Friday, 11 November 2016
Bull's Breath and Scalping!
I often forget about the final little bit of my illustration jobs, even after all these years. It was especially easy this time, as there has been such a gap between finishing the actual pastel artwork for Class One Farmyard Fun and working on the scans, making them ready to drop into the final page layouts. Whenever I post off my huge package of pastel artwork, it feels like such an achievement, a relief to be honest, so that it always feels like my job is done.
Not so. Actually, the 'finishing' is not something everybody has to do. It's because I use pastels and many of the images need digitally cutting away from the background paper so they can be dropped onto plain colours, as a visual contrast to the full bleed illustrations. Normally this would be a straightforward part of the designer's job, but the pastel edge makes things tricky.
Sometimes there's just 2 or 3 weeks to wait before the scans of my pastel work come back from the repro house, but this time round, the publisher didn't pass them on to me until I was leaving for China. I had too many other things to do and they needed to do a mock up for the big book fair in Frankfurt, so couldn't wait for me to get back. The designer did their best and, given what a nightmare it can be in places, it looked pretty good. Good enough for the Frankfurt sales teams anyway.
Luckily it doesn't need to go to print until next week, so I have had the chance this week to tinker with anything I think I can improve on.
There are three main issues. One is the skin colour, which is so close to the colour of my background paper that it is hard to cut out with any of the automatic Photoshop tools. Which means you often have to nibble away manually at the edge of people's faces, to try and recreate the effect of the pastel texture:
Then there is the slight pink interference you often get on the edge, especially when you cut out a darkish colour from my textured pastel work and place it on another strong colour. It's because the chalk has a soft edge as well as a texture. I have to go round darkening off the very edge, so things sit better. Very tedious. This is how it looked after the designer had finished and how I then further tweaked it. I guess I'm just a bit of a perfectionist:
The final challenge is recreating shadows. Since I don't know what colour we are going to use as the ultimate background, I can't draw shadows in the right colour. So I draw something vaguely neutral in the chalk then, when it's dropped onto turquoise say, I have to alter the colour to a darker, dustier turquoise, until it looks right. Shadows are a bit of a nightmare to cut out anyway, because of the really soft smudgy edges, so often they have to be mocked up from scratch:
This particular book had yet another difficult issue: bull breath! The bull 'snorts out great jets of steam' on pretty much every spread once he gets angry. This is almost impossible to cut off the pink background. which is why, I assume, the designer put the main page, which features huge billowing clouds of steam, on pink, so they didn't need to do much cutting out! Sneaky.
On other pages we used all sorts of jiggery-pokery between us. I didn't like this bit that the designer had done though - the 'airbrush' look is so radically different from the pastel texture, that it looks a bit odd. So I did it again with my own version, keeping it to the original texture. You'll probably need to enlarge the picture to tell the difference:
I got really worried about one anomaly I spotted. The designer often reuses bits of the artwork for things like the title page. This time, she took the kids falling into the much heap (fun choice). Except, when I was tinkering with the cut edges of the artwork, I suddenly spotted one boy with half a head. I couldn't work out why the designer had done a Photoshop scalping job on him!
When I managed to talk to her, I discovered to my relief that the scalping was a by-product: she had been extending the muck heap slightly on that side of the piglet, because they were going to crop it. This is how it is going to look: