Thursday, March 24, 2011

How I Painted a Picture Book in Six Weeks

In February of 2010, I got an email from Kar-Ben Publishing asking if I was available to illustrate a picture book for them. This was great news as I had just been on a huge marketing push to get new work. I had revamped my website, researched publishers that were suited to my style and sent out about 75 packets with my art samples. Looked like something was working!
The art director said "Picnic at Camp Shalom" was the story about two girls at a summer camp. She had seen this sample on my website and thought it would be the perfect style for their book:
She told me the book was on a fast track to make a publishing deadline. Manuscript to me on March 1st, sketches due on April 1st, and final art on May 15th. Gulp. Was this even possible? Was I crazy to think I could illustrate a 32-page book in six weeks? Well, I was going to find out. I got to work!

The first thing I did was research on the internet. I pulled photos of summer camps, cabins, kids, lakes, swimming docks, etc. I really liked the feel of this photo of these two girls. Here was Carly and Sara!

I also had to go back to my childhood to remember my own summer camp experiences and what it was like to sleep in sleeping bags and bunkbeds. I found this great photo which I used as reference in one of the illustrations.

Have you ever met someone you instantly had a connection with? Well, this is what happened to Carly and Sara. In the story, they first meet on the swim dock and notice they have the same bathing suit on. From then on they are best friends. I wanted the girls to be easily recognizable as their own person, but also have a feeling of similarity. They were the same age, had lots in common, and would soon learn they had some of the same problems.

One of the hardest things about illustrating characters in a book is that they have to have continuity in how they look throughout the book. I found that I needed to give each girl a "short hand" in their characteristics. Carly had straight hair that was always in a ponytail and had a much bigger smile and personality than Sara. I gave Sara red culy hair and made sure her curly bangs always fell the same way on her forehead. I also gave her a more modest smile which showed just a little bit of teeth. Here is the sketch I sent the art director.....

Because I was on such a time crunch I had to basically invent a new way of working. I painted the art in sections. The background of this particular piece was the dock, so I painted that separate from the girls. I then scanned them in and assembled the pieces in photoshop and added the colored background digitally.

By doing this I could adjust the color, add patterns and all the details that I was afraid I might screw up if I painted them into the art traditionally. As I painted each spread I would print them out and hang them on the wall. I would constantly monitor them to make sure the color scheme stayed consistent. If there was a spread that didn't fit in, I was able to go back and adjust the color in Photoshop. Saved me a lot of time.

On May 18th, I sent the finished artwork to the publisher. There were no changes. I was thrilled! It was a tough six weeks of work to get the artwork done. I had to double up on my Peet's coffee. One in the morning to wake up and one in the afternoon to keep painting into the night. But I learned a lot and now have a new client. I am now working on a second book for Kar-Ben and the best news is I have eight months to get this next one done!

Thank you PBJunkies for my celebration week and all your reviews. And thank you, Jacqueline Jules, for your great interview and wonderful story. Remember to leave a comment by Saturday night and I will announce the winner of an autographed book on Sunday!

13 comments:

Sherri Cassara said...

Hi Deb, I really enjoyed hearing the inside scoop of how you were able to illustrate the book so quickly! So cute that you used two real girls for your inspiration! And amazing that you didn't need to make any changes after you sent in your artwork! xo Sherri

fhiona galloway said...

that was really good to read-interesting to see how some publishers work.
the artwork looks amazing too.

Diandra Mae said...

I am in awe, Deb! Six weeks is not a lot of time and not only did you meet deadline, your work still looks fabulous! Congrats on the launch. Sara and Carly are adorable.

Phyllis Harris said...

Congratulations Deb! Amazing results! Whew, I'm tired from just reading it!!!

kristian said...

Wow - I didn't realize what a crunch that book was for you. You certainly wouldn't know it to see it because there are so many details and it really is very consistent. Congratulations again Deb!!!

roz said...

FABULOUS!! I loved reading everything you went through and your thought processes along with it. It is such an adorable book and I can only imagine that Jacqueline must be thrilled that you were the illustrator.
BRAVO! Whistles and whoot whoot! =o)

Kathy Weller said...

Awesome share, Deb!!! I love the book, and I loved reading the story behingd it as well!!

Alicia Padrón said...

You are amazing, you know that? Really.. this book is filled with tons of details. The style, color scheme and character consistency are perfect. How could you do it in such a short time is beyond me. :oD

Going Doodling said...

Amazing! ...you are quite inspirational, to be honest. That deadline would have scared me to death!!! Your illustrations are great. They hold to the summer camp feel and fun perfectly. Really, really swell job! Thanks for sharing your happy story of success! ;) ...oh and coffee is a blessing!!! I agree!

Hardygirl said...

Wow! I'm in awe.

And, the finished illustrations look incredible!!

sf

Marty Qatani said...

Loved reading about your work process on this project. Love your illustration style as well. Thanks for posting this.

Deb said...

Thank you everyone for your wonderfully supportive comments!

Héctor Fernández said...

Hi:

very inspirational and interest post. As an "amateur" illustrator myself, I never had deadline times, but your comments abaout inspiration, way of work, procedures has been really usefull for me...

And final result, superb!!!

Thanks a lot for shared with us.