J A Browne

Illustrated – Part II

Illustrated – Part II

Last week, Darran Holmes, the illustrator of my forthcoming middle-grade novel The Earth Chronciles: Hannah & the Hollow Tree spoke about great artists who had inspired him. This week Darran discusses his work for Weta – the design and effects giant – whilst working for Peter Jackson on Lord of the Rings and how he begins his creative process.

What also struck me, was Darran’s attitude to hard work. especially being able to take on board criticism and feedback, both from others, but also himself. I think as artists we can often feel vulnerable, especially when we share our creations with the wider world. It really is a challenge to “put yourself out there” because you can feel exposed and question your abilities. I guess it comes back to what Lou Solomon talks about – “imposter syndrome” – you can see her short video in my blog The Calling – which makes me wonder if we are experiencing this more or more, particularly as we all now live digital lives. Hmm…

Right, on with the show!Darran's initials

It has been a privilege to work with Darran to create images for my website and illustrate my book cover – all will be revealed in just a matter of weeks now! What strikes me most is his use of colour and how he captures light and dark, which I believe really reflect the theme of Hannah & the Hollow Tree. So, it’s over to the man himself to explain a little more…

What creative process do you use to begin an illustration?

Research and planning is key. Always make sure you have all the information – use a brief so you fully understand what is being asked of you.  Always ask questions. Dig deeper into the detail. The internet is a great tool for reference. I remember (and I’m showing my age here) having to go to the library to find reference material. Now, its all available online. I always start my work with a quick sketch. Settling on a colour palette can be tricky. I find it useful to find an illustration with the same settings. For Hannah and the Hollow Tree I found myself drawn to the original cover arts of The Three Investigators books. These covers feature fantastic settings. Next I find photo reference. Then when all is ready, I take a deep breath and begin.

How do you put your own stamp as an illustrator on a book cover for someone else?

As long as you allow yourself to be immersed in the creative vision of the author and push yourself, your individual style will shine.

What are you most proud of with your cover of Hannah & the Hollow Tree?

I love the light source from the tree. The characters and house were surprisingly straight forward to do. But the atmosphere that I battled with. Managing to capture it is something I am most proud of.

If you could give new authors or illustrators one key piece of advice about illustrating books, what would it be?

Be yourself. Learn the basics of the craft and nurture your individual style.

How did your time working at Weta influence you as an artist?

How do I begin? I learnt so much while at Weta. My entire approach to tackling any creative work was infused with the Weta ideals of originality, detail and quality. The skin textures I learnt as an airbrush artist I now use in my illustrations. Watching and learning from the masters in New Zealand helped me learn how to approach design challenges. Richard Taylor has a great ‘can do’ attitude and energy that not only rubs off on you, but stays with you. I loved creating macquettes, too! Real fun!

As an author, if your manuscript is taken on by the traditional publishers, then you have virtually no control whatsoever with your book cover and you certainly don’t have any say in who illustrates your book – it just doesn’t happen, unless you’re already established or a ‘celebrity’ author.

But the beauty of being an indie author is that you hold most or all of the control of exactly what your book will look like, what vision you hold for it, the font, the colour, use of imagery. I feel very blessed to be working with Darran and I cannot wait to reveal my front cover!



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