Illustrating with Words: Sharing a Vision

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One of the decisions I needed to make when creating Speckles and His New Home was who would illustrate it. I ruled myself out before I thought of making the story into a book, but that didn’t help me narrow it down. I knew that Mascot had illustrators available, one of whom I could have commissioned for my book, but I had seen different pictures my sister-in-law, Rose had drawn. I was quite impressed with her talent, and wanting to encourage her in her artistic pursuits, I decided to ask her to illustrate the book.  

We sat down to discuss the logistics of her illustrating the book, and she began character sketches to get an idea of what I was thinking in terms of what kind of dog I wanted Speckles to be and the appearance of Ben, the boy in the book. After seeing the first sketches of her illustrations, I could envision the story coming to life on the pages of a book.

The next step was to decide what page breaks I wanted in the manuscript, and then conveying the pictures in my head that went with those pages. I wrote notes on the manuscript to describe each of the pages. We also talked or emailed frequently to make sure I was accurately sharing my vision of the story. We worked well together, and she was often able to grasp my vision even before I talked through my notes. It was a much more complex process than I had anticipated, but it was an enjoyable one–especially when she would show me updates of the illustrations.

Life slowed down the creation of the illustrations, and the book was occasionally sidetracked as I took a new job at Auburn University moving my family from St. Louis, and Rose finished her senior year of high school in Virginia. We kept in touch, checking in from time to time to update each other; I occasionally changed the manuscript or the notes, and she showed me more of the illustrations she had sketched. It is hard to describe the emotions involved, but it was similar to focusing a camera. When the focus was on the book and the illustrations, the process seemed clear and exciting, but at times other events would come into the forefront and distract the focus from the process.

I sometimes had the privilege of seeing Rose in the midst of illustrating. I had seen friends and neighbors create art during jazz performances, in a classroom, at home or at an event, but on those occasions I didn’t have anything invested in the vision of the artist. This was different. As Rose brought the images to life on the page, it was like seeing a long lost friend again.

Seeing the illustrations together with the words in the initial PDF of the book was like seeing the finish line of a marathon. The need to make edits to my manuscript struck me, because of redundancies in my words that were shown through the illustrations. But I always thought that the connection between the illustrations and the words was excellent. I was particularly excited about this because for a picture book to work that connection is of utmost importance.

Now I await the final stage when I have the story in hand and flip through the pages with my boys as I read to them about Speckles and His New Home.

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