Creating a Picture Book – Part 4 (My Picture Book Preparation)

With regards to my current picture book project:    

* My idea evolved from a character study I developed for a drawing course. I wanted to show my students that realism study + animation and/or caricaturisation = character. I liked a particular character I had illustrated and hoped he would inspire a story. He did. I am adapting that character illustration to better suit the story.                                                                                                                                                                                      

* I have spent several months thinking over this picture book idea. I have learnt it is best to do a lot of mental organisation before putting it on paper. My note and sketch preparation have been more targeted. The sketch process and story notes invariably introduce surprises that can change the direction of the book.                                                                                                                                                                          

* I am dedicating a sketchbook to this picture book process. It will contain all the preparatory work: manuscript development, idea notes and sketches, character development sketches, setting development sketches, storyboards, etc. I also bought a watercolour sketchbook to use for colour experiments. It will be easy for me to keep my work organised and taking up little space.

* I am excited to develop the other characters too. A couple of years ago, I did Nina Rycroft’s Skillshare course: Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes ( ). The course assignment was to use different shapes to develop a variety of faces. I never imagined how that assignment would inspire my illustrations in the future. I will be adapting some of those faces for characters in my story and creating new ones. I reviewed Nina’s Skillshare courses in a blog. You can read it here:

Join me in a month when we talk about how the picture book is going so far.

Until next time…


My Favourite Skillshare Teachers – Part Two: Ana Victoria Calderon

Dream Pony - 72 dpiLast month I reviewed Nina Rycroft’s amazing Skillshare courses. This month I am thrilled to share how much I enjoyed Ana Victoria Calderon’s Skillshare courses. This blog is briefer, so for those of you, who are frantically busy during the Christmas/New Year’s break, this blog will be a quicker read for you than my blogs are normally.

Despite painting with watercolours for several years, I was not at all happy with how my work was looking. I read several books, but my work continued to be unsatisfactory. I found Ana on Skillshare, and loved how bright and clear her watercolour paintings were, so I thought maybe some of her skill could rub off on me…and it did!

  1. Modern Watercolor Techniques: Beginner’s Level

I figured, since I had paid a Skillshare subscription, I might as well start with her beginner watercolour course, ‘Modern Watercolor Techniques: Beginner’s Level’. This course forced me to go back to the basics, and I learnt some use tricks.

In this course, Ana explains transparency, graduation, the need for improving fine motor skill precision for tiny lines and marks, and creating texture using bleach, ink and salt.

There is no harm in advanced watercolours working through this course. It is a good reminder of basic skills, and also reveals the areas that can always be improved.

Some examples of the work done for the course:

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  1. Watercolor Mixing, Finding Your Color Identity

I loved this course. Prior to this course, colour theory was theory only to me. This course taught me how to implement colour theory. In the course Ana covered:

  1. Primary, secondary and tertiary colours.
  2. The Traditional (red, yellow, blue) and Modern (magenta, yellow, cyan) colour wheels. I was delighted Ana covered this, because my colour theory books did not, and I was fed-up with producing colours that were not vibrant. A word of warning: it is not true that you can mix ANY colour from a basic palette! I found this out the hard way. You can mix a lot of colours, but not all. Developing an understanding of the Traditional vs. Modern colour wheels takes a lot of frustration out of colour mixing.
  3. Warm and cool colours
  4. Complementary colours
  5. Analogous colours
  6. Working with lighter colours
  7. Colour temperature
  8. Monochromatic colour
  9. Intuitive colour mixing
  10. Creating a personal colour palette.

Some examples of the work done for the course:

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I became a convert to employing colour theory in my illustrations, as result of doing this colour theory course. In fact, I started experimenting and reading up on even more advanced colour theory. I find the subject fascinating and feel that many people are as confused as I was, and colour theory really needs to be taught while giving the students the opportunity to implement what they have learnt. Ana’s course provides this breeding ground for growth and experimentation.

  1. Watercolour Textures

I was itching to do this course. It was so worthwhile!

Ana also introduced other illustrators, who I now enjoy following on Instagram, and I learnt how to tackle lots of detail in a controlled environment.

I cannot recommend Ana’s courses enough. I cannot wait to do more of her courses in the future.

Some examples of the work done for the course:

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The primary rule I have taken away with me is: Thoroughly dry layers before painting the next. I am a very impatient person, so this rule is always a challenge for me, but onward and upward!

Ana has just released her first book:

Creative Watercolour - A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Ana reiterates, in this book, that she paints in a more illustrative style, which makes this book, and her Skillshare courses invaluable for watercolour illustrators. I loved the book, even though it covered a lot of her course material on Skillshare. It is really cool having, at my finger-tips, an excellent resource to refer to, and more importantly, a constant tool for inspiration.

If you are not on Skillshare, you could try reading Betty Edward’s ‘Color’ and Danielle Donaldson’s ‘The Art of Creative Watercolor’. I have found both these books very inspiring and helpful.

My watercolour style is very different to Ana, but I learnt so much from these courses.

I am very much looking forward to next month’s blog. I will be reviewing my new Mijello Mission Gold Pure Pigment watercolours. I am super excited about this blog and about these watercolours. So, if you are interested in expanding your watercolour palette, or you are thinking of buying your first set of watercolours, WATCH THIS SPACE!!!!!!!

Another big announcement: I will be starting to blog every fortnight! Yip! A while ago, a writing friend suggested that I review children’s books, discussing the cognitive aspects of them for parents and teachers. I will do my best to keep on top of the blogs and bring them out on the 12th (children’s book blog) and 24th (illustration blog) of each month. That is one of my New Year’s resolutions. The other is going sugar free! I eat little sugar anyhow, but I do want to cut it out completely.

Until next time…


My Favourite Skillshare Teachers – Part One: Nina Rycroft

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NB: As I have blogged before, I only review products I like. I am not being paid to make any reviews. My apologies for missing October’s blog. Setting up business from home has been time-consuming.

These are my favourite Skillshare teachers so far:

  1. Nina Rycroft
  2. Ana Victoria Calderon

I have learnt so much about picture book illustration from Nina. She is happy to share her knowledge, and has created brilliant on-line workshops.

These are the workshops I have done with Nina (though she has created others that I have not done yet):

  1. 101 Guide to Picture Books – Nina explains:
    • The importance of strong characters in picture books and how they need to portray action.
    • Determining the intended reader and if your characters appropriate for the age group.
    • Creating distinctive characters.
    • Producing a dynamic setting for the book (colour and mood, layout).
    • Storyboarding the plot.
    • Character interaction with the plot.


2. Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes

  • The title says it all. I had a ball during this course. It gave birth to a new and exciting style for me. I cannot wait to produce human illustrations now, but I have a lot of animal work, which will take me a while to complete, before I can do some ‘human’ work; however, this course can be applied to animals too!
  • Some examples of my course work (completed using Derwent Inktense pencils with Pebeo Aquarelle Fine Watercolours):

    3. 101 Guide to Drawing Eyes

    • This is a must do course if you are planning to learn illustration or cartooning. I was gobsmacked how much expression can be relayed by just working on the eyes!
    • All of Nina’s course are hugely beneficial, however, this is one of the simplest lessons to learn and can revolutionise illustrations!
  1. Emoji Me – the Art of Drawing Facial Expression
    • I loved this course, as it hit at the heart of my Achille’s Heel. Until this course, I had been excessively reliant on reference photos. I had my nieces and nephews acting and posing for me. The photos were not always that successful! I am a terrible actress, but with practise, I managed to ‘get’ what Nina kept saying. Draw from the inside out! Draw the emotion. By the way, the only time I have taken selfies was during this course! Here is a sample of my work:EMOJI.JPG
    • If you are like me, and struggle to act (especially in front of a camera), these books may be useful. I am keen to add these to my library at some point. I saw another artist review them on Youtube, and they look very, very good!

  1. How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part One

This course covered what I already knew about facial proportion, but pushed into the different views (front vs. profile (side) view. I have always relied heavily on reference photos, but this course empowered me to draw without reference. Wow!


  1. How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part Two

This course pushed me out of my comfort zone, like no other! I have been reluctant to use modelling clay or polymer since my disastrous clay modelling project in Standard 2. I sculpted a pig, which exploded in the kiln and which looked more like a square sausage than a pig. Even though I did this course on one of the hottest days of the year, thanks to Nina’s brilliant instructions, I produced a model head I was, and still am, proud of. It is far from perfect, but it looks reasonably close to my sketch. Sadly, her tendrils have broken since the course.

I am keen to do more character modelling in the future. FYI, James Gurney also makes models for his illustrations. For more information about his models, check out his book ‘Imaginative Realism’ (this is one of the best books for illustrators, and one of my favourites!):

  1. How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part Three

This course is simply about using your model to draw the head from every angle.

Here is my effort (apologies for the poor photos – I will still trying to master my new phone!):IMG_20180117_114823~2.jpg

  1. Draw a Circus of Characters – Exploring Body Shape and Body Proportion

I have read many books on figure drawing, and I have learnt a lot from each of them (I am planning a blog on my favourite figure drawing books for the future), however, none of them covered what Nina taught in this course. In fairness to those books, they were meant for realism studies, not illustration; but I learn so much from this course that has been invaluable to me. Since doing this course, I have been able to draw more interpretative figures (cartoons), and that has been a rewarding and exciting experience. Nina teaches using shapes to develop character figures, just as she did with the ‘Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes’ course.

Here is an illustration I did after doing this course:

I have loved every single one of Nina’s courses. Every course has taught me valuable and exhilarating lessons. However, this course and the next one on this list, were by far, my favourite and the most influential in my work. This is how I used shape for an illustration:

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  1. Draw a Circus of Movement – Simple Techniques to Bring Your Characters to Life

This course transformed my illustrations. As previously stated, I have always relied heavily on reference photos. My nieces and nephews were very accustomed to being asked to ‘do this’ and ‘do that’. I have applied this course information to my work and I love animating animals. This course doesn’t actually cover animals, but what you learn here can definitely be applied. I am planning another blog on this subject. After doing this course, I attempted my first picture of animal movement, that was not drawn from a reference photo. I made several studies of giraffe before attempting to animate them. This was the finished result:

  1. Draw a Circus of Line and Gesture – Design a Picture Book Character from Start to Finish

This was the most relaxed I have ever been when designing a character. Before I was always in a perpetual state of either indecision or vacillating between possibilities and ‘tripping over my pencil’ in my haste to get something, anything onto the paper, and hoping and praying that it would appear magically and perfectly all by itself! And of course, it did not!

This course, and all the others, has made it possible for me to have a process to work under.

Having a process is very important to me, as I am one of those control freak people who need to have a step-by-step method, and stick to it assiduously…until I hit a problem. My day job, teaching brain training to people with learning disabilities, and my past role in the insurance industry, taught me how to ‘think outside of the square’ and find solutions to problems. These two mindsets have enabled me to finally make progress in my illustration work. I am so excited by this, that I want other people to have the opportunity to learn what I have.

I would like to encourage anyone who is an illustrator, anyone who wants to be an illustrator, anyone who is dissatisfied with their artwork, to give Nina’s Skillshare courses a go. I believe you will be invigorated and excited by what you learn. She will teach you step-by-step methods for developing your characters.

Currently, I am developing art courses that are cognitively (brain) based. I want to teach people to draw realistically, understanding colour, learning different media, etc, by unlocking your analytical and observational skills. I have found that once these skills have been honed, learning from passionate tutors, like Nina Rycroft, will be rewarding and fertilize the growth of your creative ability in ways you could never have imagined.

Thinking back to what I learnt from these courses was like reawakening a dozing dragon, and I am so thrilled. I am always hungry to work on illustrations, but reminding myself of what I have learnt, has made me voracious to create something.

I planned, at the beginning of this blog, to cover Ana Victoria Calderon’s courses too, however, my enthusiasm for Nina’s courses has been like ‘the magic porridge pot’ spilling over, and I will keep my review of Ana’s courses for next time.

Until next time…