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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | watercolor

Katherine Tillotson

Katherine Tillotson

Katherine Tillotson

For this interview, we turn to the illustrator of a new book, all ears, all eyes, whose work I’ve long admired. This is a very special book. Open it and you’ll be captivated by the forest at night. Such unusual art! But, then, her prior books have also been distinctive, each in their own way. I hope you enjoy this visit with Katherine as much as I did.

In each of your recent books, Katherine, you’ve used a different illustration style. All the Water in the World is whooshes and swooshes, whirls and swirls, liquid on paper.

All the Water in the World

interior spread from All the Water in the World, by George Ella Lyon, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

For Shoe Dog, your pages were light-hearted, full of chaotic energy that portrayed Megan McDonald’s dog who finds shoes irresistible.

Shoe Dog

interior spread from Shoe Dog, by Megan McDonald, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

For It’s Picture Day Today!, you assembled familiar home and schoolroom crafting supplies into adorable creatures preparing for picture day. I like to imagine you folding paper and sorting through buttons and peeling glue off your fingers during the making of this book.

It's Picture Day Today!

interior spread from It’s Picture Day Today!, by Megan McDonald, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

In your newest book, all ears, all eyes, you’ve accomplished yet another completely different look. Your portrayal of the forest in the dark brings the night to life. The reader is deep inside the forest, seeing it, feeling it, while Richard Jackson’s poetry provides the sound track.

all ears, all eyes

interior spread from all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jackson, illustration copyright Katherine Tillotson

I find myself with lots of questions!

When an editor sends you a manuscript, what happens in your mind as you’re reading it?

 I always hope to have my imagination awakened. I usually do not have an idea where I might take a new story with the illustrations but I can perceive an opening for my part of the storytelling. If it is the right manuscript for me, there is a feeling of excited anticipation.

What moves you to agree to a project, knowing it will take you (how long?) to create the illustrations?

I am slow and it is a long time from beginning to end. I can easily slip into being hopelessly overwhelmed or impossibly anxious. It is always best if I think of the process in small steps instead of a distant destination. Collaborators are also invaluable. Many a time, my editor or art director has helped me through a bumpy bit along the way. And I belong to a most wonderful critique group. Together we cheer and help each other move the books forward.

How do you begin a new book?

I love to sit down in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee, the manuscript, and a big pile of books. The books are often on artists but I also have a large collection of Bologna Annuals. I keep a sketchbook nearby and let my mind and my pencil wander.

all ears, all eyesFor all ears, all eyes, the title page reveals that you combined watercolor and digital techniques. Could you tell us more about this process?

I struggled a lot with technique for this book. Early on, I experimented with acrylic and oil. Neither worked. I really wanted to use watercolor and I even had a few lessons from my friend, Julie Downing, a very accomplished watercolor illustrator, I longed to lay down the paint with the confidence of a master, yet I did not have time to master the technique. Watercolor involves a lot of layering (Julie tells me she can have fifty to eighty layers on a painting). Yet I found the more layers I added to a painting, the more I was afraid I would mess up. With each new layer, my rendering became stiffer and stiffer. In mulling over the problem, I thought I might paint more expressively if I knew I could layer in Photoshop, thus discarding any layers I did not like and keeping only those I did. This technique gave me the freedom I craved.

Do you make a conscious effort to make each book quite different? Why?

No, it really isn’t a conscious or intellectual choice. There are so many ways to make marks. Shoe Dog was originally going to be rendered in oil. When he developed into a scribble, it just felt right.

Well and then there is the fact that I love art supplies so much. I could spend almost as many hours in an art supply store as in a bookstore.

Do you study other illustrators’ work? What do you see when you do?

Oh, yes! Definitely! There are wonderful illustrators—from all over the world. I have so many favorites. My shelves are overflowing with their picture books. I try to use the library or my book buying habit could easily spin out of control.

Most of all, I love how illustrators extend and enhance the storytelling, stretching beyond the words. An example would be Migrant, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. Well, and then there is Chris Raschka. I love the expressive power of his work. Something I am always aspiring to. I could keep going and going… I find so much to admire and inspire in my fellow illustrators’ work.

For all ears, all eyes, you illustrated a Richard Jackson manuscript. He has been your editor for 15 years. Now he’s the author. It is typical in the publishing process that author and illustrator don’t communicate directly, but rather indirectly through their editor. How did that work for this book?

When we began, Dick was very involved in both authoring and editing the book. As the process continued, he began to focus more on his writing life. My communication continued with my new editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, and my art director, Ann Bobco.

I miss Dick as my editor. He is really the one who taught me how to think about picture books, but I was losing my vision of the book and trying to please everyone. My process was becoming scattered and disconnected. When we returned to a conventional communication model, the book resumed taking shape.

all ears, all eyes

interior spread from all ears, all eyes, by Richard Jackson, copyright Katherine Tilltson

There is nothing about the illustrations in this book that whispers “digital” to me and yet the copyright page says “a combination of watercolor and digital techniques.” Would you share with us how your digital skills have evolved?

Thank you! I use very few of the functions available in Photoshop. Most of my computer time has to do with scanning and placing the layers (and there are lots of layers). I am constantly trying to find ways to minimize my time on the computer and spend most of my time sketching and painting. I believe that the drawing board is where I can find the looseness and emotion I want.

When you went to art school, what was your vision of your artistic future?

I graduated from the University of Colorado with an art major with an education minor. I have always loved making art, but I did not have a clear vision of how to find a career that incorporated art making. I took night classes to develop new art-related skills and through happy coincidence met a fellow student who introduced me to Harcourt in San Francisco. For many years, I designed educational books during the day and worked on illustration samples at night and weekends. It wasn’t until I painted this little guy (an early version of what evolved into Shoe Dog) that doors began to open. Dick Jackson saw the piece and took a chance on me.

"If

What is your vision of that future now?

I would love to write and illustrate a story. I have a couple ideas that I am thinking about and a few characters rattling around in my head. Now if I could just get them to come out and play….

Don’t miss Bookology‘s interview with the author of all ears, all eyes, Richard Jackson.

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Thank you, Katherine, for letting us peek inside your process, your work, and your passion as an illustrator. We always look forward to the next book you’re creating.

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Apples, Well-Being, and Family

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieBring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story about Edna Lewis is a memorable book about growing food throughout the seasons and living off the land in Virginia. Wild strawberry, purslane, dandelions, sassafras, honey. As spring rides the breeze into summer, this extended family tends to their larder, taking full advantage of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables growing around them. Summer subdues itself into fall. Time to bring in the corn and beans, take a last harvest of pecans before winter sets in.

This way of life may be unfamiliar to a large percentage of children, but even though the book is set in the 1920s, everything about the story feels contemporary. Perhaps it is a way of life that withstands time.

Food is the focus because this is a glimpse of the early life of Edna Lewis, renowned chef and Southern cookbook author. As the author and watercolor illustrator Robbin Gourley writes, “But her most significant contribution was to make people aware of the importance of preserving traditional methods of growing and preparing food and of bringing ingredients directly from the field to the table.” With our current resurgence of interest in a farm-to-table lifestyle, this book is a good way to talk about food and nutrition with your children.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie

Quite a few traditional sayings are included in the book:

“Raccoon up the pecan tree.
Possum on the ground.
Raccoon shake the pecans down.
Possum pass ‘em round.”

Your mouth will water so much while you’re reading this book that you’ll be glad there are five recipes in the back of the book, from Strawberry Shortcake to Pecan Drops.

The watercolor illustrations throughout are charming and informative, warm and loving. The color palette of clear, bright tones adds to the feeling of health and well-being.

It’s a worthwhile addition to your home, school, or public library.

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Eileen Ryan Ewen

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to share with you our interview with Eileen Ryan Ewen, the illustrator of Miss Colfax’s Light, our Bookstorm™ this month. This book is a perfect example of the text and illustrations enhancing each other to make a picture book biography that is more than the sum of its parts. Have the book open near you when you read Eileen’s responses. With our interview, we hope to help you look more deeply at the illustrations.

In the first few pages of the book, when Harriet is walking through the door, why did you decide to draw her with one foot poised on the threshold? And was this picture always like this?

Yes, as I look back through my early sketches, Harriet’s foot is always on the threshold. Little is known about Harriet’s personality (though a bit comes through in her logs), and I was trying to imagine what it must have been like for her on that, her first day at the lighthouse. I tried to think about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 1860’s. How many women would have stepped away from a job as demanding as a lighthouse keeper? How many women (and men, for that matter) would have voluntarily stayed on for as long as Harriet did, as well as completed the job so thoroughly each day? I have to imagine that most women of that era never would have entertained such a livelihood. Yet Harriet, a former music teacher and typesetter, didn’t step away. She stepped up.

Miss Colfax's Light

You have many period details in your artwork, from a five-panel door to a log holder to changes in clothing styles. How do you do your research?

I love history! My father was a historian, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the subject. As far as research, I had the good fortune to visit the actual Michigan City Lighthouse, where wonderful docents gave me a tour, and provided great information about what the lighthouse looked like back in Harriet’s day (it wasn’t as large!), clothing from her era, and the tools she used. Combined with that information, I used the good old internet to make sure the fashions I was using were appropriate. For instance, if you search women’s clothing from the mid-nineteenth century, very formal ball gowns will be the most likely results. Harriet would have worn no such thing. So then a more refined search is needed, often with trips to the library to scour books that might fit the time period I’m trying to capture. I know some illustrators who look to period movies, and will study the costumes and sets for inspiration. In the end, I usually have loads of information about the time period, and only end up using a small fraction of it in my illustrations—just enough to hopefully give the piece an authentic feel, and accurately capture the era. The research side can be tedious and time consuming, but because I find it so interesting, it’s a lot of fun as well!

Are you in charge of deciding where you have two facing pages with different scenes and where you’ll have a two-page spread? What determines this for you?

It’s probably different for each Art Director and publisher. I have great appreciation for the trust that my Art Director at Sleeping Bear Press showed me. She gave me the manuscript with the text somewhat arranged on each page, and let me loose. I was allowed to move text if I wanted to, in order to fit my illustration ideas, and I had free rein to chose vignettes, full-page illustrations, or two-page spread illustrations. Now, all that said, I had to run all of my ideas and sketches by the Art Director, Editor, and Publisher, as well as a few other people, before I could start the final art. Sometimes they approved my decisions, and sometimes I had to tweak something small, and other times I had to do an entire illustration over. The cover of Miss Colfax’s Light was done twice.

Miss Colfax's LightIn the scene where Harriet is filling the lantern with whale oil, the light is shining up from her lantern on the floor. How do you determine where the light will originate, and where it falls, in your illustrations?

If I have to be honest, this is something I’m still working on—lights and darks. For the illustration mentioned above, I guessed. I reverted back to my figure drawing days in college, remembering studies of the planes of the face and folds of fabric, how subtle angles can be thrust into complete darkness, while a slight curve can create a sharp, bright contrast. Looking at illustrators and artists who’ve mastered lights and darks also helps (and intimidates!). I know of several illustrators who actually make models of their characters, and then place lights to mimic the lighting of their piece, and draw from that. This is something I hope to try in the future.

Miss Colfax's Light

In the double-page spread filled with small vignettes of Harriet working, how did you think how to lay out that page?

This was a challenging one for me! A lot of important information is being revealed, and all deserving of a visual component. One illustration per page just wouldn’t cut it. Add the fact that Aimée is describing the typical work Harriet would do in any one day, made me want to capture the feeling of what it was like for Harriet from sun up to sun down. For this reason, I chose to arch the vignettes around the words, starting with Harriet tending the light at the first crack of dawn, to Harriet lighting it again at dusk. But until I came up with that solution, I struggled with this spread quite a bit. I’m not sure why the solution came to me when it did, but it sort of popped up as I was walking my daughters home from preschool. I immediately had the image of clock hands, the passing of time, how the hands (and sun) arch and rotate from Point A, to Point B. It dawned on me to try to use this movement in the piece. Just goes to show that sometimes ideas pop up at the strangest moments. I wasn’t thinking about the problem that fall morning, or so I thought, but apparently some little part of my art brain was still churning, unbeknownst to me.

I love how woeful the postmaster looks when Harriet is reading the letter telling her she’s being replaced. When you begin an illustration, do you have in mind what the expressions will be on various characters’ faces?

Yes and no. Sometimes, I feel like I know the character right away, and other times I really have to sit back and let the scene marinate in my mind, create a few really awful sketches before I start to feel the true spirit of a character, even a minor one, like the postmaster. I remember reading Harriet’s obituary, which described the people of Michigan City as absolutely loving her, and holding her in high regard. So while there were some naysayers at the beginning of Harriet’s career, it seems as if almost everyone felt she was a beloved, stalwart fixture by the end of her career. The latter feeling is what I was trying to capture in the postmaster’s face.

You begin and end the book with that doorway. When did this idea for framing the story come to you in your process?

I think it came fairly naturally, and the framing is largely in Aimée’s writing, which made my job easy! And of course, doors make such nice analogies, don’t they? Comings and goings, beginnings and endings. I almost feel like this aspect of the storyline was a gift. It just made sense to me to start and finish the book with that door.

What did you want readers to know from the pages of illustrations you created for this book?

History can be such a dry subject. Until we realize that it’s all just a series of stories, made up of real people doing extraordinary things. So I hope that when people read Miss Colfax’s Light, they see a person who was courageous, and tired, and determined, with calloused hands and a smile for a friend or a cat who’s chasing the chickens again. I hope that I helped to make Harriet’s world a real, tangible place for readers, especially children. I hope to inspire someone to try something that might be out of their comfort zone, or to not back away from something they want to try just because someone says it’s not meant for them. There is so much to be learned from Harriet and her life. In some ways, her story is a small one, historically speaking. In other ways, it’s huge, and absolutely deserves to be told. It has been such an honor to be entrusted in helping bring her story to life!

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Stephanie Roth Sisson

Stephanie Roth SissonThe first Princess Posey book was published in 2010. How long before that were you asked to illustrate the book? And were the plans to have it be a single book at that time or were there already intentions to publish more than one book about Posey?

Susan Kochan and Cecilia Yung at Penguin contacted me in November of 2008 about the Princess Posey series. If I am remembering this right, there were two books planned initially. The first book was well received, so I think that’s what expanded the series out.

Knowing how important it is to have characters in books look the same no matter how they are standing or sitting or moving, how did you begin to create Posey’s look?

Princess Poeey and the Tiny TreasureStephanie Greene’s text created Princess Posey through her approachable and clever text. After reading the first manuscript, I thought that this is a real and relatable kid- someone we all know. As an aside, I loved that Posey’s family situation is not explained. We don’t know why her father isn’t in the picture. This isn’t a divorce book or a book about why dad isn’t there—her world is not about the absence of someone. Posey has her family, her neighbors, friends, and a teacher who are loving and nurturing and that’s enough.  

What type of drawing materials and papers do you use when you’re illustrating the Posey stories?

The Princess Posey illustrations are done traditionally with watercolors and paper. I do a little cleaning up digitally, but 90% or better is traditional media.

What do you think of differently when creating the black-and-white drawings and spot illustrations for Posey as opposed to creating the illustrations for your newest book: Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos?

Star StuffWhen I was working on the illustrations for Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos, I was preparing for a life outside of the U.S. on this little island called Mauritius. On Mauritius the air is humid (paper buckles and molds) and quality art materials are difficult to find,  plus shipping original artwork is an act of faith in an incredibly unreliable service at best. I can’t even count on a letter mailed within Mauritius with clearly printed addresses to make it to its destination. For Star Stuff, I used mostly digital media working on a Wacom™ tablet with some scanned art—mostly for backgrounds. I needed to teach myself a method that I could use that could be uploaded to an FTP server. I uploaded the book shortly before we moved to Mauritius and it worked!

Do you keep a file of images, either on paper or digitally, that helps you with ideas?

Yes, I have files for all of my books. I am also a big fan of Pinterest. Whenever I find images that I think I can use I collect them. This is a great way to create a book.

Posey has three friends, a teacher, Miss Lee, and her mother and grandfather as main characters. Do you organize your information about each of them in a particular way? What form does those records take?

Princess PoseyI keep a file with images of Posey’s world. It contains maps of her neighborhood, drawings of her house, a floorplan of her house and drawings of each room. I do a bit of the same for the other characters, noting what sort of clothing they wear. For example, Nikki wears a lot of tunics and wears a headband, Posey likes her bling.  I have scans of the characters in various positions and have a “line up” drawing with their heights relative to one another.

Do you feel that you know Posey and her world quite well now? Does it feel like a real place to you?

Yes, definitely. Her world sits as a complete place in my mind.

On your website, you wrote that Tomie dePaola was the first illustrator who made you realize that you could have a job writing and illustrating children’s books. What kind of training did you go through to make you confident in your work?

Tomie dePaolaYes, I was lucky to have met Tomie dePaola when I was in elementary school. I haven’t received any formal art training. My collection of books for children grows by the year and includes most of my favorites from childhood. I study those books. I love everything about them from the feel of the paper,  how the story is laid out, the theater of this thing we call a book. I began drawing (like most of us) as soon as I could hold a pencil, I’ve just never stopped.

What books would you recommend to budding illustrators?

Show Me a StoryStudy the books you love  and ask yourself why you like them. Study how the story unfolds, how we meet the characters in the book, and what we can tell about the characters from the pictures. I’ve noticed that many successful illustrators come from a film background. Watch movies and see what kind of lighting is used to set a mood, how scenes are framed and how things are paced to heighten the emotion of the story. As a storyteller, my number one focus is always the emotional connection between the reader and the characters and the story. As far as books go, there are so many! Leonard Marcus has written some gems about childrens’ literature, I love reading biographies of illustrators and writers for inspiration, too. My first stop though in this process of becoming a creator of content for children is the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).    

Stephanie, it has been a joy to come to know Posey through the visuals you create. Many of them show tenderness, humor, and joy … all of which young readers appreciate. Thank you for sharing your talents with us.

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Interview with Julie Downing: Illustrating The Firekeeper’s Son

interview by Vicki Palmquist and Marsha Qualey

Firekeeper's SonThe illustrations in The Firekeeper’s Son are all double-page spreads. How did that design decision affect your choices and work?

I decided on the format because the landscape is an important part of the story. The original dummy I made had fewer pages so I split many spreads into smaller images. Fortunately, my wonderful editor recognized the problem and allowed me to make the book 40 pages instead of 32, so I could spread the story over 20 spreads. We both felt the expansive double-page spreads helped make the story feel bigger.

My favorite spreads are on pp. 24-25 and pp. 30-31. Similar in palate and subject, one (pp. 30-31) is effectively a close-up of the other (pp. 24-25), and that helps so much to heighten suspense at a critical moment. Did this image come quickly or was it reached slowly?

My favorite sequence of spreads is between pp. 24-25 and pp. 30-31. This is the climactic moment in the text, and Linda Sue expertly builds the climax to Sang-hee’s moment of decision. The sequence of images took a long time to get just right (most of my ideas come V E R Y slowly) I drew and redrew these 4 spreads many times so I could find just the right way to show how Sang-hee decides to put aside his desire to see soldiers (as shown in the shadow on pp. 24-25) to the moment where he lights the fire.

FirekeeperIllustrationThe toy figures Sang-hee plays with are a crucial element in the narrative, yet they’re not mentioned in the text. When and how did they become part of the story?

As an illustrator, my job is to bring something new to the text. The text says that Sang-hee loves soldiers and I wanted to show his interest in a way that young readers could understand. I watched my own son, who was Sang-hee’s age, when I was illustrating this book. He spent a lot of his time making Lego® figures and playing with them, so I started wondering what the 17th century equivalent was to Lego® and came up with the idea of clay soldiers.

Sang-hee plays with clay (or mud) soldiers. Did you find examples of these in your research? How do you go about making sure those toys were in use during the time period in which the book is set?

Children didn’t have toys in the small Korean villages and any that they made would not have survived, however I spoke to a curator at the Asian Art Museum and he suggested that children might have fashioned simple figures out of mud or clay. The actual soldiers were made by my 6-year-old-son so they looked like something a young boy would make.

Where did you do your research to find the uniforms Korean soldiers would have worn during this time period? They seem to have reflective rivets on their jackets. Is this something you could detect from your research?

I love the research part of the process. San Francisco has a wonderful Asian Art Museum and I was able to go behind the scenes and look at some of the soldiers’ actual uniforms. The museum also provided me with tons of visual reference for all the costumes in the book. The reflection in the rivets actually represents sparks from the 2nd coal. I wanted to visually blend reality and fantasy.

Did you use models for the people in your paintings?

I do use models. My son’s best friend posed for Sang-hee, and his mother posed as well. I find one of the hardest parts of painting the illustrations for a book is making the characters look consistent. It helps me if I find a real person to pose.

Do you remember making a decision to paint Sang-hee’s imagined soldiers within the fire?

The text does say he saw a huge battle in the flames, so I was inspired by the text. One of the things I loved about the story are the levels of complexity, and yet the writing is spare. Linda Sue touches on so many themes—family, duty, desire—within a simple text that I had lots of opportunities to expand the story with the art.

firekeeper_2

You achieve a wonderful luminescence with your fire. How did you accomplish this?

I worked with a combination of watercolor and liquid acrylics. The acrylics are incredibly intense colors so I watered them down and painted in dozens of layers. My studio now has a big blue-green stain right near the door, because I pinned the painting to the door, wet them with a spray bottle and literally poured paint over them. All the excess dripped onto the floor. It created a nice welcome mat!

The color palette for the paintings is blue, green, and purple, with a beautiful light suffusing the landscape. What led you to decide on that group of colors?

I chose the colors to contrast with the warmth of the fire. I usually do extensive color studies so I can work out not only the colors in the individual spreads, but also how the colors affect the story arc.

Lotus and the Feather, illus by Julie Downing Disney Hyperion, 2016

Lotus and Feather, written and illustrated by Julie Downing, pp. 18-19. forthcoming from Disney Hyperion, 2016

Many illustrators paint in watercolor, but you’ve added pastel crayons. What do you feel this adds to a painting?

I love painting with watercolor. The transparency you can achieve with the medium was perfect for the book. However, sometimes I wanted a better dark, a lighter highlight, or a different texture, so adding pastel and colored pencil allowed me to do this.

The cover is not taken from pages already existing in the book. It stands separately. What did you feel needed to be on the cover in order to draw people into the book?

I find covers to be challenging. I want to convey a sense of the story without giving anything away. The editor and I went back and forth on showing soldiers in the flames because we were worried it might reveal the ending. Finally, we decided that if they were subtle, it just adds to the mystery of the story.

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I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

There has been a lot written about the bravery of cows (no, there hasn’t). Some of it has startled us with the sheer audacity of amazing feats of derring-do of which cows are capable (News at 10!). Young children everywhere are pinning up cow posters on their bedroom walls, hoping to one day be as […]

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bk_campingtrip_180.jpg

Packing up the tent?

Summer Reading No. 2 Many of you are making plans to get out of Dodge when your kids are out of school for the summer. I imagine thousands of people making a list: tent, sleeping bags, mini-grill, rain ponchos, clothesline (from our camping experience, someplace to hang things up to dry is essential), cooler, GPS, […]

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