The Story I’ll Paint: Part 4 – Color Magic, Plus a Giveaway

Welcome to part four of my series on the making of The Story I’ll Tell. (Read down to the end of the post for the first print giveaway!) And now: color.

The Story I’ll Tell weaves a lyrical tapestry of fantasy and reality, and I wanted the palette of the illustrations to match the lush, dreamlike quality of the manuscript. I noticed early on that the story alternated between daytime and nighttime scenes, and I knew this would become an important element in the illustrations.

Reference images were the starting point. These Ukiyo-e prints were the inspiration for the blue nighttime pages. Matching the color was not a priority so much as capturing the mood of the image. I tied to imagine how it might feel, physically and emotionally, to step into these peaceful nighttime scenes.

Left: "Moonlight, Soochow," Elizabeth Keith, 1924. Right: "Moon at Arakawa River,"  Hasui Kawase, 1929.

Left: "Moonlight, Soochow," Elizabeth Keith, 1924. Right: "Moon at Arakawa River," Hasui Kawase, 1929.

Once I knew what I was going for, I made a detailed color study for each image Photoshop. I find this useful for getting the value range correct. (For those not familiar with art terminology, value is the measure of how light or dark something is. Not to be confused with saturation, which is a measure of how vivid the color’s hue is.) Ideally I want the illustrations to read just as clearly in black and white as they do in color, and good value organization is essential. Coloring an image in Photoshop is such a mindless activity that I listened to quite a few audiobooks during this phase. Then I made a full-color, printed dummy.

B&W and color study for the jacket of The Story I'll Tell, by Jessica Lanan

I ended up lightening the value of the background for the final art in order to make the figures more visible.

Finally, I painted color studies and chose an overall palette for the book. I wanted to use similar pigments throughout the book, and I needed a blue that could work either with a warm (daytime) or cool (nighttime) color palette. I tried quite a few combinations before I settled on Holbein’s French Ultramarine, Cadmium Yellow light, and Winsor Red, with other colors as needed. I went through a tube and a half of blue.

Color studies by Jessica Lanan for The Story I'll Tell

Experimentation is key

Okay, you’ve been waiting for it: it’s giveaway time! Leave a comment for a chance to win a giclée print from the book. (It has to be a real comment. If it’s about Louis Vuitton handbags or search engine optimization, I’ll delete it.) Winner will be announced this Friday, October 23. And if you don’t win this time, you’ll have another chance next week with my final installment in the series.

Print from The Story I'll Tell, Illustrated by Jessica Lanan

Coming up next: Painting with Guts! The final art, and how to avoid being wimpy with watercolor.
Other posts in the series:
We Have a Winner
The Story I'll Paint: Part 3 – Devil's in the Details


  1. by Hayley Barrett on October 21, 2015  7:58 pm Reply

    Jessica, I'm counting the days until the release of this gorgeous book! Congratulations!

    • by Jess on October 21, 2015  8:00 pm Reply

      Aw, thanks! I hope people like it... :P

  2. by Jaime Bogardy on October 21, 2015  8:08 pm Reply

    This is amazing!! I've really been enjoying your posts about the creative process. Let's have dinner and wine some time soon. :)

    • by Jess on October 22, 2015  12:08 am Reply

      Absolutely! I want to hear all about your trip.

  3. by Katie Galli Holden on October 21, 2015  10:31 pm Reply

    We just pre-ordered it on Amazon and can't wait for it to come. The illustrations look so beautiful and we are thrilled to find a book about adoption that features a little boy -- perfect for our growing family as we prepare to bring home a son next year :) So happy for you that you have been able to pursue art!

    • by Jess on October 22, 2015  12:08 am Reply

      That's great news, Katie! Congratulations!

  4. by Anya Leinberger on October 22, 2015  12:25 am Reply

    This blog series is so much fun to follow! Way more interesting than blogs about leadership development.... :)

  5. by Miranda on October 22, 2015  2:44 am Reply

    Thank you so much for doing all theses posts! It's so important for prospective illustrators to see how a story comes together!

  6. by Priscilla Alpaugh on October 22, 2015  3:09 am Reply

    beautiful work! Can't wait to read more about your process.

  7. by Meridth Gimbel on October 22, 2015  1:33 pm Reply

    Mouth wateringly gorgeous work. Thanks for showing the process. (I love seeing the [woman] behind the curtain.)

  8. by Aaron Becker on October 23, 2015  2:13 am Reply

    Looks gorgeous and great to see your process. I do love picking my blues because even in a book that is not so blue heavy, it does make a big difference to the final painting. Lately I have been experimenting with using a couple in each painting just because it can be so frustrating to have the photoshop comp work and then have it not quite get there on paper when I've limited myself to one tube. Looking forward to your other posts and seeing the book.

    • by Jess on October 23, 2015  5:00 pm Reply

      Thanks, Aaron. I totally agree about the blues. By trying to have the same pigments on every page, I ended up needing to use a high saturation red, yellow AND blue. It made the book "prettier" than I intended, especially because I ended up relying on the dark value of the blue to make shadows in scenes where the shadows really ought to be warm in tone. I think I'll take a different approach next time, and limit the gamut more.

  9. Pingback : Jessica Lanan Illustration » Pictures and Words » The Story I’ll Paint: Part 5 – Painting with Guts

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