In celebration of the release of Grandpa Christmas, and in the lead up to the festive season, illustrator Jim Field wrote a very special blog post taking us behind the drawing process of his stunning picture book with Michael Morpurgo.
The wonderful thing about illustrating Grandpa Christmas was revisiting my fond memories of my own Grandpa, Da as we called him. Lots of scenes in the book with the Grandpa and Mia were based on my memories of Da.
The garden scene with Mia running to Grandpa in his seat was based on the layout of my grandparents’ garden, the greenhouse and veg patch and his garden/work shed opposite. I made it larger than the real one and more beautiful. Da was often sat in his garden chair with his sunhat in-front of his shed, a book in his hands, my grandmother beside him in her sunhat.
Da was an engineer and worked at Vickers Windsor during the Second World War constructing fuselages for fighter planes. His hobby in retirement was wood craft. He’d build lots of little ornaments including a model stage coach, which I have photo of him working on. I had to sneak the little stage coach in the interior of the shed of Grandpa Christmas.
He also built my sister an incredible doll house and me a ghostbusters proton pack, which I loved!
He was a truly wonderful man and the best Grandpa.
Drawing on memories
The scene of Grandpa in his shed in Grandpa Christmas was really me drawing on my memories of Da’s shed.
I sketched out this very early idea of a scene from inside the shed looking out the door with Grandpa’s silhouette. This was before I had finalised the character design and this little sketch stayed with me. I knew it had to be in the book. It was my memory of Da and his favourite place.
Here is the early pencil sketch scene idea that I shared with Egmont and Michael Morpurgo, with the colour concept on the right. The idea made its way into the final art work for the book.
Making the garden shed
So I thought I’d show my process of making this scene. I kept the same layout and started to think about the colour palette and the lighting.
Then I start to work out what the specific items will be. Here I had great fun sketching out what Da had in his shed. Tools hanging on the wall, shelves full of labelled tins with screws, nails and washers in. His wellington boots and gardening jacket hanging next to the door, an old photo of my Grandmother on the wall. The work shed desk next to the window and, of course, the model stage coach.
I then draw the final line work on A3 heavyweight paper. I used a chunky 6B Pencil, it helped me keep the line ‘loose’ to keep the energy in the picture. Notice the Grandpa upside down at the top of the page. This is the one I used – not the one in the door as I wasn’t happy with it.
I scan this in and I start to add colour in Photoshop. Grandpa is coloured and painted and I’ve added a shadow layer. I’ve painted a texture on the shed walls and the floor and started to add highlights on items in the shed.
I then start to colour all the items in the shed. This is very fiddly and time consuming, especially as it will all be saturated brown later, as you’ll see. I’ve also painted in loosely the sunny garden outside.
Then I start to add a painted texture on to the items in the shed to give them some form and texture.
Shadows! My favourite! I love adding the shadows in a scene, it suddenly starts bringing it to life. This scene is lit from the door way and a window (out of view) on the right of frame, so I wanted heavy dramatic shadows.
I then add in a layer to ‘warm’ up the scene and try and make it feel more like the midday sun casting its shafts of light into the dark shed. I also add in a few more edge highlights and of course the stage coach on the work top.
The last touches were the glow from the sun at the doorway to try and give more intensity of the sunshine outside. Note the initials and name on the box in the foreground left D.C.M.Howe. I wonder who it might be?
This was a dream book to work on, one of my favourite projects ever. To be lucky enough to illustrate a book by Michael Morpurgo was an utter honour. To draw on my fond memories of my Grandpa kept this book very close to my heart.
It was a challenge visually and emotionally. I like that.
But I don’t think it’s just a Christmas book. It’s about your loved ones, the fond memories you have and you can cherish together. It’s about hope. To send a message to do our best now, to protect and love our earth for our future generations. I hope we can.
I hope families will share this book together in years to come.
About Jim Field
Jim Field is an award-winning illustrator, character designer and animation director. He is perhaps best known for illustrating the bestselling picture book series Oi Frog! He has illustrated children’s books with Kes Grey, Michelle Robinson, Rachel Bright, Jeanne Willis, Steve Cole and comedian David Baddiel.
His first picture book Cats Ahoy won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize and he has been nominated for several other awards including the Kate Greenaway Award and the Sainsbury’s Children’s Book Award.
In 2016, The Bookseller listed Jim as the 6th top selling illustrator.
Grandpa Christmas is his first book with Egmont.