Making an Ape – part 1

Priscilla Gorilla, start to finish.

(all text © 2014 Barbara Bottner)

This is part one of a series showing how a picture book develops from words into a finished book. A process that can take over a year.

I both write and illustrate books, but this is a project where I am illustrating someone else’s words. In this case the story is by the legendary American author, Barbara Bottner.

The first thing I do when receiving a picture book manuscript I am to illustrate, is print the Word document out and read it through fast,  for pace only, thinking about where scenes might break. There are logical page breaks and sometimes specific direction from the editor/art director/author about what should be in what scene. But usually I ignore this at first. Cutting it off the page with scissors if need be…In this case you can see I did not actually cut out the picture cues, but I may have taped them over… I can’t honestly remember on this text. This is the actual first pass sketches. I don’t have a plan here, just taking visual notes really. But it’s amazing how many images make it all the way to finished book. But you can see I drew lines where I thought pages would fall and scenes that would be illustrated. A page turn in a picture book is a pause, a beat, part of the rhythm of the book. The book is almost always read to someone, a parent to child for example, so it is really a performance art as much as literature. A bit like a play script.  A page turn is as much a part of the story as the words. (Imagine it being similar to how they decide where to break up TV shows for commercial breaks…)A book text must be broken into images on pages. It’s never meant to be read like you see it here, except by authors, illustrators, editors, agents etc.  A “true” picture book will be a balance of words and pictures, where removing one or the other will render the story either incomplete or impossible to understand. Often when the author is also the illustrator, text changes will be ongoing as sketches progress, but even when it’s two people, I will suggest, subject to approval, changes in text based on design. 

The most likely text change would be removing some text that is clearly going to be in the art. Also re-phrasing the text to reflect the possibilities art opens up, not readily apparent when writing in Word.

You can see here I am drawing a female teacher, Miss Nellie. That was a change I suggested. Eventually Miss Nellie became a man. I just felt it was a nice idea to go with a non-traditional Miss so-and-so teacher.  There is fairly persistent stereotype of the young unmarried teacher in the younger age classrooms. Male teachers in elementary schools are out there, and doing a great job BTW, but are still a tiny fraction of the whole, so there is a push in the US to encourage more men, particularly non-white men to get into the field. They’re out there, but don’t get as much attention. Here’s to you, guys!

Next time I’ll show how I got into the making of an ape-child. What does she look like? what does she wear? What does she do? How does she sit, stand, move???? All answers left up to the illustrator… More thinking, more sketching…..

Deb - May 30, 2017 - 12:03 pm

Can’t wait to share this with my students! Thanks, Michael! #1 fan