Liane Tancock talks about her experience taking part in the 8-week Picture Book Illustration e-Course

Hi, I’m Liane Tancock, I live in Bristol in the UK and when I’m not illustrating I go to my local Zoo every week to sketch the animals and birds. It is something that is so important to me, I encounter challenges every time I go, some of them very unexpected, who knew that Mudskippers were a nightmare to draw… well I do now.

Drawing and observing the animals and birds in life is so valuable and gives me a greater understanding of them. I can’t express how important keeping a sketchbook and drawing is. It’s your brain and thoughts on paper, you may not take every sketch and character forward but you always have the character that you can come back to.
I also love reading especially picture books. My head is always on what I’m illustrating or what I’d like to do next. It’s my whole life really.

I would describe my illustration style as funny, strong lines, quirky, whimsical, colourful, nature-based.

Why did you sign up to the Picture Book Illustration e-Course (PBIC)?

Most of my illustrations have been stand-alone pieces, or if I follow a set of characters, it is not one story. So it was important to me to learn how to follow a set of characters through one larger story and all the elements that would involve, storyboarding, roughs, dummy book, and the final illustrations.

Did you work on your own story or the course manuscript?

I decided to use Ben Whittaker-Cooks ‘Florence Fox Goes To School’ manuscript; I loved the story and the woodland/school theme. I listened to it being read on last year’s showcase video, I love audiobooks so listening to it being read to me was wonderful and I could sit back and imagine the characters. I listened to it time and time again. It allowed me to visualise without always having to read the words.

Where and when did you work?

I have a studio at home where I illustrate. It’s full of books, pencils, paper, pens and all the things I need to allow me to feel cut off from the outside world and to have my inner world in a space for me. I work part-time in the afternoon so I illustrate around my work shifts.

Basically, if I wasn’t at work I was working on the course. I purposefully made sure I kept the 8-weeks free of any selling events. I wanted to make sure that I dedicated myself completely to the course.

What was the best thing about the course?

It’s so hard to pick out best bits as I loved it all. You have a place to learn, experiment and make mistakes in a supported environment. You have the support and guidance of both Nina and the rest of the group to achieve what you never thought you could. It reminded me of being back in Uni where all of you in the studio are supporting each other.

What was the worst thing about the course?

There wasn’t a worst bit, all the weeks of the course were well thought out and you were supported throughout. I found it was important to take a break and get the sketchbook out and play, I ended up creating characters that I loved for my illustrations purely through playing in the sketchbook without initially intending them to be related to the course.

How did PBIC help with your character design process?

The character design process really helped me with designing Florence. I’m not used to creating Human characters and working with Nina and fellow course members I realised that the same principle that I use for my animal and bird characters could be transferred to Human characters. It’s the little touches in a character that make the difference, the scraped knee, the untied shoelaces, All the little quirks that make up an bird or animal also make a person. This course allowed me to make mistakes and keep pushing until I had a Florence that I could imagine meeting and talking to on the street and possibly rolling my eyes at as she buried my sandwiches.

This course allowed me to make mistakes and keep pushing until I had a Florence that I could imagine meeting and talking to on the street and possibly rolling my eyes at as she buried my sandwiches.

What is a character map?

The character map was such an important element in the course. Creating a character that is consistent and can be moved just like an animation is so important. You need to know your character inside and out. And having a set of drawings showing your character at different angles and their clothing is something that you will repeatedly refer to in order to create a consistent character across your spreads.

What was your experience receiving feedback during the course?

I loved getting Nina’s feedback, I looked forward to it every week. Nina was supportive and constructive and gave you tips that really enhanced your drawings. The feedback allowed you to rework elements of your work with a clear aim and you gained something every week to add to your ‘illustrator’s toolbox’. You never felt alone on your journey, you had Nina’s input and your fellow course members to walk with you through the ups and downs of your work.

What are thumbnail sketches?

Thumbnails sketches are quite daunting before you start. I had previously done some rough thumbnails, but not this indebt. It’s like setting the stage for each part of the story. I understand now that it’s so important not to discount any idea and to just get them on paper, even if it’s something that you don’t bring forward, you need alternative ideas for each spread, you may discover a gem in a random idea.

How did you find working on the larger storyboard format?

Transferring your thumbnails to a larger size allows you to see if something was going to work or if you had to tweak things. All these steps are very important so you don’t get to the stage where you are doing your final illustration and realise that you don’t like it.

Why did you make a dummy book?

Making the dummy book allowed me to see my spreads in a book format. It allowed me to see if it flowed and which spreads were the weak links. It also felt like an achievement to go from designing the characters, thumbnails, larger thumbnails and then to see this little book with all your ideas in.

How did you choose your final illustration?

I purposefully chose a spread that I would find difficult. I chose the spread where Florence dominates the spread and I would have to do a large flat wash.  For me, it was important to tackle this difficult spread within the course where I would have support and advice. I’m so glad I chose this spread, I’m really chuffed with the end result.

Liane’s coloured sketches for her Phillip character.

Describe your final illustration

My final illustration is early in the story where the reader is learning who Florence is. I wanted her to be such a character that she could not be contained within the confines of a book. She is bursting out of the book full of excitement. However, the mice in her hair are in more of a state of fear while Florence is soaring even higher than Phillip the pheasant and her parents looking up from the ground. I wanted the reader to get a good idea of who she is in a single spread.

I was very nervous when it came to laying down the large flat wash on my final illustration as it was important that it didn’t detract from the other elements in the illustration. It was to be the calm element in the spread. I was so relieved when the wash went well.

My technique improved a lot around illustrating people. I became more confident as the course went on and I had more and more practise. Practice really is the key.

If you had your time over, what would you have done differently?

If I did the course again I would have made more options for some of the spreads, as I feel that I have too many double-page spreads. I feel that I could experiment more and have stronger options for some of the spreads.

Who would you recommend PBIC to?

The course is fantastic for people who have a passion for illustrating, drawing and painting and want to learn all the processes in illustrating a picture book. You gain so much confidence and have a great foundation to build on. I think it would be great for authors and aspiring authors too, so they can see what an illustrator considers and how their words get translated into images.

What’s next for you?

I would like to continue working on Ben’s ‘Florence Fox Goes To School’ story.  Reworking some of the larger thumbnails and bringing more forward into final illustrations. I also realise that I need to create more Human characters, that I’ll work to add more to my portfolio.

You can follow Liane on
Facebook lianetancockartist  and
Instagram @lianetancockillustration


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