making a book

Many people ask me about the process of making a book. While I think it differs from project to project, there are certainly stages of it that are similar.

Inspiration

In terms of ideas—they come from anywhere. Because of this, I believe one should be open to finding it rather than always waiting for it to arrive—not that it doesn’t often just appear on the doorstep. By this I mean that you can be observant, curious, speculative, and creative when you actively engage with the world around you, whether it is a person or a place, an incident or something seemingly small like the way the wind feels on your neck. When you look inquisitively and insightfully at the world, it opens up to you and those things which would otherwise go unobserved become instead the central things around which your words and ideas revolve.

Writing

For me there are two kinds of writing: the actual devising of words and sentences and the conceptual writing of the story or poem itself—the more theoretical, abstract what-happens-next writing that lives in your head and on scraps of paper and the backs of napkins. They happen together—I do not fully form an idea and then write it out; I have some ideas and write and the act of getting those ideas down leads to new ones.

Often, I have numerous projects in the works at any given time and enjoy working on them concurrently, both for variety and because the working of one influences that of another. That being said, I believe in focus and generally do have one work that dominates my time.

Writing is work. If I only wrote when emotionally moved to do so, I am afraid nothing would get done. Focusing and working through roadblocks and snags is part of the creative challenge, so I embrace this difficulty and try to devise solutions that solve the problems.

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I am also a big fan of rewriting. The blank page is intimidating. However, once words are there on the page, it is like giving an artist something to work with, something to shape like clay. I can contemplate the perfect word for a sentence for quite a long time . . . meaning hours, and do so gladly because my focus is on the writing itself. I want the words to be beautiful together—to work well off of one another. This is a very specific way to write. It is less about recording incidents and more about crafting something in which the sound and rhythm of the language itself is the main point. I am not saying it is a better way to write; rather, it is the way that my own endeavors are most happily realized.

This is a picture of a poem I worked on editing. It gives you an idea of the thoughts I or my editors go through when working to make it as solid as possible. Notice the emphasis on specificity of language, as well as syllabic rhythm.

Illustrating

Illustrating is its own fun challenge. I firmly believe the best pictures are ones that enhance what is already written rather than retell it. They should reveal things about the characters or situations that the text does not.

My illustrations begin life as sketches of ideas. I play with styles, ways a character will look, asking myself questions about how it moves or what unique traits it might have. When working through Merry Christmas, Snert!, I had several iterations of the Oops before settling on a style. Originally, they looked far more like snowmen with teeth and woolen caps, but this seemed too traditional for a winter story, and I am afraid the renditions more closely resembled semi-scary yetis than cute creatures who like to have fun.

Once I have a clear concept of what characters are going to look like, I set about drawing the images themselves. I do this in pencil, not being terribly specific with line. The lovely thing about sketching in pencil is that you gently shape the image—you never expect that the first line you pen will be the right one, any more than you do when writing.

This Snert carrying boxes is a good example. You can see his scarf has been redrawn several times, both near his neck and flowing behind his back. His feet are basically shapes at this point, and you can also see where the lines of the boxes and his body are all basically transparent. I draw the whole thing to get the proper movement of the Snert, and then erase the parts of him covered by the boxes.

I then go over these sketches in artist pens of various thickness. Here is the same Snert in pen. If you compare it to the sketch, you can see where I have made decisions about which lines to keep and which will eventually be erased. Personally, I always like the pencil versions better than the inked. I just love pencil and the beauty of many lines all at once. But we need to ink to get to the next step—so here we go!

Once I have the illustration inked, it is cleaned up. All the pencil lines are erased and it is ready to be colored and/or digitized (the order depends on the project). Sometimes, I will color by hand and then digitize the piece; other times (like for “Suzie”) I do not color it at all; and still other times I digitize and color in a software like Photoshop, which is what I did with “Snert”.

Here you see the fully colorized version of the Snert drawing we have been looking at. You might notice that the black outline is stylized—this is something I did digitally. When choosing the actual colors, I like to select a main palette to work from which remains fairly consistent across the piece. But there are many other factors besides personal preference that influence the colors used. If the book is going to be printed, I might choose fewer colors or none at all—these are decisions made with the publisher about the costs of producing the actual book. One of the fun things about “Snert” was that I had none of these limitations since it was an e-book.

Pairing Words and Text

You would think that once a book is written and illustrated, most of the work is done. But this is not true at all! Now we have to settle on layouts and pages. Sometimes, this is done before illustrations are even begun, when an illustrator knows exactly how many pages the book is going to be. But sometimes, in the case of “Suzie” and “Snert”, it came after.

At this point, the images and correlating text are generally laid out—often I tape the text on the page and conceptualized the images that are going on around it. This is an essential part of illustrating for me because I really think about the interaction of images and words on the page. These layout decisions take quite some time and go through numerous iterations before being finalized.

And when they are . . .

Printing

You guessed it, it is time to print the book. The publisher sends files to the printer and the printer sends back a proof of the book that the publisher may then review. At this point, you are crossing your fingers that you didn’t miss a comma or mis-type a word. You will notice in this picture of the “Suzie” proofs that they come in sections. This is because “Suzie” has a sewn binding, so the printer divided the book into sections that were then sewn together.

Once things look good, the final book is printed and voila! You have a book.

Then you get to work on the next one . . .

Illustrating

Illustrating is its own fun challenge. I firmly believe the best pictures are ones that enhance what is already written rather than retell it. They should reveal things about the characters or situations that the text does not.

My illustrations begin life as sketches of ideas. I play with styles, ways a character will look, asking myself questions about how it moves or what unique traits it might have. When working through Merry Christmas, Snert!, I had several iterations of the Oops before settling on a style. Originally, they looked far more like snowmen with teeth and woolen caps, but this seemed too traditional for a winter story, and I am afraid the renditions more closely resembled semi-scary yetis than cute creatures who like to have fun.

Once I have a clear concept of what characters are going to look like, I set about drawing the images themselves. I do this in pencil, not being terribly specific with line. The lovely thing about sketching in pencil is that you gently shape the image—you never expect that the first line you pen will be the right one, any more than you do when writing.

This Snert carrying boxes is a good example. You can see his scarf has been redrawn several times, both near his neck and flowing behind his back. His feet are basically shapes at this point, and you can also see where the lines of the boxes and his body are all basically transparent. I draw the whole thing to get the proper movement of the Snert, and then erase the parts of him covered by the boxes.

I then go over these sketches in artist pens of various thickness. Here is the same Snert in pen. If you compare it to the sketch, you can see where I have made decisions about which lines to keep and which will eventually be erased. Personally, I always like the pencil versions better than the inked. I just love pencil and the beauty of many lines all at once. But we need to ink to get to the next step—so here we go!

Once I have the illustration inked, it is cleaned up. All the pencil lines are erased and it is ready to be colored and/or digitized (the order depends on the project). Sometimes, I will color by hand and then digitize the piece; other times (like for “Suzie”) I do not color it at all; and still other times I digitize and color in a software like Photoshop, which is what I did with “Snert”.

Here you see the fully colorized version of the Snert drawing we have been looking at. You might notice that the black outline is stylized—this is something I did digitally. When choosing the actual colors, I like to select a main palette to work from which remains fairly consistent across the piece. But there are many other factors besides personal preference that influence the colors used. If the book is going to be printed, I might choose fewer colors or none at all—these are decisions made with the publisher about the costs of producing the actual book. One of the fun things about “Snert” was that I had none of these limitations since it was an e-book.

playing

Illustrating is its own fun challenge. I firmly believe the best pictures are ones that enhance what is already written rather than retell it. They should reveal things about the characters or situations that the text does not.

My illustrations begin life as sketches of ideas. I play with styles, ways a character will look, asking myself questions about how it moves or what unique traits it might have. When working through Merry Christmas, Snert!, I had several iterations of the Oops before settling on a style. Originally, they looked far more like snowmen with teeth and woolen caps, but this seemed too traditional for a winter story, and I am afraid the renditions more closely resembled semi-scary yetis than cute creatures who like to have fun.

drafting

Once I have a clear concept of what characters are going to look like, I set about drawing the images themselves. I do this in pencil, not being terribly specific with line. The lovely thing about sketching in pencil is that you gently shape the image—you never expect that the first line you pen will be the right one, any more than you do when writing.

This Snert carrying boxes is a good example. You can see his scarf has been redrawn several times, both near his neck and flowing behind his back. His feet are basically shapes at this point, and you can also see where the lines of the boxes and his body are all basically transparent. I draw the whole thing to get the proper movement of the Snert, and then erase the parts of him covered by the boxes.