Stephen Collins is the illustrator of the fabulous, The Dinosaur Awards, written by Barbara Taylor. It’s a fantastic, must-have tome for ALL dino fans – filled with unusual facts presented in the most glorious way. So. Indeed. OF COURSE. I asked the talented illustrator, Stephen Collins, to step into MyBookCorner and share his creative process with us. The result is a wonderful insight into the creation of this glorious picture book. Come, take a look…
If I told my 6 year-old self that one day he would get to illustrate a whole book about dinosaurs, he’d have been over the moon. So when the call first came from Frances Lincoln offering this job, I knew I owed it to the kid who called himself “Stephen the Class Dinosaur Expert” to dive right in.
The Dinosaur Awards is the latest in Frances Lincoln’s ‘awards’ series (The Animal Awards and The People Awards being the previous titles), and it comprises a lavishly illustrated bonanza of dino-facts with some funny comic strips thrown in.
Written by Barbara Taylor, the science of this book is as up-to-the-minute as it gets. The illustrator’s job is therefore to honour the science as much as possible by researching every detail of how these animals might have looked – and where that can’t be ascertained, you have to make as educated a guess as possible!
In practise this meant an awful lot of preparation and revisions to the drawings. I would make a detailed rough sketch, send that through to Barbara with a list of questions (“Did I get this foot right? Did this one have feathers?”) and then amend the illustrations multiple times as the drawings went on.
Sometimes this would mean starting a whole drawing again from scratch. The cover illustration was drawn at the very start of the process, and redrawn several times as the interior illustrations were completed, because I was learning more about the dinosaurs and revising the details as I went.
One example that stands out was Tsintaosaurus, whose horn has been completely repositioned by palaeontologists in recent years. My early drawings of this dinosaur had the horn positioned in the old style – sticking out of its head like a unicorn. But after guidance from Barbara and a deep dive into an up-to-the-minute palaeontology paper, I found I had to reposition the horn into more of a streamlined positioning: less for display, and more for communication, being blown through like a backwards-facing trumpet! I then had to go back to the cover and redraw the Tsintaosaurus there as well.
Stylistically, I soon found I had to balance my own illustration style with the necessary detail of a book about dinosaurs. My work is usually quite simple and reductive, but with the science needing to be communicated accurately, I found I had to develop a mid-point between how I draw and how these animals looked. No place for both eyes on one side of the head here! This book needed to look fun, but also scientifically precise, and balancing the two was the main focus of every page.
The best way to create this book was digitally, using the Procreate drawing app on an iPad Pro. Usually my process incorporates traditional paints and pencils on paper, but I knew from the start that because of the science involved, it would be better to have everything made in an easily editable format – and digital was perfect for that.
However despite using digital techniques, I made sure that the artwork looked traditional as possible – always using gouache and pencil ‘brushes’ to mimic my on-paper style as much as the technology would allow.
Frances Lincoln made such a beautiful job of this book, and Karissa Santos and Lucy Brownridge were a fantastic team to work with. I was so delighted with how it looked when I got my first copies through, and so were my three young children: my first review was “this looks great, Dad!”.
I’ve learned a lot on my prehistoric journey through The Dinosaur Awards, and it’s great to think that children and their parents have all that learning ahead of them too. I hope you enjoy our book.