Friday, August 12, 2011

Lost in Lexicon's Publishing Path. III. Illustrations

Working with an illustrator was one of the most absorbing parts of publishing my own book. Karen and I agreed that Lexicon's rather challenging academic content would be lightened and leavened by illustrations to help carry the emotional thread of the story. We decided to create a short list of potential artists.

While I spent hours poring over collections of online portfolios, Karen approached her contacts in the industry. I looked for an artist that could portray both playfulness and menace in a black-and-white style with a distinctive personality. Karen sought in addition someone with professional experience, a reputation for on-time delivery, and an open enough calendar to accommodate us.

My list was lengthy, and my family and friends all had different opinions, but eventually I whittled the list down to five. Karen suggested a few more, and then she investigated availability and reputation. Finally we narrowed our list to three. We commissioned each author to do three sample drawings for the book. Each had its own flair, but the characters I fell in love with were those drawn by Joan Charles. She had included a witty picture of Mr. Garrulity holding forth at the Ivan and Daphne's welcome dinner in Lexicon and an inviting color picture of the Mistress of Metaphor ringing her bell to clear away the fog as Ivan and Daphne climb her hill.

Working with an illustrator is a multi-stage process. Karen, Joan, and I all made our own lists of scenes that might be illustrated. We included a mix of full-page, half-page, and spot illustrations. Karen and Joan discussed the ideas and setup in detail. Then Joan produced sketches, and we went back and forth trying to perfect the look of the main characters. Most challenging was finding the right look for Emily the Thesaurus, with her alpaca-like face, her tufted ankles, and her horse tail. I loved having input into the "look," though I know some of the back and forth drove Joan crazy.

For me, working with a talented artist helped me see my book and my characters more clearly. In truth, I'm not a terribly visual person. For example, I seldom what people wear. Sometimes in the past I've thought in despair my lack of instinctive attention to how things look meant I wasn't qualified to be an author. Now I work hard in second drafts to pay attention to visual detail that will bring the story alive. But what I found with Joan's illustrations was that she helped the vision spring more fully into my head. "So that's what I meant," I found myself thinking. "So that's how it looks." And on those few occasions when I felt the opposite, we worked it through.

After the sketches came detailed drawings and eventually final drawings. Here I did pay attention to detail. As a child, I always hated it when an illustration hinted that the artist hadn't actually read the book -- when a character's hair was drawn as blond and straight when it was supposed to be dark and curly, for example. Joan had read carefully and more than once, but illustrations still need proofreading. We were careful.

There remained a few technical illustrations that Joan didn't feel comfortable doing. I sketched an algebraic compass for her, and I also sketched the layout of Aunt Adelaide's farm and the frontispiece map. For the map, I used a technique suggested by author Tamora Pierce at an SCBWI conference a few years ago. I chose a random piece of the world from an atlas and traced its boundaries, skipping to other countries and coastlines whenever I pleased. That gave a natural-seeming but completely unrecognizable shape to the land of Lexicon.

For the more mathematical drawings found in chapter 12, I got in touch with a designer who works at COMAP, a company producing math textbooks. George Ward was able to draw the little diagrams with elegant clarity.

One of my concerns when Scarletta picked up Lost in Lexicon was whether I would be able to keep the same artist for the next three books in the series. Scarletta was willing, bless them. Joan Charles, on the other hand, wasn't sure she could survive another such intense, huge, illustration job. In the end, we decided on a much more reasonable number of illustrations for The Ice Castle: twenty-five full-page illustrations instead of 160 of all sizes. To my relief, Joan has promised to stay the course through all the four-book series, and she's already finished the Ice Castle sketches, even though the book won't appear for another year.

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