Eerdlings is introducing new guest post categories! We love hearing from our authors and illustrators — and we know you do too! — so we’re giving them more ways to share their stories, advice, and work in progress.
From Brain to Book posts invite authors and illustrators to sketch the development of an idea or illustration from their book, revealing how it went from the first inkling to the final draft.
Today Sara Palacios, illustrator of One Big Family, describes her process for getting to know, and then bringing to life, the family in Marc Harshman’s text.
* * *
One of the most challenging moments for me as an illustrator is finding myself in front of the blank page after reading a manuscript. It is both exciting and scary — the possibilities are endless!
When I read Marc Harshman’s lovely manuscript I could see that “one big family” playing and having fun. I was presented with the privilege of giving a face to this family and, at the same time, becoming part of it. After all, I knew I was going to spend several months with them!
During the whole process of creating illustrations, I’m always looking for a point of reference, whether something specific mentioned in the text or just general inspiration. I do a lot of doodles for myself (which probably make no sense to anybody else) while I look and collect pictures. Then I work on one of my favorite parts of developing a book: creating the characters.
Once I had my family, and in this case, could keep straight in my mind who was who, I started playing with ideas. The text narrates the story so rhythmically that it’s almost like a song, so I wanted to have playful, warm scenes. There was also so much room to explore visually, and that’s one thing I loved about this manuscript when I first read it.
After much squeezing of the brain I came up with thumbnails to present to the art director. Once I got feedback from her, I moved to rough sketches. At this point I try to keep the drawings loose, so there’s a chance to do as many revisions as needed.
When we’re all in agreement about an idea, then I draw a tight sketch. As I mentioned before, the text in One Big Family leaves a lot of room for the illustrator to imagine. In this page I thought it’d be fun to have all the cousins sleeping together, since they were all camping. The text says that “sister starts giggling” — so what might she be giggling about? I thought it’d be fun to have the little sister drawing a mustache on cousin Tommy’s face. My brother and nephew were the inspiration for the scene: my nephew would always make a line with his toy cars and then go to sleep surrounded by them, and my brother is in the habit of drawing mustaches on my little nephews and nieces, just like the little sister is doing in the illustration. It is just one of the many little jokes and teases that happens in big families, and hopefully kids and parents will relate to that when they read the book.
The final step is adding color, and this is always fun for me. This was an especially challenging page to work with; I wanted to have lots of colors and prints and sometimes the color palette and the values proved hard to manage.
Hopefully the illustrations make the reader enjoy the trip with this family as much as I enjoyed being part of it!
* * *