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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why illustrating and writing aren't so very different - from Hazel Mitchell

It seems like the job of an illustrator and a writer are very different. In reality I'm finding they're not so far apart. The more books I illustrate the more the crossover becomes apparent. In my 'spare time' I'm writing stories. The more I write, (and the more I illustrate) I realize the tools and techniques are much the same - it's just what I do with my hands that's different.

In the beginning is the story. As an illustrator usually when I get the m/s the writer and editor have finished their work. Then I begin all over again, creating another story to weave with the words. The pictures are words in another form. For what are visual marks on the paper except another type of language?

As the writer begins with notes and jottings and outlines and character sketches - so does the illustrator. The first visualization of a character or a setting may be extremely rough. In fact I usually begin by writing a whole series of notes on the m/s before I sketch anything. When I begin to find the way into the book, there's a lot of notes and doodles happening that make no sense - except to me. Scribbled around drawings, or just writings. It's my visual thought chatter.



First draft = thumbnails. When the writer gets those first words down they are rough and clumsy like turned earth in a ploughed field before the elements break down the clods for springtime sowing. So it is with the illustrator. Everyone works differently, but usually there is some sort of system where the pages are broken down into little squares or rectangles. A rough feeling for flow and composition and placement happens. Mood and shape enter into it, a feel for the second story that will help bring the words to life for the reader. It's a time for not over thinking, but for playing - for getting it down. Just as the writer did.
Second draft. Where it gets more detailed. Time to go back and edit and expand those thumbnails. To see what's moving the story along and what's not necessary. Personally at this stage I work at 75% size and begin to flesh things out. I'm thinking about flow at this stage and page turns. How to create tension and check the story arc. Are the illustrations working with the plot? Are they moving the story forward? Are the illustrations coherent with the style of the story and the genre - or are they inappropriate? If so, why? Do I need to get rid of them? Is there an illustration in there that is purely indulgent or can I cut it? Have I missed anything? Do I need a different illustration or point of view? Who is telling this story? Who are the secondary characters? Do I need characters and information that are not in the m/s? Why? Will they enhance the book or distract? Do they help to move the story along, emotionally strengthen the main character's feelings (often in a book for very young children a sidekick can evoke what the m/c cannot).

At this point I will pin the roughs on a wall and consider them. Look at them all together to see progression. There's something intangible that lets you know if it's working or not, personal to the artist, just as to the writer when they make up a spreadsheet or chart of their book and are able to see at a glance where the story is going. I'll be looking for rhythm and consistency, variety and any needless repetition. If I don't like a spread I can pull it and redo. (Sometimes there's a lot of redoing). Have I left room for the text? In picture books the chunks of text and where they're set on the page is as an important visual element as the pictures. Young eyes must be able to read easily and connect the text with the visuals and vice-versa. You don't want them jolted out of the story. In effect I'm storyboarding the book.
 Now is when the layout would most often go back to the art director for a look see and edit. It's like the first time a writer's editor sees the story. Here's where illustrators will get the first edit. The AD may send you written notes, there may be telephone discussions. There will be revision. Just as it is with the writer.

When the revision's are given the okay it's on to the final draft. Of course this is entirely dependent on how the illustrator works. Digital or by hand, careful pencil or more loosely straight onto the paper. Everyone is different, just as writers are different. Some illustrators may work chronologically through a book, others work on different parts of the book all at once, or start in the middle or at the end. It's what feels right.


As the illustrations progress I like to replace the rough drafts on the wall with the finished pieces or print outs. That way I can see how it's coming together. I'm check for consistency of style - voice - flow - and making sure I'm not straying from the story. Am I loving the characters? Is the colour consistent, the mood, theme? Are there areas I need to work on? Or do over? I'll know when I hate something. It's like grit under the finger nails. You may have a lot of contact with the publisher - or you may prefer to work right through before you show the work. Just as an editor is there to talk to the writer when they get stuck or blocked, so it is with an art director and the illustrator.


Finally, it's finished - 'the final draft'. Polished as far as you are able. Knowing when to stop. It's time to send the proofs to the AD. There may be final tweaks, things to adjust and give more thought to. The final page - the cover - the end pages. Until - that's it. Final art is delivered and the next thing you know, it's book delivery day and your job is done!


 Whatever we're creating, the process of draws on essentially the same treasure chest of skills. What makes them special is YOU.

Thanks for dropping by Turbo Monkey Tales! Call back next time to visit with the lovely writer Julie Dillard.

The illustrations are from my new book from Kane Miller '1,2,3 by the Sea' by Dianne Moritz pub Spring 2013. The book is available online and soon from all good book stores.

It is also available as an ebook

Watch the book trailer here ...

Thanks for visiting!

Hazel
http://hazelmitchell.com

all images © Hazel Mitchell 2013

23 comments:

  1. This is awesome and perfect timing as I have a meetup in Cork scheduled for beginning of February. We're focusing on illustration this time, but it will be great to talk about the parallels between illustrating and writing, and I can refer back to your post! Thanks!

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    1. That's great! Do let me know how it goes. I will be in the UK in April, maybe I will make it to Ireland one day! Thanks for reading and commenting.
      Hazel

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  2. I liked hearing about your process. I think for outlining writers, the process is similar. Thanks for sharing the pictures.

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    1. Thanks Theresa, it seems there are many crossovers. Glad you enjoyed.
      Hazel

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  3. Thanks for the glimpse into your process! I really like the rhythm and flow of your layouts. I agree that helping tell the story is at the heart of picture book illustration, since the key audience has not yet learned to read words. Congrats on the book!

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    1. Thanks for visiting and commenting Carin. You are so right, remembering who the audience is, is key! Happy New Year to you.

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  4. Excellent post, Hazel! It helped me understand how much work illustrators put into the story. Didn't realize the process was so similar. Thanks for sharing on the Children's Book Hub!

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    1. Thanks Romelle, glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for commenting, it's nice to know it struck a chord.

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  5. This is FANTASTIC! (And wow, you have a way of painting word pictures that rivals your ability to paint picture-pictures.) Thank you, Hazel!

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    1. Thanks Beth ... still working on the words :-))

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  6. "The pictures are words in another form. For what are visual marks on the paper except another type of language?"
    Yes!
    I so agree and as illustrators we know this from the inside. Kids know this too and are generally more skilled at "reading" the pictures than many adults.
    Wish education boards and all gatekeepers realized just how helpful it is, to keep that visual language going even when kids can read chapter books, novels and more.
    Thanks for your post Hazel!

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    1. Thank you Bridget! We learn to read pictures before words ... I still pick up a book, look at all the pictures, and then read the words. I feel I have done a good job if my pictures tell a story that can be read on it's own, without the words.

      Best to you and thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts.
      Hazel

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  7. Hazel, wow, Wow, WOW! This was not only an education for me about your process but a treat to go on the journey with you. Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

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    1. Thank you Marilyn - I would take you on a journey anytime xxx

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  8. I love thinking through the parallels with you--and seeing how your work comes to life! So neat!

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  9. I love thinking through the parallels with you--and seeing how your work comes to life! So neat!

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  10. Popped in from U Tales! I'm a writer who accidentally became a artist, so I'm trying to illustrate my own work and trying to put visuals to my words. It's very different parts of the brain and I admire how you can visualize so well!

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    1. Thanks Blond Duck. I think it is much harder to be a writer, illustrating ... respect to you and best of luck! Thanks for visiting TMT and commmenting.

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  11. I'm so enamored by this post. And your work and your process! Beautiful!

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  12. Fantastic post:)Thanks for sharing your work precess:)

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