In the Studio with Gareth Conway
last updated 16 December 2022
For this months installment of In the Studio, we caught up with the brilliant Gareth Conway to talk all about his illustrations for Greg the Sausage Roll: The Perfect Present, written by LadBaby, aka Mark and Roxanne Hoyle, published by Puffin.
After the huge success of the first Greg book (Sunday Times number 1 best seller on first week of release and a nomination for a British Book Award) to say I was feeling a little bit of pressure when I started The Perfect Present is a bit of an understatement.
Once again there was a quick turnaround needed for the artwork of this book, but I do find that I work better with those sort of time constraints. So, from when I first started scribbling my thumbnails and character designs to when the final art was sent in, I worked on Greg book 2 for approximately twelve weeks, that was about three weeks for character design, thumbnails and roughs and then nine weeks for finished, colour art with a few gaps in-between whilst waiting for approvals.
I work entirely digitally using Photoshop and a Wacom Cintiq 22” screen, this is the most efficient way of working for me and, with the right brushes, I feel that I can do everything I need to and as quickly as I need to do it.
I started roughing out some ideas for the new characters in book 2. A gingerbread man, some mischievous mini sausage rolls and a Head elf, who changed several times through the production of the book and eventually became the wondrous and approved by the man himself (as long as he was given a muscly physique! Ha ha) ‘Elf Sheeran’.
While those designs went off for approval I got cracking on thumbnail sketches for the story. These are very simple scribbles just to get an idea of what is needed on each spread, composition and to make sure that the images flow nicely throughout. Mostly these stay roughly the same from start to finish but sometimes things don’t work, and I can change them very easily before I’ve gone into too much detail.
When everyone was happy with the thumbnails, I was able to work into them a bit more to create the rough drawings, this is when I can think more about the details of each spread and start to get things like poses and facial expressions a bit more refined. Sometimes the layout of the spreads can change, and the text might change too, which can all have an effect on the artwork and where I leave space for text or what is happening in the pictures.
Once the roughs are approved, I can get on with the finished, colour artwork. I go through all the spreads drawing the line art first of all, usually in black on the white background (I’ll change the colour of all the lines later). When that’s all done, I will start by ‘blocking’ in the base colours for each spread. So, for example, when colouring Santa, I will just add red for his clothes, pink for his face etc etc and do the same for everything else. After all of that I will go back through and add shading and texture to all the base colours. It sounds like a long-winded way of doing things, but it means that I can make sure the colours work from spread to spread and only then have to change one thing here and there rather than having to change the base colour and all the shading and texture associated with it.
Another thing I like to do is add in little details for the reader to notice. Silly things, puns, nods to my other books and things only my family would get (In Santa’s Little Helper I put in my Mum and Dad’s cats for example). Mark and Rox also put forward ideas of things they would like to see (look out for Mr Carrot making a cameo in The Perfect Present!) and all of that sort of thing makes it so much fun for me.
In-between sending in artwork for approval I also get on with artwork for the front and back cover, end papers and copyright and title pages. It all goes through the same process as before and usually with the cover there can be a lot of roughs/thumbnails needed but with the cover we have to make sure it is absolutely the best it can be to catch people’s eyes.
So, after all of that Greg The Sausage Roll – The Perfect Present was born and hopefully it will light up a few Christmases this year.