When I take the dive into making a book, I am aware that the book is already underway. Let me explain. It is like the mushroom. We see the fruiting body when the mushroom finally pops up after a johnny-come-lately-rain. But underground the mycelium, (a network of fine, almost microscopic filaments) have been at work for quite a while. So too the creative person has been subconsciously working out an idea, a concept, trying to get at an inner itch. Many of my best ideas begin in my journals like the one above. I jot a thought. I scribble a sighting (whether an "inny" or an "outy". These ideas continue to grow in the dark.
Eventually, an idea can take it no longer and pops to the surface to be harvested. Then I must act. The sketch above is part of the next phase where I take the random ideas and build some reference based on research. These sketches are "life" drawings that I did at the Oregon Zoo for the book, The Boy Who Went Ape. Every book takes me on a winding road of discovery and "nut gathering" or in this case banana gathering.
I sat in front of these chimps and sketched like mad. This was my favorite model, Delilah. After I finished the sketches, I showed her and she stuck out her lip with approval or looked away in pity. We are still corresponding through squirrels and ravens.
Once I achieve critical mass of reference material, I do thumbnail sketches and put them in some sort of order as in The Magic Rabbit storyboard above. After sketch-sketch-sketching rabbits, I hopped around with different story possibilities. For me as a picture book author and illustrator, the story unfolds with words and pictures leap frogging each other.
Often in my process, I will shoot models. Above is son, Jesse, posing as an angel for Nancy Willard's exquisite story, The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake.
I play around with various medium to find out which way to take the final paintings. The study above was made with torn paper, egg tempera paint and gold leaf.
The final cover (above) was painted in egg tempera with neo-colour pastels and gold leaf. There are many more aspects I haven't addressed about this process, but to quote Larry from "Ground Hog Day" , "There's a heck of a lot more to it than that!"
There is an essential collaboration with author, illustrator and editor, which I will address in Part III.
I've skimped on some details such as editorial input, proofs, and more proofs, sending art out, and waiting. Then more waiting. Then Rip Van Winkle. And then finally, FINALLY! a biggish envelope arrives in the mail. It is the bound book! I turn off all ringers, get a cup of something hot, sit in my favorite chair, pet the golden lab, let the cat curl up in my lap, and read my new book. Oh, it is sweet.
So, there is a "story arc" in the actual making of every book. Each journey is both an exhilarating
free fall, and a long sweaty slog through the jungle. But! The reward is multifarious. It is satisfying to craft a work of quality and give children and adults a true gift. There are battle scars to show off, but the best part: good books to read and share!
"We see the brightness of a new page
where everything yet can happen"--Rilke