Johanna Basford’ Enchanted Forest colouring book features a number of pages where a single featured animal or item is drawn ‘floating in space’. This makes for quick easy pages in between her more complex, detailed ones. Quick and easy unless you’re me. As beautiful as those stand alone images are, you know the ones I’m referring to: the fox, the treasure chest, the dragon fly, I just can’t wrap my head around leaving them suspended in a void. Well, maybe the dragon fly, because, you know, it flies. 🙂
So I have spent some time pondering what i can do to ground my next picture, the deer with those enormous curled antlers. It had me stumped. So much so that I skipped it and forged ahead until a suitable idea presented itself. I have seen some lovely renditions of mountains and snow scenes and even a Christmas scene worked around it. I even googled a stack of mountain in the distance kind of pictures to try and prod my muse. Nothing really seemed to appeal to me. Regardless I forged ahead and started planning for a picture of a plain with a stream and a couple of mountains in the background. And then one evening I had an epiphamy: the book was about a forest therefore the deer HAD to be in a forest! With very little planning beyond the idea of a lot of trees and maybe a waterfall I plunged into the picture with my light blue sketch pencil and created a forest scene with a waterfall behind the deer. Don’t try this at home, kids… you should always plan these kind of things on a separate piece of paper before committing them to your precious books as I SHOULD have done.
This was the result:
Just for a heads up: this is the process I use to create almost all of my good drawings. In this case I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted so I didn’t use any reference photos. Normally reference photos and preliminary sketches are a must before attempting something this complex. Once I was happy with the loose placement of all the features i wanted I went ahead and refined the sketch with a graphite (gray lead) pencil.
When I was happy with the refined lines I crossed my fingers and committed myself to inking the picture. I used a Unipin 0.2 fineliner for this job as it delivers a nice firm fine line. There are many good quality fineliners on the market that would work just as well but I love my Unipins. I worked slowly and carefully to get nice lines that matched Johanna’s work. It was important to me that the background and the original picture gelled together as one image.
The inking complete I erased the blue and graphite lines reserving the waterfall lines as a guide for colouring later. By this time I had some pretty good ideas about what colours I was going to use. I started with the birds making them bright and colourful.
Next I tackled the background. I wanted the feeling of greeness rising up to a pale yellow light to give the impression of a deep lush forest. I chose a dull blueish green to suggest distance Then I worked on the trees giving them a rough bark surface. The leafy plant is a brighter shade of blueish green to bring it forward. This is using colour to suggest depth. The distance will be duller and more blueish while closer objects are warmer and brighter. That is why mountains in the distance look dull purply-blue even though they may be covered with bright green foliage. Something to keep in mind when choosing colours for a landscape picture. 🙂
I felt the need to spread some brighter colour around to properly define my palette for this picture so I added the bright green foliage. I needed to define the rocks so I took up my beloved blue grey Derwent artist pencil (I seriously love this pencil shade… my favourite for creating shadows) and blocked in shadows on the rocks. I also used a light lemon yellow colour to add some sunlight striking the rocks and the plants. Now we’re getting somewhere!
Completed the deer in rich tones of browns and orange. Not sure if there is a stag with this kind of coat colouration but he is supposed to be a mystical animal afterall.
The waterfall had me stumped. I have never coloured a waterfall with pencil before. In fact I can’t remember, outside of a single experiment using photoshop, ever colouring a waterfall ever! So this had me stumped. In the end I decided to go with bright blue, even though it is not a realistic colour in this circumstance, because I wanted it to look magical and bright blue would contrast with the deer’s orange coat and make him pop. I winged applying the colour to the water… made it up as I went along. The falling water needed to look sort of blurry to suggest speed and the surface of the pool needed to look choppy to suggest water movement. I finished the water off by adding white gel pen sparkles to suggest spray and diffused light hitting the water behind the deer.
I am quite happy with the result. I will be adding backgrounds to more of Johanna’s pictures in the future. But not today. 🙂 This was a mammoth task. I think I’ll go back to some simpler stuff for a while. I hope you enjoyed my colouring walk through. If you would like me to do more of these here leave me a comment below. Happy Colouring!