Nothing matters more to me than the sense that my writing has connected with someone else. Usually of course that’s a reader, and the value of a good review is something you’ve probably already heard (but don’t let my annoying reminder stop you from running out and giving another one). So yes, do that; writers live for it.
But at times I have been privileged to engage with someone other than directly through the back-and-forth of I write, you read. Other authors chatting at our meet-ups, cresting each other’s excitement because yes we know EXACTLY what you mean. Folks who ask what your book is about and just your little blurb thrills them– hey, what you said is still your words!
But there’s been nothing quite like the thrill of working with an illustrator. Like some other writers, I have a very visual sense of what happened in my tales. I write about it, I reach out to try and amuse, mystify, entertain you. But the level of seeing, for me, is very intimate (not private, just hard to share). Could anyone else really see and understand my tales well enough to DRAW them?
I asked three talented dabblers I know some questions about the process and how they work. First and foremost, I want you to meet them, and be just as thrilled as I was, and later give me the residual credit for the introduction. Hopefully reading what they have to say about their creative process will inspire you. I’ll share contact information on all three, never fear: I’m proud to know them, but not that jealous.
Rachel is a 20 year old upcoming junior at Savannah College of Art and Design in the Sequential art program. I knew her as a student but never suspected her artistic talent until after graduation (“Online- bringing people back together since 1999”).
I have a passion for drawing and working with animals and pretty much all of my inspiration comes from nature. I love comics and big floppy cartoon animals and my aim is to work in any field I can from illustration, to comics, to children’s illustration, the concept design, to story boarding, and so on. I’m known around campus as the “possum girl”, dress like an eccentric grandmother, and almost always have a cup of tea in my hand.
It was obvious to me when I first saw Rachel’s work that she could do illustration, and I asked about the process of hiring her. She was completely willing to be paid.
Q: Have you enjoyed the idea of illustrating for others so far, and do you think you’d want that to be part of your artistic work?
A: I love having a prompt to draw from! It really helps when I’m art blocked on my own personal projects. I often ask my close friends what I should draw for them as a gift. As much as I have my own stories to tell and comics to draw for myself I am eager to work for others on their projects! It feels good to collaborate on something and it always makes the end product feel really special.
After looking over her portfolio I thought Rachel could do a great job with Januelus the timber-man from my upcoming novel .
Q: What will be your process for the illustration I commissioned of a character in The Eye of Kog ?
A: I plan to read over the entire chapter and doodle some design concepts before I send them to you for approval. Then I plan to do my sketch digitally so that I can move things around and get an appealing looking composition before I print it out. I’ll transfer the sketch onto my bristol board and then I’ll traditionally ink it with a nib! I’ll scan it back into the computer and touch the file up before sending it off! Feel free to use the image any way you like as long as I am credited as the artist!
I am on pins and needles Rachel! This is what I’m talking about, the sense that someone else is paying such close attention to your work, so they can pull the picture from your mind and recreate it.
And I’ve had the pleasure of this feeling before.
Another young artist I came to know years ago, through a different kind of school, Teddy is one of several very talented artists in his family: his mother and father, shockingly, are also artists.
Four years ago I was writing The Book of Tales, a collection of stories from the history of the Lands featuring magical
talking animals and heroes of the elder ages. It occurred to me that a set of illustrations would be just the thing to set it apart. I contacted Teddy and he jumped at the chance to help (we made a deal to split the proceeds of any sales).
Teddy is going into his senior year of college as a 2D (traditional) animation major at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
Prior to college I received a variety of awards in local film festivals in my home city Wilmington, Delaware. In the future I hope to direct my own films, both animated and live-action, and work in partnership with my siblings Billie Rose and Jesse.
Q: Does illustration for stories or scripts where you aren’t the author inspire you or intimidate you? Which do you think is easier?
A: For me, drawing for my own work and illustrating somebody else’s aren’t really comparable. In my own work, drawing is part of the creative process even if I’m writing. If I’m drawing from someone else’s material, I’m trying to create a piece that conveys the same emotion as the original work. Neither is inherently more or less difficult than the other.
Q: What was your process for the illustrations you did in The Book of Tales? How did you decide what to draw?
A: The very first thing I did when illustrating The Book of Tales was to sit down and read the manuscript cover to cover. When you read like that images of scenes will appear to you as you read. After that I worked one story at a time. Using the images that came to me while I was reading I would create a line drawing, scan it, print a copy, and work on that with colored pencils. When that process was done I was left with the final illustrations that can be seen in the book.
I came away from that project with such lasting satisfaction; it was a wonderful collaboration, allowing me to really deepen the texture of the Lands of Hope. I had several conversations with Teddy where he spoke to me, for example, of which of my constellations should be in the night-sky! Truly incredible- he asked me if I had anything on the zodiac, and I just happened to have that (from my Compendium). I thought “sure, he’ll pick a cool one and slap it up there”. No: he came back and said “I think your story happened in the second month of the year and here’s why”. I still feel a chill when I think about that.
I get the same chill thinking about what wondrous adventures lie in my future as a chronicler.
I met Christy online through the usual networking channels, and in person this spring at a library mini-faire in Dover, the state capital. I could see from her display that here was someone I need to schmooze with!
I work for Dover Publications Books in New York. I have illustrated 40 books; coloring, stained glass, sticker, glow-in-dark, glitter and tattoo books featuring a variety of subjects including carousel horses, dragons, unicorns, fairies, nature, frogs, lizards, dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals. I also designed educational book covers for Bright Ideas Press and Book Peddlers Press.
Q: When you take up an illustration job, what comes first? Tell us a little about how you proceed.
A: While working on a coloring book for Dover Publications they asked me to put the project on hold and create a rush cover in less than a month for E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons. I had heard of it, but had never read it – after all, it is a classic and has been around for over 100 years. I jumped at the chance to do the cover.
Step One: Ask
… the company what are their expectations and do they have an idea for the cover. Dover’s answer was a dragon. So it was wide open. They didn’t really know what they wanted – but they would know when they saw it.
Step Two: Read
I went to the library and borrowed a copy of The Book of Dragons. The company will sometimes send you a few pages describing the book or a scene. I generally ask for a manuscript, so I can read it and jot down details on characters, clothes, background and get an overall feel for the book. The cover should set the scene, give the reader an idea of what the book is about. I talked to Dover’s editor about my ideas for a sketch and got approval. The first story in the collection is about a wizard’s book that when opened, magical creatures escape the pages. I loved the idea of a dragon illustration coming to life and leaping off the page, growing larger and then flying off.
Step Three: Drawing
The initial sketch was drawn on tracing paper so it could be easily changed and transferred to illustration board – just an outline, not a lot of details and no shading. The image was scanned and sent to Dover Publications. My editor took it to the editing committee. They loved the sketch, but wanted me to add the tree mentioned in the story. I looked up the type of tree, added it to the sketch and resubmitted it. The sketch was then approved.
Step Four: Color
The sketch was transferred to illustration board and Xeroxed. The copy was penciled in flat color, with the dragon in red and the chest in yellow – just enough color for a decision. Dover made no changes to my color choices. They were concerned about the wings, so I sent them a photo of the technique I wanted to use to create a fire effect. This sounds easy and simple, but I had been working for them for years and they were aware of my style of illustration and had an idea how the cover would look when it was completed. They would have asked for more detail in the sketch and color drawing if they hadn’t been familiar with my work. Also, the deadline for this project was very tight.
Step Five: Illustrate
I laid down a flat water color base for each section and went back over everything with colored pencil except the book, which I wanted to look like old parchment paper. I kept the illustration in the book rough so it would look hand-drawn and made the dragon look like someone erased it, to get the effect of it changing from a drawing to looking real to becoming alive. The color pencil goes from simple sketch to layer upon layer until it is waxy and shiny. I went back over that with a technical pen. I love black and white line art and this gave the art a nice finished look. Dover had a hard time deciding about the wings, but I persuaded them to add a dramatic effect. The wings were cut and laid in place. The original art was sent to Dover and scanned for the cover. The original had a dark green background which really made the dragon pop. For some reason they darkened it so much that the final version is almost black. I liked the green background better! But they have the final say on these matters. I really like this cover. In the end Dover agreed that the wings with the flames were the best choice, and everyone was happy.
It does look terrific, and I find the back-and-forth of co-creation really fascinating. I think authors are often a bit lonely about their creations, and when you get feedback (say by beta-critiquers) it really helps your confidence with some external validation. Plus a great new relationship! Working with artists has been like that for me and if you’re not thinking about it, ask yourself why not?
If you feel you’d like to contact any of these fine artists, you can use these links.
For Teddy Newby, try his Facebook