Behind the scenes - Roman Holiday

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Nearly all of my recent children’s books - The Pink Hat, Unstoppable Me, Brindabella, Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum - have been drawn entirely on my iPad Pro in the app Procreate, from first sketch to complete final art, with a bit of Photoshop tweaking at the end. I’m often asked how I use Procreate and the iPad Pro to create final art for publication, so what follows is an insight into my process - both creative and technical - using the above image, drawn just for fun while on a Roman holiday.

You can download the original Procreate and Photoshop files of the illustration here.  It’s not crucial to download them, but it might help in understanding some of the information I give below. And because I’ve left them as layered files, you’ll be able to experiment with different textures and layer effects. But more on that later.

I am going to assume some basic working knowledge of Photoshop and Procreate, although I fear I’ll swing wildly between stating the obvious and bewildering technicalities. So apologies in advance.

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I started with some photos of classical sculptures. During our holiday I tormented my family by attempting to photograph every classical sculpture I came across. I should have noted this properly at the time, but from memory I think I these were taken at the National Roman Museum, Palazzo Altemps (right near Piazza Navona).

Inspired by a book from the brilliant M. Sasek called Stone is Not Cold, I wanted to turn them into some kind of drawing. And the iPad makes combining drawing with photographs very easy. My first step, after creating a new Procreate file (in this case a Square format of 2048px x2048px) and importing the photographs, was to remove their backgrounds. I did this in Procreate, just with an eraser, but you can also use a layer mask in Procreate if you’re in a non-destructive mood. Then I just started sketching, looking for an idea.

What I like about drawing on the iPad in Procreate is that I can go from scribbled thumbnail to final artwork all in the one space. So I can avoid, or at least minimise, the dreaded fear of messing up - my personal nemesis. Procreate is also terrifically simple and there’s nothing that gets in the way of drawing. When it comes to illustrating digitally, I find the simpler the better. Despite the wealth of brushes available in Procreate, I try to limit myself to just one to three brushes - the trick comes in finding just the right ones. For drawing on paper, I’ve always favoured soft, dark pencils. Again

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A note on canvas and file size in Procreate

You can set up your Procreate canvas directly in the app, either by using one of their canvas presets, as I’ve done here, or by creating your own custom canvas. But when I’m making a picture book, or anything for print, I set up my canvas in Photoshop at print size, with guides for the various layout details (gutter, bleed, crop marks, etc). I make sure the file is at print resolution, too - I usually work at 400 dpi to give me some freedom to resize things