THE BIRTH OF A BEAR AND A BOOK
I am finally living up to my New Years resolution to post a diary of sorts on my website. Being that I am in the process of launching a new children’s book… a self publish collaboration between the author Sue De Cuevas and myself… I thought it would be a great segue to describe the development, birth and delivery of our project.
Just over 2 years ago I was introduced to Sue by a mutual friend. Sue had written a story almost 40 years ago about a polar bear in the Central Park Zoo but had never found anyone to help develop a book and thus it sat. Our mutual friend Penelope knows my passion and background in illustrating animals, put two and two together and put the two of US together. I read the manuscript, loved it and the end result after two years of work and collaboration is the birth of Polarity Bear Tours the Zoo.
While reading the manuscript I already had visions of Polarity dancing in my head. Many times though I think I know what something looks like until I start sketching it and then realize I DON’T. With my need-to get-the anatomy-correct biology background gnawing at me, I began researching everything I could find on polar bears then went to the zoo to sketch and take photos. Now I felt ready to start sketching polar bears from all angles.
Once I compiled all of my research, I started laying out and designing the book, relying on the experience from all the years I spent as an art director. Since the copy is written in rhyme, there had to be specific copy on each page. I made up my usual folded mini-copy and scribbled what should go where until it worked to a reasonable page count, in this case 36. This was the first big step.
Next I roughed out a visual that I thought would work with the copy on each page, still at the thumbnail size and very rough.
I then had to decide whether the art would bleed, be a 2- page spread or be spot illustrations… lots of decisions. After choosing a typeface and size for the copy, I moved to a full size comp, put in the copy and roughed in my visuals with pencil.
I showed this to Sue and once she and I agreed on the basic layout, the refinement started and it was time for Polarity to become a real entity. After pages of polar bear sketches I had to create her personality so I started working on expressions… how did I want the viewer to feel when they saw her? I saw Polarity as a bear who sees life as a glass half full… even when sad, she pulls herself out of her funk by creating an adventure. I also saw her as a bit sassy.
After more sketching and tweaking, she suddenly emerged from my page and actually became real to me.
When I had refined all of the pencil sketches I then booked up a copy and sent it to Sue for her critique. We revised a few things then I was ready to go and I transferred all of the sketches onto already stretched 300 lb. D’Arches hot press watercolor paper. I still made some adjustments to the sketches at this point but then started laying down color. On some pages I did a quick color break on a scrap of paper so I knew where I was going but on many I just started painting. My technique is to take my illustrations to about 75% finish with watercolor then scan it into the computer and work on it in photoshop.I fought this for years, being the traditionalist that I am, but now my Photoshop paintbrush is just another tool in my toolbox and the colors are just another medium.
This phase of the project was the longest and as I was working on other deadlines at the same time, it took about a year… a true luxury for me as it enabled me to come back at intervals and view the illustrations with a fresh eye… it’s amazing how things jump out at you when you walk away for a bit. When the illustrations were finished and on my computer, I had Michael Newman who works with me in design and production, assemble everything digitally. I printed out one final set of color copies, booked it up and sent it to Sue for the final OK. We ended up changing the cover a few times until we all agreed on a design, then the files were sent to the printer.
We chose the color for the end sheets, checked color proofs, made some final corrections and off to press it went. A character had been born and a book had been created!