Monday, March 10, 2014

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel -my upcoming illustrated picture book

In 2012 the picture book I illustrated, Brothers At Bat (written by Audrey Vernick/ published by Clarion Books an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was named a Notable Picture Book of the Year by The New York Times Review of Books... which was quite an honor considering only eight books were on the list. The true story about 12 brothers from New Jersey who made American baseball history, essentially takes place from the 1920's through the 1950's, so my accompanying period illustrations were reflective of those dates in time.

Brothers At Bat caught the eye of editor Christy Ottaviano (Christy Ottaviano Books, a division of Macmillan/Henry Holt Publishers) and she contacted me about a picture book project that she felt was a perfect match for me to create the illustrations for, entitled The Fantastic Ferris Wheel.

This is the true story (written by Betsy Harvey Kraft) of American engineer George Washington Ferris who created the first giant "observation wheel" for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago... which was such an instantaneous hit with the public that it became known simply as The Ferris Wheel. So, in order to create the illustrations for this book, I had to submerge myself in all things 1893...

To put just the research involved for such a project into perspective, the most recent picture book I had illustrated, (BOOM! -released in 2013, and published by Disney's Hyperion Books) which is a story about a boy and his little dog that is afraid of thunder... To create the sketches for that book I only had to research TWO photographs for use as reference: a picture of a firetruck, and another photo of an orangutan.  In comparison, for the Ferris Wheel book, I had to wade through over 3,000 period photos to select the approximately 140 photos that I would use as general reference in creating all the preliminary sketches! 

I began the sketch process in September 2013 and finished in December 2013. I began the final art process on January 1st 2014 and will finish all the final art images near the end of May 2014. Posted here is one of the illustrations I completed for the book. It is a scene where the giant steel wheel is being constructed and people curiously gather to ponder the oddity of its design. Not only did I have to get the actual depiction of the wheel's construction process correct, I also had to observe the proper fashions and architecture of the day correctly as well.

Shown here is the (1) initial rough sketch, the (2) refined final sketch (which is shown to the editor) and also (3) the final completed illustration. I created the final art by making all the various necessary drawings: of the wheel, the scaffolding, the people, the background, etc... as well as painted background textures, then scanned all these elements into Photoshop, where I then compiled everything into my final composition, and added digital color, too.

George's Fantastic Wheel/ initial rough sketch   visit
My initial rough sketch, which also indicates where the text will generally be positioned on the right side page following the curve of the wheel .
George's Fantastic Wheel/ refined final sketch   visit
The refined final sketch, which is shown to the editor. Here the text is accurately
dropped into place too, to make sure I am allotting sufficient space within the art for the text.
In most instances I do my sketches in B&W only, and will work out the color as I execute the final art... however during the sketch stage I do indeed begin to plan how I will approach the color in the final art.

George's Fantastic Wheel/ final illustration   visit
The final completed illustration. But since I will not submit all the final art to the publisher for a couple more months, I still might make slight changes to this illustration.

By far, the illustrations for The Fantastic Ferris Wheel are easily the most intense to create compared to any of the other 20 books I've illustrated to date.This is by virtue of having to get all the period references correct, but mostly due to all the scenes involving physical mechanics, architectural elements... etc. I am only at about the half way mark in completing the final art and I already physically feel like I have illustrated two books already!

The sad part... is knowing that George Ferris died just a couple years after the successful debut of his wildly popular invention, at the young age of 37. But indeed his vision lives on still to this day, as "Ferris Wheels" continue to be a part of our social landscape around the world and inspired the huge observation wheels of today, like the London Eye, and the Singapore Flyer.

Visit to see samples from my many other picture books for kids, as well as my work for advertising, product packaging, etc...