Monday, March 14, 2011

The process of Illustrating a young adult's adventure book.

©Forest Stearns
It is quite an endeavor illustrating a full book. Not only is it a big work load, but you have to make the pieces go together in a visual narrative and thematic imagery. I recently finished illustrating a book targeted at young adult's in the same vein as Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. This chapter book is call 'The Peril of Poacher Cove.' It is a series of books called 'The Brogan Adventures.'  The publisher wanted a sophisticated look much less animated then the Ozzie book I have illustrated for him. In grad school I learned steps to a successful execution of a large project like this. It takes time and lots of leg work but it is very fun to go out and get reference photos and be creative with the compositions.

The process is simple in theory, and takes a good deal of design work to actually pull off.
Brogan, page 10. ( Notice in the photo, that the guys are laughing. Always a comedian with villains these days) ©Forest Stearns

0) The contract to start the job and the partial payment upfront.  It is more than important to have a good contract outlining the steps and expectations of the publisher and the schedule of payment upfront. Getting a down payment upon sketches is a great idea as well, so you have cash to buy supplies and pay models. Hopefully the artist can produce a beautiful project, and hopefully the publisher will pay for the job in the end. I have been shafted by clients and a strong contract helps insure safety, but not always unfortunately.
©Forest Stearns

1) The story board based on the text. As the art director of this project I was able to choose the imagery to put in each drawing based upon the subject matter of each chapter. So in reading the manuscript, I took notes of the events that would visually tell an important event of the chapter.


©Forest Stearns
2) Shooting reference photos based on the story board sketches. Having a good set of drawings up front is great, but coming up with the picture perfect subject matter is another challenge. For this project I hired models that fit the characters in the writing. Two teenagers that are the protagonists. A set of guys that would be the fearless State Trooper, one of them is a retired cop so he was able to bring his gun collection to the outdoor photo shoot. Having real pictures of complex things such as firearms makes drawing them much more convincing the the viewer. Had to find the specific type of dog the matched the large white Alaskan Husky named Max. There is a set of bad guys that do some eagle poaching that I had to typecast for the part. And then of course there is the scenery and the props like boats and planes, not to mention making it really look like Alaska. I was as creative as possible taking my own reference but I did have to go to a stock image site and pick up photos of float planes and lake resorts.
©Forest Stearns

3) Getting the images into the paper. For the sake of speed and realism, I used a projector to get the image to the watercolor paper. Working from black and white images I had made of the photos, which often were cut and pasted together like Frankenstein, I transferred the images with their full value pattern to the paper.
©Forest Stearns

4) Actually painting the image in watercolor correctly.  Working from black and white made it theoretically easy to get the painting laid out in the correct values. I was able to plug in any hue and as long as the values were correct, it worked, and I could design the color scheme without being jaded by the reference photos. Awesome.
©Forest Stearns

5) Making sure they all work in series with enough variation. At this point in these pieces my main concern is creating a focal point that is centered on the place visually that represents the key point of the verbal story. Making the viewer look at what the author is writing about. Working from photos taken based on sketches is difficult when you want to add things later to the composition. Dealing with lighting is the most challenging. Stephen Player, was a great instructor of these techniques and I feel like I nailed it well.  My medium for these pieces was watercolor and colored pencil with acrylic when needed.
©Forest Stearns

6) Scanning and cleaning digitally. Making the piece look perfect. Maybe resizing something or popping the colors or values if needed.
©Forest Stearns

7) Presentation to the publisher and author. They really don't care how you got to this point but it is a must to present the client with a professional looking PDF or portfolio of the final work. Makes them feel good about paying you.


The following are examples of this process I have described.

Brogan, page 5, Boat wreck ©Forest Stearns
Brogan, page 20, Boys get awarded (notice that it is me at the podium!) ©Forest Stearns