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From the Studio

By Michael Hall

People often ask me how I created the final art for the book Perfect Square. I wrote about the river illustration last March, so I’ll use it as an example to describe the process.

First, the blue/teal texture: On a sheet of white paper, apply thin uneven coats of varying amounts of blue and teal acrylic monotype ink with a brayer.

I usually do several so there’s a lot to choose from.

When the ink is dry, select and cut six 1”x 6” sections and send them to your friendly art director, who will have them converted to process colors for printing. A few weeks later, you will get a paper proof and a computer file of the texture strips.

Next, cut a 5” x 5” piece of paper into horizontal strips with pinking shears. As any tailor can tell you, pinking shears are not designed to cut paper, so this step can be tricky. The key is in the timing: Wait until you’re absolutely sure that your wife will be away for at least an hour, sneak into her sewing box, grab her pinking shears, hurry (but don’t run) back to the studio, cut the paper square into six horizontal strips and, for goodness sake, don’t forget to return the shears before your wife gets home. Even after years of experience, I’ve yet to master this technique.*

Now for the computer part: Scan the six cut pieces of paper into the computer. Bring one of the strips into Photoshop along with one of the 1″ x 6″ color texture strips (A). I like to use the magic wand tool (B) to combine the color texture with the cut paper strip (C). Presto! Repeat using the five other cut-paper and inked textured strips and arrange the resulting pieces as desired (D).

So far, so good. But it doesn’t look like a river, so the next — and most difficult — step is to stock the river with fish.

Here’s the problem: If you simply draw a fish and scan it into the computer, the fish will not likely survive the digitization process.

Fortunately, there is a workaround: Draw a picture of a fish in a fishbowl (A). Carefully scan the picture (B). Bring the digitized image into Photoshop and check to see that the fish is doing well (C). Finally, using your rotation tool, turn the bowl gently, pouring the water and fish into the river (D). Add more fish as desired.

And there you have it. A perfectly lovely river, teeming with fish!

*I’m pretty good at getting my wife Debra’s pinking shears to the studio. But I often forget to return them in time.




Michael Hall is the author of the New York Times bestseller My Heart Is like a Zoo and the acclaimed Perfect Square. He is also a graphic designer whose company, Hall Kelley, creates visual identities for companies and organizations. His studio is housed in a renovated barn on a farm where he lives with his wife and two daughters.


  1. Heather says:

    Hahaha I love it!

  2. mwt says:

    I like the way “several” means “as many as will fit on the landing outside my office.”

  3. Wendy says:

    What a great post! I think kids and art teachers will especially love seeing how you work.

  4. […] read this article on how he used his manager’s shoe to create the art in Perfect Square, and this one detailing more of the […]

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