This book’s journey began nearly 2 years ago for me (Pat will have to let us know how much longer it’s been for her!), when Little Brown editor Connie Hsu contacted my agent with a new manuscript by the author of SOPHIE’S SQUASH. As I read the manuscript, the art flowed forth in my mind’s eye, which is usually the first sign to say yes to illustrating a story. I couldn’t wait to try to capture the art I had imagined from the time of that first reading.
I tried to document each stage of the illustrating process along the way, and so I wanted to share my journey in pictures with you here!
INSPIRATION: Each book begins with a pile of books. I troll through a collection of illustration books to find artwork to be inspired by, and make color copies of these pages to keep close-by as I work.
I was inspired by many artists for this book, especially one of my childhood favorites, Richard Scarry.
CHARACTERS: An early discussion with the editor and art director about this story was whether this book should take place in a human or animal world. One of my primary goals for this book was that it should be magical, and we all felt that a fantastical approach would pair well with an animal world. Also, this being travel-themed, using animal characters has the benefit of feeling universally appealing to kids of many cultural backgrounds.
STORYBOARDS: I created rough storyboards to work out the flow and pacing of the story, as well as working out what the general content on each page will be. For this book I made the storyboards before we knew our character would be the bunny. An awesome thing about Pat’s text was that it was completely open; no character descriptions or even specific story-lines. It allowed the story to be told in the pictures, which is a dream scenario for any illustrator.
RESEARCH and SKETCHING:
When I get ready for sketching, I do a lot of searching for reference imagery, which helps inspire the details inside each scene. I used many personal photos from a 2011 trip I took to Europe with my husband and friends.
You can see from this comparison of our photo to the sketch how the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, Italy influenced the page in the book featuring the bridges and bay.
I also took a lot of photos of buildings and trees around my neighborhood in Los Angeles, and I used many photos and artwork of other artists, and reference books to help inform the sketches.
The sketches were shared back and forth with our editors, Connie Hsu and Leslie Shumate, and art director, Patti Ann Harris, who gave revision notes. Some pages changed very little, and others we revised two or three times before getting it right.
TRANSFERS: Once the sketches were approved, I traced the image onto the final watercolor paper using a light-pad. I don’t start with sketches on the final paper because erasing on watercolor paper leaves marks and can rub the paper texture off.
INKING: I inked the images with dip pens and India ink. This is waterproof ink, so painting over it doesn’t smudge the lines.
PAINTING: After inking is finished, I ‘stretch’ the watercolor paper by soaking it in a tub of water for about 20 minutes, then staple it down onto a board. This process expands the fibers of the paper and lets it dry taut, so that it doesn’t bubble up during painting.
Here’s how this spread evolved from thumbnail sketch to final painting:
It took me about 6 months to finish the book, the last few months of painting being especially labor intensive. I had never worked in such detail, and so each painting probably took triple the usual time to complete a piece.
THE FEAR STAGE: The finished paintings were boxed up in quadruple layered cardboard, ready to mail to the publisher, Little Brown, in New York. I wait in terror to hear that the artwork reached them safely, and that the publisher, hopefully, doesn’t completely hate how it’s turned out (this hasn’t happened yet)!
PROOFS: After several months, printer proofs come, with the type beautifully placed, and it’s the first time it begins to look and feel like a book. I got the proofs for WHEREVER YOU GO days before the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference, where Pat was in attendance (to receive a Golden Kite award and give a killer picture book workshop). It was thrilling to meet and look at our proofs together over lunch.
THE BOOK: After the publisher has been working for many months on their end (scanning, editing, designing, copy-editing, proofing, color correcting, printing, binding, planning for marketing and publicity . . .) THE BOOK arrives, beautifully wrapped in shiny paper and a pink bow, with a note from the editor (thank you, Leslie), saying “Congratulations — here is our book.”
The next stage of the book continues its journey to the reader . . . and, I hope, brings a little piece of joy with it wherever it goes.
Thanks for letting me share with you all!