AN ILLUSTRATOR'S NOTEBOOK
Illustration is bringing to life what was in the imagination. A writer can describe to you a room. They can do it emotionally. "The room felt tight, as if the furniture were packed into a warehouse, waiting for a truck. The darkness added to the temporary feeling, and the cars rushing by outside made me feel as if we were in a storage locker, not a home." They can do it literally. "The room was well lit, a bit cold even though the radiator in the corner banged and belted away like a steamer. The enamel paint was peeling off the decorated iron, to match the faded and patched wallpaper. The carpet was new, bright green and shag cut." Or they can just say, "they walked into the room, where she sat down on the couch and started to cry."
An illustrator cannot do this. An illustrator must know that room, pick the furniture, paint the walls, hang pictures, know what time it is, what season, who is there, what they look like, what they are doing, and so on. I both write and illustrate. Writing is easy. It is a skill, yes, and few writers perfect it, yes, but the shorthand is easy. The picture allows for a lot of shorthand, but it's about ten times harder than writing. Art is easy compared to illustration. Art requires skill, but you can be expressive.
I'm an illustrator because I love books. I loved books as a child. I devoured books, reading about three a day, but those I collected and loved had pictures. I worked once with the wonderful artist, Sandra Bierman. She did stunning paintings and was offered a children's book to illustrate. She came to us at the gallery and said, "I can't do it! It's forty pictures and they're only paying me the price I make on one!" I know so many wonderful artists, but forty pictures is forty pictures. If you want to do a decent job, that's a lot of work!
Two of my favorite illustrators, Leo and Diane Dillon, are a good example. Their son, also an artist, said he would never be an illustrator. He said he saw how hard they worked to make ends meet, and when they became popular they had to work even harder to keep to the schedules. But, if you like to work hard, and you can work fast, it's a fun business.
Like writing, illustration is a shorthand. In one picture, you must evoke mood, give a setting, forward the story, arouse curiosity, promote the book (readers often thumb through books and look at the pictures,) promote your skills, be true to the writer's intent, and make a pleasing image. But it can't be photo real. Too often illustrators tend to overwork things, rather than suggest. In this drawing, you can tell it is spring, you can tell that there is a tree and it must be some kind of garden. The couple are foreign, or in a much earlier age. They are young and beautiful. But this is all said in a few lines. Good illustrators can tell you quite a bit in a few lines.
I like to think of pictures as stories waiting to happen. I knew writers who challenged themselves to write a story about a picture. The picture above is one such illustration. Illustrations are not just about character, but about events.
I try to vary my media as well as my subject matter. It keeps you fresh. I work in crow quill and brush pen and ink, chalk, watercolor, pencil, colored pencil, and do some on the computer. I don't like drawing on the computer, it doesn't look organic.
I also don't like drawing the same kind of people all the time, there is nothing more constraining than having to do the same character for 200 pages.
But I do this. I draw graphic novels. Graphic novels range about 400 drawings instead of 12-15 for a regular illustrated book. Drawing a graphic novel is like making a movie. Most of them are done by a team of specialists. Comics usually have a writer, drawer, inker, colorer, letterer and editor. Thanks to Adobe, I can do all of this myself except do the edits. You need another person for that.
Here is one drawing, done at 14x17 inches. It is then scanned, and backgrounds drawn and composed. The layout is done on the computer, lettering is done in layers, there are about seven edits, and then the book is published.