Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Back to the drawing board, back to watercolors

Over the last few years, since finishing school, finding and creating an illustrator community has been essential to my work. I remember professors at school saying things along the lines of “when you’re done with school the only person who is going to care about your work is going to be you.” There were a few things, I think, that they wanted to get across with statements such as this one. But the way I would like to interpret this statement, in relation to this post, is to emphasize the importance and the value of maintaining critical analysis of our work as illustrators.

Luckily, for me, by the time I finished school I had already attended my first regional SCBWI event and shortly after found a group of illustrators with whom I connect with regularly. Going to the SCBWI conferences and sharing work with others has been key to the positive growth of my illustration work. Of course, I practice every day, I take on as many assignments as I can, and set goals for myself, but an essential part of my craft has been the progression of my ability to critique my own work while recognizing feedback that helps me find my way.

This brings me to Kidlit Artists. As this is my first post, I would like to say that I am so happy and honored to be part of this group where we can all share, discuss, and fine-tune our craft. I can only hope to be able to bring something to this table, full of amazing artists, and look forward to sharing this journey with you all.

The illustration in the works here, is one that was meant to be a Halloween themed postcard. In the end, I don’t think I was able to reach the quality that I was looking for. But as I go through the process, I will point out the positive aspects of the piece that kept me excited about it, and the negative ones that ultimately made me start a new postcard illustration.

I started with thumbnail sketches to figure out the composition. Once I had a “good” idea I did a quick and loose drawing in ink that became my guide in the creation of the final pencil drawing. This little drawing had exactly the right mood I wanted for my final piece. Don’t worry I eventually figure out I’m missing the second “e.”

After finishing the drawing, everything still feels pretty good and I move onto a small color study in watercolors. (Even after the illustration was completely finished, parts of the process, like this drawing and the small ink thumbnail, can feel closer to what I really wanted in the end than the finished piece itself.)

Around this time, I think about adding a banner behind the character. So, I do a quick sketch in Photoshop to see what it could be like. I like the way it looks, but I think I decided against it because it might have gotten too busy and I already had the text in the pumpkin to worry about.

From this watercolor color study I start to notice that the pumpkin might need some black ink to blend with the rest of the piece a little better.

When working traditionally I usually do a small section of the illustration as a practice run. This helps me figure out if I will be able to get the colors and effects I’m looking for.

After applying the masking fluid, the first passes of blue look pretty good. On the next image you can see I’ve already pushed the blue too far. Looking back on this, maybe this could have been a good place to start over. But…

the idea for this postcard came sometime in October, maybe even mid October. This was going to be my first mailer with my agent, with whom I had recently signed. I wanted to be able to get the postcards out in time and I wanted the illustration to be great, so, I stayed positive and carried on.

Thanks to all the great feedback of the past year, I’m happy to be concentrating again on working with watercolors. Though it was a bit tough getting back into it, I’m glad I finished this piece, and have finished a few more since. There are many parts of it that I’m very happy about. A couple of examples would be the head and hat of the character and how it contrasts against the blue background, and simpler details like the lighting on the shoulder pads. The process itself is always satisfying and encouraging, too. But I did not end up using this image for my postcard.

Every time I go through this process I find a lot of information that I can carry over onto my next piece. The same goes with all the feedback I’ve collected over the years. Every little bit helps me get closer to defining my voice as an illustrator. And being able to collect all that good information is as important, in my craft, as being able to put the brush to the paper.

 I’ll end my first post with this, anyone have any feedback on this piece?

---Rodolfo Montalvo


  1. Thank you for sharing your process, Rodolfo. It looks great!

  2. Great post. Love seeing your process, Rodolfo.