make the second layer. The second layer was then multiplied to a third darkest layer, that was then erased again. It was basically a digital way of making a multiple layer wood engraving, that allowed me to plan the final prints in high detail. I ended up changing the grayscale sketches into color half way through, just so I could have everything planned even more specifically, so when the time consuming part of carving the images came, it would go as smoothly as possible.

Below is a mini video showing how I add the different layers on the iPad with the Procreate drawing app:

I also made a longer series of videos of the steps for the illustrations. Here is the first one, that covers the sketching process in more detail:

Hope you enjoy them. Next time I'll walk you through engraving the illustrations. 😀


Illustrating Otters, Part 1

The whole story began in Oct 2017, when my agent asked if I'd be interested in reading a story from a fellow client at Storm Literary. She thought my engravings would be a good match with the manuscript and she wanted to pitch them together.

I thought why not, and took a look at the manuscript. It was instant love for me. The story was all about animals and nature, and the words transformed into dancing images in my minds eye, line by line. How could I refuse. I jumped on board and after the editor showed interest in seeing a complete proposal from us, I had to get serious and make one complete illustration and a few sketches to show our vision for the book.

This was my original thumbnail storyboard for the book, and we stayed pretty close to what I had envisioned for the final illustrations.

Some general ideas how I wanted the story to flow visually were:
1. Have white areas in each spread
2. Include simple colors to move you through the story, morning to night and sunny to stormy
3. Make the water scenes interesting
4. Play with word placement
4. I wanted the viewer to be enveloped in the scenes and the scenes to carry you visually along. For example the first four spreads: the visual weight starts on the left, the second spread weight is in the middle and then the third on the right, and then the otter spread slides you into the rest of the story in a fun curve.

The first illustration I decided to tackle was the foxes. I figured even if the proposal was declined, I would still be left with a nice engraving for other purposes.

I didn't know much about the foxes, so I did lots of research for reference, finding images of the foxes themselves and of the habitat they lived in. In the original text the foxes were licking their lips, so I found a bunch of images of what animals look like licking their lips too.

I had the main idea already thumbnailed out, so it was a matter of refining that idea further. Here is the first proper sketch for it. 

The foxes were drawn in detail (digitally) and then the foliage was sketched quickly for the main shapes. I added the words to make sure it would all look nice together. I didn't have a size for the book yet, but chose a vertical layout, with average dimensions. 

I redrew the sketch onto my engraving surface and started carving away. The material for the illustrations for this book is high impact polystyrene (HIPS). It's relatively cheap (compared to wood) and softer to carve. Those two things became very important when the book was acquired, as I had to hand carve several layers for each illustration, in rapid succession.   

Here's a snapshot from my desk, carving away the first image. Below is the plate waiting to be proofed. 

After I cut and carved away most of the extra areas around the image. I hand burnished the image onto a smooth piece of paper (see below) and then went back to carving the plate again for the second image. 

This is the second image, printed from the same plate, after a second session of carving. 

The images were then scanned in at high resolution, and I went around and flipped it to a mirror image to match my thumbnail, and cleaned all the extra little markings away from around the main illustration. (When you print from a plate the image becomes mirrored, and often little raised areas around your image will also catch ink, and print little lines in the "wrong" places.)

Normally, in printmaking and trying to work into a signed edition, you would take the first image, and print it a bunch of times on nice pieces of paper, then go carve the plate some more and and print the same papers on the same spot again, for the second color. This is called a reduction cut, and is very time intensive, and can be a challenge to register and get the images to line up perfectly each time. If you mess up, there is no going back and printing extras, because the plate is destroyed as it gets carved more and more for each successive layer.

To speed the process up, I printed with black on separate pieces of paper, scanned them in, and layered them perfectly on the computer. I could also change colors easily, which would be next to impossible if I printed them traditionally.

Here you see the two layers composed on top of each other. This still seemed a bit plain for me, so for the proposal, I made some edits in Photoshop, to make the image into three colors.

This was the layers digitally broken into 3 colors.

Before submission, I also sketched in some detail the following page of otters to be included in our packet.  

Then our agent Essie, put it all together and sent it to the editor. 

And then we waited....

Find out what happens next, coming in part 2. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Debut picture book coming in 2019

I am sorry to have been so much absent. There are so many things I want to share monthly, but time is in short supply for me, and writing here always seems to be at the bottom of the list. I will try to get in the habit of posting more again. When I don't get to things right away, then there is never enough time to circle back to them later.

If you have been following me on social media, like instagram, twitter or facebook, you found out that I have my debut picture book coming out in March 2019 with Pomegranate. It's a beautifully written manuscript by Vivian Kirkfield, that I got to make wood engravings for. The book is an animal counting book that features endangered species and has great STEM material on the back about each animal featured in the book. 

Illustrating has always been a dream of mine, and with a lot of hard work and courage, that dream is finally coming true.
There were a lot of twists and turns in making sketches into wood engravings, into illustrations. I'll break down and share the whole process with you in the next few posts. There are a lot of steps to normal book illustration, but when you add the printmaking steps to it, you can't fit it into one post anymore. LOL

Right now we are getting promotional materials ready for the launch which happens in March-April 2019. The great coincidence is, that April 22 is also Earth day and the theme for 2019 is: "Protect our species". Our book fits snugly right in that theme! It works well for a wide age group and I hope lots of parents, libraries, schools and home schools will get lots of mileage out of it. (I'm also working on FREE work sheets, coloring pages etc to go with it...)

Please come back soon to see how the illustrations were made up close and personal.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Woodlands Owl Illustration with Timelapse Video

This was every room in our house a couple weeks ago. Since opening boxes and getting our house somewhat functional, I have been trying to catch up on all manner of things.

One of the many things has been to finish illustrations for my new dummy about an unfortunate owl who can't keep her pets. I remembered to take some video of the process to share with you and wanted to chat during it to explain some of the process that I go through when making an illustration like this.

The nuts and bolts:

Paper: Legion paper, Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress 140lbs/300grm
Watercolors: Windsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Yarka
Pencils: 2B mechanical pencil, and Derwent Studio color pencils
Brushes: sz 4 for most of it, sz 6 for bigger areas and sz 2 for a few details. No great quality brand name, just what I've gotten from Michaels.
Masking fluid: Schminke white masking fluid in 20ml bottle
Scanner: Epson Perfection V500 Photo Scanner
Printer: Canon Pixma Pro-100

The way I usually work illustrations is that I start with sketching in Procreate, on the iPad. When I finish a good draft, I paint in with approximate colors to resolve any conflicts that might arise later when painting the piece with watercolors.

After I have those two things resolved, I make a simplified line sketch in procreate, that I print out on watercolor paper at about 20% opacity. It's something I learned from Jake Parker's videos, and brilliant, because it takes the stress off from me from making mistakes in the painting. If I mess up with watercolors, I can print another drawing and paint again.

After the paper has been printed, I soak it in water and lay on my Gator board to stretch. If you look carefully, you can see the warping happening in the middle. After about 5 minutes, I flatten it out, and staple (just normal office stapler) it down around all the edges and leave it to dry until the next day. 

I like to paint my whole illustration in one sitting if at all possible. I get a feel for the colors I am using and how they apply, and when I have to stop in the middle and continue on a different day, it disrupts the flow. I choose a day both kids are gone, and have several hours of uninterrupted time. 

When you watch the video, you can see how I apply the paint, usually in layers, going darker each time, and bouncing around the paper, painting all the same colors in together. Below is an image of my painting set up. Nothing fancy, just basic stuff. On the top, half cut off, is my color sketch printed out, and a jar of brushes.  

Here is the time lapse video with chat of the painting process, with some comments on scanning and editing in Photoshop. 

Finished illustration with staples being picked out. 

And final illustration with edits in Photoshop. Most notably, the red line. I did not want to do it by hand, in any case that I draw it wrong and it has to be redone. 

Hope you enjoyed this little insight into my process. I should have another video to show soon and will be working on some new prints in the next few weeks. If you have any questions or comments about this post, just email me or comment below. 

SCBWI 2017 Los Angeles Conference

As a quick update, before digging into the conference, I wanted to mention that we have finally moved and I am starting to work out of my new studio again. We've been in flux since May, and it is nice to sit in my own chair again and get the gears moving slowly. I wish I would have had time to post this sooner, but things are never perfect, so its better late than never right? I'll have a mini post with a link to a timelapse video of my latest illustration and hopefully will have some new prints to show before Thanksgiving. If you haven's signed up for my mailing list, that is the best place to hear about all the latest prints available for sale. (Sign up here => "Newsletter" in right column)

Back to the main topic of this post:

I was fortunate to attend the latest SCBWI conference held in LA this July. This was the first large SCBWI conference I’ve attended and think that it was well worth my time to go, especially as a newbie to the industry. The LA conference, from what I hear, is a more relaxed atmosphere and there is more of a chance to meet your peers. I think it is a great conference to go to, especially if you are just beginning, because you can hear professionals talk about their experiences, attend mini workshops and bond with peers who are in various stages in their careers. I felt like at least half the attendees were close to me, still waiting to publish their first book. I think a lot of the breakout sessions were also geared and very helpful to new author/illustrators, and I got something from each one that I went to. My regret is that I wasn’t able to be in more than one spot at the same time, to listen in on all the great lectures. I took lots of notes, and it’ll take me a while to go through them to sort all the information out.

There were so many highlights at the conference. The first was being able to connect in person with friends I had made on Facebook in my writing groups. I got to know many of them better, as we sat together for panels, lunches and coffee. My two roommates, whom I had met in an online class, became life-long friends, and as a bonus, sharing a room really helped bring the conference cost down. Left: Us roomies all alumni of Arree Chung's (right) Storyteller Academy.

Second, I got to meet Leuyen Pham, author/illustrator. I love her style and humor and went to all three of her events. My favorite was her session “Creating Middle Grade Art”. She has illustrated a wide variety of middle grade books, and her insights on how to choose the subject matter, working with art directors and differences between chapter books for early readers and middle grade novels were eye opening. She also has a very similar way of working to me, which made me identify with her the a lot.

Third, I wanted to highlight the breakout session with Tammy Sauer. Her session was titled “Picture Book Writing Secrets - Revealed!”. Her talk was also very informative, and extremely entertaining and she was a speed talker. I did my best to take notes, but still havent gone over everything and organized it all. She had so many good ideas on how to make stories more funny, interesting, organized, how to escalate events, play with readers expectations, different types of hooks etc. She was the most animated speaker I’ve seen at a conference, and it was fun to be there for the ride, even though my hand hurt from taking notes and my ears were ringing afterwards.

Some of my tips for a new illustrator attending this conference would be, first, to take breaks when you need them. The days were packed with events from 7.30am-10pm, with short breaks for lunch. If I would have done every single thing, I would have been over spent by the end of it. I took some time during a lunch time, over a keynote speaker who I thought would be least interesting, or after the end of the sessions before socials. They weren’t long times to rest, but it was nice to take 10-30 min to kick your feet up and be in a quiet spot for a moment.

portfolio review session
As an introvert, I also recommend, get to know a few folks before the conference if possible. It was nice to have someone to room with, and to sit with at the events. So I didn't spend all my energy trying to talk to strangers.

On the flipside: do talk to strangers. If you looked around, there were plenty of people standing/sitting alone. Ask them if they are an illustrator or a writer and if they were published, and the conversations would usually flow pretty easy from there. I did get the nerve to talk to some of the faculty, but am kicking myself for not saying anything to Peter Brown. I am a big fan and just didn’t know what to say to him aside from blushing. I’ll have to work on that for next time.
Which brings me to the next point, do your research and look the faculty up before you go. It will make it easier and faster to figure out what lectures you want to see, and to come up with conversation points or questions that are helpful for you.

The only thing I was perhaps let down by, was the illustration showcase. The showcase was fairly well organized, but aside from peers looking at your portfolio, I am not sure there were any art directors/editors/publishers to see it. I believe the New York conference has a lot more of editors and art directors around, so if you need to save money, that might be something I’d reconsider for the next LA conference.

so many new friends
To wrap things up: I definitely plan to go to another SCBWI conference. Making connections was wonderful, and I learned a lot. I think for the next one, I’ll try NY, just to see how different it is to LA. If you have any specific questions for me about the conference, I’d be happy to answer. Just send me an email at mirka_hokkanen (at) yahoo com.