Tuesday 4 January 2022

The Tale Of One Artist And Several Badgers

 The Tales Of Old Billy Badger illustrator Mark Hetherington discusses what it was like working on the project

If anyone had asked me eighteen months ago there is no way I I’d have told them that the main theme for my 2021 was likely to be badgers!

It all began a couple of years ago when BA head honcho Mandy told me about ‘’From Badgers to Nighthawks’, a manuscript she had received from Malcolm J. Ingham recounting his experiences as a wildlife ranger. Mal had found a lovely Victorian print he wanted to use for the cover and Mandy asked me to do the cover design, to make the print work as a cover image.

Little did I know that Mal was already working on his next project, a book for children inspired by the real animals – and people – he had been involved with. Mandy asked me to draw the illustrations for the book in mid-2020 but as ‘The Tales of Old Billy Badger’ wouldn’t be coming out until Christmas 2021 and I had other projects to work on it wasn’t until several months later that I was able to make a start. Even then had to interrupt work on ‘Billy’ several times as other jobs with shorter deadlines came in.

One unfortunate thing about the timing was that it came during a time when my drawing style was evolving. Artists’ and illustrators’ can sometimes change quite a lot over the course of their careers. Sometimes the change is slow and barely noticeable and at other times, as in this case, it can occur quite quickly. Because of this the original drawing for the first chapter wasn’t very satisfactory and I eventually did three versions of the image and had to change the pose completely for the final version, for something that suited my new way of working better.

Sketch for the rejected image for Chapter One

My process, once technical hitches like stylistic evolution were out of the way, was more or less the same for all of the images. Mandy had sent me the text for the book and I read it through, noting scenes or events that would make a good illustration. I also had to bear in mind certain images Mal wanted to include in the story. He sent some copies of old prints which asked me to use as the basis for two or three of the illustrations. The pictures of the otter hunt for Chapter Four and the otters Casper and Shadow for Chapter Nine, for example, were based on images sent by Mal.

An old print sent by Mal which formed the basis for the pictures of Casper and Shadow in Chapter Nine

To begin with I sent Mandy pencil roughs of the drawings but we have been working together for a while so she trusts me to just get on with it and after the first couple I would just send her the completed drawing. This isn’t to say I can just do it how I like though, if Mandy (or Mal for that matter) didn’t think the result was up to scratch she told me so and I would do it again. This didn’t happen often though and the whole process ran remarkably smoothly.

Once all the drawings were completed, they were scanned and, if necessary, cleaned up in photoshop. This doesn’t necessarily mean the images were dirty or messy, just that certain things need to be adjusted at times. For example, I used both marker pens and Indian ink in the drawings and when scanned some lines or marks can reflect the light from the scanner slightly differently and appear lighter or darker than those made using different tools or media. Adjusting them in Photoshop means you can make the blacks look more uniform and closer to how the image looks in real life.

The difference between the 'raw' scan and the cleaned-up version used in the book

After that the images were all emailed to Mandy who formatted the text and placed the images where they needed to be. I did the cover design based on a template provided by the printer which gives guidelines for things such as the barcode placement and how close to the edge the text can go without accidentally being trimmed when the covers are printed. The cover was then saved as a pdf and again emailed to Mandy. Then, for Mal, Mandy (after some publishing wizardry!) and I, came the task of telling the world about ‘The Tales of Old Billy Badger’!

Click to get your copy here!