Thursday, September 27, 2012

How I spent my Summer Vacation

For those of you who don’t know, I was busy working on a picture book this past summer, Little Trouble in Tall Tree. The final illustration was completed last week and an eBook is schedule to be released October 15th, a good day by my standards, with a traditional version later in the year. I wrongly assume everyone is familiar with the process of producing a book and surprised when asked about it. So the following is a description of this project.

Back in May, I received a call from a designer in California asking if I had the time and interest in doing illustrations for a picture book for grown-ups. She found my work on the Society of Illustrators of Los Angles’ website. The author hired her along with a public relations firm to head the project. They weren’t entirely happy with the two artists they hired and approached four more of which I was one. I was to produce two pieces and would be paid regardless if chosen or not. Many clients want you to work ‘on spec’ or speculation, which states you only get paid if they decide to use your artwork. This happens to many younger artists that need a break at the beginning of their careers.

While happy with what I submitted they wanted a third piece. After that was completed, with a few corrections, I was awarded the job. Next was my least favorite part of the process, the contract. This took some going back and forth. Someone at sometime posted the idea that all contracts with artists and writers should be a “Work for Hire” contract. In most cases this isn’t even applicable and can backfire against the client.

Work for Hire contracts state that the creative individual does not exist, has no rights, and has created nothing. (For a less jaundiced version go to Wikipedia.) WFH contracts are mostly for large projects with a team of creatives where the copyright cannot be shared, i.e.: compilations, films, atlases, and employees of companies such as Disney or advertising agencies. The alternative to this is a ‘transfer of all rights’ contract so the client can control the copyright in perpetuity but the artists (and I am referring to all creative types here) is still recognized as the creator. We finally agree on this as well as price, deadline and everything else. Now it’s mid July and the actual work begins.

To start the designer, along with my input, decide on the number of illustrations needed (nineteen in total, nine of which are black and white), and a breakdown of the book that includes the number of chapters and the art to go with it. Here is where the brainstorming of layouts and ideas come in to play. Artists need to communicate our ideas and be open to others, to put our egos aside and become collaborators and show ourselves as not just tool operators but visual problem solvers. To paraphrase one of my professors “Don’t fall in love with a layout. What’s pretty now can become pretty ugly.”

Let’s take our third piece that eventually became the title page. First, I did a number of pencil sketches to show my ideas. This one was one I liked, but they wanted to make it a spread. 

So I adapted it and once approved moved to an ink drawing. 

But the author wasn’t entirely happy with it and wanted some additional layouts. So I did a few more.

We narrowed it down to three.  

After some back and forth we went with a combination of A and C. From there I produced a tighter pencil sketch. 

Once this was approved I did a traditional inking. I usually work on Bristol board and use a Windsor Newton Series 7 brush, either size 1 or 0.  Then the art is scanned and brought into Adobe Illustrator where I add color. Notice the town is missing. In some cases I separate the art into multiple pieces if I think it will facilitate changes down the road. 

Illustrator allows you to work in layers and I take full advantage of that, turning some on or off while locking others. For instance the black ink work is on one layer, the town another, the color of the town a third and so on. This allows you to adjust, delete, hide, and work on sections without disturbing other parts.

Then a low-resolution version is emailed to the designer for approval. Often more changes are needed. Then it is off to the author for his approval. Then more changes. Luckily, the computer helps quite a bit in this area. I can’t imagine doing this using watercolors or gouache. Finally, a high-res version is uploaded to a site for the designer to place in the layout.

Multiply that by nineteen and you can see why I have turned into a modern day troglodyte. I worked in my cold basement wearing sweats even though the temperature was in triple digits outside. Then I emerged like an art lizard to warm up in the sun during lunch, shedding clothes along the way. Then back down for the rest of the day and most nights to work again.

Was it a lot of work? Of course, but aren’t all great jobs? Look for it soon on Facebook and