When it came time to begin illustrations on “My First Book of Zombies,” I knew I wanted to go in a different direction from “The New Bed Book.” The Drawing Carl app used for the bed book was fine but I was looking for more freedom and flexibility than the made-for-kids app could provide.
I scoured the app store to find “Sketches.” With good reviews and a free option, I decided to give it a try. Sketches is made by the same publisher as Drawing Carl so the learning curve was smooth. With an upgrade to the paid version, I unlocked the ability to import photos, to have increased size control with the stylus and some new brushes. The import feature allowed me to set photo backgrounds to use as multiple layers in the illustrations.
The system began to materialize as I imported photos to use as backgrounds and sketch on top. I transitioned from using the script as a guide for the illustrations to using the illustrations as a guide to the script. I suppose it’s a bit like writing the words to the music or the music to the words. It was a completely novel process but one that felt natural. I could focus on creating something that was visually appealing with the comfort of knowing I could add interesting words later.
I wanted the look of the zombies to be fairly plain, void of graphic blood and gore and focused on big-picture information that kids could accept readily. Zombie skin is gray or green. Their eyes are yellow or green and their clothes are downright shabby. The app even has an airbrush option to spray the zombies with a subtle dirt squirt. As someone that has watched Kevin Smith talk to the Walking Dead wardrobe designer more times than I care to remember, I realize the importance of a good dirt squirt.
The swing set, the campfire, the front windows and, of course, the dinner table were transformed and inhabited by the undead. Some things didn’t change from my time with Drawing Carl, though. Draw a circle, press undo, circle, undo and then circle again. Something about the process seemed more fluid and enjoyable but surely longer. With taking dozens of photos for each setting, viewing them, importing and finalizing the illustration easily consumed a few hours. Unfortunately, “My First Book of Zombies” did not lend itself to cheating like the bed book. Each illustration was completely fresh and original.
The kids loved watching the progression. As they watched their post-dinner TV block, I was afforded the time and attention to draw. By the time the end credits rolled, the broad strokes were done and the fine-tuning could be finished later. They cheered and requested more. I knew I was on to something good.