The Writing Process: Author/Illustrator Blog Tour

Hallo blog readers,

So I just got tagged as the next illustrator in this neat Blog Tour. Jessixa Bagleyexcellent friend and uber talented author-illustrator—tagged me in this series. I met Jessixa at my first SCBWI conference in 2011, and from that day on, I've been lucky to call her friend. She is a super talented lady with an incredible sense of humor. She populates her watercolor world with all manner of adorable and trouble-making woodland critters, and her illustrations have amazing heart. When I first read her forthcoming book, Boats for Papa (due out in the Spring of 2015), I had to wipe away tears. This Spring, run, don't walk, run to your local bookstore. This is one you won't want to miss.
And now that you've all explored Jessixa's work and website, on to the questions...

1. What am I currently working on?

As usual, I'm currently working on more than one project. I'm just wrapping up the final illustrations for a picture book called A Penguin Named Patience (written by Suzanne Lewis and published by Sleeping Bear Press) due out in February 2015. I'm also in the process of working on new book dummies for two of my own stories. 

2. Why do I write what I write?

Life can be hard and serious and terrible at times, and I like to write stories that transport the reader somewhere else for the duration of the book. I like a story with a touch of whimsy or humor or a little bit of magic, but also with a lot of heart. My stories are usually born out of character sketches. I'm drawn to strong central characters, so when I draw a child or animal that has a lot of innate personality, I'm driven to figure out who he/she is and find his/her story. I also find that level of emotional connection is strongest when there is an important relationship between characters in the book. Many of my recent stories are about friendship, finding friends in unlikely places, and the joy of an unexpected relationship.  I want to connect to my readers through the emotional connection between my characters.

3. How does my writing/illustrating process work?

It always depends on the story. Sometimes I write a full manuscript before I start drawing. Other times, I find a compelling character/image in my sketchbook, and I write a story based on that character. I'm exploring new methods of working, though, and trying to develop stories simultaneously with the illustrations.

Really, though, everything begins here, in my sketchbooks. I draw and draw and draw, sketching scenes, characters, and compositions, sometimes adding lines of text or dialogue, until I've found my main character(s).

Once the preliminary text and character sketches are done, I move onto thumbnails using large pieces of 11x17" paper. The thumbnail stage is often a chicken-scratch stage, and most of the sketches are pretty unintelligible to most folks. It does, however, help me see all of the spreads at once and get a sense of the pacing and initial compositions.

Once I've worked through the thumbnails a few times, I make my the first dummy in InDesign and print it out. This dummy is just the thumbnails blown up with the text laid over these very rough sketches. I could leave the dummy on the computer, but I find that it helps me to hold a physical book and turn the pages. Then I can see if the breakdown of text and images actually works together. Does it flow properly? Is the pacing right?

I love making dummies. There's nothing like holding an actual book in your hands. After the first thumbnail dummy, I go back, revise my rough sketches until I'm satisfied with the pacing, and then I do it all over again with tighter, cleaner sketches.

Each "final dummy" has two or three full color pieces inside.

And if I'm presenting the dummy at a portfolio show or conference, I frequently "bind" it using the backs of old paper pads and sketchbooks to give it the feel and weight of a finished book.

The full-color, finished work inside the dummies are all painted pretty similarly. (I've done a few posts about my painting process in the past. They all start with a palette and some daubs of paint (usually Holbein's Acryla-Gouache), 

color tests,

and character tests.
Here I painted the same character, first using a combination of watercolor and Acryla-Gouache and again just using the Acryla-Gouache.

When I'm satisfied with all of the above, I move onto the larger finished piece.

And that's how I work.

Next up is the AMAAAAZING Maple Lam. Maple is a friend, fellow Mentee, and crazy talented illustrator. Her unending well of creativity and book ideas—picture books, graphic novels, and non-fiction stories—never ceases to amaze me. She is one of the hardest working illustrators I know, and she just wrapped up her first picture book, Two Girls Want a Puppy out next year with HarperCollins. Her whimsical characters and bright colors are sure to make you smile. Check out her post next week!

Thanks again to Jessixa Bagley and previous post-er, Brooke Boynton Hughes, for getting me involved. Make sure to check out their wonderful work.

Til next time!

Penguins All Day Long

I know I haven't been around much in the last few months, and you're probably a little upset.

I swear there's a good explanation.

I've been spending my days and nights and weekends hanging out with penguins because my deadline is fast approaching for these dapper fellows.

But do keep an eye on the blog. I'll be back soon with more paintings, doodles, and updates.