Book Illustrations, The Making Thereof

Making 18th Century Pictures the 21st Century Way

Ben Tripp is the son of illustrator Wallace Tripp, who worked entirely in pen, ink, and watercolor. Not just any pen and ink, but steel-nibbed dip pens and India ink. From a very early age, Ben was trained in the use of these traditional media. It's even possible that Kit Bristol's last name is an homage to Bristol board, a very heavy paperboard originally manufactured in Bristol, England. It was the surface everyone in the Tripp family worked on until computers came along.

When Ben worked at Walt Disney Imagineering in the early 1990s, he had access to some new, experimental tools like Photoshop, dye sublimation printers, drawing tablets, and color-accurate monitors. It wasn't long before the acrylics, guache, ink, markers, pastels, and oils ended up permanently languishing in the paint box. He still dabbles in real media for personal work, and often does preliminary sketches on paper, but claims he went digital because it keeps his shirts cleaner.

Every finished illustration starts with a sketch, usually in pencil

The first part of any illustration is sketching. Different poses and angles are explored, anatomy is worked out, and a sense of the tone of the finished piece is developed. The drawings above were mostly executed in pencil, although some were entirely digital. They are representative of many others which were discarded along the way—a sketch is akin to a first draft in writing, when everything is subject to change and improvement.

Ben affixes stretched tracing paper to the surface of his drawing tablet to simulate the tooth and resistance of paper in the digital environment. This means he goes through more stylus nibs than most people.

Sketches lead to the finished artwork

Here we see several iterations of one of the final book illustrations. First an early thumbnail sketch (thumbnails are very small, loose drawings), then a refinement of the thumbnail, and finally a rough ink drawing of what would become the final pose. There were further sketches to determine the overall composition, lighting, and certain details of the scene such as the bridle and bulldog. On the right is the final painting.

Ben remarks that the horse's hind leg is still too long in the gaskin. This is the kind of thing he is prone to remark.

This is an unused illustration in the pen & ink style, executed digitally from start to finish.