Behind the Scenes: Illustrating Book One

Can I confess something to you guys?

When RV approached me before Christmas about illustrating his children’s book series, I jumped at the chance. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a few years, and hey, I could cross something off of my bucket list! Woo hoo!

However, part of me wanted to back out. All these fears crept in and I would start to panic. I mean, how am I supposed to take some one else’s character that they created and bring it to life as a visual image, all while being true to my work yet true to the original idea? What about the setting? I have no idea what boats really look like or the other settings from the book. How am I going to color it? What about layout, how are my illustrations going to work around the text? How in the world am I going to fit the time into my crazy life to do this and do this well? What if my illustrations are awful and ruin the books for RV?!?

The first few times I would send an image to RV, I would expect an email back saying that I wasn’t a good fit for his book and that he was going to find someone else. As you can tell from my Facebook posts and RV’s blog, aside from a few tweaks and adjustments here and there, we are moving along in the process and all of my fears have been (mostly) irrational.

The Process:

RV was totally awesome, and when he sent the first draft of the book for me to look over, he sent along initial sketches of the cover and first few pages of the book. This helped me get a feel for what the character looked like and what RV was envisioning for each illustration. He also gave me the freedom to take each of his initial sketches, change things, and just run with it. I got to be creative, yet still follow his lead with his initial concepts and ideas of what he was thinking.

But illustrating really isn’t just drawing pretty pictures to coincide with the story. I’ve spent so many hours researching boats, settings, period clothing, and getting input from RV. It’s been a long process to get just the concept sketches done, but even though it’s time consuming, it’s so much fun!

What I’m Learning:

The more research you do and the more reference images you have, the better your pictures will be. I’m probably not even using half of the reference images that I’ve found, but I have a better understanding of each piece of the pictures from all the research. I tend to like to skip this part and just start working, but I really do need to slow down more and put more effort into the work before I start drawing or painting. My computer screen looks like this more often than not when I’m doing a concept sketch:

I know next to nothing about boats. Thankfully, RV is an expert as he builds boat for his job and as mission work (you can check out Mission Navigation here!). He has been ridiculously helpful with explaining everything. I’ve also been getting brownie points with my kids; now that I have some sort of an idea what I’m talking about (or at least I pretend really well), I’ve been teaching the kids terms and parts when they’re building their LEGO boats 🙂

It’s not always going to go quick, but it’s not always going to be slow! Some illustrations were done in one quick initial sketch (I love you, pages 6, 11, and 13!), yet others took many sketches (here’s looking at you, page 14) or even two weeks to get the idea “right” (that’d be you, page 5….*shudders*). No matter how long the process takes, it’s always worth it to just get the right amount of fun and detail and story in each picture.

Mice feet are super weird. So are their noses. But in order to get Boathouse to be mouse-like and be believable as a mouse, I had to really study what a mouse looks like, even if he’s pretty anthropomorphic. I think I spent a couple days just drawing mice features over and over again to get a feel for what they look like! Most of that was because we had no idea what Boathouse’s feet were supposed to look like; every other part of him came together easily, but man, mouse feet…they’re difficult!

It’s okay to not know what I’m doing. A couple days after RV approached me, I stumbled across an online class that focused on illustrating children’s books that have animals as their main characters, and it was even on sale!!! I mean, what are the odds that I’d find that class when I needed it?!? I took it in January, and it was so helpful. It helped me really figure out what Boathouse should look like, how to figure out the best compositions, all those artsy things that I was freaking out about a month prior to that. I really was able to gain confidence from this class and really add more to each illustration.

What’s next:

I’ll be honest, I don’t know when the book will be out, but I’m hoping that it will be sooner rather than later. A lot of this is taking longer than I anticipated as I’m working 10 – 12 hour days for my in home daycare 5 days a week, and then spending time with my husband and kids as well as attempting to have a life on top of that. I am hopeful the hardest part of the process is hopefully behind us and it should move quicker from here on out.

Now that all of the concept drawings are done, I get to take all the thumbnails and make them the approximate size of the finished product. I’ll be adding in details that I couldn’t add in before (like buttons, detail on a fence, etc), and I hope to have that done this week, end of next weekend at the latest.

After those are done, it’s color testing time, and then finally the final draft which will be scanned and used for the book. Whew!

Gosh, this post has been so hard to write. It’s hard to show restraint and not tell or show you more about the book or illustrations! I hope you all will love the book when it’s done, because I think RV has done a great job writing this book and creating the world of Boathouse Mouse. And I am so very very thankful I get to be a part of this!

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