Little Plum and the Closet
Development to final art on a project from my senior year
I finally went to a physical therapist yesterday to get my drawing arm/wrist checked out since I was in constant pain from drawing. I’m happy to report, we’ve got a game plan now to get me stronger and healthier, but unfortunately that also includes taking it easy. Because of this I have to prioritize my drawing time for the books I’m working on right now so I’m going to take some time off drawing specific comics for this newsletter because it causes a lot of strain on my hand. I’ll still update here, but it may not be as frequent.
Today, I’m excited to share a project I worked on my senior year at SVA. I took a year long children’s book class with the fantastic David Soman my senior year. David taught me everything I know about making picture books and his class was instrumental in helping me become the artist I am today.
For context, David had us develop our own story for the entire year, working on writing a manuscript, laying it out, creating a dummy and painting final art. The story I came up with was ultimately named Little Plum and the Closet and tells the story of a girl named Little Plum, who moves to a new house. At night, she has trouble falling asleep and begins to count sheep. The sheep then appear in her room and scary sounds begin to come out of her closet. Instead of laying awake scared, she decides to investigate and finds a monster and another world inside her closet. It turns out, the monster has also moved new closets and feels lonely just like Little Plum. The two play together all night and become best friends.
The story isn’t the BEST story and it’s honestly a hot mess now looking back at it, but I still like a lot of the development art I did for this book which you’ll find below. When I was in school, I submitted this project for an Alumni Scholarship on a whim and ended up winning a small grant to develop the story. I ended up taking that money and buying myself an iPad instead… Oops.. Don’t tell SVA.
Since half of the book was set inside the closet, I was figuring out ways of designing the monster so that it felt like it was made up of different fabrics and things you would find in the closet.
Then I came up with the wonderful solution of having the monster wear a blanket cape which is cute but also served as a way to show motion.
I really like these early sketches of the tiny Little Plum and the monster done with ink wash. I think a big thing I struggled with this project, and also with my current work, is trying to maintain the same amount of life in the sketches in the final artwork.
Some more sketches of the interior of the closet and the transition of closet things to a fantastical world.
Some early color studies and paintings done in gouache of Little Plum’s bedroom. Since it was at night, I wanted the story to start out with purple and blues when we are in her room. As she enters the closet, the world inside is warmer with pinks and oranges.
The final design of the monster, painted in watercolor and gouache with colored pencils. His colors are a mix of the blues of the night and the orange/pinks of the closet world. I wanted the monster to feel a bit creepy but also friendly. A lot of people told me the monster looked like a cross between a Sesame Street character and Chewbacca which is honestly perfect.
Here I was figuring out the color palette for Little Plum and what she should wear. The basis for her character design was just three circles on top of each other. I deeply enjoy drawing characters that are comprised of circles and look very squishable.
For a brief second I dabbled with the idea of doing the book with paper cut, but unfortunately I have no patience and quickly decided it was not worth the extra effort.
While I was working on the development sketches, I was also working on the dummy for this book. For those who don’t know, a dummy is essentially the sketches for the entire book. The whole thing is long, around 40 pages, so I won’t post the entire story here. For reference, picture books are generally either 32 pages or 40 pages. Below, you’ll find some of the sketches for the spreads that I decided to paint final art of.
Back then in school, when I still had a lot of pep in my step, I painted color studies for every single painting that I planned on making. It was a trick that I picked up from David and it made the process of painting a big painting much less daunting. I am now more haggard and lazy so I now do all my color studies digitally rather than traditionally. I actually ended up liking these color studies WAY more than the final art.
A color study is a great for traditional painting because unlike digital media, it is much harder to change colors later on, especially with watercolor. If I do a color study first, I don’t have to worry about what color the trees will be when I’m painting and whether or not they’ll clash with something in the foreground. It’s tedious to do a color study I will admit, but the payoff is better because I rarely have to restart a painting because I know generally what colors will go where when I paint.
Here is the final art I made of several spreads from the book. I don’t like much of it and I think it’s because I wasn’t used to painting so big. The color studies I made were a lot smaller and at a size I was more comfortable with at the time so I liked them a lot more. I’ve definitely improved a ton since this project since I’ve worked on so many books since this one.
A fun anecdote from this time: During the last couple weeks of David’s class, he invited his friend and art director who worked at HarperColins to come in and review everyone’s projects. I remember she looked at my project and we chatted for a while. I told her I had worked on a cover illustration for Lalani of the Distant Sea which was also published by HarperCollins. She told me she liked my work and hoped that we would be able to work together in the future… Fast forward to last year when I sold my author/illustrator book to HarperCollins and found out that she would be the art director who would work on my book! Funny how the world works.
And that’s it! To be honest, typing this up kind of hurt my wrist so we’ll see if I can continue to post wordier newsletters instead of my usual comics. Sorry if the text in this newsletter was a bit dry, I was stupid and tried to type through the distracting pain. I hope you enjoyed the pretty pictures regardless and I doubt anyone is reading ALL this text. The physical therapist told me it’d be about six weeks before I might start to notice any changes, so fingers crossed. Okay, time for me to go and do my little stretches and exercises for my poor arm.
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I truly enjoy your newsletters. Following your art process is very helpful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing!
It was so cool to see your process and also how amazing that you worked with that art director later on! I hope your wrist feels better soon.