Each letter/page begins with research and collecting reference images. I’ll sketch a very rough layout based on the number of animals I’ve selected for the specific letter to help me visualize poses and composition.
Then I’ll start sketching an original pose of each individual animal using the reference photos for guidance with a blue colored pencil on tracing paper. Once I get the pose nailed down, I'll tighten up the line using a technical pencil with HB lead.
Tracing paper is wonderful for “onion skinning”. This technique allows me to place each animal in the composition to see if my vision works, then make adjustments as needed without having to redo the entire image. Once I’ve settled on the placement of each animal, I’ll tape down each scrap, place a large piece of tracing paper over the composited layout and draw the entire piece by hand.
Final step in the drawing process is to add the foliage. I'll use the same onion-skinning process: Place a sheet of tracing paper over the drawn animals, sketch in the plants with a blue pencil, then finish with the technical pencil.
The next step is to scan the drawing into my computer, which has to be done in two scans and spliced together in Photoshop. I’ll export the scanned image to use as a base for the final line drawing. These drawings are so incredibly detailed even the minimal bleed of a fine-line technical ink pen on hot-press illustration board would cause lines to bleed into one another. To prevent this, I pull the scanned image into Illustrator and retrace every single line in the drawing using the pen tool. This additional step adds an enormous amount of extra work, but the resulting consistency and clarity in line quality is well worth the effort.
The artwork is basically complete (on the left below). But I still made a number of minor modifications. Can you spot the changes (on the right)?
For the Letter A, because it was the first illustration, I was trying to figure out exactly the right line width to accommodate the printer. I took the artwork to Kinkos to have them output a copy of the file on their large-format printer. Worth noting that for line work like this project, Kinkos is a great way to see how well your illustration will print because their printers are nowhere near the quality of a professional printer. If the line quality looks good with lesser-quality equipment, you can rest assured it will look stunning after a professional printer works his magic. As a result, I wound up reducing the line widths three times (which added two more trips to Kinkos and another ten hours to the roughly 60 it took to get to this stage).
The illustration is complete. The final step in this process was to create the animal group silhouette and design the layout for the informational page then prep the file for the printer.
All told, the Letter A required over 70 hours to complete.