Ian Beck is Master of the Art Workers Guild and an outstanding illustrator of children’s books. In the first of this new BfK series in which illustrators explain the techniques and the thinking behind their work, Ian explains his approach.
The sequence of drawings I should like to analyse is to be found in Home Before Dark. It begins with a double spread; this image is bled out to the edge of the page. I like to use bleed sparingly; to balance the bled pages with those that keep the drawing confined in a shape or a rule. Using the full bleed is a bit like suddenly going ‘wide-screen’, it should ideally be a dramatic moment. In this case a sleeping child has dropped a Teddy Bear from her buggy, and mother and child have set off for home, leaving the bear on the path. The page before has been a contained drawing, and a drawing seen from a distance. Ideally in a picture book the turn of a page should bring a revelation or a surprise, in this case the first full bleed picture in the book. The copy on the page is very simple, one line; ‘Teddy was left all alone’. The teddy has previously been seen lying on the path, now he is standing up and looking fearful. There is an important atmosphere that must be conveyed by this picture, although it is quite lyrical it must have an undertow of menace. The late afternoon shadows creep across the page like lagged fingers towards the small figure of the bear. The viewpoint is from high up among the autumn trees, which are seen as foreground. I have laid several layers of blue and neutral grey washes across the paper, then I have layered yellows and reds across the area of the leaves, which I have then painted in using body colour or gouache. As with all my drawings there are any number of initial roughs and preparatory sketches, just getting the feel of the pose right. I work entirely from imagination, I like to trust the mixture of memory and imagination, I believe this somehow helps to get to the emotional essence of a pose, where a figure is concerned. The lines and hatchings I add last after the colours have been laid on, in order to keep the lines clear.
The double spread now turns over into two separate images contained within rules. The bear is seen peering through the dark iron railings of the park. This image is seen in a kind of forced perspective, with the bear way down at the bottom of the picture looking rather lost and forlorn. Here expression is important, and with the kind of iconic faces that I use I must try out several variations in rough form to get the feeling right. The essential thing here is dramatisation, the bear is trapped behind railings, we must make the most of this moment, with textures, like those on the railings themselves, and with lighting, the shadows across the path behind him, as well as with the point of view of the picture. The image on the opposite page is the same size, only now we are closer to the bear, and the perspective is reversed; from bird’s eye view, to worm’s eye view. We must also sense that the sky is darkening through the sequence of pictures, the bear must after all get home before dark.
Ian Beck’s books include Poppy and Pip’s Bedtime (HarperCollins), Round and Round the Garden compiled by Sarah Williams (Oxford University Press) and The Owl and the Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear (Transworld). Home Before Dark is published by Scholastic.