Making Mammoth (Part 2)

For the roughs on Mammoth I started out making small thumbnail sketches but moved on to more detailed roughs on A4 paper pretty quickly. There’s a lot to think about when sketching a double page spread and I found it easier to cut pages up and move things around at this size.

I submitted the roughs digitally as PDFs. Then I would usually talk it all through with the art director on the phone. I would rework them and re-submit them, and repeat. A few spreads stayed quite true to my initial sketches but the majority of it completely changed. The final pass of roughs were a mix of pencil and ink sketches and digital drawings – that was probably version 9 or 10!

Final Art & Colour

As a student on the MA Children’s Book Illustration my biggest struggles were with colour and just getting final artwork done. Just finishing it. That was a very big mental block for me. Even though I had worked as a commercial artist for a long time, my storyboard work was fast and sketchy and never in colour.

‘And they trumpeted and tootled and honked and strummed, till the moon shone high above..’

It wasn’t really until quite late on the MA and after much coaxing from my lecturers that I started to loosen up a bit and enjoy the process of making finished work and seeing where an illustration takes me. My fellow student Al Rodin gave me a very simple piece of advice that I try to stick to: ‘You have to find a way to enjoy the process’ (Or something along those lines). It sounds really obvious, but when you are stressing over an idea or a deadline, it’s not obvious at all. Anyway it really stuck with me. Trust in your artistic ability to get you out of trouble if things start to go wrong. That’s often where the fun stuff happens anyway!

Here is an example of how a typical illustration progressed. First I would make a few small thumbnail sketches and then re-draw my favourite version on cheap printer paper.

Rough thumbnails

With the sketch as a guide on my lightbox, I make the dip pen linework. The Text is drawn separately as it goes on a different layer in the printing process. This is so it can be translated for foreign co-editions.

Ink linework

I try to leave the linework to dry for a few hours before painting (and spraying!) with gouache and coloured inks. The painting part gets quite messy and lots of pages end up in the bin. There was a lot of splattered and sprayed paint, smudges and inky fingerprints. I love that kind texture and felt that it really suited the New York cityscape.

Final illustration

Woolly Mammoth Brown

Because I’m TERRIBLE at mixing colours, I realised I was going to have a problem with the mammoth’s fur in this book. He’s so big that it would be really obvious if the colour and texture changed from page to page. So I spent ages testing out ink and paint in different combinations (as you can see here) until I got the right colour and texture and then I wouldn’t have to worry about it again. It’s probably really obvious to everyone, but this was the smartest thing I did whilst making the book.

The hunt for 'Mammoth Brown'
The hunt for Woolly Mammoth Brown!

The winning formula was 2 parts Ecoline 407 Ink to 1 part Winsor & Newton nut brown. Maybe everyone does this? It’s probably really obvious (In fact I bet I stole the idea from Pam Smy or something).

Colour testing
Colour testing

The Cover

I did a lot of roughs for the cover and I really wasn’t getting anywhere with it until my Art Director suggested we set it at night. That was exactly what it needed! It came together really quickly after that. Setting it at night helped me to simplify the palette and the black and the glitter really make it pop.

Mammoth – written by Anna Kemp. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2021

The cover text was mostly hand drawn. My art director (hi Jane!) designed the type and I made these wonky inked versions based on her layout. I really enjoyed making these and would love to do more of my own type in the future.

The back cover image is often an illustration from inside the book, but we all loved my sketch of the Mammoth jogging in the park from my sketchbook so I worked that one up.

Now we are done

I really enjoyed making this book, Anna’s text is really joyful and inspiring. I felt very lucky to be working with her on my first book. There are spreads that I’m happier with than others but I think everyone feels that way about their books. I definitely learnt a lot making it, especially from the amazing team at Simon & Schuster.

‘He has found his herd. And a place to trumpet wildly.’

Well done, you made it. Thanks for reading this far! Now go and have a nice cup of tea or something – Ad x

One final thing about Mammoth, remember that container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal last year? All the hardback copies of Mammoth were stuck on the boat behind that. Classic.