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Studio Views: Paint & Pixels

Hinds_romeoThe standard advice young artists receive is that they must establish a consistent “style” (a word that encompasses a choice of medium, technique, manner of drawing, and problem-solving approach). In general I think this is very good advice, but I’ve never been able to settle down with one set of materials and one technique for creating my artwork. Call it restlessness or call it flexibility, but it was an asset when I worked in video games, and I think it helps my graphic novels, too. Each work I adapt and illustrate has its own character, and the feel of each new story is often radically different from the last. Romeo & Juliet is so different from Beowulf or Macbeth that it seems wrong to use the same technique to illustrate them. I prefer to explore a bit and let the book tell me in what style it wants to be drawn.

For these reasons, it’s hard to speak about my favorite medium. Like Chris Raschka, my favorite just might be the next one. However my experiments with materials tend to have at least these two things in common:

#1— Texture. I love materials with texture. Whether it be the feathery strokes of acrylic applied with a slightly dry brush, the particles of pigment settling into cold press paper in a nice wet watercolor wash, the spattering of ink with an old toothbrush, or wood grain showing through washes of translucent acrylic, I really love to see paint interacting with a surface. It’s much more satisfying to me than, say, a flat color fill, a clean-edged Photoshop “brush” stroke, or a perfectly smooth gradient — common hallmarks of artwork created on a computer. In spite of that preference, my work is often…

#2— A blend of digital and traditional. I don’t enjoy drawing with a plastic pen on a plastic tablet for hours on end. However, working on the computer gives me the flexibility to make changes easily and experiment quickly with new compositions and colors. Most importantly, it saves me time. If I can shave fifteen minutes of work off every page of a 250-page book like The Odyssey, that adds up to a lot of hours!

For this reason, I often try to mix the best qualities of traditional and digital, but I change the balance each time, and I like it when the reader can’t tell which parts are which. For Romeo & Juliet, I did rough sketches digitally with InDesign, created the line art in Manga Studio, then printed my drawings on heavy paper and painted them with watercolor and acrylic. Conversely, for my new book Macbeth, I’m drawing the line work traditionally (with pencil on paper), scanning those drawings, then coloring them in Photoshop using layers of translucent ink wash textures to get the results I want.

Sometimes physical space is a consideration in my choices as well. I particularly loved painting part two of Beowulf on wood panels, but the thirty-two pieces I did for that book fill two large and heavy boxes. If I’d painted all 250 pages of The Odyssey on wood, we’d have had to rent a bigger apartment! I do hope to return to that medium one day, but it’ll have to be when I’ve got a picture book to illustrate. Until then, my graphic novels will continue to be a hybrid of paint and pixels.

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Illustration. Click on the tag Studio Views for more illustrators.

About Gareth Hinds

Gareth Hinds’s latest book is Macbeth (Candlewick).

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