They share how the use art to capture just the right mood and tone in a story, how they hone their craft, and what keeps their skills fresh.
Welcome to the Illustrators of The Soaring 20's!
Panic. My Illustration process is pure panic.
All kidding aside, this is something I wondered about as well prior to starting on Cow Boy is not a Cowboy. Are there rules? Am I doing this right? Am I doing this wrong?
Words & Layout
My background is in graphic design and I tackled my book with design first. It’s all about the text. What are my page breaks and how does the text flow through the book. Should this page breathe. Where’s the pull and pause based on placement. How does it break on a page?
This in turn affects the illustration layouts on how to best compliment the story. Should this be a two-page spread, spot illustrations, or even comic panels? What fonts (or font style/point size) are we using? Solutions are different for every book as the answers come from the manuscript, characters, and page count.
For layout and typography I used Adobe Indesign and then added my sketches (scanned pencil with Photoshop refinement) creating the sketch dummy for HarperCollins.
When the sketch dummy was approved. It was time to once again panic paint. I painted digitally mainly because it allowed for many, many, many, more mistakes.
And there were many.
I started first by painting page one, then two, then three (do you notice the pattern). For me, this was a mistake. I had to back up and think stylistically how I wanted this to look with color, I needed to define my color palettes, and I had to pick (and stick) with a set of digital brushes for the book prior to painting the book.
I ended up creating four digital palettes. One each for Goat Girl and Merle, one for the backgrounds, and another for supporting characters. My Photoshop document was set-up as spreads (20”x10" + bleed) in folders with sub-folders for individual pages/panels/spots. While my document was actual size, I worked at a higher than needed resolution for layout flexibility/adjustments. I also had a template layer showing my text placement for each page as I painted.
Instead of painting a complete single page, I jumped through the pages by blocking in color first for Merle, then Goat Girl, then backgrounds/other characters. This allowed me to stay focused especially early one with character finishes - Ideally I would have done full character/environment studies prior to painting
- Greg Barrington is the author/illustrator of COW BOY IS NOT A COWBOY (HarperCollins, October 20, 2020)
Personally, I love doing both. Illustrating someone else’s story can be a lot of fun! It is an opportunity to tell someone else’s story visually, a story I didn’t, and couldn’t write myself. When illustrating someone else’s story, I’m generally not as emotionally attached as I would with my own stories, so it is easier to be objective when problem-solving and making critical decisions. It is an amazing feeling when the author loves what you created too. Though when illustrating someone else’s story, it is very much a collaboration. We illustrators have to respect the author’s opinions as much as our own. If a disagreement arises, it is part of our jobs as illustrators, with the help of our art directors and editors, to come up with options and eventually reach a decision all parties are happy with.
As for illustrating my own story, the biggest pro is the freedom to illustrate whatever I want, which, unfortunately, is also a con. When you have the ultimate freedom to create anything you desire, in any style you want, with any medium you like, it can become overwhelming. With all the choices and possibilities, it’s too easy to get stuck, unable to make a decision. Thumbnailing (small rough sketches) while revising really helps my writing process too, by being both the author and illustrator, it is easier to achieve the right balance on how much of the story is read through the text and how much of it is shown in the illustrations. Another con about illustrating your own
- Isabella Kung is the author/illustrator of No Fuzzball! (Orchard Books, August 4, 2020)
I enjoyed illustrating Tom Lichtenheld’s manuscript as much as my own, albeit for different reasons. At first reading I was not yet emotionally tied to the LOUIS manuscript, so getting to know a character through text, then through developing his look, and finally watching him “perform” in the scenes was a marvelous journey. In the end I became very fond of the whole family, including the pets! While I relied on Lichtenheld’s text to ignite my imagination, illustrating my own text required another kind of discipline.
For my A/I debut I began with a character I had already developed visually but without a story. I could “see” Jack, but the other animals in I’M A HARE, SO THERE!, and the desert environment, unfolded in my imagination while writing. Fun, but kind of intimidating! Every element is my choice and my responsibility. I struggled with balancing actual aspects of the Sonoran desert within a looser illustration style and perhaps more saturated in color than a photo-realistic interpretation. Call me crazy, but I believe the spirit of a friend helped me figure it out and I am elated with the results!
- Julie Rowan-Zoch is the illustrator of LOUIS (HMH Books for Young Readers, October 6, 2020) and the author/illustrator of I'M A HARE, SO THERE! (HMH Books for Young Readers, March 16, 2021)
It's not likely that once an illustrator completes their picture book dummy that all the images they've carefully crafted will make it to the final version of the published book. Editors, art directors, and designers will be helping to make the most visually appealing version of your story, and there will very likely be revisions. When illustrating a 4-book series for Clyde the Hippo, I had a number of revisions that I needed to address.
Some revisions are small and require a slight change in layout. Perhaps your image is a full bleed and it needs to be changed to a spot illustration, or vice versa. The type of revisions that require simply moving elements around the page to make more room for text are the easiest to do, especially if you are working digitally. Some revisions require a complete redraw. If your composition isn't strong enough or the sequence of images in the book require you to change the composition so it's more unique and not repetitive, then you'll likely have to adjust an image so that all of the other images work together seamlessly. In the end, each illustration should engage the reader to turn the page further into the story.
-Larrisa Marantz is the illustrator of the CLYDE THE HIPPO series (Penguin Workshop, 2020) .
As an author-illustrator, I always find lots of opportunities to learn and to develop my craft (both for writing and illustrating), but a few things stand out.
Study current picture books
I read a lot of recent picture books. When a particular book or illustration really catches my eye, I stop and study it in a very intentional and analytical way. What exactly is working about the story or the art or the design? Is there an element that I could incorporate into my own stories or illustrations? What would that look like?
Participate in Illustration Challenges
I like illustration challenges such as SCBWI Draw This (a monthly prompt) or #colour_collective (a weekly prompt) where you post your art on a regular deadline because it provides a low-stakes way for me to experiment in my art. I think about an element I want to work on—perhaps a color palette or a camera angle that I’ve never done before.
And I work that element into the current illustration challenge prompt to create a new piece. Illustration challenges are helpful because they provide both a deadline as well as community support from others participating in that prompt.
I have probably learned the most about the craft of writing/illustrating picture books from webinars—particularly the ones offered by StorytellerAcademy.com and from regional SCBWI chapters. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from top-notch authors/illustrators, art directors, editors, and agents all from the comfort of my own home and for a relatively low cost. I find they often give me the confidence and/or inspiration to go just a little bit outside my comfort zone and try out new story structures, formats or techniques.
To learn more about The Soaring 20's Picture Book group please visit them here.