Graham at his desk. Photo: Peter Wiles
Part Of The Process
Before Graham began work on his first book, The Church Mouse, he had to provide his publisher with a rough version so that they could get an idea of what the finished product might look like. It was a practice he continued throughout the Church Mice series. Graham explains the steps he took.
“The normal thing is you produce a dummy first, which is exactly the same format as the finished book, but done by hand. Once I’d thought of the story I could do a dummy in two or three weeks, if the working was very rough. But it usually took me a full six months to do the finished book.
“In those pre-computer days I used an ordinary typewriter to indicate the type on the dummy, and did rough sketches, mostly in black and white, to show what the picture would be like. Then I’d paste it together to look virtually as the page would be, and bound it in book form simply by sticking the loose leaves together with tape. The book length was restricted to 32 pages, so if the story needed more scenes I’d fit several pictures on a page. Then it had to be approved by several people who all wanted to make alterations and suggestions which I normally wouldn’t take any notice of! Once you get that approved you can start the finished artwork.
“A lot of artists work half up. When it is half up you don’t actually reduce it by half for printing, you reduce by a third. But I work at SS – same size – because I like to see that what I am doing is what it is going to look like when printed. You get more of an idea of what you can get in if you work same size. I have tried working half-up, but what I do doesn’t seem to look very good when it is reduced. As one’s eyesight tends to get worse, I suppose in time I’ll be compelled to work half up, but I don’t need to quite yet.
“If I thought the rough was good enough, I would square it up by putting one-inch squares all over it so that I could make an accurate copy. Then I would start a new pencil drawing referencing from the squared-up original. So if, for example, I had sketched a face in rough, I would copy the rough but add more detail.”
Once Graham had completed his pencil outlines for the finished artwork, he went over them using Indian ink, thereby creating a line drawing. To colour in he used a selection of coloured inks which he diluted with water and painted on with a brush.
“The ink line would still be visible, so they were essentially line and wash drawings,” says Graham. “The problem with ink is that once it is dry you can’t move it or do a thing with it. I developed a dodge in the end, using a paper which used to be called CS10, made by Colyer & Southey, who are now defunct. It had almost an enamel-like surface, which you could scrape off. So if you made a bad blunder with the ink, you could get a razor blade and actually scrape the top layer away without destroying the surface. It was even possible to do it two or three times, but after that you got through the enamel-like surface down to the board underneath. You’d had it then because it was yellow and just bled when you tried to paint on it. But at least it gave you a few chances!
“Indian inks have a cleanness and clarity to them, but they also have the rather unfortunate characteristic of fading in sunlight. I sell my originals and I’ve sold virtually all the Church Mouse drawings, but you have to warn anybody who buys them not to expose them to sunlight.
“The inks also had a slight sheen and tended to reflect the light, and printers hated that. They could overcome the problem easily because virtually every artist was using inks back then. But despite the dislike printers had for them, they did reproduce very well.
“The printers could reproduce more or less any colour you painted, so there weren’t really restrictions, but there are certain colours they found hard to match, particularly the very bright ones. Purples somehow don’t seem to come out very well either, but it’s pretty good when you think that in printing virtually every colour is made from cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These days they can do virtually anything and if they are prepared to spend the money. They will add a separate plate for a colour which is hard to get just by mixing the three primaries.
“I think that The Church Mice At Bay, with the swinging vicar, was the first book I did using watercolour paint which, unlike the ink, you can wipe off if you make a mistake. From then on I started laying down the washes first and painting in the line work afterwards.
“All the Church Mice books, with a few exceptions, were done with either transparent ink or water colour, but I now use opaque body-colour paint which requires less skill because if you make a mistake you can just paint over the top of it. For body colour I use gouache which is basically watercolour containing Chinese white to make it opaque. I didn’t really use gouache until the last couple of Church Mice books.
“These days I work on top of the dummy, so I don’t really do roughs any more. What I sometimes do, if I feel a thing is not going well and starts looking a bit overworked, is make computer print of it and then paint over the computer print, rather than do the whole thing again. I just don’t have the patience for that anymore.”