Hilary Tapper on creating a beach storybook

Hilary Jean TapperRecently Hilary Jean Tapper has taken over the Gecko Press instagram to show her illustration process. Hilary is the illustrator of At the Bach (international edition: Good Night, Good Beach), a beautiful picture book written by Joy Cowley about a perfect summer’s day at the beach.

Hilary walks us through her illustration process below, from research to sketching to painting.





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Hilary Tapper holding a copy of At the BachHilary Tapper holding At the Bach open to a page showing children on a beach.Kia ora! Hilary here, the illustrator of At the Bach. Gecko Press has kindly let me takeover their Instagram for today—and I wanted to share with you the process of illustrating At the Bach.

I am a picture book illustrator living in Aotearoa New Zealand, ever immersed in the wonder of picture books, the beauty of watercolour, and the joy of drawing. Creating this book was a really special process for me—I got to focus on creating a book about the delight of ‘baches’ in New Zealand culture. In order to do this, my friend and I went on an overnight trip to a beloved old bach on the east coast. I took many photos, sketches, and created the world for the characters of At the Bach. In the posts to follow, I’ll share a little behind-the-scenes of the creation of this book—including my studio, and some videos of the sketches, colour roughs, and final artwork. Enjoy!

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Photo of an art studio with a desk in the middle and art on the walls.Welcome to my studio—this is a new studio in a new home I am living in. The studio and I are still getting to know each other, the floor is gradually getting covered in paint and the walls in masking tape… (don’t tell the landlord). I’ve completed two books since being in this space, and already it is starting to feel like a sacred nest—a place I can disappear into, forget time, and just be with my pencils and paints. When I’m in the middle of a project, this place is a total mess. Right now, I’m at the end of my last book, so…it’s a little tidier. I like to build a ‘mood wall’ with whatever I’m working on at the time, which helps inspire and develop the project I’m immersed in. At the end of the project, I pull it all down and reset for the next book. I don’t know where this habit came from, but it developed on its own, and has continued to be really helpful!

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I love the creative freedom of pencil sketches, roughs, and storyboarding. This aspect of the process feels incredibly free, endless possibilities abound in terms of how the book might go. Drawing in pencil feels like sculpting for me, I love watching the lines find the characters, and the characters reveal themselves to me. I never really know where it is going. It’s an incredible feeling of trusting the process, and leaning into the unknown. A lot of drawing is required in the early stages of a picture book—and it moves from incredibly rough forms into the final line work.

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As the linework is getting further refined, I also am thinking about the colour palette and what colours I will use for the book. This is decided in relationship to the context of where the story is set (in this case, it is the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand), as well as the mood/emotion of the story. I explore lots of different colour options, and do sample colour roughs to test out how I will paint the final artwork. This stage often feels a bit nerve wracking for me—leaping from black and white line to colour is a big step in the process, and, as you might know, watercolour can be incredibly subtle and changeful. Part of me begins to surrender to the process at this point!

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The final art for any book feels immense. I block off everything in my calendar and dive in for a couple weeks. Like any creative might know, it can take over your life! It’s an incredible feeling to be in the stage of final art because I feel almost one with the artwork, and the work reveals itself as I keep painting. I’ll be painting for ten to twelve hours a day (it takes a LONG time!), listen to a lot of music (though usually, I end up with the same album on repeat) and the occasional podcast. I’m in my utmost concentration mode. It’s almost like a meditation, single-minded focus for a long stretch of time. Snacks are absolutely essential. Coming out the other end feels incredible, and then is usually followed by crazy exhaustion. What a wonder the creative process is.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some behind-the-scenes of the At the Bach illustration process!

At the Bach is available now from all good bookstores in New Zealand and on our website. It is available as Good Night, Good Beach from all good bookstores in Australia, United Kingdom, and United States.

At the Bach cover