Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


March 26, 2016

A Drawing-Day at Nishkam Academy, Birmingham

This year we’ve been using mnemonics to teach spellings. Matthew’s Yr.3 – 7/8 year-olds – make up sentences using the initial letters of that week’s target-words and I have to puzzle out how to illustrate them.
With the last batch from this term, after a day in class drawing and talking about drawing, I took this opportunity to go through some of the thinking that leads up to the finished drawing.

Kick Nocturnal Owls While Sleeping?

Yr.3, it was a pleasure to meet you yesterday in school. Now I understand a bit more about the people who’ve been sending me my weekly picture-puzzle challenges.
Now that you’ve seen who’s drawing the pictures, I thought you might like to think about how your ideas ‘happen’.

Finding The Picture

I’d been saving ‘knows’ until I’d done some of the others in this week’s bunch. As far as I could imagine, a scene for Kick Nocturnal Owls While Sleeping would be a tricky one to draw, so I knew it would take a while to work out.
“Kick Nocturnal Owls While Sleeping”.
OK – first of all, the sentence doesn’t tell you whether The Owls are sleeping or is it a good way to use your time if you’re sleep-walking.
Or are you [or is someone?] sleepwalking so soundly that you/they are now walking along a branch in a tree, about to kick a pair of sleeping owls?
I even thought about making a simple road-sign instructing you to kick any sleeping owls you find on the road.
I think I was put off by the idea of deliberately kicking owls.
The idea that stuck in my mind was that the person doing the kicking should be the one sleeping, so that whoever it was couldn’t really be blamed.
I ruled out the sleepwalking because yes, someone sleep-climbing a tree with some fixed idea that the owls needed a kick could be funny, but it’s a lot to explain in one picture.
So what do we all know about and would recognise? This:-
In the middle of the night we sometimes wake up because our body has decided to do some exercise while we’re asleep. Sometimes it can just be a leg-jerk or a shiver. You come awake like a fish making ripples in a pond and immediately you’re asleep again.
Sometimes you can be in a dream where everything’s simply wonderful and fun, or everything’s just, you know, *horrible*, and you wake up to realise that actually you’re in your usual bed at home.
Sometimes you suddenly remember something you should have done or something you wish you hadn’t. These ‘flashes’ come out of nowhere….like… a… Jack-In-The-Box.

OK, now we have the beginnings of a picture. Someone is reacting to a surprise middle-of-the-night jack-in-the-box Urgent Thought!!!
I know I can draw a real *BOO!* jack-in-the-box to represent the surprise – which could be anything from forgetting his Auntie’s birthday to remembering something he said to someone that was so unkind that now he just feels horribly embarrassed.
Now I have to try to draw the face of someone shocked – his brain hasn’t caught up with the facts yet. To add to the effect I’ve got him slapping his forehead. This is one of the things people do in comics but rarely in real life.
All this makes a very busy side on the right that grabs your eye, and then you follow the line of the hammock around to the owls on the other end.
I can think of some spooky images where someone awakes to find owls in their bedroom but I preferred the idea of someone on a camping holiday. That’s why there’s a rucksack in the corner and the light comes from a camping-lamp.

The way the picture develops

You’ll know by now that I usually start with a pencil-sketch of the bits I’ll need and where they need to be. In this one, it took ages to get the right expression and a good angle for the elbows, so that part of the drawing was very grey and fuzzy.
The first image is scanned in exactly as it looked after I’d inked over the pencil. You can see how mucky it looks with all that smudgy pencil still showing.
The second stage is a scan of the drawing after I’ve erased as much of the pencil-smudge as possible with my trusty putty-rubber (remember that grey lump you thought was Blu-Tak?). Then I can adjust the black/white contrast to clean it up ready for:-
Stage Three: Now I can clean up any details I need to bring out.
For this one I spent more time than usual on the right of the scene to give it a bit more Bang! Boom! I was looking for any opportunity to make lines ‘exploding’ out of the shocked face and the jack-in-the-box. Your eye won’t see every small detail but if I’ve got it right, your brain will take in the effect.
Do you remember what we said about face-recognition? I used the ‘Oo! Oo!’ from the owls so that some part of your brain ‘sees’ them as extra staring eyes.
For comparison I’ve left everything on the left of the tree untouched so that you can see how much I’ve fiddled around with the main part of the picture.

  1. Thank you for this entertaining explanation. How about including the pictures, or a link to them, so that we readers can see the results of your cogitations and delinations for ourselves?

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 29, 2016 @ 4:23 pm

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