Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chicks Run Wild

Back in April, I attended a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators [SCBWI] conference in Houston, and learned so much about different aspects of the children's book industry from the great speakers, which included the Caldecott Honor Medalist, Peter Brown. By the way, if you haven't bought his new book, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, you should. It's brilliant.

Peter Brown was one of the main reasons I wanted to attend the conference. I'm a big fan. But I didn't want to spend the money, and make the trek to Houston with two kids and a baby, and celebrate my middle child's birthday in a hotel room just to become some illustrator's groupie. I wanted to have some individual time with an illustrator, art director, or an agent to review my portfolio to see how I could improve it, or if I'm on the right track. The problem was that by the time I decided I could go the conference, the portfolio critiques were filled. So I called to see if I could weasel my way into one. I couldn't. But I did learn that there was a breakout session with an art director, Lucy Ruth Cummins, with an illustration assignment. Sold. I signed up that morning, and received the assignment a week and a half before the conference.

The assignment was to either illustrate a page from a picture book, Chicks Run Wild. This book had already been published, so I vowed not to look at it while I made my illustration because I didn't want it to influence my work in any way. I received the manuscript and started to plug away. After a lot of preliminary sketches, I finally settled on this:
I also made a color study in photoshop:

 At this point the sketches were emailed to Ms. Cummins, and I waited for her critique before I started on the final illustration.

I received her feedback the Monday before the conference, and I was thrilled. It was very good, and very informative. She loved the little chicks and their dot eyes, the colors and textures, the skewed perspective, and the dynamism of the swirled composition. She said it felt energetic, chaotic, and fun. She said the feathers looked more like leaves, she wasn't sure about the pink chick's hands, and she made note that I should avoid details that seemed overly digital, like the highlight on the chick's glasses. [Since I don't render my pieces digitally, I knew this wouldn't be a problem in the final].

I quickly began painting to get the final perfected before Saturday's conference. For times sake, I painted each element separately with plans to assemble them digitally. On Thursday night, I scanned everything into photoshop, but no matter how I adjusted the settings, the scans were overexposed. I tried to adjust the colors digitally, but they didn't look quite right. Frustrated, I gave up for the night.

So I hauled all of my art supplies to the hotel the next day, and armed with a pair of scissors, glue, and a dear mother-in-law to watch the kids, I set out to put my piece together, Kindergarten style. I painted in the details of the swirls and feathers and called it quits, with mixed feelings about the final.

At the breakout session, everyone displayed their pieces around the room, and Ms. Cummins gave her critiques one by one. When she got to my piece, I explained my plight with the scanner and that the picture would have been put together digitally. And her answer changed my whole approach to illustrating:


She went on to add that she loved the dimensional effect, and would emphasize it even more. I can't tell you how relieved, excited, encouraged I felt at the end of the session. Since then, I've been physically assembling all of my pieces by cutting and gluing. Here's my final illustration:

 It's hard to see the dimensional effect here, but it's there. Except for the feathers and swirl, everything was painted separately and glued on in layers.

A funny thing, though, while making my preliminary sketches, I voiced my fear that I would create something that looked too much like the actual book illustrations. I didn't want to look like I copied the original work. Here's the actual cover:

I swear I never looked at the actual book until months after the conference. Ms. Cummins showed this picture at the conference, but it didn't even dawn on me that this was the actual book cover. When I did finally look at the book, I was shocked. It looks like I used this book as inspiration for my character designs. Oh well, what can I do?

Well, that's it for my novel about my new approach to illustration. 

nessa dee 

1 comment:

Donna Casey VanCleve said...

I love your illustration-- especially the quilts on the bed their cute little long-john-looking pjs. Great post!