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A professional illustrator with over 85 published children's books, Ruth Sanderson also creates colouring books for adults, book covers, fantasy art, and more. Having grown up in Massachusettes, US, Ruth taught herself to drawn and paint, using her beloved horse, Duke, as a model and was inspired by the magical abandoned Theme Park in the wood near her house which still inspires her story-led fantasy artwork today.
How long have you been illustrating and what made you start?
I’ve been illustrating since1976, including children’s books, (over 80!) book covers, magazine art and collector’s plates. I’ve always loved to draw and paint and don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to create art.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I have always loved reading, and my favorite stories growing up were fairy tales and horse stories. Those are also the themes I illustrate the most today, plus classics like The Night Before Christmas. Most of my work is illustrating stories, so ideas in those cases come from the story itself. In terms of the colouring books, my most recent one is Fantastic Cats, which was inspired by some of the stories I’ve illustrated, plus original pictures I created in pen and ink. I had fun drawing cats in period costumes and playing with a few styles from very simple to quite complex. I love cats, so it is easy to guess where this idea came from! A colouring book of my horse illustration will be forthcoming next year, as well as a few more fairy tales and another Christmas book next fall.
Where is your favourite place to illustrate?
I have a new studio with a big window on my backyard garden and open woods, beyond which is a farm and a little mountain in the background. I see birds, squirrels, deer, fox, and an occasional bear! I love drawing and painting there.
What are your illustrating/colouring material essentials?
I like to colour with Prismacolor Premiers and Verithin coloured pencils. I often use Gamsol (mineral spirits) to blend the layers instead of burnishing. (see tips, below) A white gel pen works great for highlights. I use Copic, Sakura, and Micron pens to create art for my line art books. For my other illustration work, apart from colouring books, I like to use graphite, scratchboard, oils, watercolor, and gouache, but not all at once! Many of my colouring books are carefully grayscaled versions of my oil paintings.
What’s the piece of work that you’re most proud of or enjoyed doing the most?
My favourite fairy tale has always been The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and I feel the artwork I created for that book is my best work. The grayscale colouring book version of the story is the first volume of my Beautiful Fairy Tales series. You can find more info on all my books, as well as links to my social media and my YouTube channel, on my website.
I always suggest that people not familiar with grayscale colouring watch a few YouTube tutorials. I have some on my channel and there are many more. Like everything, people have their own methods and you have to find out what method you prefer. One important tip would be to color with a light even hand in many “layers” in each area with two or three pencils of the same color in light medium and/or dark tones, and not bear down on the pencils too quickly. Bear down with richer colour in folds, following the value pattern of the grayscale. I have noticed that colourless blending pencils don’t work that well on grayscale, but that colourless blending markers do work well!. I suggest either burnishing (the final stage of bearing down hard in an area with a light pencil to blend the colors and flatten the paper texture to create a smooth effect) with the lightest colored pencil over each area, blending with a colourless marker, or blending with a tortillon or brush dipped in Gamsol odorless mineral spirits, putting a sheet of paper under the page for either of the final two options. It will evaporate after you blend, and works beautifully over layers of wax-based pencils like Prismacolor. It will take a little practice, and trial and error, but well worth the effort! This final burnishing stage is one that some people using colored pencils don’t do, and it is important if you want to a smooth, finished look. Another grayscale tip would be to always use a warm color over the grays in shadow areas of faces.