In the Studio with Diane Ewen
last updated 26 October 2022
For this months installment of In the Studio, we caught up with the terrific Diane Ewen to talk all about her illustrations for There Was a Young Zombie Who Swallowed a Worm, written by Kaye Baillie, published by Macmillan Children’s Books.
The story begins
When I received the offer for the story The Zombie Who Swallowed a Worm to illustrate, I loved it immediately.
I thought the text was so funny but initially I was unsure how I was going to approach the little Zombie character. My main consideration was how could I incorporate a little ethnicity into him.
I raised the question with the publishers; asking if the author saw this character as a particular ethnicity. It’s probably a strange question and the reply came back as a “not necessarily”, the only fundamental thing about Zombie boy was that he should be cute.
My thinking was that, apart from having a Zombie like colour such as a pale green skin colour, I would add an Afro hairstyle under his bandages.
I felt my own limitations lift at this point and I produced these two characters samples.
I hinted to Grace when I submitted them that I had a favourite, and I was glad when she and Lydia (the designer) came back and said they liked it too. That was how Zombie boy was born. I really enjoyed working on all the other characters because each one came with its own strong character traits.
I don’t do thumbnails
I know a lot of artist illustrators who are meticulous ‘ thumbnailers’, which I quite envy. I really don’t know why I don’t do it more as I did initially, when I started out as an illustrator. It’s that process that people say that you need to do but I was finding it annoying. I couldn’t remember what the squiggles were when I went back over them. I found that if I did larger, more comprehensive drawings that I could go back and understand what I was thinking because it had a little more detail than a thumbnail.
You’ll find that I just get straight to placing solid ideas in the reality of the layout. I do always whisper to myself - ‘I can always change this’ - as I’m working through the layouts, so initial roughs are not precious and as ideas flow, changes are inevitable.
I work in a variety of ways and methods depending on what I need to convey in the spread. It is always a mixture of digital and traditional.
This usually involves a sketchbook, sometimes watercolour paints, an iPad, my old Wacom drawing tablet and my Mac - oh, and my dip pen!
I usually start my process by getting the main and facial features of my character finished to a good level. This most definitely means drawing and colouring, so I can see how their colour, facial features and emotions are expressed on their faces. I do what animators do, which is to draw the head of my main character in three directions: with face forward, side of face views and their profile. If each one works, I tend to feel more relaxed about the project and more confident to move on to the rest of the book. This process will be repeated for each major character in the book and has become a major part of my process, the vital building block.
So, what I do next and all the way through the book is to flip between drawing the components to the spreads in my sketch book and then scanning them into the computer or just drawing on them straight onto my iPad using Procreate and syncing each image to the Mac where I adjust size and place into the layout.
This is one of the final spreads for the book. I’ve picked this one to show, as this spread was the one that took the most time for me to be satisfied with even though it is the very first spread in the book: it was the one I started to work on first and pretty much the last one to be completed.
There were so many layers created for this spread to get that ethereal, spooky feel and look about it. I particularly love how the sky turned out. I flipped it left, then right, then back and forth, until we agreed that the Zombie should be in its current position, effectively the first thing you see when you look at the spread. It was so much fun doing this book.
I do also create my own patterns, either drawn or painted in watercolour which are then made into patterns that I use on my characters. You will notice that the Zombie has his own particular patterned shirt.
The front cover was also fun to do and as you can see, I got carried away with these line drawings and trying out how the Zombie would look in various poses.
I’m so happy how about this book, its fun it had its challenges but in the end I think I appreciate it because of that. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world and in the hands of children who I hope will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating the illustrations for it.
To work with Diane, get in contact with us here.