Not a Cloud in the Sky

From first idea to printed book: see how I created the illustrations in Not a Cloud in the Sky

 

This photograph was taken in Keep River National Park in the Northern Territory. In 2008, I spent three months travelling around Australia with my family, camping. It was an inspiring experience, and Australia’s red deserts and enormous blue skies form the setting of my picture book, Not a Cloud in the Sky.

I used all sorts of materials to make the illustrations for this book. Bit by bit, I built up the pictures using separate scraps of drawing, painting and prints. These were scanned, then combined as layers in Photoshop where I manipulated their scale, colour and opacity to build up the illustrations. Here I used ink and a champagne cork for the moon.

 

Foam rollers from a children’s painting set were perfect for depicting the red earth and rocks of the Australian desert.


 

I painted Bird’s tree with a brush and black ink, leaving a pool of ink at the end of some of the branches. I then blew through a plastic straw to create the more delicate twig shapes. I enjoyed the random and unpredictable ink dribble shapes this method produced: it was impossible to control the exact direction in which the ink would run.

 

This soft and wide Japanese brush was great for the sweeps of colour at sunset. Some brushes are a pleasure to use.

Here, the night breezes are carrying Cloud along. I used a completely different type of brush for the deep blue lines in the sky!


I wanted every bird in the tree to have a small story or sequence for observant readers to follow through the last few pages of the book. Some of the birds take a little while to settle, while one longs to snuggle up with the other three birds on his branch... and eventually does. For continuity, and to keep track of which bird was which from page to page, I numbered them all in Photoshop. I made sure I removed the layers with the numbers on them before I sent off the image files to be printed. So it’s not all swishing about with paint, brushes, straws and champagne corks – there’s a lot of painstaking, fiddly work to bring everything together. There are sixty-eight birds in this picture!

But it’s all worth it, when the book is ready for its purpose – being read, and enjoyed.