Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Kid from Diamond Street -the sketch & illustration process

This posting today is highlighting the sketch and illustration process for the 2016 picture book, The Kid from Diamond Street.

But first, a bit of backstory info...
Back in 2012 the wonderful picture book Brothers at Bat was released by publisher Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) -written by Audrey Vernick. At the time it was my 19th illustrated picture book... It proved to be a very popular picture book (I think thus far it has sold nearly 60,000 hardcover copies), and was named a Notable Picture Book of 2012 by the New York Times Book Review -as well as being a Junior Library Guild Selection for Spring 2012. It also won the prestigious California Young Reader Medal in Picture Books in 2015. See an earlier post on the making of the illustrations for Brothers at Bat.

Since 2012 I have illustrated seven more picture books:
2013- Boom! 
(Disney/Hyperion Books, written by Mary Lyn Ray)

2015- The Fantastic Ferris Wheel 
(Christy Ottaviano Books, written by Betsy Harvey Kraft) 

2015- Wild Child 
(Abrams Books for Young Readers, written by Steven Salerno)

2016- The Kid from Diamond Street 
(Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, written by Audrey Vernick)

2016- Puppy Princess 
(Little Golden Books/Random House, written by Sue Fliess)

2017- Goldenlocks and the Three Pirates 
(Farrar Straus & Giroux, written by April Jones Prince)

2018- Tim's Goodbye 
(Farrar Straus & Giroux, written by Steven Salerno)

This posting today is highlighting the sketch and illustration process for the 2016 picture book, The Kid from Diamond Street, written by Audrey Vernick, which was released back in April 2016. Our author-illustrator collaboration on her previous baseball-themed true life picture book, Brothers at Bat in 2012 was such a success that our savvy and talented editor Jennifer Greene (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) wanted to team up Audrey and I again, especially since "The Kid" was another true life baseball story. We are hoping The Kid from Diamond Street will be an even bigger home run hit than the 2012 Brothers at Bat!


cover, The Kid from Diamond Street

The Kid from Diamond Street is the true story of Philadelphia girl Edith Houghton, who back in 1922 at the tender age of ten became a professional baseball player for the Philadelphia Bobbies in the all-female professional baseball league. Then in 1925, at age thirteen, Edith was a star player on the all-female American baseball team that toured Japan, competing against their all-male baseball teams.Illustrating the story was a terrifc opportunity to create images engaged in the look and feel of the roaring '20's time period. 

It was fun to create scenes with the style automobiles, trains, and ocean liners of that era, including the "flapper" style dresses, and of course the baggy baseball uniforms of the day. Not to mention depicting "old fashioned" typewriters, cameras, etc... 


a rough preliminary sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
The Kid from Diamond Street was the third historical non-fiction true story picture book I have illustrated and they are such appealing projects that currently I am working on the sketches for yet another true story picture book for Penguin/Random House slated for a fall 2017 release.

SIDE BAR
In case you are not aware of how the illustration process works with picture books, here it is in a nutshell: 

The editor at a publishing house acquires a story they want to publish, and they decide who they think might be the perfect illustrator. The author is rarely in on the selection of the illustrator. The editor and art director use their own judgement and experience in matching the style and feel of the story with the right illustrator. In the case of The Kid from Diamond Street the publisher contacted me and asked if I was interested in the project. I said yes, and once the contract was finalized, we began the long process of creating the illustrations, which is usually about 18 months prior to the slated release date for the book. (Generally about 6 months time for the artist to crate the illustrations and then another 12 months for the book to be in design production and then at the printers...)

As the illustrator I'm totally left alone to decide on how to illustrate the story, and commence with the lengthy sketch process. The editor, the art director, and the designer have no initial input on the sketches. The author and illustrator do not meet nor collaborate regarding the images. Once I completed my sketches (several months in the case of The Kid from Diamond Streetto a mature point where I felt they were ready to be shown, I made a formal sketch presentation in person to the editor, art director and designer. (note: I live in NYC, so I have the luxury of being able to make my sketch presentations in person, as many of the top publishing houses are located here in NYC.) At the sketch presentation is where I get highly detailed feedback on how well I have proposed to illustrate the story from the editor, art director and designer, who are all experts in such evaluation -based on their combined experience creating picture books. 

For the most part I generally hit the mark quite closely with my presentation sketches, but there are always suggestions for changes and alterations to the sketches which may improve the final illustrations, which I take very seriously and evaluate as to which suggestions I will incorporate to make changes to the sketches. It is a bit of back and forth tug-of-war at times, but in the end I feel we compromise intelligently and the final resulting illustrated book is the best it can be.
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My initial tactic in creating the illustrations for any picture book (of course after the contract is negotiated) is to jump right in while reading the story manuscript that the editor sends over -by doodling miniature sketches directly into the margins of the manuscript while I read it...

Shown below are eight views of these miniature doodle sketches that I draw into the manuscript as I read. They are literally just a couple inches in size…

manuscript margin doodle, The Kid from Diamond Street

manuscript margin doodle, The Kid from Diamond Street

manuscript margin doodle, The Kid from Diamond Street

manuscript margin doodle, The Kid from Diamond Street

manuscript margin doodle, The Kid from Diamond Street

manuscript margin doodle, The Kid from Diamond Street

manuscript margin doodle, The Kid from Diamond Street

manuscript margin doodle, The Kid from Diamond Street
The whole point of creating these miniature sketch doodles (above), which are nothing more than a kind of quick visual shorthand, is to rely on my initial gut instinct about how to approach illustrating the story. I create many, many of these little tiny sketches, getting closer and closer to figuring out how I will indeed approach composing the illustrations... Because they are so tiny I can get to the essence of the intended illustration -without wasting time rendering any details at all. These tiny doodle sketches are for my eyes only, being much too rough and premature for showing to the editor or art director anyway. However they are the very important image genesis which leads to the start of the more formal sketch stage.

After formulating a general idea (with the tiny doodle sketches) as to what all the illustrations will consist of in terms of which actions are to be depicted from the text, how the illustration will be composed to accommodate the text, page turns, etc... the next stage is to then begin creating somewhat larger (about 5"x7" or sometimes 8"x10") more detailed rough sketches using the earlier tiny doodles as the visual springboard...

Below are two sketches the first very rough, and the second a much more evolved, refined version where I am developing the more mature and hopefully final composition for the planned illustration. (The sketches are ink, pencil, and crayon on paper) 
early rough sketch -draft 1, The Kid from Diamond Street

refined sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
In this scene the American women's baseball team in 1925 is traveling via steam ship across the Pacific Ocean to Japan, and one of Edith's teammates has joined the ballroom orchestra and is standing on a chair playing violin. While Edith, feeling sea sick, is sitting on the edge of the stage turning green.
refined sketch -draft  2, The Kid from Diamond Street
Above is the further developed sketch with tones added, and expanded to become a double page spread. This is a spread scene, and you can see that I have composed an area in the top right side where the story text will be positioned.

refined sketch with dummy text, The Kid from Diamond Street

Above is the same sketch with the dummy text blocked in, to make sure that I have indeed allowed enough space for it. You can see that the darkened curtain area on the left side above the character's heads will also accommodate reversed-white text, too.
final sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street


Above is the modified final sketch and just below the sketch is a detail view of the final illustration vignette. Here I had decided to eliminate the full spread scene of the ballroom dancers on the right page side, to be able to add in a vignette of Edith teaching one of the cruise passengers to dance the latest 1925 dance craze, the "Charleston." This little descriptive dance lesson gem within the story was too evocative and fun to pass up illustrating. This is the version sketch I considered final and ultimately was shown to the editor and art director and designer at the publishing house along with all the other final sketches.

Posted below are views of some of the preliminary sketches and their corresponding final sketches, which were then presented to the publisher. The preliminary sketches are pencil, crayon and ink. The final sketches are also created with pencil, crayon and ink, but are then scanned into Photoshop and have additional washes of tones added digitally. 
preliminary sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
final sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street

The above two sketches are the scene where we first meet baby Edith in the arms of her mother, surrounded by her nine other siblings, plus on the right side are three separate vignettes of Edith at age 3, 6, and 9…

preliminary sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
final sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
The above two sketches are the scene where Edith first tries out for the Philadelphia Bobbies all-female professional baseball team in 1922... Eventually though, in the final illustration, the many tiny faint vignettes of the various players were deleted, leaving just the three larger vignettes of Edith fielding and hitting…
preliminary sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
final sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street

The above two sketches are the scene where Edith is playing in a home game (she is at bat) and her parents are in the stands watching her. There is also a newspaper man in the stands clacking away on his typewriter on his lap (which as you can see he was not in the preliminary sketch version). 
preliminary sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
final sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street


detail of final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
The above two b&w sketches and the accompanying two views of the final color illustration are the scene where Edith is about to take her big travel adventure to Japan. She is ready with her bags, and behind her we see the intended path of her great journey: 12 days by train from Philadelphia to the west coast, then 13 days more by steam ship across the Pacific to Yokohama, Japan. 25 days halfway across the globe was a huge adventure for anyone at the time, especially for a thirteen year old girl! In the detail view of the final illustration you can see the texture of the painted gouache background which I compose into the final illustration via Photoshop layers.
detail of preliminary sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
preliminary sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
final sketch with dummy text, The Kid from Diamond Street
final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
detail final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
detail final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
The above three b&w sketches and the accompanying three views of the final color illustration are the scene where Edith and the American all-female baseball team have arrived in Japan, and are taking rickshaws through the streets to their hotel. Japan in 1925 had some people wearing traditional clothing and hairstyles and others in western suits and flapper style dresses of the day.... a clash of east meets west. The American team really did ride rickshaws from the cruise ship to their hotel, and in my research I found a blurry news photo from the day. That's why I also have a man with a film camera in the street watching the American team ride past him. So in order to create a plausible period illustration of the event I had to research the style of rickshaw of that time as well as the style of uniform the rickshaw pullers wore then, too. Not to mention the 1925 style automobile and the design of the license plate on the auto, the Japanese shop signs, etc...

preliminary sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
final sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street
final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street

detail of final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
The above two b&w sketches and the accompanying two views of the final color illustration are the scene where Edith is at bat in the very first game in Japan, with the all-female American team competed against all-male Japanese teams. The American women won more games than they lost. Edith was the star short-stop and she was only 13 years old! In the detail view of the final illustration you can see the texture of the painted gouache background which I compose into the final illustration via Photoshop layers.

Below are a number of sketch details and sketch components which all went into comprising the various final sketches…

sketch element, The Kid from Diamond Street
sketch element, The Kid from Diamond Street

sketch element, The Kid from Diamond Street

sketch element, The Kid from Diamond Street

sketch element, The Kid from Diamond Street

scene sketch, The Kid from Diamond Street

sketch element, The Kid from Diamond Street
sketch element, The Kid from Diamond Street
The above eight sketches are various details and elements which comprised the final sketches. The bottom sketch vignette is from the final scene of the story where Edith finally makes it back to her home in Philadelphia on Diamond Street and is hugged by her parents.
The second from the top is a detail of the Japanese news photographer who insisted on taking a group photo of the American team's baseball cleat shoes... because the Japanese public was fascinated that the "girls" were wearing such athletic men's shoes and not wearing fashionable heeled women's shoes!

Below are various views of sketches and final drawings in progress on my drawing table or on my light box... The way I create my final illustrations is to make the final drawing elements with charcoal pencil & ink on paper and then scan those final completed drawings into Photoshop. I also paint various background color fields and textures with gouache on paper and also scan those elements into Photoshop as well... 


sketch on light box, The Kid from Diamond Street

working on final drawing using charcoal pencil, The Kid from Diamond Street

working on final drawing using charcoal pencil, The Kid from Diamond Street

working on final drawing using charcoal pencil, The Kid from Diamond Street

working on cover sketch element, The Kid from Diamond Street

Above are various views of sketches and final drawings in progress on my drawing table or on my light box... The way I create my final illustrations is to make the final drawing elements with charcoal pencil & ink on paper and then scan those final completed drawings into Photoshop. I also paint various background fields and textures with gouache on paper and also scan those elements into Photoshop as well... 


detail of final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
Above is detail of a final illustration where we see Edith as baby with her parents. The family I rendered in sepia tones so that the full color baby Edith would stand out within the image.

detail of final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
Above is detail of a final illustration of a Japanese news photographer obsessed with getting a shot of the American all-female team wearing their baseball cleats! Of course, I had to research the film camera style used in 1925...
detail of final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
 Above is detail of a final illustration of the American all-female team aboard the Thomas Jefferson steam liner cruise ship that brought them to Japan in 13 day across the Pacific.
This was a huge undertaking depicting the crowds on the docks, the passengers and the ship... all in the fashions of the era.

final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
Above is the full illustration of the ship scene -double page spread in the book...with the text reversed in white, positioned in the lower right side in the ship's dark blue hull.
detail of final illustration, The Kid from Diamond Street
Above is detail of a final illustration of one of the baseball game scenes. 

With a period story like The Kid from Diamond Street, the sketch and final illustration process takes much longer... because there is extensive research at the front end to make sure I'm getting the objects and fashions of the era generally correct. This particular project took a few weeks of gathering reference, then about two months of actual sketch work and sketch revisions... followed by about four months of creating the final illustrations.


cover rough sketchesThe Kid from Diamond Street

revised cover sketchThe Kid from Diamond Street

revised cover sketchThe Kid from Diamond Street

final cover sketchThe Kid from Diamond Street

refining cover sketchThe Kid from Diamond Street

detail of refining cover sketchThe Kid from Diamond Street

final cover with typeThe Kid from Diamond Street

detail of final cover with typeThe Kid from Diamond Street
actual final cover art full viewThe Kid from Diamond Street

The above nine images are of some initial doodle sketches, rough sketches, refined sketches, and the final cover illustration... The initial doodle sketches conceptualize the basic possible look for the cover. In reality is there are many, many more cover sketch idea that get tossed. The ones shown here is the selected version that actually made it as the final cover concept. The designer of this book, Sharismar Rodriguez, did such a wonderfully tasteful cover title design, and design of the entire book. Her cover title treatment feels contemporary yet also manages to fit the feel of the 1920's story at the same time.

Little Edith Houghton of Philadelphia played professional baseball for all-female teams from age 10 up until about age 19. She was in the military... and later in her life became the first female baseball scout in Major League Baseball!

I hope this post gives you an informative glimpse into the illustration process...

The Kid from Diamond Street was released in April 2016 by Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Buy it in bookstores and on-line. Written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno.

Visit my illustration web site, stevensalerno.com to see many more picture books I have illustrated for kids, as well as samples of my illustrations for advertising, magazines, newspapers, and packaging...