the basic stages I go through when illustrating a picture book, along
with some examples of how one image looked throughout the book.
Some sections are more detailed than others, for example I know very
little about the "Galleys" and "F&G"
process---except that they show up on my doorstep and I need to look at
(pictured left) will call and say that he has a new manuscript for me to
look at, or _______, an editor at ______publishing will be sending me
one to look at, etc. In this case it was Michael Stearns of
Harcourt (pictured center) sending me a Bruce Coville (pictured right)
manuscript called "The Prince of Butterflies". I liked the
manuscript, talked with both Michael and my agent about it and they
arranged the details of the contract, which I signed sometime around
April of 1999.
The manuscript as I
received it was a few typed pages long, which, after reading, I rewrote
into a sketchbook that I carried around with me. I started to
break it up into pieces---experimenting with how it read depending on
where I chose to put the page breaks. Usually the page breaks are
suggested to me by ideas I have for images, which then call for a
certain block of the text, but sometimes breaking the text one way or
another will itself suggest a dramatic image for a page turn.
The initial thumbnails
are next, along with a lot of notes and thoughts about the design of the book and the visuals.
ideas for how the pictures will work with the text. Above is a
"thumbnail", shown close to actual size (the double page
spread is about 3/4" wide in real life), showing my first thoughts
about the sketch to follow.
The first tight
sketches, where people besides myself can
begin to see the book visually. In this case I did them in
ballpoint pen at about 2" x 4". The "wash"
effect is caused by brushing water over the finished sketch, which
causes the ink to bleed. I was always bothered a bit by this first
sketch. (top) Since it isn't in the dummy, I'm assuming I changed
the sketch myself (bottom) before showing it to Michael at
A Book Dummy
The first real
test...does it work as a book? To make a book "dummy",
I printed out all of the images at the size of the final book, with the
appropriate text printed over them on the pages. Then I had all the
pages bound at Kinko's and fedexed to my editor. This is the
first real presentation to the editor. They look it over, live with
it for a week or two, and call you with their thoughts, corrections, ideas
for changes, and over an hour or two on the phone, together you decide what is
working and what isn't.
There are always small
changes and corrections that are made after the editor reviews the
dummy. This particular illustration was left as is, and for the most
part the book looks just like the dummy. The notable exception was
the cover. I had originally considered the
cover to be an introduction to the story, subtly showing the butterflies
crossing a landscape much like on the title page. Michael thought
the cover should reflect the boy as well and his relationship to the
butterflies. He thought an image showing the few seconds just
before the "Butterfly Man"
spread would be dramatic and I think he was proven right. It's a
much better cover than my idea would have been.
The only change
I made to the idea, was imagining it is the second year he
changes into a butterfly. The first year I imagined would have been
terrifying---not a pleasant image---the second year would have been
Reference & Research
The most invisible part of the making
of the book. RESEARCH! Example: When you're doing a
book called The Prince of
Butterflies---you had better know the difference between a
male and female butterfly! Answer: The male butterflies have two
small black pheromone spots on their
hind wings. (Now THAT would be an embarrassing
mistake to make!) You also need to be able to answer all kinds
of questions about them. For one painting, Aerial
Journey, my editor told me there was much discussion in-house
about how high the butterflies appeared to be flying. Some
people at Harcourt had questioned whether butterflies could fly that
high. From my research, I had learned that butterflies have been
spotted flying near 20,000 ft., so I knew my painting was still
plausible. Whenever I start working on a project, I always
start by reading several books related to the topic. (Books on
One of my major concerns was
painting the butterflies as they actually appear in flight and at
rest. Most butterfly books you see show the butterflies with
their wings fully spread---which doesn't occur naturally---only when
they are mounted as specimens. The way I got around that was by
finding a guy who raised and mounted butterflies, and having him mount
them in naturally occurring poses as if
they were flying, resting on a flower, etc. I then photographed them
in all different kinds of lighting, from all different angles. (Middle
To do paintings at this
level of realism, I almost always work from photo reference I shot
myself. (photos at top right) You have to. No one loves
you enough to pose for the 10-20 hours it takes to do a painting of
this type. Also, I might shoot 24-36 shots of just this pose,
and out of those photographs, one will have something special I want
to use. It is similar to writing a 10 page research paper on
John F. Kennedy---it's easy to write any paper you want using 10,000
pages of reference material, but it's impossible to do a good job when
your only reference is a two paragraph encyclopedia entry.
The book begins to take
After doing the
drawing, I experiment with the color of the final painting by doing
small, 3" to 5" wide "comps" where I can try out
ideas on a small scale without wrecking the drawing. You can see
all the prep work for this painting here.
I finally paint the
picture! You can see the larger version here.
The book goes to the
press and I receive the initial galleys---"proofs" of what the
pages look like---which I go over with the editor and the production
people responsible for checking color and overseeing the press
checks. We also make any final (we hope)
The book is printed, but not bound.
It's our last chance to change anything, and only if it is a major gaffe.
This is also when it first feels like a REAL book. It's a lot of
fun when these arrive in the mail. "F & G's" stands
for "Folded & Gathered" --- the pages have been printed
and folded together in the same manner as the final book, the only
difference being they haven't yet been stitched into a binding.
The best part! It's DONE!!! Now we get to share
it with people. The book is sent out for reviews, the editor
presents the book at sales meetings for the publisher sales reps,
and---hopefully---bookstores begin to order it.