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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | artwork

Art and Words, Words and Art

“Jungle Tales,” by J.J. Shannon, 1895

Thirty years ago, I bought a poster of “Jungle Tales” by J.J. Shannon (1895) at the Met in New York City. I took it to my favorite framer, but when it was ready, I was horrified to see they’d cut off Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Children’s Bookshop at the bottom, framing just the image.  No one thought the words were important.  The framer ordered a new poster and framed it intact. “Jungle Tales” has been hanging over our den sofa ever since. I love the painting, but I also love the place names. In my mind, the two can’t be separated—art and words, words and art.

Like most kids, I wrote stories and drew pictures. I enjoyed words with illustrations—magazines with photographs and cartoons, comic books, middle grade fiction with inside line drawings. The experience was never hurried—I pored over the images and made connections between the art and the words. This was a world I never wanted to leave.

Sancho, the Homing Steer, by Candice Sylvia Farris

I planned to be both a writer and an artist, but after high school I realized I’d need formal art training. College of any kind was out of the question. I could teach myself to write and that was the path I chose.

Still, art remained a large part of my life. I watch children’s book illustrators work, envying those who can draw and paint and see results at the end of the day. In a writing session, I may produce one decent sentence, if that. To improve my craft—a daily struggle even after all these years—I start journals, but falter in the practice. New projects seem wrenched from me. Words, words, where are the words?

Two years ago, I was asked to write a picture book based on a character created by an illustrator. I agreed to try, though I was uncertain and nervous. I hadn’t written a picture book in more than ten years. And I’d never written a picture book based on a character. The editor sent me the illustrator’s sample sketches. I studied them, just as I’d once pored over the art in comics or mystery books. I photocopied the samples and carried them around with me.

preliminary sketches for Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten

Instead of having to visualize a character in my head, the way I usually wrote picture books (or anything), I could see the panda girl and her range of emotions, and appreciate Christine Grove’s sense of humor. I knew the kind of story this character needed. And I wrote it, Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten (2017). When I was asked to write a sequel, the illustrations from the first book inspired me. Amanda Panda and the Bigger, Better Birthday will be out next summer.

Amanda Panda Quits KindergartenA few weeks ago, Christine Grove sent me a new character. “What do you think?” she wrote. I printed out the character and carried it around with me. A month later, I had a new story. Art came to my rescue. It gave me the words I hadn’t been able to pull out of my head. 

I don’t know if this new story will become a published picture book, but I’ve learned my lesson. Don’t stray from art again. I’ll collect magazine photos, doodle, photocopy books (Pinterest doesn’t cut it for me), and paste the images into those fallow journals. Visuals will help me find the words. Art and words, words and art.

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Jennifer A. Bell

Jennifer A. BellIn this interview with Jennifer A. Bell, illustrator of many endearing books, we’ve asked about the process of illustrating Little Cat’s Luck, our Bookstorm™ this month, written for second, third, and fourth graders as a read-aloud or individual reading books.Jennifer was also the illustrator for Marion Dane Bauer’s earlier novel-in-verse, Little Dog, Lost.

What media and tools did you use to create the soft illustrations in Little Cat’s Luck?

These illustrations were rendered in pencil and finished in Adobe Photoshop.

Little Cat's LuckDo you use real animals for models? Are they animals you know?

I do have a cat. I find Google image searches to be a bit more helpful when I need to find details of different animal breeds or specific poses.

How are the decisions you make about drawing in black-and-white different than those you make about drawing in color?

I love working in black-and-white. I get to narrow my focus onto lighting, value contrast, and textures. It’s much faster than working in color. Color adds another layer of decision-making and can make things more complicated.

Little Dog Lost

The covers for Little Cat’s Luck and Little Dog, Lost are so vibrantly colored. Do you get to choose the color palette for the covers or are you asked to use those colors?

Initially, I had submitted many cover sketches for Little Dog, Lost. Most of them were moody nighttime scenes with the exception of a daytime park sketch. Simon and Schuster thought that image worked the best and we went from there. That cover went through many revisions. The dog changed, the composition was adjusted, and the colors got brighter and brighter. When we started working on Little Cat’s Luck the cover needed to look different than the dog book but still coordinate.

Little Dog, LostHow did you interact with the art director for these books?

There was a lot of back and forth on the covers but I had more freedom working on the interior illustrations. I had a set number of illustrations to come up with and they set me loose with the manuscript. The art director then used my sketches to lay out the book. Once they could see how it all came together we made some adjustments and I was able to work on the final artwork.

When does the book designer get into the process?

The art directors for these books were also the designers.

What does the book designer do beyond what you’ve already done?

So much! They design the cover and book jacket. They choose the fonts. They paginate the text and illustrations and prepare the book to be printed.

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Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to share these insights into your work with our readers. One of the reasons we fell in love with both Patches and Gus, and with Buddy in Little Dog, Lost, is because you have such a deft way with characterization.

For use with your students, Marion’s website includes a book trailer, a social-emotional learning guide, and a teaching guide that you’ll find useful as you incorporate this book into your planning.

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Catherine Thimmesh: Researching Paleoartistry

cover image How did you learn about paleoartists?

 While I was working on my book Lucy Long Ago, part of that research revealed the work of a paleoartist who reconstructed living creatures from paleo times based on fossil evidence, including the hominid, Lucy.

 How did you decide which paleoartists to contact?

I researched the world’s top paleoartists—as defined by the paleontologists and paleoartists themselves. Then, from those artists, I selected the art I personally connected with and thought might mix well together in a book. I then contacted those artists to see if they would participate in the project. (One artist contacted declined.)

How do you ask them for information?

It’s pretty straightforward—just ask! Most of the time, I’m able to contact the artists initially through email. That’s helpful for a cold-contact. I am able to introduce myself and attach a link to my website to familiarize them with my work. Then, after some initial correspondence with email, I set up a telephone interview.

from Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled, image copyright Tyler Keillor

from Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled, copyright Tyler Keillor

What’s the process you went through for obtaining permission to use the art in this book? Where did you go to find the art?

Usually the artists own the copyrights to their artwork (or sometimes a museum has the copyright), so it’s just a matter of negotiating a usage fee and the terms with which to use the work. I scoured the internet, some books, and artists’ websites to find the art. Later in the process, after the artists were selected, I would email specific requests to see if anyone had, say, a Triceratops with the scale pattern fairly visible (or some such).

How do you write so that both children and adults are interested in your books?

Hmmm …. I choose topics that interest and excite me and that I feel will interest and excite kids. Both elements must be present or I won’t do the book. I’ve started several books and then somewhere along the way either I lost interest or I felt the interest level for kids wouldn’t be there and so I abandoned the projects. I don’t consciously write for any age. I do purposefully write with a fairly casual tone—which I think tends to make a book more kid-friendly. It surprises me, still, that so many adults tell me they enjoy my books and perhaps that’s because while I try to write in an accessible manner for kids, I also refuse to dumb anything down for them—which in turn, might make the material more appealing.

Were you interested in dinosaurs as a child?

Nope.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?

My initial thought—the thought that led to digging deeper into the topic (How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like?)—was: ‘Well, obviously the artists just make this stuff up. They’d have to; there’s no reference to draw upon.’ But that thought led me to this: ‘But how can they just make stuff up and present it in a scientific context (without an attached disclaimer: THIS IS COMPLETELY MADE UP)?’ This of course got me agitated; which, in turn, led to: ‘The scientific presentations of dinosaurs (as opposed to movie dinosaurs or picture book dinosaurs) MUST be based upon something. What could it be?’ So, it was enormously surprising and gratifying to learn that paleoartists base their art not just on “something”; not even just on a handful of fossils, but on a tremendous backbone of scientific evidence and scientifically based inference (with some artistic license taken when absolutely necessary—for instance with color).

Thank you, Catherine, for writing a book that addresses questions we didn’t even know to ask, but which intrigued you enough to research and write Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like? And thank you for sharing some of your book-writing journey with our Bookology readers.

 

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Gifted: Walk This World

Walk This World: a Celebration of Life in a Day Lotta Nieminen, a Finnish-born graphic designer and art director Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, November 2013 As you consider gifts for this holiday season, we suggest … (book #2 in our Gifted recommendations) … Visit 10 countries in one book! This stylish […]

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