A Day in the Life: Illustrator Kimberly Andrews

Kimberly Andrews is the illustrator of the re-illustrated Joy Cowley picture book, Song of the River (Gecko Press). Here she tells us – in words and pictures – about her daily creative routine, and her container home and studio.

Kimberly and her partner on the balcony of their converted shipping container home.

My average day is a balance between picture book illustration, design work for my business Tumbleweed Tees, looking after my 6 month old baby and having coffee at cafes. I live in a converted shipping container tiny home, that sits on top of another converted shipping container which is my studio and workshop. I use photoshop with a Wacom Cintiq, and have just recently bought an iPad Pro which I look forward to using more.

Cut-out of container home and studio.

Having a baby has changed the way I work, and now I spend a lot more time going out for long walks, pulling funny faces in the mirror and playing. This gives me valuable perspective, especially when working on a big illustration project like a picture book, and forces me to slow down. The time that I do have to work on illustration is used efficiently!

The first thing I did after reading the manuscript for Song of the River, was sketch character concepts for Cam and his Grandfather.

Character concepts for Cam and his Grandpa, used with permission, copyright Kimberly Andrews

I then gather ideas for scenes or colour pallets online, and sit down with an A4 blank storyboard template, and sketch out the pages. This allows me to get down ideas for each page, without being too precious about drawing. I was conscious to try and use varied ‘camera angles’ for the spreads – sometimes the reader is looking down at a ‘birds-eye’ view, other times the angle is more unique, such as looking up from underwater or at a cross section of the river.

Storyboard for Song of the River, used with permission, copyright Kimberly Andrews

Once the storyboard seems to flow well, I take each thumbnail and enlarge them on their own file, and use this as the base for my rough illustrations. Here, I further flesh out my initial idea, still keeping the drawing loose, but refining characters’ gestures and body positions. Being in black and white, these rough illustrations are quick, and importantly give me the opportunity to see if everything is working tonally.

Roughs for Song of the River, used with permission, copyright Kimberly Andrews

The roughs are sent off to the publisher and book designer for approval and then, with a few tweaks, it is on to final art. I create a grid in a notebook, which allows me to progress consecutively through the illustrations to maintain consistency i.e. I will paint all the backgrounds, then I will move on to all the sky and clouds, then trees… etc.

I use the rough as a base layer when setting up the final file, and I redraw the characters in pencil. Then moving from background to foreground, I work up the illustration.

I find the most satisfying part of the process is the shading and lighting, which I leave until last. I use adjustment layers on Photoshop, ‘painting’ on the shadows first. It is important for me to know where the light source is on each page and I will often draw an arrow to remind myself. I will add the light source (usually the sun) as one of the top most adjustment layers, set to overlay.

Once I am happy with the illustration I will send previews to the publishers and book designer, and if there aren’t too many changes, my work is largely done. Then comes that most exciting day when the physical books arrives in the post and I get to hold it, feel it, smell it and best of all, read it to my daughter!

Kimberly and her daughter read Song of the River

Kimberly Andrews

Wellingtonian Kimberly Andrews is an author and illustrator who grew up in the Canadian Rockies. Her bestselling picture book Puffin the Architectis currently nominated in two categories at this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Kimberly has illustrated a beautiful reissue of Joy Cowley’s timeless story Song of the River, bringing this wonderful tale to life for a new generation of young readers.