Katie and I have been doing a lot of talking with each other about outlining these days. And, as we've been talking about outlining our novels, especially when Katie told me about looking at a dress form as a type of outline (go back and look at this post) . . . it hit me.
I'm having to learn how to outline my illustrations.
Here's a sketch I've been working on for an SCBWI conference contest (we're supposed to illustrate a classic fairytale). This is my "outline". I've been doing most of my sketching on my computer. This enables me to change things easily, to erase, and move things around. This is all happening before any paint hits the paper. (Yikes, and now that I've posted this, I see some major changes that I need to make!!)
It is a huge change for me to work this way. When I work as a fine artist with my big drippy paint brush, there are no rules or parameters. Not really. I can paint a landscape any way I want to--if I want the sky to be pink, then I paint it pink. If I want there to be a gnarly old cedar tree in the foreground, I put one there. It doesn't matter what's really out there in the world. I'm creating a new world on the canvas--one I completely control. And, since I usually paint using acrylics, I can put layer upon layer of paint, covering and redoing as I go along until I have a balanced composition. A finished piece.
With illustrations, there ARE parameters. You are constrained by the story that you (or someone else) is telling. If the text describes a little girl in a black dress, then I pretty much have to paint a little girl in a black dress. If she's unhappy, then I'd better show her with a sad face. If she's opening a window later in the story, I'd better be sure that I paint a window in the room.
While there is still some freedom with illustrating, I can't just make up the painting as I go along. There are certain things that have to be shown, and if I don't plan for them, I end up with a hot mess. And, then I have to start over. Completely.
This has been a hard process for me to learn. I like to paint quickly, freely--I don't like feeling boxed in. But, I've found that the rewards are huge--the planning really pays off. I don't throw away as many illustrations anymore. I put much more thought in what I'm doing--each brushstroke has become intentional. I actually think each time I'm about to touch the paper with my brush, What is this bit of color going to do to the overall composition? What is this going to do to the action on the page?
I do still allow for freedom and happy accidents to happen on my paper. But, I'm learning to allow these accidents to happen within the framework of a story.
Outlining . . .