Painting Illustration for Stories and Writing for Illustration

Introduction: Painting Illustration for Stories and Writing for Illustration

I have painted a lot of simple naive pictures over the years, simply because I wanted to paint something young children could relate to, but I was too lazy to learn the hard parts. Like how to paint ocean water (a chaotic texture that cannot be painted mechanically). There is a lot of work to making a picture that looks natural, and it can be learned only by yourself, no one can teach exactly how to make an adorable illustration. You can learn a lot from looking at other people's art, but when it comes down to it you have to do the hard work of making it happen. It is like learning to ride a bicycle.

Look through my blog to see what I am up to:

It's not uncommon for the pictures to contain a second, silent story only tangentially related to the words, and for the most part, it's encouraged, illustrations should show us a completely different tale developing

Writer's "Illustrator's notes" are generally restricted to things that are important to the story, but not explicitly mentioned in the story. (e.g. The manuscript says, "Look! A kitty! I think I'll pet it!" and the illustrator note might clarify that the "kitty" is actually a grumpy-looking lion).

Editors may tell you how to break up the story "e.g. this line is the big reveal and needs its own page," kind of stuff, but probably not much more.

Step 1: Background

A scenic background is helpful to keeping people's attention. This usually will require some degree of realism. In illustration, pictures are made for a nonverbal expansion of the story; not to show what is being done in the text of the story. Infact if the scene has a lot of descriptive text, you should not illustrate that scene. Choose a part that has as little description as possible.

Editors tells me that an illustration needs to have a character in it to tell a story, but I don't think that is necessarily true. If you have something that suggests that there is someone doing something it will do to connect parts of the story. Like the light house picture, it has a small boat and a dirigible. Obviously a person was in the boat and there is someone piloting the air ship. The text will shed light on the action taking place.

The beach house has no characters in the image but still has plenty to look at. Like the clouds! And there is the Dirigible, there is so much happening in the image that it has an obvious story.

Gallery art is a bit different than an illustration, it can be strictly static, no story. Even if nothing more than texture. Think cave painting.

Book cover art has to be something special, it needs to “pop” out at people; attract people's attention from just a glance. And make people want to read the story that the image is suggesting is in the book. It is not always painted from a scene in the story, but it should look close to the story implied by the name of the book.

Step 2: ​Texture

I developed a way to get rid of brush strokes by dabbing the wet paint with the brush which created a lot of texture. But recently I wanted to make thicker black gesso to absorb more of the oil from my handmade paint by adding more chalk. And discovered that I could not get rid of the brush lines showing through the paint.

When adding stuff to the gesso I added some marble dust that was more granular than dust. I forgot to feel the texture of it before mixing it in. So now I have to sand down the first layer to get rid of the sharp points of the granules. Then dab a second layer over it with a smoother gesso. So now I have a very nice texture similar to stucco to apply my paint texture to. This texture will not show in a book illustration unless the painting is photographed correctly.

Then I was reading how people actually like texture. Texture that shows feverish application of paint is primitive and fun to look at. I try to add some if I can figure-out how to make it an integral part of the picture, not the story. In pottery this is called “controlled irregularities”.

Details like which can be found on feathers are an excellent texture.

Skin texture is a really hard thing to learn. But worth the effort. Even if it is not perfectly realistic looking, it will hold people's attention.

Step 3: ​Color

Colors are nice but not essential. Grayed Earth colors can be used quite effectively. The old masters had almost nothing but earth pigments. This is what you should start learning with.

You can also check your hue composition by looking through a dark colored glass. Best to do it as a sketch first. I try not to have too much color in the image so I don't get lost in the contrast visibility. A complex image is always hard to find enough contrast. That is where learning to adjust the colors next to each other is needed.

I like modern pigments that are very dark until mixed with a little white. I have used factory made paints but they start with too bright of a hue.

Modern Pigments worth the high price:

  • Phthallo dark Green (when lightened with white it is better than emerald green)
  • Dioxazine Purple (this needs cobalt dryer)
  • Irgazine Ruby Red
  • Cadmium Orange #2 (is the most brilliant Vermilion Red and not edible!)
  • Bismuth Yellows (not toxic like the cadmium pigments)
  • Bristol Yellow, medium
  • Malori / Prussian Blue (very affordable and almost black until mixed with a lighter color)
  • Ultra marine blue (sky blue)
  • Ultramarine green (greenish blue for ocean color) I mix Prussian blue with a little green.

My most favorite earth pigments:

  • Mars yellow
  • Indian red
  • Terra Ercolano orange earth (enhanced with stronger pigments)
  • Burnt Sienna (dark red)
  • Burnt Umber (brown)
  • Olive (dark greenish raw umber) very good for skin tones.
  • Zinc White (not edible)

I use oil to make paint, but you can make your own acrylic paints that are much better than the cheap factory paints. I buy pigments from the only place that has a massive amount of different kinds to choose from, Kremer Pigments. Some people say to use only three or four colors, but which pigments I do not remember.

Notan yin-yang theory

This is a balance of opposites such as light and dark, warm and cool, or just think “contrast”. But start with the hue contrast of black and white or earth tones.

Move your eye around the painting to feel it out. I have a lot to learn if I can live long enough.

Step 4: ​Composition

You can learn this from books but when it comes to making it part of your art, you will need to use a different part of the brain.

It is much better to learn from “Drawing on the left side of the brain”. It will teach you much more than can be learned from a school book. They should publish a book called “painting with the left side of the brain”.

Step 5: ​Pathos Verses Ethos

Pathos is emotion, like the word “pathetic”. But it does not mean that emotion is pathetic.

What is really pathetic is how people forget the need for pathos, and how it can take the place of all the intellectual and mechanical parts of image making (ethos).

Step 6: ​Writing for Previously Made Images

DO NOT write a “description” of the image! Write a story that the picture is part of.

The description makes the image redundant! This is the primary reason that the story must always come before the images. I have had people try to describe my images to start a story, and could not make a story without that description.

If you must describe the image, cut it out, editing is the only way to make a good story. Go back and read the story lines on the images.

I have had people also try to get me to illustrate a verbal image in their mind that is impossible to paint, like a metaphysical scene. I would really like to illustrate a story that is not full of scene descriptions.

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    2 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Thank you, I did not start painting untill 1998, but I had done a lot of pincel work before that.


    2 years ago

    What beautiful illustrations! I can tell that you've invested countless hours into growing your talent!