Thursday, 24 October 2013

Freya's Four Stages of Drawing

There's nothing better than knowing you've got another job to start when you finally finish the one that's running late. And I really can't imagine a better job than being an illustrator of children's books. But I've been noticing a bit of a cycle developing, and it seems to be spinning slower with each rotation.

I'm currently working on the first book in a series called "The Cleo Stories" written by Libby Gleeson and due for publication in 2014 by Allen & Unwin. This 64 page storybook was going to be quick and easy, but woah, there's a lot of drawing in a 64 page book. And I've rather extended the work load by having many full page colour drawings and a detailed aerial view on the endpapers (something left over from the 'anything is possible' period - see below).

I've noticed a series of stages I go through when illustrating a book. The first stage- the early excitement that comes with starting every new book when anything is possible- has well and truly passed now. This stage is characterised by scrawled interpretations of the interesting things you imagine in your head. They don't make any sense, but editors will pretend they understand exactly what is depicted.

Following this is the creation of 'roughs', which is simultaneously my favourite part of the process for the expressive and free drawings that result, but also the hardest because it can be so excrutiatingly difficult to solve the various problems creatively. This stage is where the first ideas are drawn up in slightly more detail to see if they work alongside the text and alongside each other. This is always much harder that expected. The lovely thing about this stage though is you don't have to draw the details you can't be bothered drawing - you only have to convey the general feeling. And there is a lovely freedom in this. Without exception, these drawings are always nicer than the next in the process.

Following this stage is the mind numbing period when everything must be drawn for the THIRD time, all the while trying desperately hard to pretend that it's the first time. Everything becomes slow and even though I sit at my desk and work, days pass without a useful line drawn. It's very hard to dodge the inevitable tightness that these drawings tend to have.

This stage can feel like an eternity but suddenly it morphs into a much more frantic period when I just need to get the blasted book finished. By this stage I'm left with all the drawings I didn't particularly like, and all those I couldn't work out in the earlier stages when there was some creativity flowing somewhere. And through sheer desperation, I make marks on the page that just have to do.

This is where I am at the moment.

But following this stage is the wonderful moment when colour is introduced and remnants of that early excitement return. I'm happy to say that I'm very, very close to arriving there. And so, I will return, in colour and full of positivity!


  1. Hi Freya,
    Thanks for posting this! I was actually coming on to ask if you could post something about your process and VIOLA! It was already here :)
    Can't wait to see the painting processes

    :) Val

    1. Hello Val!

      Fantastic! Though I think I really wrote more about my emotional process, but I guess that's part of the process too. Colour stuff is coming soon.


  2. Hi Freya, didnt mean to discredit the emotional - absolutely - imagine if we didnt have illustrators like you telling us that part of it. We (us trying to be illustrators) would be thinking the process is all perfect and wonderful and EASY.
    Look fwd to any insight :) Val

  3. I just discover you Freya after ordering a bunch of Kate Greenway winners from the library. I LOVE your work!

  4. Freya, how did you learn to draw and paint? I love your style and would love to learn.