Ee-Oh-Lay! What Do Birds Say?

It’s been a couple of years since I worked on illustrations for a picture book, the last one being my first graphic novel for young readers, called Sir Pants-a-Lot and Squire Mousekins: The Girl With the Golden Hair. That book, which took about a gazillion hours to complete, was illustrated by tracing scanned line drawings and coloring digitally.

Meanwhile, I wrote a story that centers around bird sounds and presented it with a sample illustration to BeaLu Books. My editor loved it and I signed a contract for it this summer! The book will probably be out in spring 2021, so I have a lot of illustrations to complete by the end of this November. Eek.

I splurged on a new set of watercolor paints for the project. They are not archival, but since the paintings are ultimately turned into digital art, that’s not a concern.

I’m using a form of watercolor/computer collage for this story. I design the page (double page spread actually) in line art, then paint the various colors and patterns the old-fashioned way. Then I scan the swatches and save them in a file. I grab what I need for a shape, make any color adjustments needed, create a clipping mask, and slowly build the elements on the page.

This cedar waxwing, for example, consists of about 11 color components.

This tree was intended to have just one component for the trunk and branches, and a bunch of varying shades of green for the leaves. But the process can get tedious and complicated in spite of my efforts. For instance, as it turned out, this tree wasn’t really the shape I needed, so I grabbed bits and pieces and created branches, then grouped the whole mess together and painted the leaves.

I spent about a week designing Mia Louise, the little girl in the story. I may yet change her outfit. That’s one advantage of working this way. It still looks like a painting, but I have a lot more control over edits. The way I used to paint, if I wanted to move something or change the size, I had to start over.

Painting the bird patterns is the most fun of course. I am including 24 mostly common North American birds in this story and we’ll have information about them at the end, including notes about other sounds they make.

I’ll post more about this book as I work. I’m almost half-way through, and something unexpected it about to happen as Mia Louise explores her bird world. Stay tuned!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan Jerde says:

    Of course I read every step of your process- you are teaching your computer to paint! Mia Louise makes me think of our granddaughter- I gave her a pair of real kid binoculars this summer. I’m first in line for the book when it comes out.

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Thanks Susan! I love that you are nurturing a young bird nerd and will be sure to let you know when the book is published!

  2. Great blog. Mia Louise reminds me of you.

    1. Robin Koontz says:

      Thanks for the comment, Barb!

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