I’m currently in the chilly mid-west, in the midst of the last week on a final artwork deadline, creating illustrations for a picture book by Caroline McAlister, JOHN RONALD’S DRAGONS: STORY OF J.R.R. TOLKIEN (MacMillan, Feb 2017). The last stretch of work on picture book artwork especially feels a lot like being in a bunker; social isolation, hyper-focus, and working all hours are typically involved (I haven’t checked my personal email or social media in about a month!). During intense picture book-making, I also don’t usually look at other picture books, because they often make me second guess decisions I’ve made on my current project:
“Should I have gone with a totally different color approach?”
“Did I choose the best layout for the story?”
(Really unhelpful sorts of thoughts when the deadline is looming).
So I’ve learned I have to turn off the input in honor of supporting the output.
Since I haven’t been looking at other picture books recently, I thought I’d share a little of my current experience while making picture books.
I feel fairly new to the field of children’s books — I’ve been illustrating picture books and middle grades full-time for a few years, and there’s still a learning curve to the process. One thing I’ve learned is that deadlines (almost) always shift. This year in particular, I’ve worked on books that were delayed (for various reasons) from a month in one case, to three years in another. These aren’t unusual occurrences, and I’m learning the valuable skill of being more flexible and rolling with the punches.
Last fall, it appeared that I would have a month open in my work calendar, so my husband and I set aside January 2016 with the intention of having a writing retreat; time to work on projects I’ve been waiting on for a few years. Since we spend the holidays in Wisconsin and Minnesota visiting family and friends, we thought it would be perfect to pair our trip with a month doing Air B’nB and HomeAway rentals for our retreat in wintry Minnesota towns. We found a super cool rental in Hastings; the top floor of a former historic Bed and Breakfast, and another cute cottage-like space in Stillwater, MN.
As things go, the Tolkien project ended up extending over the retreat time, which was initially a disappointment, as I had my heart set on some concentrated writing time. But I decided to embrace it as a working-retreat and figured out a way to bring the project (and my studio set-up from California) with me. It’s been my first experiment traveling with such a big project, and I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s much more feasible than I would have thought. My art set-up packs down to fit neatly in the car with other luggage, and I bought an extra folding table to use in the rentals.
It’s ended up being a great way to spend the last month of this book project. From an outside viewpoint, my days are exactly the same as when I’m working back in L.A., but my mental state has been totally different. Even though I’m still working 12 hour days, the retreat has made that a peaceful experience. It’s a change from my usual daily routine, where I’m often scattered and easily distracted, and has provided solitude, focus, and the enjoyment of a simpler workflow. By doing the same work in a different location, it’s helped me to pinpoint habits that might not be serving me – for example, feeling the need to be plugged in and in touch all day, and more prone to distractions than I need to be.
It’s my 2016 resolution to bring these peaceful and focused aspects of this working retreat into my daily routine back home; to renew that creative internal space for better future picture book making.
Have you made any creative resolutions for this year that you can share with us here?