How I Do My Work
by Trina Schart Hyman

My picture ideas come directly from the story I am working on, which are then embellished and augmented by looking at the world I see around me, by my own fertile imagination, and when necessary, by careful research.

I usually receive the story from the publisher in manuscript form. Then the art director and I decide on an appropriate trim size and type face for the book. The next thing I receive (from the art director) are type-set galley sheets—the text of the story as it will appear printed in the book. By this time I have read the story anywhere from 5 to 25 times and have been thinking hard about how I want the illustrations to look and what the "mood" of the book will be. If the story is set in a particular or historical period, I will also have started to gather pictorial research from the library or bookstore—or from my own well-stocked bookshelves.

Then I design the book. I cut the galleys apart and decide where to place the text and where to put the illustration. Sometimes I will do very rough sketches—notes to myself, really—in a dummy of the book to see how the illustration will look on the page. Then I begin work on the finished art. I very rarely do preliminary sketches, because all the preliminary work has already happened inside my head. I don't work from models, and I never work from photographs. I have a pretty good visual memory, and if I don't know how to draw something I want to use in a picture, I go out and find it and make some drawings from "life" or else find a picture of it in a book. Many of the characters in my books are actually friends, neighbors and family—people I know pretty well and can draw from memory.

I work on illustration board—either Bainbridge, Fabriano, Whatman or Crescent "scannerboard." If I am going to work in oil paints, I gesso the surface first. I almost always work "same size," i.e., the actual size of the book. I start to draw in pencil and make many corrections as I go along until I can get the drawing just the way I want it to look.

Sometimes at this point I give up and have to start all over and revise my first ideas, but eventually I get it right. Then (unless I am working in oils) I go over my pencil drawing with a final drawing in India-ink. I use a brush for this drawing (Windsor-Newton series 7 sable brushes, usually #1 size) because I can get more control and sensitivity of line with a brush than with a pen. 

Sometimes I add areas of shadow with an India-ink wash. Than I lay on the color with acrylic paint in fairly thin washes that are built up to the desired intensity of color. I use glazes of ultramarine and raw umber mixed with a varnish medium to deepen shadow areas. Depending on the book, I may then work into some areas of illustration with colored pencils, lead pencil, pastels or plain old Crayola crayons.

I do my illustrations chronologically, from page one through the last page—then I do the cover illustration. I can only work on one book at a time, because when I am illustrating a book (or even just the jacket illustration for a novel) I am totally immersed in the "world" of that story, and dare not let anything else intrude into the imaginary world that I've created.

I usually work from 10:30 in the morning until 9 o'clock at night, with an hour's time off at 4:30 to walk the dogs, feed the sheep and then have a glass of wine. I smoke cigarettes the whole time and listen to music—usually jazz and R & B—and take frequent breaks to stoke up the little red wood stove, which is the only source of heat in my tiny, messy studio.

from Once Upon A Time, Spring 1997 Issue.
"I do all my work on the same piece of paper, so my preliminary sketches become the finished piece of art work. First I make a pencil drawing, then I use India ink and brush followed by acrylic paint, which I dilute like watercolor and apply in thin glazes. I believe that because I work on the same piece of drawing board, the pictures are alive. My own struggle, underneath the final image, is what gives the picture its soul."
from Something about the Author, Volume 46.
Once Upon a Time is a quarterly newsletter for children's writers and illustrators.  To subscribe sent $23 to:
Audrey B. Baird, Editor
Once Upon a Time
553 Winston Court
St. Paul, MN  55118
Biography of Trina Schart Hyman

Interview with Trina Schart Hyman

Books Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

More Words of Wisdom from Trina Schart Hyman

Gates, Doris, Two Queens of
Heaven, New York, Viking, 1974.
Carter, Dorothy Sharp, Greedy
Mariani, New York, Atheneum,
Moeri, Louise, Star Mother’s
Youngest Child, Houghton, 1975.
Barrie, J. M., Peter Pan, New York,
Charles Scribner, 1980.

© 1999–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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