If you follow me on Instagram, you’re bound to know that I have been spending a lot of time sketching and drawing and trying to improve my skills with pen and ink and watercolors. Part of that skill-building process is taking classes. And what better place to do that than on Craftsy? I’m on the website there everyday anyway, checking the knitting classes I teach and answering questions, so one day, I decided to check out the drawing and painting classes. I’ve signed up for several, and over the next few weeks, I’ll tell you about the ones that I’ve found most helpful.
I’d like to start with one that might not seem obvious, “Expressive Picture Book Characters,” taught by Lynne Chapman.
I’ve had so much fun in this class, playing with creating picture book versions of myself and just goofing around and practicing new drawing skills. It’s been a fun way to learn more and improve my drawing without getting too serious. Lynne is such a great teacher, I recommend this class for anyone, even if you’ve never drawn before. You’ll have a blast and end up with a sketchbook full of great work.
So, enough from me. Let’s talk to Lynne.
DD: Hi Lynne, welcome and thanks for taking some time to talk to me about drawing and your fun class on Craftsy! I’d like to start by asking you about your career background. How did you get into drawing for picture books?
LC: I have worked as a freelance illustrator ever since I left university, but in the early years, I used to illustrate for magazines and newspapers. When I moved from London to Sheffield, I decided I wanted a change, so put together a brand new portfolio of work, aimed at picture book publishers.
One of the principle differences is that children’s books are extremely character-led, so I had to be able to draw a range of characters, both heroes and villains, and portray them in an emotionally engaging, narrative way – all the stuff I am covering in my Craftsy class!
For anyone wanting to take it further, I have written some tips for putting together a children’s book portfolio here: http://lynnechapman.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/portfolio-advice.html
It took me about a year to develop all the new work I needed and take it round to show various publishers, before I got offered my first book: The Show at Rickety Barn Farm. That was about 15 years ago and I have illustrated over 30 books since then!
DD: Do you do other kinds of artwork as well?
LC: I have always enjoyed urban sketching (drawing and painting what’s happening around me). This has always run alongside my illustration work: something just for me, for fun. I use all different art materials and experiment. It’s my play.
I also love getting out into the landscape with my pencils, paints and pastels, doing my best to capture the feel of England’s wild and windy hills and skies. You can see some of the things I’ve been trying here: http://www.lynnechapman.co.uk/sketch-thumbs.php?id=257
But in recent years, something interesting has started to happen – this sketchbook work has developed into another string to my bow. For instance, last year I was asked to write a book called Sketching People (which comes out in the UK on Feb 10th and in the US in March–with slightly different covers). People have begun inviting me to music gigs to sketch the performers, or I am commissioned to draw at conferences.
This academic year, I am Artist-in-Residence at Manchester University, where I spend 2 days a week being a fly-on-the-wall, illustrating anything and everything that goes on, sketching in long, concertina-format sketchbooks. It’s great fun!
DD: I love doing that too! I actually pre-ordered your book before I realized you were the author. I always carry a little sketchbook in my purse, and I usually draw scenery or still lifes of objects in a coffee shop or restaurant. But I want to have the confined to start adding people to my sketches.
So, you know, I am a writer and I write knitting books. I’m curious, do you write your own books or create illustrations for books by other authors?
Mostly though, I illustrate other people’s stories. It is a far more long-winded process when you write the texts yourself and quite a lot of work never comes to anything, which I find a bit frustrating. It’s the drawing that gives me the biggest buzz, so mostly that’s where I concentrate my time and energy.
DD: What’s your favorite picture book character that you’ve ever created?
LC: I don’t have a specific favourite, but I definitely enjoy villains rather than goodies. You can have so much more fun with their body language and facial expressions. Who wouldn’t want to illustrate a fierce but inept dragon; or a wolf who likes to mug travellers; or a child-eating anaconda… loads of fun!
DD: Well, of course I love that one because it includes a sheep! So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty now. I love buying and using different kinds pens and trying out different kinds of sketchbooks. What’s your favorite kind of sketchbook or paper?
LC: When I’m creating a picture book, I always work onto 300gsm Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, which has a pleasing texture. I like a soft, dusty pink colour called Rose Fonce.
When I am urban sketching, I mostly use watercolour paper these days, because I have got very into sploshing lots of paint around. I am trying to train myself to stop buying cheap sketchbooks just because they are a bargain!
I am really into concertina sketchbooks just now, which I make myself. I like how I can make my sketches flow into one another with no clear ends or beginnings, so the artwork is a bit like real life: it just flows along, telling a story, with one thing nudging into the next.
DD: What’s your favorite kind of pen for drawing?
LC: My super-favourite pen is my Sailor. It’s a Japanese calligraphy pen, but it is perfect for sketching, because it glides in all directions and gives you a huge range of line widths so, rather like using a dip pen, you can do really expressive drawing.
DD: Cool. I’ve been playing with an Ahab from Noodler’s Ink lately. It has a flexible nib so it gives different line widths too. It’s so much fun to experiment with. I also like it because it can use waterproof ink so I can put watercolor washes over my drawings. What techniques do you use for adding color to your picture book illustrations?
LC: My picture books are always coloured in pastels. The trick with pastels is to work nice and big. You also have to work from back to front, starting with the background, then building up the foreground and characters, before finally adding the detail. I use pastel pencils at the end, to allow for any fine details like whiskers, eyes etc.
You can watch me demonstrate creating a piece of pastel artwork on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56YI_5_OUqs
DD: I’m not a professional artist, but I’ve been practicing and playing in sketchbooks for the past couple of years. For those who may want to take your class on Craftsy, do you need to be an artist or know how to draw before you start?
LC: Absolutely not. The class is specifically designed so that anybody can do it. I start by showing you how easy it is to build up characters using simple shapes. It is a technique that works for everyone.
If you are more experienced, that’s great, the class will hopefully give you lots of new tips for improving the way your characters communicate and move the way you want them to, but if you are a beginner, I promise: you will discover that you CAN draw and create some fabulous character sketches, which really come to life at the end of your pencil!
DD: Those are so much fun! My mom and I have both been taking your class and having a lot of fun with it. I’m trying to make a cartoon version of myself, and my mom is using her long-haired chihuahua as a model! Neither of us did any drawing since we were kids, and we just started again a year or so ago. Do you have any tips for those of us who are just starting out and learning to draw as adults?
LC: Practise, practise, practise! The more you do it, the quicker you will improve. Try not to be disheartened to start with – everyone has to create things which don’t quite work out, in order to get to the things which do.
Drawing is about learning from experience, discovering for yourself what kinds of marks you can make, to describe different things. It is also about looking carefully, so that you really see what’s there, rather than make assumptions.
It’s also about having fun. If you are starting out, why not start with a friend, so you can draw together?
DD: Yes, my mom and I live in different states in winter, but we send pictures back and forth in text messages. And we do go sketching together when we can. It’s always fun! Thanks again, Lynne. It’s been so much fun talking with you and I can’t wait to get back to Craftsy to watch the next lesson in your class and then break out the sketchbook and pencils to do my homework!
Remember, Lynne’s class is called “Expressive Picture Book Characters” and it’s fun for everyone, with or without previous drawing experience.