Ryan and his son Riley.
Ryan lives in New Hampshire.
To see more of Ryan's illustrations, please visit
creating the art for:
READ! READ! READ!
by Ryan O'Rourke
In the fifteen years, I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator, my process has taken many twists and turns. I’ve bounced back and forth between traditional and digital processes, trying a variety of techniques using oil paint, gouache, collage, and photoshop. I’ve been lucky that my art directors have given me the freedom and flexibility to explore new processes while working on book projects. I appreciate the faith they’ve had in me as I’ve experimented with new techniques.
With Read! Read! Read!, my process became much more streamlined. After years of relying on traditional media, I started to employ more digital technique than ever before. The two books I illustrated before Read! Read! Read! were great warm-ups for the approach I took with this book. In the past two to three years, I made a conscious decision to put more emphasis on my drawing and design. I knew that making this change would mean I would have to simplify parts of my process. With this book, I feel like I’ve achieved a nice balance between ink line, textures created with traditional media, and digital color.
My process begins with lots of references. I scour the Internet for any inspiration I can find for each drawing. I collect folders of reference for each spread prior to starting my sketches. I usually put the reference into a slideshow on my computer while I sketch. I try to get as many references as possible so I’m not too heavily influenced by one source. On occasion, I’ll take my own reference photos if possible.
After numerous tiny thumbnail sketches, I create half-size sketches that I eventually blow up to full size. I add more and more detail to the sketches as I enlarge them. I try to find as much room for detail in the sketch before I proceed to final art.
Once my sketches have been approved by my art director, I print out each sketch lightly on Bristol paper with my lines colored red. I print them in red so they can easily be removed after I’ve finished inking. I use a combination of technical and brush pens when applying ink to my sketches. I always try to maintain fluidity and life in my linework to give movement to my drawings.
After the lines are finished, I scan them in and apply color in Photoshop. I use a variety of textured brushes that mimic traditional media such as gouache and acrylic. Kyle T. Webster’s brushes have been an absolute godsend for my career. I mainly rely on five to six brushes when applying color. I love how his brushes provide flexibility and control while allowing room for spontaneity.
Once my colors have been laid in, I apply traditional textures that I create by hand. I also add gradients to give extra life to the pieces. I’d like to say the process ends there but it never does. I always go through numerous color and value adjustments before I decide on a final solution.
I can’t say how much fun I had in the creation of Read! Read! Read! When I received Amy’s poems, I was immediately blown away. It was a rare occasion that when reading the authors, engaging, rich text, I could see the images that would eventually make their way into the book. Rebecca Davis’ art direction was also incredibly key in bringing the book to life. She always gave me the extra push to make each image more successful when I needed it.
In the children’s book course, I teach at New Hampshire Institute of Art, I stress the importance of teamwork when working on a book. I note that each book is a collaborative process. The author, illustrator, art director, designer, and editor all need to use their expertise to help bring a book to life. With Read! Read! Read! I feel like we hit a sweet spot where each creative involved gave their absolute best to help create an outstanding finished product. As a father of three, I’m so proud that this book will be a part of their lives for years to come. Big thanks to Amy, Rebecca, my agent Emily Mitchell and the rest of the team for making me a part of the book.