by Annie Cronin Romano
You’ve heard the advice: read what you write. Do you write nonfiction picture books? Read hundreds of them. Are you a middle grade fantasy writer? Read all the fantasy MG you can get your hands on. Write dystopian young adult? You get the picture.
Let me be clear. This is good advice. Solid advice. It is imperative to be aware of what is getting published in the area in which you write. It’s important to study it. What makes those books work? Why did it make it to the shelves? What is unique about the concept?
But what writers often overlook is that it is just as important to nourish our reading souls as it is our writing knowledge. That means reaching for that book outside the genre in which you write and reading for pleasure. Grab that commercial book club novel. Dive into that mystery or psychological thriller. Itching to check out a sci-fi series? Go for it. Pour a glass of wine and crack the spine on that romance.
I write picture books and middle grade, and I read as much as I can in both those areas. For quite a while, that’s all I read. But since working in a bookstore and a library for nearly a year, I’ve been reading a lot more YA and adult books of all stripes. I needed to be familiar with what was on the shelves beyond just the children’s sections. When customers and library patrons come in, I have to be prepared to offer tips and guidance in a broader range of areas. And—Surprise! Surprise!—I discovered I could learn a lot from those books that–despite not being the type of books I write--offered a window into strengthening my own writing, regardless of the genre. I found myself considering pacing, character development, plot, setting: the elements that are required in any story, inspired from a different perspective. I wondered how I could try different styles and points of view, how I could switch up my characters and make them more engaging, how I could play with setting and voice. I was still reading for pleasure, of course, but I realized that even though a book isn’t specifically a mentor text to what I write, I can still learn about the art of writing from reading it. Eureka!
Of course, no matter what I read, I’m always enjoying myself. But often, I felt locked into a particular genre because it aligned with what I wrote. Now I read more outside my writing genres because it feeds my reader’s soul and, I firmly believe, makes me an even better writer. So yes, continue to read mentor texts and study the areas in which you write, but go beyond that, too. Make time to read whatever catches your fancy. Your inner reader and your thoughtful writer will thank you for it.
Hosted by Kelly Carey
I asked my talented illustrator friend what I mistakenly thought might be a simple question. Here is what I asked: When you first receive a manuscript to illustrate or you complete your own manuscript, what is your illustration process?
Silly author that I am, I figured Rob would send back maybe a paragraph or three - but Rob sent back an entire post! With visuals! How could I rob (pun fully intended) the 24 Carrot community of his full answer?
So here it is - in it's entirety. With visuals -- cuz he's an illustrator afterall!
Hmmmmm...I have to say I don’t have a set-in-stone illustration process...unless you call “horribly disorganized” an illustration process. Plus I also write all my own stuff, so writing and drawing go hand-in-hand as the story evolves...let’s just say lots of random dialogue is littered throughout my sketchbooks.
REGARDLESS! I WILL DO MY BEST TO EXPLAIN MY ILLUSTRATION PROCESS FOR YOU BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE!!!!
Shall we begin?
I’m going to include pics of my upcoming (Fall 2021) middle grade graphic novel, DEATH & SPARKLES, since it’s the project that has consumed me for most of this year.
Generally I start by thumbnailing everything out in my sketchbook. These are the roughest of rough drawings/stick figures. Sometimes I start from a specific scene and draw out from there, other times I just start at the beginning and work straight to the end. It helps with figuring out the composition of every spread, but really, this part is all about figuring out those page turns! Finding that big moment where a character is introduced, or where a twist is revealed, or even for when a good joke lands.
From there I take it to the “rough sketches” phase, where you guessed it, I draw rough sketches of the thumbnails!
I try to keep these sketches as loose as possible. It helps me better understand each character by drawing them a ba-jillion times over, while also finding the funnest pose for each spread. This is actually my favorite stage of the illustration process. It's where my creative energy kicks into high gear, and I can really start to envision how the book is going to look.
As you can see, this stage is often mixed in with my thumbnail phase depending on how much of the story or text I have figured out, or if there’s an image that I really want to flesh out.
After this I scan or take photos of my sketches and redraw everything on my iPad Pro in Procreate (which I highly recommend).
I used to do this part on my iMac in Photoshop, but man, I've completely switched to this new method. My sketches seem cleaner and looser at the same time. The Apple Pen was a real game changer for me.
Once my Editor and Art Director approve all this jazz, I dive into final art. Often because my sketches end up being so clean, I usually only have to make small revisions to the line work in this stage and start digitally painting everything up. Usually each character sits in their own layers folder, which is broken out by line work, base color paints, textured layer, with a highlights and shadows layer. Is there any particular reason why I do it this way? Not really. I guess it allows me to finesse certain parts of each image easily and quickly. Again, all of this is done in Procreate on my iPad Pro.
When it’s all said and done, a spread goes from a indecipherable scribble to some like this:
And there you have it. That’s how I create book illustration magic! Ooooooooooo Ahhhhhhhhh!
Rob Justus is the author illustrator of the picture book KID COACH (February 2020, Page Street Kids) and the upcoming DEATH & SPARKLES (Chronicle, Fall 2021). To learn more about Rob visit him here.
To order your own copy of KID COACH, go to indiebound.
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