Guest Post: Illustrating The Story Circle by Wendy Martin

Posted by annastan on June 12th, 2016. Filed under: Guest Post.

I’m excited to have a special feature today! Illustrator Wendy Martin is here to share a behind-the-scenes look at the process of illustrating her new book, The Story Circle. Enjoy!


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On June 1st I shared my art creation process for a single image on Smiling Otis Studios’ blog. Today I’ll show you the big picture of the book art process.

For a lot of my picture book art creation, I do things in batches. I begin with a couple of sheets of copy paper with squares to represent each spread printed on them.

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There were 14 spreads and 13 vignettes to ink for The Story Circle. I ink in Adobe Illustrator. After all the inking is done and I double and triple check to make sure the characters remain consistent from the beginning to the end, I transfer everything on to watercolor paper. I take my AI files, which are created at 150% of final size and import them into Photoshop and change the color of the black lines to a tint of a color that will blend well with my palette chosen for the story. Then each image gets printed onto watercolor paper. I decided to use a hot press paper for this book to avoid the shadows that can be caused by cold or rough press watercolor paper textures.

It took me most of a day to print out the 27 pieces.

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I start with the largest section of the background. In this case a creamy pale orange-yellow on the classroom walls and the dusty red-tan for the rug on the floor. As you can see, I haven’t stretched and taped my paper at this point. So the pages are buckling and warped. Not to worry, once I have the big washes down, I will do that. My trick is to mist the back of each painting and let it soak in before flipping it and attaching it to a white felt covered canvas board. I use regular masking tape and make sure to tape outside of the crop marks, which I include in the file I print to the watercolor paper.

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There are 7 children and the teacher as the featured characters in this book. That’s a lot of character consistency to keep track of during my watercolor painting process. This is one reason why I’m painting each character in an assembly line fashion. Nothing is more distressing than laying all your finished pages out and then noticing that the child with green striped socks is wearing purple-heart socks in one spread. If I painted digitally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. Hooray for Command-Z. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exist in the watercolor painting process. If I make such a gaff in traditional media, I have to repaint.

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The finished image you see here was the trial image I supplied to the publisher when they were deciding which illustrator they would choose for this book. I’m using it to make sure the characters they liked from the sample are the same ones they receive in the final images.

At this point, it’s down to final details and coloring the portions of the images that are unique to each. This is the end of the assembly line painting process and each painting gets individual attention to completion. Once they are all finished, I lock the cat in another room and spread all the images out on the floor to make sure they flow nicely from one to the other. I make notes of changes I will make during the color correction and scanning process. After the images are scanned in, usually this takes a day or two, I open each one and make any revisions from my notes, and color correct the digital files so they will print nicely. I do my best to make sure the colors in the book are as close to the colors on the painted pieces. Then I send all the high-resolution files to the publisher.

The publisher pulls all the pieces together into book form. In some cases I get to see F&Gs or color proofs, but that didn’t happen with this book. I got a box of author copies about a month ago.

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A transplanted New Yorker now living in Missouri, Wendy Martin has been working as an illustrator for 25+ years. Her love affair with art and illustration began at an early age. She never wanted to do anything else.

So, she followed my heart and earned a degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, then continued my art education at the School of Visual Arts, earning a B.F.A. in Graphic Design. These disciplines can still be seen in her work as a children’s book illustrator and fantasy artist in the strong lines, textures and detailed patterns.

See additional art and find out more about her at wendymartinillustration.com. You can find The Story Circle on Amazon or on the publisher’s website.

4 Responses to Guest Post: Illustrating The Story Circle by Wendy Martin

  1. Wendy Martin

    Thanks for having me visit your blog. 😀

  2. Shirley Fadden

    Beautiful work and interesting blog post. Congratulations, Wendy.

  3. Vonna Carter

    I loved reading about your process, Wendy. Thanks for sharing, and congratulations on your new book!

  4. Lisa Downey

    This was so interesting! I used to draw a lot, always wanted to illustrate, but went off to do other things by the time technology like Adobe Illustrator took over, so I’m curious about your use of that. Do you sketch by hand on paper first, scan in and then “ink” on a digital pad or something? or do the whole thing on the computer from scratch? Seems so comfortingly old-fashioned that you still watercolor by hand, “in reality” so to speak! Not that you should do this, but could the same effect be made on the computer? What other benefits does your work get from being in Illustrator?
    Thank you! and many congratulations on your new book.