In my new book, Miss Brooks Story Nook, (written by Barbara Bottner) the illustrations took me over a year to finish. Which is not unusual for me. Why so long? Well, I’m slow, for one thing. But in general the work of illustrating a picture book is not constant. There are several stages you need to go through, from rough sketches of characters, layouts, final sketches, line drawings, then color, with breaks in between for Knopf – the publisher, (editor, designer), and author to review what I’ve done, and send back comments, which I will listen to, or, ignore. They will listen to me and agree or disagree, and so on, back and forth, until we have negotiated the final look of the book. Also sometimes what I do changes the text, or a change of text is made after I’ve begun drawing. This also adds time to redo things. So where do I begin? First I read the latest “final” text over and over. Sometimes the editor sends just the written text, and sometimes roughly positioned in layouts in the chosen typeface, as it might appear in the final book. This is helpful as it gives me an instant idea how much room I have for art, and how the editor sees the page break down. This may remain unchanged, or, more likely, I will change things around a bit.
I’ll take one spread in the book as an example of how the art develops. This one is marked as pages 30-31, so it is almost at the end of the 32 page book. It is the climax of the story where Missy confronts her nemesis, Billy the bully.I almost always begin the sketch process right on the print-outs of the text layouts. As you can see above, I’m already working on ideas. This is a character I’ve drawn before so I did not need to completely re-create her for this book. The hair, glasses, overalls and stripe hat are a carry-over from the previous book. Then I move on to sketch books, working up characters first, thinking about different scenes each character must “act out”. You can see the date of the above sketch of Missy and Billy when I began the process. This is one of the first sketches for this book. This seemed like the pivotal scene so I’m diving in here early. I still love this drawing. I seldom get as fresh a drawing in the final book as I get in the first few moments of visualizing a story. Sigh.Above you can see the original sketchbook page and (below)detail of Missy in the “snake Eye” scene. As you can see I work on many ideas at once. Often only one small drawing on a page is from a particular scene. Notice (above) an unused skull pattern raincoat outfit for Missy. I love the coat but there was no room for it in the book. Above in the sketchbook detail of Missy for the “snake Eye” scene is the only drawing on this page is from this scene. The snake is on the ground here, but this will soon change. Missy is in her signature outfit from the previous book. This is another example (above) of trying to visualize “camera angle”. This angle would be above and behind Billy. It would not be used. Also notice I’m playing around with the idea of a scarf for Missy. The scarf acting like a kind of snake. And thinking about a long winter coat as part of her outfit.
Below is a version of the spread using the art. It was rejected.
(below) I’m developing the idea further. The snake scarf is really getting out of control, dominating the scene. I rejected this as too much for this scene. But even though this does not get used where I am expecting it to, it was not wasted work. I was able to re-cycle it for the next spread of the book, due to changes in the text. Yea! Detail (below) of the snake scarf going wild. Below you can see how I developed a new layout with a focus on the eyes/faces of both on the right, in a cinematic “animated” panel sequence. You can see on the left I’m desperately trying to get in that raincoat. And the idea of the snake scarf is completely gone. Probably because it would be too much to have a skull raincoat and a snake scarf. Fashion faux-pas. Changes often occur as the text changes and each new spread layout is considered as a whole. There were lots of changes in art as there were more than the normal amount of text changes in this project, so I kept on changing things…
On another sketchbook page (below), once again, you can see my mind moving around the book as ideas come up . But in the middle, you can see I’m still working on the snake eye scene. Detail (below) from the above sketchbook page (above). You can see further refinement for the eventual image used for the page. Focus now is her face, and the view point is looking directly into her eyes. On the right you can see me continuing to think about this idea of showing the POV sequence from each characters face.Below see how I used the face-on Missy on the bottom left. There’s also more refinement in the sequence on the right hand page of the two staring each other down. (I’m also fooling around here with the idea, ultimately rejected [by me], of her wearing a different hat [the beret] than she did in the first book. The new hat was just too much distraction. You want the reader to be certain who they are looking at. Why couldn’t I just leave her clothes alone?)Here (below) are the final BW pencil drawings for this spread. Notice the stripe hat is back but she is still in a long coat, (which will change before the final book is printed. Again, trying to keep her as recognizable as possible in a signature outfit for both books). She has one new accessory – her snake scarf. Billy looks like he’s snarling here. (even though this is “finish” art, I change him too before publication. more on that later.)Here is (below) the right hand page of the spread. I’ve refined the images but the basic design has not changed. Again, the striped hat is back. I went back and forth about using a box around the images but in the end left them out. It’s a very cinematic solution. Two different viewpoints, two different people, both trying to stare each other down, only one succeeds. It captures quite well, I think, what, in the text, is a rather complicated concept.A shorter version of this blog post first appeared on: the Belugas are Watching.
More on the art for this book:
Miss Brooks Story Nook, The Jacket.