Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Process Story by Jason Kirschner

In preparation for this post, I’ve gone back and reread a few of my more recent posts.  It occurs to me that for a site who’s title includes the words “drawn” and “picture books”, I’ve done very little talk about either of those things.  I was also inspired about Diana’s most recent post which talked a bit about process. I thought I could do a step by step about my latest illustration.

I had two tasks I thought I could combine.  The primary task was to create a new summer-themed postcard to mail out to art directors.  The second, more minor task, was to supply myself with “sketches of the day” that I could post to my Instagram feed (which I’m woeful at keeping up with but follow me anyway).

I did a really really really rough sketch to just map out my idea.  It’s my equivalent of thinking out loud.  I think on the paper. It's usually rougher than rough. The sketch for this one was so ethereal and incomprehensible that I couldn't get a good scan of it.

Once I saw proof of concept, I sketched out all the characters separately-- first with roughs. This is how I always work. I draw all of the different pieces, characters, backgrounds, props on their own. Then I scan and “cut out” each in Photoshop.  I used the individual sketches for instagram posts to accomplish goal #2.
Then I basically collage the whole mess.  I enlarge certain things and shrink others.  I move the pieces around on my canvas until I have the arrangement that I like. I also play with opacity.  I like to fade the backgrounds out so focus remains on the characters. When I've got it mostly there I print out and draw cleaner versions of the characters and rescan.  At this stage I also add a texture layer over the whole thing. I really love jpgs of old papers I find online. It helps to keep the piece looking handmade and not digital.   I lock those down and start to color.

Layout with rough sketches.
Newer layout with more final sketches & texture applied. Moved some stuff around.
Character colors painted in. No highlights yet.

Here's my folder for Mouse.

First I block in the main color for each on a “multiply” layer above each character. For each character I also add separate layers for shadow (another multiply layer)  and highlight (normal or overlay layer depending).  Linking these layers per character allow me to move things around a bit when I need to.  Or I throw them all into a group folder. I sometimes add eyeballs later so I can control who's looking at who.
I also add shadows to ground the characters —although here none of them are on the ground.  Jerks.

Here's what I posted on Instagram.

I tweak things forever.  Seriously.  I can’t help myself. I’ve even moved things around since I posted the image.   The only thing that saves me from working on it forever is a deadline or a more pressing illustration.  I have been known to take out drawings from graduate school which was  <REDACTED> years ago and add some fixes.  It says a lot about me. Most of it--not good.
Couldn't help myself and kept moving things around. Here's the final. For now.

I think this was more of a look into my psyche than my process but either way I hope it was useful and/or enjoyable.  I'm always interested in how other people work.  If you ever want to share your process, let me know. 

By day, Jason is an Emmy nominated set designer for television, with credits that include Harry, The Meredith Vieira Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Late Show with David Letterman. By night, Jason is an author and illustrator of children's books. You can find his debut picture book, Mr. Particular: The World's Choosiest Champion on shelves in bookstores everywhere. See Jason's work, both illustrations and set designs,  at . Follow him on instagram @jkirsch118. 


  1. Love the peek into your art process. Hmm even eyeballs on their own layer so you can adjust whom they're looking at later. Great stuff.

  2. Jason, I love to see/hear about how illustrators (and writers) work. It's somewhat addictive to me, actually! This was great :) And I REALLY wish I knew more about Photoshop. Someday! Thanks for sharing this :D

  3. I am always playing the guessing game of "how did they do that?" Love process posts...This was awesome Jason, thanks for sharing!