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Below are 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 them. 

The Offer


My agent (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
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.


Initial Thumbnails
The initial thumbnails are next, along with a lot of notes and thoughts about the design of the book and the visuals.  Basically, my 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. 


Initial Sketches
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 Harcourt. 


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.


Corrections and Changes
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 glorious. 




Photo 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 left) 

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 photographs) 

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 shape.


Color Comps
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) corrections.


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 Books!
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.