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Shining: The Process
A Look at My Working Methods for this Book
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Because Shining was such an unusual book for me, in terms of the process I followed, I thought visitors to my site might enjoy reading some notes about how the book was created. As a comparison, I also have some process notes for The Prince of Butterflies, which represents a more normal, step-by-step view of publishing picture books.
First Thoughts About the Manuscript
This is always my favorite part, and in this, Shining was no different. When I begin working with a manuscript, the first thing I do is try to answer, for myself at least, two questions: "What is it really about?", and "How should it feel?" I feel that my job is to answer those questions accurately----and communicate the answers effectively to both echo, and enhance, the story the writer is telling. This is really the fun part, because I get to play with ideas.
For me, the book was about all humanity: our fears, our potential for nobility, and finding our salvation in understanding. With that in mind, I wanted the book to feel both specific and intimate----very human----and yet have a timeless, archetypal quality to it, without the grounding reality of a detailed environment or locale. I wanted the focus to be on the people and events, not the things that surrounded them.
Once I've settled on some key thoughts like this, I start casting around mentally, and in other ways, for metaphorical equivalents, "what kinds of things make me feel like that?"
One of the first impulses I had was to re-read the manuscript while listening to one of my favorite CD's----Passion by Peter Gabriel. Originally recorded as the soundtrack to Martin Scorcese's film The Last Temptation of Christ, I knew at least a few tracks (# 3 for example) had exactly the feeling I was looking for. Lots of primal----visceral----percussion, haunting melodic noises that float through and behind other sounds; exactly the mood I was looking to create visually.
There were other CD's as well, but what's important about all of them is I use them as a kind of tangible touchstone as I work on the sketches for the book. The music acts as a kind of beacon, testing the sketches, keeping me on the right course, following a particular mood.
Visually, my thoughts went immediately to Chinese paintings. Not for the symbolism, but for their use of open, undefined space, and the sense you get from them that they could have been painted yesterday, or 1000 years ago, it's hard to tell.
Doing my research and looking more closely at them, I realized that most were too iconic and symbolic for my taste in regards to this book, but I noticed a few stood out, and they seemed to have something in common.
On a visit to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, I found out why. The paintings I was responding to were almost all related to the Ling-nan School of Chinese painting----a group of late 19th/early 20th century Chinese painters who incorporated visual elements of Western painting, blending them with more traditional methods to wonderful effect.
These paintings, along with a diverse group of other isolated images by Alphonse Mucha, the illustrator Herb Tauss, and others, became the guiding visuals for both the paintings, and the design, of the entire book.
Left: Charcoal Drawing
Right: After Painting
The next step was to try out my ideas for the art. The work I'm known for is primarily watercolor, very colorful, and the techniques generally involve creating fairly realistic painting effects over tight, accurate graphite underdrawings. (Example here.)
Shining called out for a different approach and I was eager to try some new approaches. (Artists, like actors, are frequently typecast into doing only one kind of work.) Personally, I like to try different ways of working all the time, so Shining gave me a wonderful excuse to try something new. To earn the trust of my editor, and to make sure I could achieve the look I wanted, I tried the art test to the left to work out how I was going to approach the paintings.
Technically, I made the majority of these paintings by painting over quick vine charcoal drawings I'd made on hot-pressed watercolor paper. The painting mediums included at different times: watercolors, acrylics, gouache, gesso, and anything else I had in the studio----in no regular order. Every piece was an experiment from beginning to end. Yes, I know you're not supposed to apply watercolor over vine charcoal....that was some of the fun----there was NO method. Whatever worked-----worked. (and vice-versa)
With the emphasis on blackness in the book, and the contrasting "bright" feelings of the Goddess character, I decided to mute the palette throughout the book using cool, neutralized browns and blues, to contrast with and heighten the "luminosity" and warmth of the scenes involving the Goddess. Also, I wanted to signify the "presence" of the Goddess throughout the book in some unspoken, visual way. In the end (see aborted ideas below) I decided to use small red "notes" throughout the book to represent her awareness in a variety of forms.
Working on a book of this type involved a LOT of book research----both on African Art, but also on different aspects of many African cultures including coming of age ceremonies, ritual practices and artifacts, and many other things.
One of the really interesting challenges posed by the story and my approach was how to illustrate a rich, culture that felt real, but avoided the definition of cultural artifacts and visuals from any particular culture. Julius also felt that while he thought about a particular culture in Africa while working on the story, he felt that the story should avoid any of these specifics tying it to a place, time, or people.
To deal with this, I researched many different African, (and even some other) cultures to try to get a feel for the general types and visual approaches to things that would appear in the book such as huts, clothing, jewelry, ornamentation, and paraphernalia of all types. In the end, I incorporated and designed things such as staffs, (which are common symbols of power and often used in fertility/birth rites) and clothing that I thought felt like they belonged to a culture, but actually, almost everything is invented.
One idea I had early on for visually representing the Goddess throughout the book was to use gold foil. I imagined these paintings with small gold foil "bits" on most pages then a flood of gold when the Goddess appears to the mother, and again at the end during Shining's song. Ultimately, it proved too expensive and would have increased the cost of the book a prohibitive amount so we junked it and went with red paint instead....but it was a fun idea!
I knew who the Goddess was going to be immediately. Nakato: a striking, bold, dramatic, friend of mine whose body was perfectly sculpted from years of being a personal fitness trainer.
For everyone else, I had no idea where I was going to find them.
Fortuitously, as it always seems to work out, while doing research for the book, my wife and I went to an exhibit on Kente cloth at the Oakland Museum on a Saturday morning, and while watching a group of musicians perform some West African music, we spotted the PERFECT girl to play Shining. She just had the perfect look and personality to pull it off.
Ultimately, we ended up using both her, her real mother, her uncle, and even her two year old cousin for the book, and looking back on it, I feel I literally could not have done it without them. Eulalie (the mother) was especially helpful in many little ways----from how hair might be styled on a daily vs. special occasion, to the particular ways some African cultures prostrate themselves while praying or bowing.
Another immensely helpful model was Joy, the model for the midwife/elder. My wife spotted her at the museum the same day, while I was talking to Eulalie about my project. Her spirited enthusiasm and energy was (and is) absolutely contagious. One of my biggest disappointments for the book was when we had to alter the first spreads, and we no longer needed the midwife in the picture. (I had some wonderful reference that would have worked beautifully!)
For the "babies", see the description here....
Generally, I shoot a considerable amount of reference making the paintings for a given book. Shining used quite a bit less, essentially just the primary figures, as much of the work was loosely drawn from the comps. (Which were drawn from imagination.)
Color Comps & Finishes
For details about the Color Comps themselves, click here.
For information about individual paintings, visit the Main Page for the Shining art and click on the appropriate artwork.