Today it is the turn of a book cover design that I did as part of my college work, this one is for ‘Mythago Wood’ by Robert Holdstock . It is the first of a series that I enjoyed reading.
Up from his hole climbs our mouse ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-nw ), and this where he finds himself, on the edge of the world. The coast here is very rugged, being exposed to the full force of the Atlantic ocean, the waves take their tole on the cliffs. The geology here is sandstone and shale laid down in layers in an ancient lake and then pushed up millennia ago when land masses collided, so the sea wears away at the cliffs leaving strange formations exposed.
For this illustration I wanted to show not only the layers in the rocks but also the layers of life and activity so I have sea level, cliff top where our mouse adventure is happening and the sky above were the swallows swoop around above it all. To start, as usual, I have sketched out in watercolour pencil on Bockingford watercolour paper.
For the surf I have used a wax candle as a resist, It is not a particularly precise way of doing it but it gives a much softer edge than using masking fluid and on the watercolour paper produces beautiful textural effects.
I find getting the colour of the sea very difficult and it changes every time but eventually I settled for Coeruleum blue with a touch if Alizarin crimson to bring down the greenish hue and a lot of water so that I can build up the colour in layers giving the sea varied depth and softer edges.
Building up layers of paint and leaving it to dry in between, then adding more wax resist where needed and making the inside of the waves slightly darker.
The rocks and cliff were painted with various shades of grey, brown and green made using Ultramarine, Alizarin crimson and both Lemon yellow and Gamboge hue.
I filled the grassy North facing cliff with a green made from Ultramarine and Lemon yellow, dropping darker tones in before it dried for the shadows amongst the tufts. When it was dry I put in a few marks with the wax and then repeated the layer of paint. I added the flower heads in Gamboge hue and when they were dry I used the wax on top so that further layers would not dim the yellow.
I repeated the process for the foreground but using Gamboge hue in the green mix instead of the Lemon yellow, again allowing it to dry, adding marks and repainting.
Next I added more detail to the rocks, our mouse and another mouse with slightly browner fur.
And finally the swallows and a little more sea foam with white paint.
Will our mouse be any closer to getting home and what is that other mouse doing?
When we last saw our mouse he was being chased by an owl, ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-ni ) this is how he escaped.
Again these were painted right at the start and unfortunately I didn’t take any photographs of the process so I thought this time I would talk a little about the setting of the story and give you a glimpse of the finished page.
I have said before about how the idea for the story came about, after we caught mice in humane traps in our home and released them into the fields surrounding us. We live on the North Cornwall coast in an old farm house, we are surrounded by fields and are close to the sea so I am surrounded by everything I need to paint for the story. The fields are filled with sheep and cows, or planted with wheat or maize, or sometimes left empty to give them chance to recover. We can watch the plough in the Spring, the maize harvest in the Summer and the combine cutting the wheat in the early Autumn.
The hedgerows fill with wildflowers, celandine and primroses, bluebells and foxgloves, red-campion, stitch-wort, speedwell, hearts-ease and many many more. We are visited by over forty different species of birds, including a red legged partridge and the pheasant that knocks on the door to be fed. The year is marked by the first song of the skylark, the arrival of the swifts and swallows and when they depart, the return of the starlings. There are deer, foxes, badgers, weasels, bats, voles, shrews and of course various mice. The list of insects is endless. For the sake of the story some things overlap that usually would not and indeed some of the creatures have greater abilities than usual, for example mice are not known for their good eyesight.
Then there is the sea and our rocky coastline with it’s own collection of wildlife and scenery. Being close to the sea effects the weather, we don’t get as cold as other parts of the country but the wind from the Atlantic can cause terrible damage.
There are drawbacks to living here, the extreme weather is one of them. Isolation is another, getting anywhere takes a long time and of course not all the usual modern day services reach this far but we think it is a price worth paying.
So now you know where our story is set lets continue. We left our mouse running for his life trying to escape from the owl, luckily for him he falls down a hole. I decided that rather than painting a hole in the ground I would paint the inside of the hole in cross-section so we get to see what the mouse would see. There are animal burrows in the ground and over time things fall down them. As these fields have been farmed for hundreds of years I imagined that all sorts of things would have fallen in and I tried to add a few of them along with the stones and roots and insects. Having fallen in the hole our mouse needed to climb out, so I painted that as well. Also included is a little hint of what might happen next.
This is how the whole page should look when the book is finished, as I played with how the hole is seen I thought the writing should be different too.
The next part of the story was actually the first that I painted, even though it is in the middle of the tale. Whilst our mouse is trying to find his way home he is spotted by a Barn Owl and has to run for his life.
As usual the image is drawn out in watercolour pencil on the Bockingford paper.
I was worried about painting the wings, I had not tried before, so I worked on them first, if it didn’t work out it was then easier to start again, luckily it went ok. Most of the wings are white so what I actually had to paint were the shadows of where they overlapped and then just a few of the patterns that cross the feathers. Lastly the hint of the coloured feathers on the back that cover the wings when they are folded. I used salt on the wet paint to give the mottled effect and added some of the little black dots that cover the feathers.
Next, the shadows on the body and tail to give the owl a more three dimensional appearance and the top of the head again with salt for the mottled effect. The eyes are dark and concentrate on the mouse and the claws are exaggerated to increase the awareness of the danger that our mouse is in.
For the mouse I tweaked the perspective to emphasise the speed and the panic as he tries to escape and made the rabbit small as he disappears into the background making his getaway.
And then the dandelions, I think I could paint them in my sleep now I have done so many but these were the first.
Lastly the dots of light in the owls eyes, it makes all the difference.
So what happens next? Does he escape? Yes, of course he does, see how very soon.
It has been a long while since my last blog ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-mr ) but sometimes life happens. So to continue my mouse story, this is where the mouse sets about trying to get home, he tries to talk to anyone he sees. As usual I transferred the design onto the watercolour paper using watercolour pencils. The mouse is stood in the field looking up at some birds on a wire, you may remember the starlings from a while back, well they are the upper half of this scene.
The mouse was painted first again using a mix of French Ultramarine with a little Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre, doubling the layers for the darker areas. Then I gave the dandelion flowers a light yellow wash so that I didn’t lose them amongst the greenery and used a white wax crayon do draw little stars on the seed heads.
Next using a very watered down mix of the mouse colour I painted over the seed heads and dropped a touch of the stronger mix in the middle. The wax resist remains white and just hints at the little umbrellas attached to the seeds and the darker area in the middle is the old flower head. I mixed a basic paint for the leaves of French Ultramarine and Lemon Yellow and used this for the start of all the other greens adding either more Ultramarine or Lemon Yellow or Gamboge Hue, or Coeruleum blue and sometimes Alizarin.
It is a long process building up all the layers of green but it is just a matter of filling them in and adding shadows. I used the white wax crayon again on the flowers, little dots and lines to represent the petals and then painted over with the Gamboge Hue. The soil is little squiggles of various colours mixed with Alizarin or Yellow Ochre and tiny dots and splodges of greens for the smaller weeds and mosses, with added tiny pebbles.
The page in the book will have the starlings, https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-gk ,at the top so I have made a mock up of what I hope it will look like.
The fields of Cornwall are bounded by Cornish hedges this may sound obvious but it really isn’t. A Cornish hedge is a wall. It may be just a wall or it may be a wall with a hedge on top or a wall with trees on top or a wall with a whole mixture of things growing on, in or through it. Sometimes you cannot tell there is a wall at all as it has become so overgrown and looks like a huge bank with a complete ecosystem growing on top of it. Here are just a few examples.
These are the type of hedges/walls that surround the fields around our house and this is where our mouse runs to after he has been released, ( https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-kK ) they are the ideal place for him to hide.
As usual I drew out my illustration using watercolour pencils
Then I added some of the wildflowers and grass.
At last I could start the painting. I decided to paint the mouse first so that I could judge the colours in the wall better to ensure that the mouse would stand out. Each block of the wall was painted separately by flooding the area with water and then dropping in colour which would spread and merge together to create a natural effect. Then I sprinkled on a small amount of table salt to make random patterns.
I will not go into what colours were used for each block (the blog would be never ending) but over all I used Coeruleum blue, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson and the same mixture of grey that I used for the mouse which is French Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre. The mouse colour is much lighter on the wall because it is just dropped into clean water and dissipates.
Once I had done a few blocks and some started to dry I painted the cracks and some of the spaces between them with a stronger version of the mouse mix.
Then it was the grass and wildflowers which were painted using various mixes of green using French Ultramarine, Coeruleum blue, Lemon yellow and Gamboge Hue. The Mouse was finished using a very faint mix of Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre for the ears and feet, the deep shadow mix for the eye with a white dot for reflection and the whiskers were drawn on with a gunmetal grey watercolour pencil.
Where does our mouse go from here?
After a much longer break than anticipated I am back to the mouse book that I started quite a while back. Below are my sketches for the first two images, as I mentioned in my blog back in April, https://wp.me/p7Ohdq-j7 , the story is about a mouse’s adventures after he is caught and removed from the house.
The first painting is of the mouse in the boiler cupboard, it seems to be one of their favourite places, we even found a shrew in there once which was very vocal about being removed.
As usual I drew out the image on Bockingford paper with a pale purple watercolour pencil so that it washes away once the paint is added.
As the cupboard is dark I mixed Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson and Lemon Yellow watercolour to make a dark grey to paint the inside shadowy areas and the back of the door. To contrast the inside with with the outside I used a mixture of Lemon Yellow and Gamboge Hue to represent the light from the room outside. Once dry, I painted another layer of the grey to increase the depth of the shadows inside the cupboard. The old piece of paper on the back of the door was painted with Yellow Ochre and a little touch of Ultramarine.
Next was the pipework which was painted using Cadmium Red, Ultramarine and Gamboge Hue, to make a dark coppery colour and for the joints I added extra Gaboge Hue for a lighter brassy look. The shadows were added using more of the grey mixture. For the mouse I used Ultramarine, a small amount of Alizarin Crimson and Yellow Ochre which tends to granulate and gives a nice texture for the fur, and I dabbed off with tissue for the lighter areas. The mouse’s shadow was painted using the same grey as the inside of the cupboard and for the mousetrap I used a watered down version of the pipework mixture. Finally I added the little details and shadows and used a black watercolour pencil on the eye and around the joints of the pipes.
The second image is the same scene looked at from the outside of the cupboard, so the room is painted with the mixture of Lemon Yellow and Gamboge Hue and the dark cupboard with the grey mix. The rest was just adding a few details to the room with the mouse trap and the jar of peanut butter to hint at what the smell was that brought the mouse out of the safety of the cupboard. This image also expresses just how small the little mouse was out in the big wide world.
Here are the two finished paintings, the start of the story where the mouse is tempted out and gets caught in the trap.
And here are the sketches for the next two images where the mouse travels in the trap and is released.
For some time now a story I started about a mouse has been in limbo while other things were worked on. So now I am determined to complete my little book and thought that It would be interesting to share the process, it might take a while so here goes.
We sometimes have a problem with mice in the house, so we have humane mousetraps permanently set up in a few places where mice have been caught before, I check them every morning just in case we have had a visitor. There have not been any so far this year but in previous years we have caught quite a few. When we do catch one we take it up the road away from houses and release it into a hedge. The mice usually bound away but occasionally they have to be coaxed out and sometimes they run into the shadow of the person releasing them. As a family we have talked about what we think that the mice might get up to once they are released and what adventures they may have, so it occurred to me that these ideas would work nicely as a picture book.
Some of these photos are a little blurry, the mouse moves fast!
So my story is about a mouse that we caught in the house and then released up the road and all of his adventures until he finds his way back to the house again. I have done some of the work a little while back so much of the research has been done and some drawings and even a few paintings but I will try to work chronologically so the story can be followed as it grows.
Lots of mice were drawn
And some painted.
Over the next few weeks I will be working on the start of the story, I have rough sketches drawn and now I need to translate them into finished scenes.
Rough Sketches 1 and 2 waiting to be transformed into finished pages.