Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Birthday Will Hillenbrand - May 31

 Happy Birthday Will Hillenbrand - May 31

When I started researching information on Will Hillenbrand, children's book author and illustrator of over 50 books,  I became fascinated by the pictures and description of his illustration process in Starting from Sketch: Inside the Picture Book with Will Hillenbrand.  (Hillenbrand describes his complete art process on his website. Will has since updated his website and describes using photoshop for his art process too.).  In this downloadable PDF article, Hillenbrand takes the reader through each of the steps he makes to create his illustrations.  He tells about his "unusual technique" of using heavy tracing paper to transform the sketch into a painting.  I wanted to try this process with my children.  I remember loving tracing paper when I was a kid and I was hoping they would enjoy it as much as I did.

I went to the craft store to find vellum or heavy tracing paper. This particular store did not have transparent paper in the art supply section of the store.  However, I was able to find 12" x 12" transparent paper that was thicker than regular tracing paper in the scrapbooking area.  It was $3.99 for 20 sheets! Once we got home we set up our supplies at the kitchen table.  Will Hillenbrand talked about drawing when he was a boy on his website, "I drew mostly at the kitchen table, but also used crayons on stairwell walls.  My early pictures still decorate the basement of my mother's house."
For Hillenbrand, he traces his final sketch onto the transparent paper.  To copy this technique, my daughter used sketches from a drawing pad that has an outline of a girl on it.  She has been designing clothes, shoes, and hair styles to go on the girls.  She chose her 3 favorite girls and traced them onto the vellum.  I had my son draw directly onto the tracing paper.  He chose to draw a slide, an alien sliding down, and a ferris wheel.
Once the tracing of our sketches was finished we flipped over the vellum and started to add color to the back side.  My children chose to paint, but you could use colored pencil, pastels, art markers, etc.
If you are pressed for time I would use a quick drying medium.  The paint took a while to dry. 

We used watercolors on a poster board to create a background while we waited for our paint to dry on the vellum. My son used blue watercolor to make a sky.  Once everything was dry we sprayed the watercolored poster board with adhesive, flipped over the vellum, and carefully placed it on the poster board. 

Now with the vellum secure we worked on the front side.  The best part about this technique is that the pencil lines were still visible which helped us add more detail.  My children chose to use Sharpie markers to add more color.  Hillenbrand says, "I don't just use oil paint, however.  I use anything that will give me the look I want for the page - watercolor, crayons, colored pencils, chalk, pastels, and pencils."
I think if we did this project again my daughter would not use paint. She had trouble making small details which frustrated her.
Our finished Hillbrand-style illustrations.  
There is also a great video provided by Will Hillenbrand showing each of these steps on his website.  Look for "This Little Pig" Process on his Art Process Page.

The night after completing our paintings we read My Book Box. In this book,  Elephant and his trusty sidekick, Frog, have an empty box. They question, "What can I do with a box?" They imagine all the things they can do with it -- a sock box, a hide and seek box, etc.  However, their favorite idea is to make a book box.  The book box becomes an important part of Elephant and Frog's reading experience together.  My daughter said after reading this book, "We have to make a book box!"  We didn't have time with the holiday to try it out. But, there are simple instructions at the back of the book to guide you through this activity.

I want to leave you with my favorite quote that I found this week by Will Hillenbrand.  He mentioned this is an interview with Alice Buening of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, "Before you can be clever about the pictures you make, you have to be clever enough to come up with a structure that is going to allow you to do it.  If you solve that mystery, you've made it."

We love books that let us sing together. Check out these two books that we liked by Will Hillenbrand:


1. Will Hillenbrand's Website - Plus, a great Activities Page
2. Interviews - Harcourt Books, Cincinnati Illustrator's Blog, WCPO-TV
3. Will Hillenbrand's YouTube Channel

Check out this video below of Will Hillenbrand reading What a Treasure!.  This was my son's favorite book that he read this week!


  1. Thank you so much. This is a a new author for me (I have no idea how with 50+ books to his name!) and one I am very eager to read now. Let us know how the books boxes go.

    I think the two Hillebrand-style pantings your kids produced are remarkable!

    1. I had the pleasure of meeting Will at our SCBWI conference last fall -- he is from Ohio. He is such a great person, soft-spoken, encouraging. He signed his book, Cock-a-Doodle Christmas for my kids.

  2. Oh I must add this to my Mother Goose Collection. I LOVE his art. And your children's art is not too shoddy either! Btw, I use a blow dryer to speed the drying process when I work. I couldn't live without it :-)

    1. I will tell my kids the next time we use a hair dryer -- "even Iza Trapani uses a hair dryer to help speed up the process!" Thanks for reading!


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