Behind the Scenes: Illustration Steps

In honor of the release of The Cat and the River Thames, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

You ready for it?

Okay. Here it is: illustrating, although fun, is very time consuming.

There are so many steps for each illustration, and if I were to rush them or skip them, the picture would look…well…awful.

As many people have asked me questions on how much work really goes into an illustration, I thought I’d break it down visually for you all by sharing a step by step process of part of a final illustration. I say part only because the book just came out, and if I shared the whole picture I’d give away some things 🙂

This picture is of Boathouse looking out over the Thames at Wanderer. I’ve already done my thumbnail sketch as a design concept, and have enlarged the drawing, added detail, and then using graphite paper, transferred it over to the final paper, as seen here:

1 Transferred image - Edited

Then I start adding some shadows with a dark blue colored pencil to the spaces between buildings, where boats meet the water, and the back of Boathouse’s head and inner ear. I use dark blue because it’s softer than black, and the colored pencil helps add some extra depth to the finished piece:

2 adding in shadows - Edited

Then I add some colored pencil coloring to areas that are textured, like Boathouse’s hat and overalls:

3 Add in some colored pencil - Edited

Next is the first layer of watercolor. I hate this step because it all looks so flat at this point!

4 First wash of watercolor - Edited

Then the next layer of watercolor is added (it starts looking sooo much better at this point!):

5 Second coat watercolor - Edited

And more watercolor and details like windows get added in with colored pencil or a mechanical pencil next:

6 Add in more watercolor, other details - Edited

And more details like people get added or windows get darkened (with colored or mechanical pencil or an ink pen) next:

7 More details, definition 2 - Edited

And then I finish up adding the rest of the details to Boathouse, and it’s ready to be scanned and edited!

8 Finished! 2 - Edited

In a blog post, it doesn’t sound super time consuming. But when you factor in the time for the watercolors to dry, it takes about 4 to 5 hours (depending on detail) per illustration. Multiply that by how many illustrations are in the book (19 or so, including the cover), that’s a lot of time illustrating….but I love every minute of it 🙂


I hope you enjoyed seeing the process broken down like this. Let me know if there’s any other questions you have about the process!

One thought on “Behind the Scenes: Illustration Steps

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s