One of my big pleasures and projects of 2017 was doing the illustrations for my good friend and client – Louise Harding for her book Nose to Tail – A holistic guide to training your dog.
I have been providing Louise and her business Animal Talent web services for many years. She had been talking about putting a book together for a little while and when she finally came to me to say that it was a go ahead and whether I was interested in helping her out, well it was one of those things that there was absolutely no way I was going to let that opportunity pass me by.
Having known Louise for a number of years and very familiar with the way she runs her business and her personality, I knew that this book was going to be awesome, down to earth and a little bit quirky and therefore the illustrations would need to be something other than just a pretty picture, they needed to also have these traits as well. Fast-forward quickly through the whole process for a moment, we came up with a dog character to be featured in the book now affectionately called ‘Ily’. He really came to life for all of us during the course and now we have him he couldn’t have been any other way. There was alot of trust that was put into me for the creation of these illustrations and I in turn also had to trust myself in my knowledge and experience and the creative process that this was all going to come together. I feel so lucky to have been able to have worked on this project with Louise and her team. In this blog post, I have put together this breakdown of the process, I hope you enjoy it!
Research & Style
The first part of any illustration or design project is reseach and what i call getting into the “headspace” of the client and project.
For this it means for me, to start by looking at lots of references of types of dogs as we didnt know what sort of breed our dog character had to be as well as general style of the illustrations so i had to gather resources and then basically sketch some of them out. This is a really important part of the creation stage playing around with ideas and getting familiar with the subject. A brief description was that we really wanted something a bit sketchy, scruffy and hairy. From a technical point for me this meant that i would need to replicate whatever hairiness we came up with across multiple illustrations and drawings i tried to research other cartoons and drawings of dogs that demonstrated this only to be reinforced with the idea that hair / fur was often replicated in a rough sketchy one off drawing or in used with colour / texture which we wouldn’t have the luxury of having seeing as we had to create this guy in black and white. So, i had to think about how we could make this dog look hairy without having to draw individual hair if that makes sense.
I also had to research the trainer in the drawing what was this person to look like? How can we draw interaction between the human and the dog.
From all of this research it was becoming clear that the technical aspects of these illustrations would need to be able to be replicated across multiple drawings and needed to look consistent in black and white. The focus was on the dog training methods in these illustrations but we had to also balance this out with the characters and a bit of quirkiness wherever possible i didnt want it to look too clinical. Hand in hand with that this wasn’t just a pretty picture book, the actions of the dog and trainer needed to be specific to demonstrate Louise’s dog training techniques so a hand drawn sketch wasn’t really going to cut it.
Shapes, Dimensions & Functions
This next part of the process was working out the technical aspects of the illustrations such has how big was the dog to be, how big was the human, if i were to draw it realistically there would be no way we would be able to see the actions of the dog alongside the human which was after-all the key to the whole thing. We only had the physical space of a normal page on a book to display these things so how much of the space had to be taken up by both human and dog and can we push that as much as possible without it looking weird.
At this point, I also had to sit down with Louise and her team and storyboard out exactly each of the behaviors of the dog and the human and what this illustration was supposed to represent. This mean how hands where supposed to look where were the dogs supposed be. Louise had to show me on a dog what she was talking about in the book. We also had to see how many sequences of images from what is talked about in the written word on the page as some of these techniques could not be shown on just one image.
Contrary to many other artists (I have been told) my brain is actually quite technical, my plan was to get a starting structure that would serve as the wire-frame for the characters that way we could mould the actions of the characters around the same proportions. I knew I had to think about each of these from all points of view so, front view, side view, 3/4 view, much like i would need to do if i was to create a sculpture or a 3D model of these characters. This planning stage also served as a way that I could possibly speed up the process of the illustrations production so that we could reuse certain areas of the illustrations across multiple drawings and meant so that we didn’t have to recreate the whole position of the characters each time necessarily. Here is also where I started to draw this up digitally in Adobe Illustrator and knew that this would be the main software used for the illustrations so that they meet the technical requirements and could be easily reproduced.
Here are some of the wireframe drawings were i was working with the height of the dog vs height of the human vs how big they would be on the page.
Making him fun & quirky
Another important part of this time was discovery about the characters themselves. I knew we needed to humanise these guys make them a bit quirky so i had to play around with eyes, we needed those eyebrows in to show emotions, getting those jowls in, and also the hair as i mentioned earlier, having done projects in the past I know all too well if you start down a track that cant be repeated easily it would have meant alot more work for myself in the next stage. Once i drew something i had to then translate that to how it would look in the different views.
Once i had a basic structure and ideas set in place I had to go back to Louise and make sure that all my discoveries so far made sense to her, and I that i had all those story boards correct of what was happening in each illustration. This consisted of very crude rough sketches, basically just showing the dog, the human where hands and legs were and points of view. Whilst i am a avid dog lover, I unfortunately can’t have a dog myself and having not done Louise’s dog training there were a couple in there where the dog was facing the wrong way or the hand was completely wrong so this was a really important step to do and get signed off on.
Here was one of the final versions of ‘Illy’
Here is where the bulk of the work started and I was glued to my desk for days and i dare say weeks 🙂 This step was basically production of all the elements. As these illustrations had to display specific actions of both the dog and the trainer I needed to draw hands, shoes, heads, other dogs, people in a few different ways. I often had to research how your hand would look when you eg. held a ball, held a treat and draw that. The great thing about this stage was because i had spent extra time in the planning and research stage i knew the proportions of everything were going to work ok i just had to manipulate it for the illustration at hand. This was were ‘Illy’ really was starting to come to life so to speak. At this stage, the book was still being finalised and we had a illustration deadline looming so the pressure was on to at least 17 images out before deadline.
After the main structure of the work was done, I also needed to start to incorporate shading and backgrounds into the illustrations otherwise he just looked like he was floating in the air. But ofcourse as what happens with these things if you start to add this in one area you have to incporporate this across the board so there would need to be shadows on the clothing, on the face, on the dog and in the background. These had to be very subtle but still there 🙂
There was also a need at this time to create a cover, we were going to have ‘Illy’ on the cover of the book so i did a cover version which was heavily textured digitally with hand painted elements but we didn’t use this in the end, but i think this still added to the overall look of him in the black and whites cause we could see his character and vision him better.
Finessing the details
At this stage I had to finesse some of the details of the such as the thickness of lines and intensity of some parts over others. This was about making the character work better with the backgrounds and ensuring the key elements stood out. Then of-course if you changed it on one illustration this had to replicated across all of them to make sure it was consistent. At one point we changed the eyes to be made smaller so this is where we needed to look and look again and get all the details in. The deadline was coming fast we could have done with a bit more time but the clock pushed us to get it done for the print deadline.
Here are a couple of the final images from the book
Bringing him into colour
After the actual book illustrations were done I felt like we couldn’t leave him there, so much work had gone into him and (I really really wanted an Illy dog all for myself) I had to turn him into colour.
Louise being the amazing client and friend she is, I knew that if we turned him into colour we could use him in her other marketing materials for the website as well as products for her clients and promotion of the book. So he was created in colour, acutally a couple of times 🙂 With both hand painted tradition methods into a painting for Louise’s shed at her training paddock as well as a digital illustrations with hand painted elements that can be now used across cards, bags, and other various marketing materials – so we created ‘Illy colour’.
Now he lives.
Here is the video i created when hand painting him
At the book launch
At the Book launch, Louise wanted me there painting 🙂 I was delighted to turn up, but i didnt just want to paint my usuals, I wanted to get the contributions of the crowd, I wanted to work on a collaborative piece, so we encouraged everyone who was there to put their dogs name on a canvas. As the book launch process I painted chatted and started to incorporate Illy onto the canvas. It was so lovely for everyone to come and tell me about their dog some of them no longer with us, it was pretty special and a fabulous day and project to be involved with these amazing and wonderful people.
More will be coming of Illy but for now, I hope you enjoyed seeing how he came to life. Please leave a comment below, and head over to purchase Louise’s book if you need some help with your 4 legged friend
Nose to Tail >
As you can see alot of work has gone into the creation of ‘Illy’ All images are © Copyright Reserved 2018. Thankyou for respecting the time and dedication I put into producing my work. Please do not share my images without permission or credit.