Picture Book Art: Meet the Illustrator Diane Ewen

Diane Ewen

When my brilliant agent, Freddie at the Bright agency, dropped me an email saying, wait for it … ‘I’ve just had such WONDERFUL news for you – Penguin Random House (PRH) absolutely love your style of artwork and are interested in you for a new picture book project!’ I was ecstatic! It was like all my artistic dreams were coming true.

The actual reality of becoming a picture book artist has seemed at many times to be an unrealistic ambition. For me, as for many authors and illustrators, this has been a long road full of rejection letters and dashed hopes. I always concentrated on my ability and love for art, and thought that would get me through. But each rejection began to erode my confidence. Then I applied to the Bright agency. I wasn’t hopeful at all; I’d just been half-accepted by one agent and then suddenly dropped. But Bright replied to me pretty quickly – and then came the words, “we’d love to represent you”. Shock and wonder! It didn’t take long after that for the offer to come through to work on my first picture book with Rashmi; when Never Show a T-Rex a Book appeared, it was absolutely amazing and a little scary too.

The story starts with a little girl imagining what would happen if a T-Rex was shown a book. This begins the adventure of Rashmi’s incredible, inquisitive T-Rex. The first thing I had to do was get to grips with the main character.

I think I knew immediately that T-Rex would wear glasses, so I tried out a few different frames, including a pair of large pink star-shaped ones which I thought were fabulous. However in the end, after a little tinkering, the ones in the book have a tiny star on each side which I think works much better. Looking back the pink ones would have been a bit over the top and complicated to work into all the spreads, especially when she goes into space and wears a helmet.

T-Rex with Pink glasses

Next I got the design brief, together with a first layout of the text. I keep text placement in mind as I’m drawing and composing the spreads. This is when my most creative thought process kicks in – this is also the hardest part for me as an illustrator. Once I have completed sketches of the main characters in action for a spread, I then work on the backgrounds. Everything gets scanned into Photoshop separately: using layers it is relatively easy to move characters or objects around, add things or take them away.

When this stage is complete, having been through feedback with my designer and Rashmi, I get to the colour stage. I must admit that I can be overzealous! I absolutely love colour and so many times I have to tone it down bit. Then the colour artwork is again sent to get feedback. Waiting for feedback slows down the main process for me, and I do feel anxious waiting. But as soon as it comes, it’s full speed ahead again.

Rashmi’s writing is full of adventure, and her T-Rex gets up to lots of exciting things, which was great for me as an illustrator. Drawing a character in lots of different situations is the best way for me to get to know them. The more I drew T-Rex, the more I got to grips with her.

Developing your ideas in different ways can be hard, but it pushes you as an illustrator to think even further outside the box. On the following example spread below I was playing around with the fact that quite a lot of books had to be included in the artwork. The end result wasn’t as exciting as I wanted: it lacked something. Then one day inspiration was triggered by an illustration by Ben Mantle for a book called Little Red Reading Hood written by Lucy Rowland. This solution meant drawing less books, but allowed me to add little bit of sparkle and magic, which in a way is what books can add to the lives of those who read them. Finished illustrations can end up being totally different to what you started out with.

Pg8-9 Before spread

The finished spread

There were so many fun bits that I enjoyed during making the book. I had a really great time drawing this mechanical hat that the T-Rex has made and wears whilst she’s learning how to play chess in the dead of night.

T-Rex with Mechanical Helmet

Creating other dinosaur characters was fun too. I particularly liked my Triceratops who started out as green but ended up purple in the finished book. I’d been experimenting with the colours of the other dinosaurs and I think Clare, my designer at PRH, mentioned that the Triceratops looked a little close in colour to T-Rex. So I tinkered bit more and finally decided that this shade of purple worked. It stood out against the others and gave him his own little personality.

Green Triceratops

Purple Triceratops

Never Show a T-Rex a Book took a fair few months to complete. The process for me began way back in 2018, which seems a very long time ago. The book was supposed to be launched way back in April this year but was delayed due to the pandemic, so I’m really excited about the 6th August release date.

Creating the illustrations for Never Show a T-Rex a Book was a wonderful and eye-opening experience. As someone that loves to go into their local bookshop and flick through picture books, I’d thought that it must be relatively easy to create the illustrations that go into them. But in fact the process – although great – is really hard work. The mental journey is quite exhausting, but in good way. There are a huge amount of people involved in the process of making a picture book. From Rashmi, the creator of the brilliant story to the wonderful people around me at my agency, Bright, sorting out the fine details and sharing wonderful news, to Clare, my designer, for being an amazing sounding board and providing such useful ideas.

It’s been an absolutely fabulous journey and a pleasure to work on Never Show a T- Rex a Book. I hope everyone gets a copy.

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