Confession – I am a Primary Teacher and not necessarily an illustrator in the traditional sense. I didn’t go to Art School, I went to Strathclyde University and studied Primary Education and then worked in various schools as a Class Teacher.
However, I have always been creative but never found a way to channel my creativity in one direction. Looking back I have always dabbled in lots of creative ways but never fully focussed on one. When I decided to focus on creating a picture book I knew I was going to need to learn how to become an illustrator. That’s not easy when you have three kids at home and zero capacity for going back to being a student. So I had to find an alternative way to learn. For me the obvious place to start was YouTube. It was where I had always gone to learn little things like ‘how to fix the dishwasher’ or ‘how to use a computer’ but now I wanted it to teach me how to be an illustrator.
I started with learning how to use water colours paint and started with pictures of the sky.
I then moved on to creating watercolour trees. There are loads of videos for using watercolour paints for just about anything – in fact I think you can probably find anything you want on YouTube these days. I did ask myself whether this was ‘copying’ but interestingly most of the time what I would paint would never be exactly like the video or art I had watched, it would always be my own version.
While YouTube was great for breaking down the process, social media also allowed me to explore what other illustrators (who had actually gone to Art School) were doing. They would use different art techniques which I would then search for and try via YouTube. It was a great way to experiment and find out what I liked and disliked. This was the early stages of starting to find my own unique style. This is a process that I highly recommend for anyone who is starting out. Explore and investigate how illustrations you like are made, then see if you can do it.
For example, how did Eric Carle make ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’? Or what did Quentin Blake use to draw ‘Mr Magnolia’? And these are only the well-known illustrators. Look for illustrators that you personally love, then figure out why you love the work and start there.
Having tried several illustration techniques I stuck with watercolour, pencil and a bit of crayon (I just love crayon because it reminds me of being a kid). Once I had created several illustrations for the story I wanted to make then digital so I turned to YouTube again and searched ‘How to make your illustrations digital’ (yes, it’s that easy!) and discovered there were two possible options;
1. Photograph the work with a high quality camera (these days a phone probably does the job too)
2. Use a scanner
I opted for the scanner option (I use a CanoScan LIDE 220) as I was able to find one on Amazon for £75 that would do the job. However, I was about to face my biggest challenge….
Can you make a book without this? I am not sure that you can. For me this was the final piece of the puzzle. I was going to need to master Photoshop in order to edit all my work and then use InDesign to create a book. Photoshop came with lots of videos but what I loved about YouTube is that it’s usually normal(!?) folk breaking everything down into really easy steps. Nothing fancy, just literally someone saying ‘click this button’ or ‘just do this’. Yet again it taught me the basics of what I needed to know and off I went.
Truth be told I cried after two nights of trying and genuinely wondered if I had gone a step too far in trying to do this. Photoshop was really really REALLY hard.
Thankfully I kept going – mainly because I wanted to make a book so so so bad. Eventually things started to come together and I was able to start creating ‘pages’ and ‘spreads’. This was a big moment.
Being ‘self-taught’ gives me a real sense of ‘imposter syndrome’ ALL THE TIME. I never feel like I deserve the title ‘illustrator’ let alone ‘artist’ because I don’t feel like I have earned it. Yet, I have spent hours and hours learning, drawing and creating – true, not under the umbrella of an Art School, nor with the guidance of a physical human being – just YouTube.
There are challenges with this. There are times when I wish I could just ask someone. There are times when I wish that I could study art and meet other creators and learn with a group of people.
But YouTube has got me started, showed me the ropes and given me the guidance that I needed on this stage of my journey, and that’s all I really need right now.
I am a big advocate for supporting others on this journey so if you ever have any questions just send me a message or contact me via social media – don’t be afraid to ask the daft questions!
Until next time.