Making Big Doll


This work refers back to the wordless graphic novel style story that I worked on for my second semester of my first year on the MA. The project brief was ‘The Sequential Image’ and I chose to work on a story that developed from two separate incidents; spending time drawing in an old folk’s care home and also making a doll for Nikki Gamble’s Just Imagine Story Centre. Both of these I have blogged about previously, and here are the links: Just Imogen (Ingrid and Just Imagine), Semester 2 and Summer Progress.

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is coming up and I have decided I might be ready to promote myself there. I have been meaning to draw this particular sequence from the graphic novel which I called ‘Big Doll’. In this story a family visit their aged relative in a particularly uninspiring care home. The children don’t want to go and whilst there they don’t engage with their nan. Later a worker in the home finds a lost doll and decides to make a larger version for the old folk. She brings it into work where the old ladies are delighted with it (dementia brings with it a sort of return to childhood). They treat the doll like an honoured guest and one night the doll comes to life. I won’t spoil the end, but you know, it’s a bit of a modern fairy tale I suppose.

During the semester I was working on it I knew I couldn’t draw all the scenes in the time allowed, so I chose to concentrate on probably the most challenging scenes. I rapid-sketched the other scenes so there was a sense of the whole story. Using a limited palette of predominantly (sad) blue I tried and tried, drew and re-drew these challenging whole-room scenes. They didn’t work – I was disappointed that I didn’t ‘solve’ the problem of how to draw for this novel.

If I’m honest, I still have to get to grips with drawing things in rooms (although I have an idea of how to progress with that – but that’ll be the subject of a separate post sometime).

I very quickly dealt with the making part of the story and was a bit sad that I didn’t find more time to work on it. My original idea for the semester’s submission had been to only draw the big doll making process; in effect, illustrating something I had myself undertaken whilst producing ‘Imogen’ for Just Imagine. I decided to come back to this project for Bologna portfolio, aiming to demonstrate a certain versatility, and here is some of that process and the results so far.

What I am mainly showing here are all the workings and re-workings of the same images. People often wonder what us illustrators do all day and here I think you can see that it’s a time consuming process. You can also see that getting it ‘wrong’ is part of that process.

I could go into an exploration of ‘the fixed mindset’ vs  ‘the growth mindset’ (very current, I think), but now isn’t really the place. Just to say though, we are/were educated for the most part to have a fixed mindset attitude and that attitude prevails amongst many people (including artists themselves – you could call it ‘your own worst enemy’) who think you just sit down and by the power of a god-given gift or the product of divine inspiration alone, out pops a fully formed drawing – you know, position, anatomy, tones, technique, colour, scale and composition just all there. They imagine you spend your day sipping tea and knocking out fantastic pictures… when in fact, the reality is more ‘do it again, nope, do it again, oh that’s good, that works, oh no it doesn’t, oh draw that bit again, oh that’s good but the background’s too dark, or the hand’s too big etc etc etc…. ‘


What is happening here? Weird wide-eyed doll…
Nice but she looks a bit ‘alive’ already. She’s a doll, how is she standing up? Or what is she laying on?


With the doll’s head being held it emphasises that she is a doll (and not yet alive). Although fairly pleased with it, I’m not sure it has sufficient clarity and the hands look a tad ‘meaty’.

My main focus for sharing here has got to do with something – a concept not yet fully formed in my brain – something to do with really enjoying the drawing process. This past semester, whilst working on my penguin story (I still have to write about that), I have had several conversations around the issue of drawing. Basically it boils down to discovering how much I enjoy the drawing process and therefore allowing myself the time to really linger on that, perhaps even making it the main thrust of the kind of illustration I do. Not all illustrators love drawing as much – and I know that sounds mad – but some are more design based, or colour-orientated, or pattern obsessed, or graphic-based or something… I mean this is what makes us individual as an illustrator/artist. I just don’t love the colouring part as much as the working-it-out drawing stages.

Prior to the MA I was struggling so much with the colouring part of producing an illustration, thinking because I found the colouring part so hard I had to concentrate more on that. I mean, yes of course one must attempt to overcome fears/weaknesses or else become limited (I will draw figures in rooms! I will!) but at the same time I have learnt that it is necessary to ‘play to one’s strengths’.

I think an artist’s passion comes out in the work. I decided that I can allow myself to take time drawing, to really get into that part of the process. This particular method, being quite a careful and precise, might not be my usual way to work (do I have one of those?) but it seems right for this story. I recognise that it owes a fair bit to Shaun Tan, and oh, if only I were as good!

The most important point here is that I have thoroughly enjoyed it, so far! I hope to have this as one of my A2 spreads and also in my portfolio for Bologna. I’d welcome your thoughts and feedback, as usual.

Too close – the eye, without some of the rest of a face (a hint of a smile) just looked terrified.
Black and White Drawings of making the Big Doll
Just the drawing bits – note first painting face image in the bottom right-hand row, left side.
The blue colour (I don’t like it much at this stage) is because the rest of the book is blue-tinged… well not ALL the book.
Note a few tonal changes (trying to iron out some inconsistencies without redrawing a load) and a change of order on the left hand side of the page, in response to some feedback from fellow students. Also version 4 of the painting the smile on scene.

More to come here because I plan to add fabric patterns and textures digitally. I am, however, getting the feeling that might not work and I’ll end up drawing them. Well, whatever – I’ll update this blog when I’ve done that bit. Oh – and I already have a plan for changes to the last image on the bottom right. You see – never finished. Someone take this away from me now, I need a cup of tea!

Some developments since then (I’m on a roll with this for now):

Fabrics added digitally - I've not had much time to reflect on it yet. My initial response is positive, but that might change come the morning!
Fabrics added digitally – I’ve not had much time to reflect on it yet. My initial response is positive, but that might change come the morning!

colour-trial_01 copy colour-trial_02 colour-trial_03 colour-trial_04 colour-trial_05 I don’t like the blue tint so I am currently exploring various colour options – which do you prefer? Bear in mind that something happens to the saturation on WordPress, all the images seem to come out much brighter and richer in colour, but not in a good way…

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