A behind the scenes look at the creation of This Book Will Make You An Artist by illustrator Ellen Surrey - Nosy Crow Skip to content
Posted on April 15, 2024

A behind the scenes look at the creation of This Book Will Make You An Artist by illustrator Ellen Surrey

A behind the scenes look at the creation of This Book Will Make You An Artist – a blog by Ellen Surrey

In February, we were absolutely delighted to have published This Book Will Make You An Artist – a book filled with information about 25 different art techniques and ground-breaking artists from around the world alongside step-by-step instructions on how to recreate them at home, written by Ruth Millington & illustrated by Ellen Surrey. Today we are very excited to be sharing a blog from the illustrator Ellen, herself, detailing some behind the scenes look at the creation of the artwork and the book. 

Hello there! I’m Ellen Surrey, an illustrator from sunny Los Angeles, CA. I illustrated This Book Will Make You An Artist for Nosy Crow who reached out after seeing another book I illustrated, Mid-Century Modern Women In the Visual Arts. In the book, there is an illustration of artist Georgia O’Keeffe painting in the deserts of New Mexico. They liked this piece and wanted to replicate the idea by incorporating photographs of real artwork for Ruth Millington’s art history and activity book for kids, This Book Will Make You An Artist.

Illustrating a children’s book takes a lot of time and patience. The whole process for TBWMYAA took almost two years to complete! I worked closely with the team at Nosy Crow, going over sketches, color studies, and final art. I even had the rare opportunity to meet with designer Tina Garcia in person while working on the project. Overall, my experience working on TBWMYAA was enjoyable, challenging, and well worth the effort.

My typical day starts with a cup of coffee while going through emails. I work on a variety of projects, including newspaper and magazine illustrations, designing toys, and personal projects, in addition to children’s books. After catching up on any additional clerical work, I take a lunch break before diving into my illustrations.

When illustrating TBWMYAA, my work consisted of research, sketching, and creating the final artwork for the book. Creating the sketches was particularly challenging as I had to draw the artists and incorporate all the additional information while leaving enough space for the text. It was like solving a puzzle, and I enjoyed finding ways to incorporate little easter eggs related to the artists. For example, the cat on the Andy Warhol page is in reference to a book he illustrated called 25 Cats Named Sam.

Once the sketches were approved, I moved on to color studies, creating a road map of what colors everything would be in the final artwork. I also had to keep in mind that a photograph of the artist’s original work would be included in my illustration. So when picking my colors I tried to use some of the colors from the original piece for a cohesive look. Color studies were an essential tool at the beginning of the project especially when we were trying to figure out the overall look of the book. Color studies are like sketches that allow you to experiment with different ideas without committing to a final piece that may require changes later on.

When the color has been approved, I will move on to the final artwork. Because of the complexity of this book, I chose to work digitally in Photoshop. I knew working this way would give me the most flexibility if changes had to be made in the future. I like to start my digital work by blocking out the major shapes in black. I use this method to cover ground faster. From there I will go through and color all the individual parts, adding texture and more details along the way. There was a lot to keep track of so I separated my workdays into working on the artist pieces and activity pieces to keep everything organized. I also kept a to-do list for each spread of the book with notes of changes so I could gradually cross them out as I went. When the artwork was finished, I sent it to Tina, who would put everything together with the final text.  From there, it was out of my hands until it was a fully bound book.

Opening a box of new books always feels surreal as it’s the first time I get to see the final product. You open the box and suddenly see something you’ve spent years working on in its final form. It’s an exciting feeling knowing that something you have been one of the only people to see will soon be seen by the world. TBWMYAA is a special book to me as the subject is so close to my heart. As a kid, being an artist was all I wanted to do. My father was an integral part of my artistic development, being an artist himself, and it’s the reason I dedicated the book to him. He made me an artist and I look forward to this book being a part of making more young artists.

See more: Uncategorized