Watercolor Techniques For Creating Children's Book Illustrations by Lorraine Watry

I’ve started to get a system for producing the watercolor paintings for the children’s book, “For I Am Yours” by author Pauline Hawkins. I have all the drawings for the 17 illustrations ready. As I start to finish up a painting that I am working on, I will use my light table and transfer a few more drawings to my watercolor paper. I work on Arches, 140 lb. cold press, watercolor paper. After I have transferred the drawing to the watercolor paper, I stretch my paper onto gator foam boards. You can see my Youtube video about the process at this link: How to Stretch Watercolor Paper and Transfer a Drawing.

Creating A Value Sketch For A Watercolor

In the image above, I have transferred the drawing, stretched my paper, and begun the painting. I also scanned my drawings and made small copies of them to create a value sketch (seen at the top of this image). These value sketches will help remind me where my light is coming from for the watercolor illustrations. I am working with minimal photo resources and making up most of the scene. So, I have to chose the direction of my light source and taking the time to create the value studies is important to help get the light and the composition right.

Adding Layers To A Watercolor

I started these two pages by painting the first layers of color on sections of the painting. At this stage, I am working with the lightest value of the color in each of the shapes. In a few areas of the illustration at the right, I have started to add some shading. I use water on the edges of these shadows to soften them into the lighter area because the light on the subject is indirect light from a window or room light.

The second image shows the baby taking the blanket outside with her. I started this painting by wetting the grass background and then applying color. I wanted there to be a variety of greens in the grass. After the grass dried, I added the leaves of the tree branches by spritzing some water in that area and then painting random leaf shapes over and around the water drops. Some areas will have soft edges due to the water. Then I added the first layers on the sandbox, blanket, her skin and pants.

Now that I have a basic idea of how the colors and composition are working, I can begin to add more layers. The next steps show this process.

Focusing On One Illustration

After I have the beginning stages on both of the illustrations, I usually get interested in one of them and start working on it solely. In this case, The baby pulling the blanket outside, caught my attention. I knew what colors I wanted to use in this illustration. I used a paint called Tiger’s Eye Genuine for the sandbox because it is very granular and would automatically give me the look of sand. I mixed it with some ultramarine blue in a few places for the shadows. I believe the leaves on the tree were done with mixes of Sap Green and Ultramarine blue, some Green Apatite Genuine, or some Serpentine Green.

I added the shadows last over the top of the other colors. Whenever I create shadows in watercolor, I lay them over the base color, like the grass, the stepping stones, or the blanket. I want the base color to effect the look of the shadow. I also don’t want my shadows too dark or they can look like black holes. In this case I used Ultramarine Blue and Pyrrol Scarlet (a warm red) to create a neutral or muted purple shadow color.

Deciding on a Color

When I went back to the first painting, where the baby is reaching out for the blanket, I had a hard time deciding what color I wanted mom’s clothes to be. I could have done a small color study beforehand or in this case I used some clear acetate that works with wet media like watercolor to get an idea of my colors. In the image at the right, I have laid the acetate over the painting and then painted with my watercolor right on top of the acetate to get an idea of the color I might use. (Sorry about the bright highlights. Those are my desk lights reflecting in the acetate.) I chose to go with the gray tones in mom’s outfit because there were a lot of bright colors in the rest of the scene. I felt there needed to be some neutral colors to counter balance the bright colors.

Finishing the Illustrations

I kept adding layers to both illustrations. When I didn’t know where to go with one or I was waiting for the paint to dry, I would work on the other one. I added more glazes to both to deepen the colors. I used the same color or a mix to add depth. I also added some more shadows to the outside scene and used a little Indigo on the inside scene to shadow the corners. Shading the corners helps keep the viewers eye focused on the center of the illustration.

These were now complete enough to move onto the next illustrations. I will often leave the recently completed paintings on my board for a few days to make sure I don’t see anything else that needs adjusting. I will be continuing to blog about this process if you would like to follow along.

'For I Am Yours' Children's Book Illustrations in Watercolor by Lorraine Watry

This is the continuation of my posts to create 17 watercolor illustrations for the children’s book, “For I Am Yours” by Pauline Hawkins. My plan was to post about the process every Friday, but life got in the way! I have until the end of July to complete all 17 illustrations, so I have planned to get one or more done each week. Right now, I am ahead, but some of the coming illustrations will have more figures in them and I am anticipating these to take longer.

The images that I have completed are not in order. I have skipped around to the ones that I felt either wouldn’t take too long or that I felt the drawing was resolved and ready to go. The first two pages also helped me figure out the colors for almost everything because they will be repeated throughout the pages.

Here are the first two pages with the blanket waiting for the baby to arrive. Before applying paint, I masked some of the shapes with Winsor and Newton masking fluid. The shiny shapes in photo #1 is the masked areas. The masking will protect the white paper until I am ready to paint in those areas or I can leave them white.

Then I started painting the background walls. I used a mix of Aureolin (Cobalt) Yellow with Amazonite Genuine (a turquoise blue) and created a soft yellow green. Because I am making up these scenes, I am building them slowly so that I don’t go too dark. I found it easiest to paint in the objects that I was certain of their color and value and then move on to the objects with more value or color variations.

As I add objects, I keep adjusting the things around the room because I can better judge the value of everything. I ended up needing to increase the value of the walls and I gave them some shadows in the corners to make them less important and bring the focus to the middle of the image. In the final image, I have everything painted in and I have added shadows. .

As I was working on these pages, I took a break in the beginning and started adding some color to the second double page spread. It helped to get away from the first image to see it with fresh eyes and while one area dried on the first image, I often added the glazes to the second image.

Here are some images from the next pages:

Again, I started by painting in the color on the bedroom walls and the color on the blanket. In this scene the blanket has a little more character and is dreaming of the day the baby comes home.

I used some Winsor Newton and some Pebeo (blue) masking fluid to save some of the smaller parts of this illustration.

I then started painting the image of the baby in the ‘dream bubble’. I used a mix of a warm red (Pyrrol Scarlet) and yellow (New Gamboge), thinned with water to paint the base color on the skin and slowly added layers of color to form the face of the infant. I used lighter color and soft edges along the outside of the bubble to make it feel like a dream.

After looking at the scene some more, I decided to increase the size of the circles that lead to the thought bubble. Using some masking tape over the area, I cut out the larger shapes. I used a small piece of a ‘Mr. Clean Magic Eraser’ to scrub off the color and get those areas back to the white of the paper. If you use a ‘Mr. Clean’ make sure to use the kind that does not have soaps or chemicals because you don’t want to transfer these to the watercolor paper. Also, test your paper. The ‘Mr. Clean’ is abrasive and can tear some papers.

The final image here still has some areas that need adjusting or painting. I also decided to add the lamp in the lower right corner. I was able to use the same method listed above with the tape and ‘Mr. Clean’ to lift the paint and get back to the white surface of the paper.

I was pleased with the outcome of the first two, double page spreads, for the children’s book. I have already started work on several others and will continue to post more as I create them. Thanks for following along!

Creating Illustrations for a Children's Book - Starting the Paintings

I am working on creating 17 illustrations for a children’s book, “For I Am Yours” written by author Pauline Hawkins. This is the second post of my journey to create the illustrations. I have not illustrated a book before and I thought I would blog about the process. The first blog post in this journey is linked here: Creating Illustrations for a Children’s Book

Fabriano Hot Press paper - Click to Enlarge

Yesterday, I started painting two of the pages on Fabriano 140 lb. hot press paper. I have used this paper for other paintings and really like it for ink and watercolor. However, while painting one of the figures in the story, I tried to make a change by lifting some color off with a stiff brush and because the Fabriano is a soft paper, the paper surface became marred. My usual substrate, Arches watercolor paper, can handle a lot of rougher techniques like: lifting, masking, and scrubbing. So, I decided instead of struggling with the Fabriano throughout this process, I would go back to the Arches paper.

Masking Fluid - Click to Enlarge

After deciding to change back to Arches 140 lb. cold press paper, I began with pages 3 and 4 because there are no figures, accept toys, on this double spread. So, I could get used to my process for the illustrations without the extra pressure of painting a figure. My paper was stretched and dried overnight. I taped the edges down to help hold the paper a little more firmly while painting some of the wetter areas. Then I masked some of the shapes with masking fluid to protect them while painting.

Mixing Colors - Click to Enlarge

Before starting the painting, I mixed a large amount of the color for the wall color in the baby’s room and a smaller amount for the blanket. I mixed the colors in some jars with lids to hopefully have enough to use for all the pages of the book. I used a mix of Amazonite Genuine by Daniel Smith (the aqua color) and Aureolin Yellow for both colors. There is more yellow the wall color and more Amazonite in the blanket color.

I began painting the bedroom walls on dry paper because I didn’t want to lighten the color I had premixed. This is a different way to work because I usually mix the color I need as I am working on a painting. Once the wall color was dry, I started painting some of the other objects in the room. I am making up the scenes, so I have to imagine where the light is coming from and how that will affect the objects. I will be adding layers and making adjustments as I go.

I have 3 other pages drawn and stretched onto the Arches watercolor paper. I will start painting portions of these that repeat from this first image like: the blanket, walls, stuffed animals, etc. That way I can get a production line going.

I have one video on my Youtube channel so far and will continue to film and post others. And you can check out Pauline Hawkins’ blog post - “For I Am Yours: The Story Behind the Story”.

First Layers - Click to Enlarge

Creating Illustrations for a Children's Book

In 2015 I was asked by author, Pauline Hawkins, to create the illustrations for a children's book that she wrote when her daughter was little. We started the process and then both our lives got busy and now we're getting back to it. I will be creating 17 watercolor illustrations to tell the story from the blankets point of view. The blanket is a metaphor representing the love of mothers for their children. As the child grows she needs her blanket less and less, but the blanket will always be there for her, protecting and loving her.

I have not created illustrations for a children’s book before, so I am learning as I go. I started with small mock-ups, about 2 1/2” x 3 1/2”, to sketch the story out. Pauline has modified the story a few times now, so a few of the images have changed or were deleted. Since I will be painting the illustrations with watercolor, I wanted to make sure the drawings are exact before starting the paintings. Watercolor is not an easy medium to make changes to. Changes are possible, but if I can avoid having to make adjustments, that would be preferred.

I asked Pauline for images of her daughter when she was little and the little girl is a combination of her daughter and some images of my daughter. I also looked up poses to use for some of the illustrations since I didn’t have photos of the actual scenes. The stuffed animals that inhabit the little girls room are from Pauline’s two kids and my three kids. I enjoyed placing them around the scenes as secondary characters. I also decided to include a butterfly in almost every scene for the young readers to search for when reading the book.

Images drawn on Borden & Riley Paper and inked

Images drawn on Borden & Riley Paper and inked

I wanted to keep the illustrations interesting, so some of the scenes are viewed from overhead or from a lower or higher perspective. After doing the initial sketches, I began drawing the images full size 9”h x 7”w for a single page or 9”h x 14” for a double spread (23 x 18 cm or 23 x 36 cm). I draw on Borden and Riley, #234 Bleed Proof Paper for pens because I like the weight of it and it doesn’t smear when I run my hand across it. After I finished the drawings and started inking them in so that the lines would be dark enough to transfer to my watercolor paper using a light table.

This is also my process when I do any of my watercolor paintings. It might take longer to create the drawing, ink it, and then transfer it, but there are several reasons why I do this.

1. I do my drawing on a separate piece of paper because I can erase and make changes before transferring it to my watercolor paper. It is better not to erase a lot on watercolor paper so that you don’t damage the surface.

2. By doing the drawing on a separate piece of paper, I can easily re-draw the image if I have an issue while creating the painting or if I want to enlarge or reduce the image before transferring to the watercolor paper I can do that.

3. Because I have drawn the image three times by the time I have transferred it to my watercolor paper , I sometimes see things I want to adjust and I am more familiar with the image prior to painting.

Small drawings printed out and shaded

Small drawings printed out and shaded

For the book, I decided to scan my inked drawings and using my Corel Draw graphics program, I reduced the drawings to fit 4 images per piece of printer paper. Then I printed them out and shaded the images to give myself information on the location of light and shadows in the scenes.

Illustrations printed on watercolor paper

Illustrations printed on watercolor paper

The next thing I did was to print some of the images onto watercolor paper using my Epson WF-4734 printer. This printer uses the Epson Durabright ink. This ink is waterproof so I can paint on top of it without it smearing. I was able to print on some 140lb, Fabriano hot press watercolor paper. It depends on your printer whether it will handle printing on this thicker paper. I then tape the watercolor paper onto some gatorfoam board.

I decided to start with the baby to get an idea of the colors I wanted to use. I tried different color combinations for the babies skin and some some of the materials. The blanket will be a minty green and I decided I like a mix made with Amazonite Genuine by Daniel Smith and Aureolin Yellow to make the green. I didn’t feel the need to do all the shading and values in these color studies, because I will do that on the actual paintings.

Four versions of the baby color studies

Four versions of the baby color studies

I ended up liking the bottom left version of the baby. I am also trying to decide if I want to use the Fabriano hot-press paper or use Arches cold-press. Normally I paint on Arches 140 lb. cold press paper. I like the fact that Arches is able to handle a lot of techniques including lifting. That might come in very handy if I have to change something in one of the children’s book illustrations. Fabriano is a slightly softer paper and is brighter white. I like the look of it, but I may not be able to use some of the techniques because the surface can tear with rougher techniques. I accidentally dropped some yellow watercolor on the green blanket, but was not concerned about lifting it back off since it is just a study.

Close-up of the baby using Aureolin Yellow and Quin. Rose for pinker skin

Close-up of the baby using Aureolin Yellow and Quin. Rose for pinker skin

Right now, my lines really show. I am trying to decide if I want to use any other medium with the watercolor, like ink or watercolor pencil to give the illustrations a distinct character.

Childrens-book-illustrations-color-study-room-by-Lorraine-Watry.jpg

Next, I painted four versions of the babies bedroom to get an idea of the color scheme. I could probably do a dozen versions of the bedroom color scheme, but I ended up liking the warm look of the upper left bedroom with the yellow and green with touches of blue and pink. I explain my process for the bedroom color schemes in the video below.

I will continue to post my process and progress as I work on the illustrations for the book in the next couple of months. So, please check back.

How to Mix Vibrant Colors in Watercolor by Lorraine Watry

There is a lot to color theory and it can’t all be covered simply or quickly. This post is to give you some generalities to work with when making watercolor mixes and how to mix Vibrant Colors and not Muddy Colors.

When trying to make “Vibrant” color mixes try these tips:

1. The brand and quality of paint you use can and does make a difference on how vibrant your color looks. If you use a student grade paint, it will have chalky fillers in it to make it less expensive. The paint will not be as vibrant. Some brands of professional or artist grade paints are not as vibrant as others. It can depend on how much pigment they use in the mix and what kind of binder they use. I have switched to Daniel Smith Watercolor for almost every color on my palette because of how vibrant their colors are and how easy it is to re-wet the paint and load up my brush. (Paints that have the following labels are student grade: Cotman, Van Gogh, Academy, Akademie, Prang, Reeves)

2. Mixing too many colors together can lead to a dull or “muddy” color. Generally a mix of 3 pigments is safe, but when you make a mix of 4 or more pigments it brings in too many different color factors that can cause the mix to look muddy.

3. Using colors that only have one pigment in the paint instead of 2 or 3 can help you achieve brighter or more vibrant color mixes. An example - Cobalt is made of one pigment - PB 28*, while Permanent Alizeran Crimson Hue has 3 pigments - PR 177, PV19, PR 149 (*see note below for info on pigments). So, if I make a mix with Cobalt and Perm. Alizeran Crimson, I am actually mixing 4 different pigments, not just 2. Then if I decide to add another color to the mix, I now have at least 5 pigments involved. (*Pigments are designated with letters and numbers. The ‘P’ is always used to indicate pigment, then the other letters indicate the family the pigment comes from. So, ‘R’ is red, “B” is blue, ‘Y’ is yellow, ‘V’ is violet, ‘O’ is orange, ‘G’ is green, ‘Br’ is brown, ‘W’ is white, and ‘Bk’ is black. The official definition of the number part of the name is - generic index number that identifies it chemically, regardless of proprietary and historic names.)

color-theory-example-color-chart-Daniel-Smith.jpg

Some brands of watercolor will have the pigments in each paint listed on the tube or on a color chart for that brand. (I only have a few paints on my palette now that have more than one pigment in them.)

There are other properties like staining vs non-staining, granular vs non-granular, etc. for each pigment. The color charts usually have a key that tells you how to read the information. These properties don’t necessarily affect how vibrant a pigment or mix will be, but it is good information to know.

Example color chart info from Daniel Smith. (you can find some color charts online by Googling “paint brand and watercolor chart):

4. When you are brushing the paint onto your paper, the less brushing back and forth you do, the better. When applying the paint, I try to skim it across the surface and leave it. Brushing back and forth a lot in an area can cause the paint to be duller. Also, it can mar the surface of the paper, causing it to look dull. If you want to add color, or adjust an area, it is usually better to let it dry and come back later with another layer.

5. To darken a color and keep it vibrant, start by using a color in the same color family. For instance to darken a green add a darker green to the 1st paint. If that is still not dark enough then use a paint from a family that is next to green - which would be blue.

Example Color Wheel. There are many other options to create a color wheel.

Example Color Wheel. There are many other options to create a color wheel.

6. When mixing colors - always think of the color wheel. The primaries are yellow, red, & blue. The secondaries are orange, green, & purple. Tertiary colors are mixes made from a primary color and a secondary color. When you mix colors across the color wheel you are mixing complimentary colors and these mixes will be more neutral or ‘grayed down’. Complimentary colors are: blue and orange, green and red, and yellow and purple.

mixing-vibrant-colors-split-primary-color-wheel-Lorraine-watry.jpg

7. Color families are red, yellow, blue, green, orange, and purple. Each of these color families have colors that are cooler and warmer. Ex. in the red color family, Quinacridone Rose is a cooler red than Cadmium Red. So, if I mix a warmer red (leans toward orange) with a blue, the resulting purple mix will not be as vibrant because the warm red and blue are almost complimentary colors. Mixing two primaries that lean toward the same secondary will more likely create a vibrant mix. Ex. Lemon Yellow & Phthalo blue both lean toward green.

mixing-vibrant-colors-Example-color-mixing-chart-Lorraine-Watry

When trying to make a vibrant mix think about the above factors. If the color you get from the mix does not look very bright or vibrant, then you may need to investigate and make an adjustment in the pigments you are using to make the mix.

Hint: taking the time to make a color chart of the colors you are thinking of using in a painting can help you understand what kind of mixes you will get - Vibrant or Neutral.