Methods of Work

Paul Galdone in the studio
He would rise early, often in the predawn hours and go directly to the studio. He often used this time to make layout decisions or to take a fresh look at work from the previous day, sometimes revising or completely redrawing.

Later in the morning he would come down for breakfast, dress and usually find some time to go outdoors for a walk or to work in gardens, fields and woods around his home. Much of his communication with publishers was done by telephone. It being before the cordless era, he had a loud outdoor bell installed so that he could run in to answer calls. The mail delivery was a pivotal point of his day, as he was usually waiting for something to arrive from New York, such as proofs, details of new job offers, manuscripts and other correspondence with editors and authors.

Galdone used live models whenever possible, recruiting pets, family members, friends and neighbors or even strangers whose looks happened to fit the characters he was working on. Modeling sessions usually included photography as well as sketching. He was an early proponent of the Polaroid Land Camera which used roll film that developed outside the camera in about a minute. He would often take multiple shots of the same pose until he was satisfied that the body position and details would work in a drawing. Posing for him could be quite arduous as a result of this thoroughness. He never drew from photographs directly but used them to visualize the parts of illustrations that he said “you can’t invent.” He was particularly concerned with the folds of clothing and drapery, facial expressions, gestures and angles and foreshortening in the human figure and in animals. He was quick to point out and criticize illustrations that were drawn too literally from photographs, thinking them stiff and lifeless.

He often used himself as a model for a variety of male characters, with a family member behind the camera.
Paul Galdone's Polaroid method
Paul Galdone's cover sketch
The development of the book dummy was crucial to his method. He would lay out the pages, taping in blocks of type cut from the printed galley and making very rough drawings. He would then workout the drawings in more detail, usually in pencil and watercolor. The drawings at this stage were always very loose and dynamic. He would show the dummies to the editors in New York City, often in person before beginning the finish work.
Paul Galdone works with a projector
Starting in the early 1960s, he used an Art-O-Graph overhead projector to transfer the dummies, usually drawn in reduced size, to the illustration boards on which he would do the final drawings. With this method he sought to retain the gesture and dynamism of the sketches as the basis for the finished pages.

Once the final drawings were underway he would develop details using models and his extensive personal library of pictoral reference books and publications. He would frequently visit the picture collection of The New York Public Library to search for reference material as well as browse the shelves of friends and relatives. He was greatly concerned with making his illustrations accurate. He would carefully research costumes, architecture and objects, guarding against anachronisms and inaccuracies in his drawings.

Color, in most books, would be added by means of three-color separations. In earlier books these were done in black ink on three layers of transparent plastic film, overlaying the finished drawings. In later years the publisher would have the drawings printed on illustration board using non-reproducing blue ink. Galdone would receive three copies of each drawing in blue and one in black, plus some extras of each. He would use paint on the black print to work out the color. Then he would use black ink or watercolor on the “blues” to represent each printed color; red, yellow and blue. This process required being able to visualize how the colors would mix without seeing actual color until the first proofs arrived from the printer. It also required him to pick the hues to be used and specify the value of each color on every page in percentages.

Galdone continued to use color separations until the end of his career, while the fashion in children’s book illustration was trending toward meticulously rendered, full color paintings. Occasionally he would do a book in full color “process” but most were done using separations. He came to prefer this method, seeing it as a medium to itself with a clarity and vibrancy that complemented the line of his drawings.