My assembly line

Brandon writes:

Hey John, I noticed back in 2010, you said that you paint all your backgrounds first and then your characters to get a consistent look. Does that mean you have 16 masonite boards with paper taped to them throughout your studio? Or are you reusing masonite or doing something completely different? Thanks. Your website is incredibly informative. You’re a champ.

For any book project I’m working on, I have sixteen 3/16″ plywood boards with watercolor paper stapled to them. They are each 24″ x 16′. I like to paint on Arches 300 lb hot press watercolor paper, which comes in 22″ x 30″ sheets. Cut in half, that’s 22″ x 15″ which fits nicely onto my plywood boards. I staple the paper on with a staple gun. I trace the sketch onto the paper using transfer paper (like carbon paper) and mask off 3/4″ beyond the page trim with masking tape.

Why sixteen? A typical picture book is 32 pages long, and I can get a two-page spread onto one of those 22″ x 15″ sheets. Sixteen times two is thirty-two. The cover art is usually done before I start on the interior pages, so that would be a 17th board.

This is an efficient way for me to work. I can put a board on my easel, paint the sky, then put that to one side and grab another board and paint the sky. When the sky is finished on all the boards, I start painting backgrounds. I work from far to near. The very last thing I paint are the characters.

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