Becoming an Illustrator

Photo by Skitterphoto on

The illustrations for my first book were easy. I took many photo’s during my time in Japan. After I had produced my chapter plan, and knew roughly what the subjects of my illustrations would be, I picked out some suitable photo’s. Using photo editing software, I made my photo’s look like drawings, without needing to have any actual drawing ability. Piece of cake.

On that basis, I didn’t allow a great deal of time for the illustrations for my current book. But the photo’s from Costa Rica differ significantly from the Japanese ones. The difference? Trees. 

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on

There are trees pretty much everywhere in Costa Rica, so almost everything in the photo’s is partially obscured by them. There are some exceptions, which are mostly underwater. In fact, the only entirely unobscured subjects are iguanas. And they don’t feature highly in my story.

I tried many different styles in the photo editing software, and even a different kind of photo editing software, to no avail. Every picture became a jumbled mass of lines, with no distinguishable focal point. I can see only one viable solution: I have to draw.

I used to be reasonably good at drawing when I was at school, so this may even be possible…

The process

I started by buying prints of my photo’s, and a book of artist-quality tracing paper. My process starts with tracing the visible parts of my subject, then filling in the gaps using my memory / imagination. Currently I am at the shading stage, using a pencil to represent pattern and depth. The drawing and shading is having to be repeated with lots of photo’s, as some are turning out better than others. 

My plan is to scan the completed drawings and then try the photo editing software, for a more professional finish. If, at that point, the monotone shading isn’t quite working out, I know someone with colouring pencils I can try instead. I am learning as I go along.

What has most surprised me is what a mindful activity illustrating can be. What started as a problem that filled me with panic has ironically turned out to be calming and enjoyable. Now I just need a problem that will make editing more fun.

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