Illustrating With Digital Art
Updated: Apr 12
The computer or iPad is just another medium for creating art. Some people love it. Some hate it. I try to use whatever medium works best for a particular book, but lately more of my work is going digital. Or partially digital. What I like about working in Photoshop is the flexibility it gives me to make changes and try different things. The downside of digital art is that there is no original art. (Sorry, gallery owners!) You can make prints into a limited edition, but you can’t sell or hang a one-of-a-kind piece, which is more valuable.
The first book that I illustrated completely digitally is Dogs Don’t Brush Their Teeth (2009). I was just beginning to learn Photoshop and wanted to try a whole book with it. At the same time, my friend Shelley Rotner wanted to do a book about dogs. She is not only a dog person, but a great photographer. She was sure she could find a variety of dogs to photograph if we could use them in a book somehow. We brainstormed and ended up with an idea for a book about what kind of things dogs can really do, and what kind of human things they can’t do. With a bumpy start, I managed to plod through the learning curve for Photoshop. By the end of the book, many months later, I was somewhat competent in the program. It’s easier now that I use it every day in my work.
Here's how we did it. I sketched and designed the whole book in Photoshop, showing all the stuff that dogs can really do on the gatefold flap, and showing the human things that they don't do on the inside. Then I printed and pasted my sketches into a physical dummy so we could see how the gatefold flaps worked, and make it ready to submit to a publisher. Everything had to line up:
Here's how the tennis dog looked in the printed book. When the flap is closed, the dog has the tennis ball in his mouth, as dogs like to do. When the flap opens, we see the silly dog playing tennis like a human to show what dogs don't do:
Once the idea was sold to Scholastic, we got to work on the art. I gave Shelley each sketch to use as reference. Her job was to find the best dog for the action and to shoot the dog as close as possible to the position on the sketch. She found a lot of great dogs in the neighborhood, in dog parks, and in her travels. Here’s my sketch for the dog reading a newspaper:
For this page, Shelley found Lucas, a German Short-haired Pointer.
She thought Lucas looked like an intelligent dog that might be reading a newspaper. With the owner’s permission, and with a model release for Lucas, Shelley got to work. The owner tried to get Lucas into a position similar to the sketch:
Unfortunately, Lucas was not very cooperative.
But can't you just feel the love?
I sorted through all the Lucas photos that Shelley gave me, but none looked anything like a dog lying on a sofa reading a newspaper! So I took pieces from twelve different photos and pieced them together in Photoshop.
Next I tried a texture for the wallpaper and inserted a fake newspaper :
To finish, I covered the hands with patches of the fur until they were completely hidden. With more detail added, I felt that the wallpaper wasn’t working, so I changed it to a flat color. That's what's great about Photoshop. It's easy to change things! I drew the line work in sepia and colored it in with the paintbrush tool. Then I used real photos for the floor, cup and slippers. The final art is all digital—a combination of drawn art and photos.
Fortunately, most of the other dogs were more cooperative! It turned out to be a fun book that won several awards.
Unfortunately, the book is out of print, along with the website for sillydogbooks.com. Boo. But you can see the book's trailer here.