So I’m thinking out loud here, since writing helps generate more thoughts and more ideas.
I have a story that I connect deeply with and that I’ve been returning to over and again, thinking at some point that it was ready for submission but then realizing that it could benefit from more work. Writing, rewriting, until it is absolutely done (for the time being). It’s about thunderstorms and music and artistic expression, and how the forces of nature are essentially unavoidable and should be accepted. It has this environmental aspect that is dear to my heart as an undertone. But at the foreground it is a story about conquering fear and the importance of being true to yourself. Now how do I write this for children?
Life is full of inspiration and surprises and so when I was visiting an office for some issue that needed taking care of, I came across this phrase. It was sewn to a pillow that rested nonchalantly right across from where I was seated.
And it said: ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain’.
I wrote it down along with some doodling, which made me feel immediately better, and it got me thinking. Maybe I should go deeper and figure out what is the difficulty or challenge that the kids in my story need to face, and eventually accept. Because the story does draw to a closure with a dance in the rain. And I want it to be much more than conquering fear. What were they hiding from, making excuses to, choosing to do or not to do? What challenges them, what do they need to overcome?
This story has two separate story lines that meet at the end. The protagonist and the antagonist resolve their differences and troubles when they collaborate and accept each other. In a picture book. In less than 1000 words. And it needs to feel real and touch y’alls hearts.
But maybe, and now I’m getting excited over this idea that I’ve been playing with for a while, maybe this book would work best in the format of a graphic novel… yep.
Since music is an essential part of the story and I feel it’s really about artistic expression and being authentic, I am thinking that the other character would be an artist too. And my new thought is that one of the kids cannot see, and maybe he is messing up his sister’s projects and when the storm scares him she tries to help him. And since he can’t see he has enhanced senses, like smell and hearing that works great with the where the story goes… and I’m thinking about it.
I’m going to let it simmer and let that ball of rawness push against my heart and mind until I cannot contain it any longer and would sit down to rewrite the story.
I think I know where the story is going but I’m sure it will surprise me at the end. Being able to go back-and-forth between the illustrations and the text is an interesting process. Some days I’m more wordy while on other days I feel there are things I need to figure out visually. It’s a very dynamic process and I like it because it’s never boring. I’ve written a synopsis which gives me a good idea about the main points in the story that I will need to address in writing and illustrations, kind of like a road map to main events. But it doesn’t mean that things are set in stone. Quite the opposite. I’m very interested to discover how it will turn out. I think the story evolves in a deep place within the writer, a place that is not entirely visible like a statue hidden within a block of marble. We got to do all this work to get it out of its hiding.
I dread the sight of an empty work space, so I cultivate a healthy pile of drawings on my drawing desk at all times. There should be something waiting for me in the morning to discover and think through a cup of coffee. Presently I’m going through a third revision cycle of illustrations for a book. It’s always exciting for me to have fresh new ideas that replace old ones, it’s an interesting process of discovery and a steady learning curve.
The more I work on images for a story the better I get to know my characters and their illustrations become more lively and fun to create. In the beginning I find myself struggling to form vague ideas into believable and lovable characters. Some times I have a good idea where to start and other times it helps to see how a character behaves through several drafts to form better ideas about her appearance.
Things that I’m busy with while the kids are on summer break:
Write a synopsis for my next book. I gathered the ideas that floated around for the story in a short and clear paper.
Research and sketch character ideas for the new story.
Working on a (first) storyboard.
Carve a linoleum block for this merry group of dancing bears which I plan on printing later to check how printed bears work with painted bears in one piece.
I might attempt to create a GIF to show the work progress at the end of the project.
Have you ever seen the cattle drive at the Stockyard in Fort Worth? We would go there whenever there was a visitor from out of town. Twice a day a heard of Long Horn cows would trudge down the Stockyard main street, lead by horseback riding cowboys. It’s like watching an old western, only this time we get to take pictures with our smartphones.
My bears have been stampeding down the street too, as I was rounding them up for submission. I am happy to say that they are on their way to a publisher that I absolutely love. Wish them good luck!
A quick update on what I’ve been up to and showing some work progress.
My work suffered due to winter sicknesses and school break, but it was on my mind during that time. I was able to print a successful trial print of the woods, after which I started thinking about painting the sky above the trees. I tried different watercolor techniques, and also watched YouTube clips to get some ideas of how to create a picture of the sky in watercolors.
This was the subsequent painting
After a day or so the painting seemed too nice and, bearing in mind that it was just the first attempt at painting sky and woods background, I had to ask myself if I wanted to follow that direction. And so during my kid’s school break I kept thinking about the sky painting that would work for me. At the end I felt that the sky should be loosely painted so that it would appear light and playful. Easily said than done!
Here are the sketches that I’m willing to share, you can only imagine what the others looked like, but probably shouldn’t . . . They do get better toward the end.
Another thing I should probably mention is color choices. Between turquoise and cerulean blue I ended up mixing my own sky color.
And so the painting I liked most is pinned to the cork board above my table, and to the top of this post . . . and I can finally move on to printing.
What’s behind this illustrator’s artistic choices? Let’s share some ins and outs of picture book making. When drafting my storyboard I planned ten spreads of full page illustrations, that is one large picture painted on two joined pages. And five spreads with spot illustrations, which means two pages featuring an assembly of several small scenes. Like this one, and the one below:
When there’s a lot to say visually I may chose to break a scene into several small pictures. Perhaps I want to show that the character is doing more than one thing at the same time, or show a sequence of events that are connected, and since there is a limited number of pages in a book those events will group together on one spread.
Also there is the matter of pacing, which is a prominent element of a picture book. Several small scenes on one spread will read slower than one large scene. They may serve in building up anticipation to whatever happens next. They may create a sense of urgency or tension. And then the next page may be a full spread where the riddle is solved or possibly something big or dramatic will happen that is a result of the former hyperactive spread.
Lately, I’ve become fond of tracing paper. It may have something to do with childhood memories of working with it in elementary school? or was it later, in college? probably the latter. I use tracing paper for transferring a sketch to a linoleum block, where the tracing paper’s transparency comes in handy as it can be flipped over for the image on the block has to be a mirror image of the original. I’ve also used tracing paper for quick sketching and positioning elements of a picture before deciding on a final composition. And then, I started using the tracing paper for trying out color schemes for an illustration. It’s so handy. A quick rendering over the pencil sketch with rough pastel is just so satisfying. Then combining all the layers together, the pencil drawing, the print and the colored tracing paper, eh voila! The planned illustration becomes tangible. And I can’t wait for the print to dry so that I could draw and paint the final art.
So, going back to this print. With the pencil sketch completed I wanted to move on to printing a section of it. As this spread has three spot illustrations combined to one scene, and since it took me a while to decide on the composition, I wanted a fast reward. So this time guts called the shots. The linoleum carving and printing were all one day’s work. My right hand protested but I could still eat a snack halfway through the work, using my left hand, if somewhat awkwardly, so on with it until the work was done.
I am currently working on the first pages of the book. With the numerous teddy bears in this opening scene, drawing attention to the main character was challenging. She’ll jump to the front of the spread when the background will come out flat in the final print. I am hopping to achieve an interesting rendering of the bears as some will get printed while others will be illustrated in pen and watercolors. Also the color scheme as seen in the following picture will be almost monochromatic, apart from the girl and her beloved teddy.
And so I’ve prepared the linoleum block
I’m tempted to leave the linoleum block as is… Isn’t it pretty in brown, yellow and simple pencil lines? This humble start will inspire me to do a decent job on this block.