Tomie and the Lesson

Earlier this week was the illustration submission deadline for the Tomie dePaola Award. The winner gets all expenses paid to the NYSCBWI Winter conference, the illustration proudly shown at the Portfolio Showcase, and a huge nod from Tomie, which is immeasurable. The specific prompt was from Phillip Pullman's version of Little Red Riding Hood, which was quite amusing with bottles of wine and cake and threats of not breaking them. It could be produced in any media, color, b&w, or limited palette as long as it was 8X8.  Now what to do?

I've often struggled with style, flip-flopping between linocut and watercolor and ink and watercolor, never really finding my line. I LOVE the linocut work, but it is very time consuming, the ink needs to dry for at least a week before I can go back in with watercolor. Not avery good choice for fast editorial changes. I did try one with Speedball ink, scanned it and colored digitally. I loved how easy it was to change this or that and amend the image, but the final result, though very similar in color tone to my watercolors, was just not the same. It looked the same, but it didn't FEEL the same to me. It feels like I cheated myself. I am a very tactile person, and the digital work leaves me wanting.

With watercolor and ink, I was sketching, then painting, and adding line in last. It froze up the image and you lost the detail after you painted it.  I have always sketched with a very loose line, and have always loved the line quality of that, but never was quite sure how to make it transfer to the final piece. Until now. I finally found a good ink that is waterproof when dry. Previously, I may have not been letting the other inks I tried fully cure and it resulted in smearing and smudging with the watercolor. It made me sad.

Watercolor is meant to be a loose medium and many people want to control it, but I had a wonderful watercolor teacher at RISD, Cindy Baron, who taught us in the class to throw that paint around. Mix it all up in the tray, spray the piece, let it drip and drab. And if you ever have seen one of her paintings, you would have no idea this is how she works. It was a wonderful lesson. She demonstrated how she painted people and redid an image of Fred. Looking at it, you would think she went in with a very fine, dry brush. She threw the paint around and blocked things in very fast. It was amazing to watch! Here is another version of Fred. Her work is stunning! Check it out at

Cindy Baron  "A Moment with Fred"
Watercolor   8" x 13"  

I also spoke with a few wonderful watercolorists , Priscilla Alpaugh Cotter and Jennifer Thermes, about inking first or last and they both said last. Just be sure that the ink is dry. I purchased some new ink and did some tests for the Tomie piece. It worked wonderfully! I was able to keep my loose line (even through many tests and sketches) and loosen up with the watercolor.

 Tomie wanted to see Red differently, so I thought of the way her "cap" could be different as it was never stated to be a hooded cape in this version. I drew a bunch of different hats: berets, baseball caps, and even a Shriner's Fez ( that was almost the winner in my mind). But then I found THE hat. I love the 20's and the style of clothing and I thought a cloche hat would be perfect. Plus I ran with the idea that the bottle of wine was being smuggled to grandma during the prohibition. Explains why everyone would be sore if it was broken. I also liked the idea of a limited palette and referenced many illustrations from the 1920's, though did not go for a direct look stylistically. 

I was looser in my style than usual for the Tomie piece and I found it very enjoyable.When you find your groove creatively, it's a magical place to be. Then the doubt creeps in, when you see all of the wonderful pieces that are being submitted, all so masterfully done, many with spectacular detail. Then you have to remember that you had fun being loose and carefree. And no matter who wins, though NY is a great conference and I would love to go, it's good to know you enjoyed creating your piece and look forward to creating many more in the same style, your style!

Happy painting everyone! Here is my final submission, loose and light.

Tomie dePaola submission 2016 by Brook Gideon. Ink and watercolor.


  1. Congrats on finishing your illustration!
    And, thanks for encouraging me to participate!
    I too had a lot of fun creating my illustration:)

  2. It looks wonderful, Brook. Interesting to hear about how you came to it. And about the digital work leaving you "wanting." I'm not an illustrator (but I'm married to one), and I think that's an excellent way to describe the struggle sometimes with digital painting. Good luck with your submission!


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