Behind the Paintbrush

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We ask Clickety Books illustrator, Sarah Leigh-Wills, to talk us through the process of designing and illustrating a Clickety Book!

1. Character Development: This is my favorite part of the process! Creating a character is tricky. To start with, I scout thousands of photos of that particular animal. I study their physical appearance and research their natural behaviour. I find that this is all crucial in capturing the true characteristics. Making the animal then appeal to children is the next job. I tend to laugh at the same things that children do so I am able to make the characters visually amusing for them whilst maintaining their realistic attributes. Imagining I am the character is another trick of mine. I tend to put myself in the mindset of what I would do, what I would look like, how I would speak, act etc. This takes a long time.


I feel I’m bringing the character to life by adding the colour. The Clickety illustrations have developed a clear style now, which has grown over the last 4 years. I use only one medium, watercolours. They give the images the signature Clickety feel, etchy but soft and appealing to both adults and children.

2. Storyboarding: I can’t stress enough how important storyboards are. They allow you to plan and control the role the illustrations play throughout the book. Without this you are drawing blind! So I like to plan out the story to ensure that the book will flow well. You build a storyboard by taking the story and breaking it up into chunks (or what artists call ‘spreads’) and then take those sections of story and apply a few lines of text per page. This then gives you an idea for the appropriate illustration needed for that page. This method ensures both illustrator and author are happy with the direction.

3. Internal Illustration Development: Once the storyboard has been signed off and the green light is switched firmly on I crack on with bringing those sketches to true form. Firstly, I draw them up to their actual size on basic layout paper, ensuring they are 100% as I want them to be before then tracing them up onto watercolour paper. Once onto the watercolour paper the fun begins!

4. Painting: So relaxing but a crucial part of the entire process; colour determines mood, feeling and gives a sense of what’s really happening in the scene, so this is the stage that’s the most breathtaking for me. It’s the part where I bring everybody’s ideas to life.


5. Book Editing: Once the illustrations are completed I build the template for the book in ‘InDesign’. Sometimes it can be quite rewarding putting the text and images together, or sometimes that’s the point where you realize something just doesn’t work.
Crucial layer work, illustration adjustments, typography and design awareness is needed to ensure the book is well balanced, well formed and flows easily.


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