Watercolor Illustrations of Hazel Village: Behind the Scenes with Jane

Hazel Village Watercolor Sketch

Friends, I have a lot of details in my head about the Hazel Village characters and their woodland world. I know about the layout of their village, their little houses and garden plots, their holidays and customs, and the personalities of the different animals. Ever since I started the company in 2010, I have wanted to write and illustrate stories about the animals. But it's been really hard for me to get anything down on paper in a way that seems good enough. I'm definitely overthinking it. I'm working on it.

Anyway, my dream was that while I was home with my new baby this spring, I would finally write and illustrate a book about the animals. When I told this dream to people who had kids already, they would tactfully smile and nod, like, good luck with that. But my dream kind of came true! I have a little sketched-out book about the animals industriously making gifts for one another, and some of the first paintings done. And I got a lot of practice doing watercolor illustrations of the animals, so my style got more consistent.

It has helped me to think of painting less as a mystical artistic process, and more as a new craft I am practicing. To that end, I wanted to share how I've been working. 

So my process is that first I make little thumbnail sketches, preferably with color, so I can figure out the composition and how to organize the values. I learned about organizing values from my favorite painting blogger, James Gurney. Besides his blog, he has two really good books about painting: Color and Light and Imaginative Realism. Basically, the more you plan out where the dark and light areas will be in your artwork, the better it will look. I don't do it as well as I should but I know that it's one of the major things to work on. The other, related important thing is to know where the light is supposed to be in the picture, so I can paint the things in the picture with convincing light and shadows on them. Sometimes I sketch in the sun off to the side of the picture, so I don't forget.

What James Gurney actually says to do is to set up a tiny scene with models and proper lighting, so you can draw from life. I am too lazy to do this...or shall we say, I am too busy running a company that makes dolls and animals, and also convincing my baby of the lie that we have always eaten fresh home-cooked meals. But I do google image searches for things I'm unsure about how to draw: e.g. different types of plants, beehives and bee smoker, mason jars twinkling in the sun.

Then I start sketching the picture on real paper. I have found that the longer I take on this step, refining details and getting all the lines placed right, the better. 

When the sketch is ready, I start adding layers of watercolor. The trick is to go slowly and leave white paper anywhere the sun might be shining on a surface. I can always add more paint later, but it's so easy to screw up an illustration by covering up all the sparkly bright areas. So it's a long process of considering where to deepen the color. But it is fun to paint areas of sky and meadow in one pass, and let the paint and water kind of do their thing. 

When I'm getting happy with the paint, I go in with either a charcoal pencil or pen and ink, and add outlines, definition, and better shadows. I'm just okay at this stage. I have tried it a few ways and I think my best shot is to use the charcoal pencil with a very, very light touch. Charcoal pencil is nice too because if I'm wrong about a particular line, I can soften it with more watercolor. 

Eventually, I decide it's done, and we can photograph it, and color correct the photo which is an art in itself.

We decided to make prints of some of my first illustrations. These won't be in the book: they are of other scenes from Hazel Village. You can order prints here. For every print we sell, we are planting one tree. With your help, we can plant some decent acreage!