Saturday, February 9, 2013

BOOM! ...a new picture book

This year the picture book BOOM! will be released by Disney (Hyperion Books), my 19th illustrated book! (as I write this however, I am not sure if the book is slated for a spring 2013 or a fall 2013 release date...)

Visit to see my many other children's picture books, as well as other samples of my illustration art for advertising, packaging, magazines, etc..

cover of the new picture book BOOM!  visit
BOOM! is written by Mary Lyn Ray and is the story about a feisty little dog named Rosie who is not afraid of anything in her cozy life... well, not afraid of anything except for thunder! Like most dogs, Rosie understandably becomes unglued in the presence of loud claps of thunder and flashes of lightning!

When this story manuscript was initially offered to me by Disney (Hyperion Books) editor Kelsey Skea (it turns out she and I are both originally from Vermont), I told her that I'd get back to her in a few days as I needed some time to contemplate taking on the project. But in reality, I pretty much instantly knew I was interested in illustrating this particular story... it was well written, and essentially I am a sucker for drawing dogs! 

The title of the manuscript at the start was "The Dog Who Was Afraid of Thunder" -and the little dog character did not even have a name yet. I expressed that the title unnecessarily gave away the entire theme of the story without even having to look at the first page... but it turned out that the title was just a temporary title anyway. So, by the time I had completed the entire process of creating the sketches and final artwork, eventually the author and the editor landed on the official final title of BOOM! -which I thought was perfect.

For anyone unfamiliar with the picture book publishing process, once the publisher contracts a story from the writer, then hires the illustrator they feel will be a perfect match stylistically with the text, it then takes about 6 months (for me) to get the final sketches and final artwork completed and approved. Once I submit the final artwork to the publisher's designer (for BOOM! it was Tyler Nevins), it then takes time for the designer to finalize the book's design in preparation for the printer... and then even more time is needed to get preliminary color proofs printed and adjusted before the book can then be produced for the first edition print run. 

This is a simplified account of course. There is a lot of communication between myself, the editor, and the designer all throughout the time I am working on the sketches and final art. Most people think the writer is also in the loop during the sketch/final art process, but generally they are not ever involved at all, in the same regard that the illustrator has no input on the text. The magic is in the editor having the special talent to find the right illustrator for the right story, and the end result seems as if writer and the artist worked together closely from start to finish, but in reality they are two very separate entities that get fused together in the final printed book. In all, my guess it is about 18 - 20 months for a picture book see the light of day and be available to purchase in stores and online. (Of course, this process time frame does not include whatever time it took the author to write the story!)

Posted here are some sketches and final illustrations from the book...  
^ initial concept doodles directly on story manuscript     visit
^ initial concept doodles directly on story manuscript     visit
The above two images are the actual printouts of the story manuscript I received initially from the editor. As I read the story I also immediately begin the process of doodling my gut feelings as to how I will depict the actions and scenes, etc... The drawings are very tiny (maybe 1" x 1.75"), very crude, just to get the bare essence of the what the final illustration might be.

^ study of main character, Rosie. (crayon)      visit
^ multiple studies of main character, Rosie. (crayon)      visit
^ a color study of main character, Rosie. (gouache)      visit
The three images above are initial sketches of the main dog character, Rosie, to determine her final look. In the text she was described as small and brave -but there were literally no physical descriptions as to what the dog looked like at all. Which was great for me because I could be the one making the decision as to what she looked like. As you can see I settled on making Rosie kind of a hybrid blend of bulldog and pug. My reasoning was that if I made her a breed of dog which automatically kind of looks "brave" due to the inherent visual look of the breed, then it would be a bit more comical when she falls apart upon hearing loud thunder. In other words, if I had made Rosie a thin, nervous type breed of dog to begin with, there would not have been as much comic impact when she gets unnerved by the thunderous noise.

^ detail of storyboard sketches for entire story (ink)      visit
^ single storyboard sketch (ink)      visit
The two images above are from the rough storyboard I create of the entire story, to decide exactly how I will stage each page scene, to see how all the images flow together, as well as to begin positioning where the text will be placed relative to the illustrations. These rough storyboard sketches are purposely very small, about 3" x 5", so that I can make complete changes to an entire scene quite quickly. The bottom sketch (dog running alongside bike) is a view of one panel from this rough storyboard.

^ preliminary sketch (crayon)      visit
^ revised final sketch (crayon, digital)      visit
Based on the finalized small rough storyboard sketch, I then create the full size first stage sketch (top image). Next I create the full size revised final sketch (bottom image), which is the version presented to the editor and art director for their review. These full size sketches accurately indicate the gutter position and the exact dimensions of the final page trim size of the book. 

When all these "revised final sketches" are presented to the editor and art director it allows them to clearly see exactly how I intend for the book to be illustrated, as well as indicating my suggestion where the text should fall relative to the art images. I never create color final sketches, as I want to feel free to work out the colors as I am creating the final artwork... however, as I am doing all the preliminary sketch work I am pre-planning the colors for the final art images in my mind. I think with BOOM! the only discussion about color I had with the editor during the sketch stage was that the color of the dog Rosie was definitely going to be white. Since the text never indicated a specific color for Rosie, I therefore had my choice... and chose white specifically because I knew it would be much easier for white to work really well with whatever other colors were around it.

^ work in progress of final art (gouache)      visit
Once the editor has approved of all my revised final sketches, I can then proceed with starting all the final art images... With BOOM!, rather than creating each illustration as a fully comprehensive painting, instead I create each illustration by drawing and painting independent components from the scene and then compiling them in Photoshop and adding some digital color. The image above is the final gouache line painting of the dog Rosie in progress (based on the revised final sketch just above it). The dog, the boy on the bike, the background, and even the little houses seen along the horizon line were are created as separate art, scanned into Photoshop, then composed all together to create the final illutration "scene." 

^ detail of final art (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit

^ full final art scene (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit
The above two images are of the final illustration. As you can see, the final art follows the revised final sketch very closely. By creating all artwork of the elements within the scene separately, and then composing them in layers in Photoshop, it gives me flexibility to re-position things, re-size things, try various different color choices, etc...  but because each element was actually still drawn/painted by hand, the overall final look seems as if I painted the entire scene all at once, in the traditional way.

^ preliminary sketch (crayon)      visit

^ preliminary sketch detail (crayon)      visit

^ final art on top of sketch (on lightbox)      visit

^ final art detail (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit
The four images seen above are all from the scene where the police and fire department respond to a cat caught up in a tree... which is actually not based on text in the story at all. The text states that Rosie is not bothered what-so-ever by "postmen, garbage men, policemen, or firemen." So, I had to figure out a logical (yet charming) way for all these various characters to be at the same place at the same time. So I created a visual side bar of the "cat caught up in the tree" just to get the police and firemen to show up in the scene, which already included the garbage man and the postman. The top two images are the preliminary sketch (you can see that I am cutting and pasting in various elements of the scene until I get the sketch just right!) 

Once the final sketch is determined, I can then proceed with the final art... the third image above is a detail view the the final sketch on my light box, with the watercolor paper taped on top of it and I am beginning to draw the scene of the firemen and policeman standing near the mailbox. Once I complete it, this final art element will be scanned into Photoshop and composed together with the other elements from the scene. (as described in the "dog and bicycle" scene shown at the top.)

The bottom image is a detail view of the final completed illustration showing the cluster of characters standing near the mailbox. It is gouache, crayon and digital.

^ detail of storyboard sketch (ink)      visit
^ storyboard and preliminary sketch (crayon)      visit
^ preliminary sketch (crayon)      visit

^ revised final sketch (crayon, digital)      visit

^ detail of revised final sketch (crayon, digital)      visit

^ detail of final art scene (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit

^ detail of final art scene (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit

^ full final art scene (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit
The eight images above follow a sequence from the rough storyboard sketch, to the preliminary sketch, the revised final sketch... to the final completed illustration. You will notice that in the instance of this particular scene, the only significant difference between the preliminary sketch and the final revised sketch was the slight expression change in the dog's face. As described earlier above, my process is to draw and paint the various elements from a scene separately, scan them into Photoshop, then compose them all together to make the final illustration. In this case, the green grass background was painted separately, the tub and water was painted separately, the bubbles and soap were painted separately, the hose, brush and bottle were painted separately and the dog and boy were painted separately. All these various elements were scanned and layered in Photoshop, digital color enhancements were added, then the file was flattened to create the final illustration for the publisher. So in essence the true "final art" is the printed book page. For this spread, the story text appears in the upper left side where the light patch of green was created specifically to hold the type.

^ preliminary sketch detail (crayon)      visit

^ work in progress of final art (gouache, crayon)      visit

^ work in progress of final art (gouache, crayon)      visit

^ final art (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit
The artwork in the book consists of full page scenes, double spread scenes, as well as various vignette images... the four images shown above are of one of these small vignettes, in this instance of Rosie peacefully asleep in the bed, not in the least afraid of the dark. At the top is one of the early rough sketches, the next two images are of the final art in progress, and the final image is the completed final illustration. This small vignette was also repeated on the cover's inside jacket flap.

^ work in progress of final art (gouache, crayon)      visit

^ detail of final art (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit

^ work in progress of final art (gouache, crayon)      visit

^ detail of final art (gouache, crayon, digital)      visit
^ work in progress of final art (gouache, crayon)      visit
The above five images show final illustrations in progress, and below a couple of them are also the corresponding final completed illustration. 

As I stated at the start of this post, I am not sure if BOOM! is being released by Disney (Hyperion Books) this spring, or later in the fall of 2013. But be on the look for sometime it this year. (These sneak peek images of the book certainly do not give away the plot or the ending!) 

So, if you have a young child who is afraid of thunder (or even if you are still hanging on to some childhood fear of thunderstorms), Rosie's tale will help alleviate the anxiety about the loud noises and flashes of light. Or, even if you simply just love dogs, you'll enjoy this book. I certainly had fun creating the art... and it shows in all the final pictures. 

Visit to see my many other children's picture books, as well as other samples of my illustration art for advertising, packaging, magazines, etc...


Martina at Adventures in YA Publishing said...

I LOVE the emotion and movement in these illustrations! And thanks for the peek behind the scenes. As a writer, I'm so clueless about the illustration side! :)

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing your creative process. It's always fascinating to see illustrations develop from scratchy thumbnails to full fledged pieces.

John Nez said...

Way to go on this new book! 'Boom!' looks fabulous! Love the character and the 1950's retro appeal of it all.

I was thrilled to see 'Brothers at Bat' on the shelf at the ALA-mid-winter in Seattle... with 5 stars taped to it!

This step by step is great... it's fun to see all the details. I see you've added some photoshop to your toolbox. I couldn't live without photoshop myself, and use a lot of the same techniques of real and digital combined.

I've got a fun new book coming out in a while myself (based on a brushed pen line & photoshop color). Also churning out all manner of other book spinoffs. I even tried making my own interactive ebook apps.

Anyhow, good to check in and see you're doing great things! Congratulations...

John Nez