August is my favorite month because my husband and daughter are both Leo the lion's. This is the time when I stop everything and give you a snapshot of what I'm doing as an illustrator, for those of you who are aspiring artists and writers, or who are teachers or librarians who teach the creative process.
I am one quarter of the way through my 2011 picture book, HOME FOR CHRISTMAS. I've already plotted out the story in my book dummy, which I have showed to my editor Margaret, art director Cecilia, and designer, Marikka. The book dummy helps me plan how much wordage to put on each page, knowing that I will edit out about one quarter of the original manuscript. I make my dummy like a small book, with sewn pages so I can turn each page. There is something slightly suspenseful about a book, and how with each page turn, a new scene will reveal itself. If I show my main character, Rollo the troll, from a distance in the first few spreads, I want to show a close-up of him before the story gets going, so we can get to know him. Besides having a tail, which trolls are known for, he also is small and wiry. His face is heart shaped, with a low hairline which is shaped somewhat like a hedgehog's. His large pointy ears make me quite sure he's of the elfin clan. I tried to make his expressions mischievous and feral, as if he is not an animal but he is not like my 10-year-old grandson either! Because he's so wild, I can imagine him off in the woods for a couple of months, where his human counterpart couldn't survive. Some of the best stories, whether they are science fiction, Greek myths, or stories where animals talk, work well because of the new reality that my characters live in.
I've noticed that when I see children's drawings, they very naturally create characters that are not human, but have adventures, attachments, and problems that are like people. It's inspiring to see children's characters that have special powers or some amazing attribute like sparkling hooves or green hair.
I'm working very hard at re-creating the remote and ethereal landscapes we saw on our trip to Sweden. I don't believe that I've lived another previous life, but when I experienced the land up around the Arctic circle, in Norway, Baffin island, and in Arctic Sweden, I feel like I'm reunited with a long-distant but familiar place. I want to lie on the ground and smell the lichens and moss.
My art table is covered with birchbark, the material that will form the borders of my book. I always see little faces and animals on the bark because of the irregular black and white patterns. I'm going to put a few of my accidental creature appearances in the border, even though they don't move the plot along. Perhaps they speak to an olden days time when people look carefully at the natural world in order to see signs that help them read what has been happening in their world. Maybe they will add to a whimsical atmosphere.
Besides HOME FOR CHRISTMAS I'm very happy to know that my 1998 version of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS picture book will be reissued with the companion CD. The Boston Pops commissioned a musical version of the 1823 poem by Clement Moore. My husband Joe plays in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and when they were little, we loved to take our kids to the Pops to see him play THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The music is so magical you can feel your skin tingle. Years later when I illustrated the poem, I set it in Stockbridge Massachusetts a few miles from where we live, and the Boston Symphony's summer home. I like the way the book came out, but I've always wanted readers to experience the music. Now, my dream has come true. The narrator will be Jim Dale who will really make it come alive. The other musical pieces that I'd love to illustrate, are THE FIREBIRD by Stravinsky, PEER GYNT by Edward Grieg, and PETER AND THE WOLF by Prokofiev. First, though I have a turtle book in the works and a folktale called THE TURNIP that I would like to do. I have a wooden toy that is an enactment of THE TURNIP. It shows people and animals trying to pull a giant turnip out of the ground. I love turnips and especially if they're yellow with pinkish purple tops. What a great color combo.
I hope summertime has given you some time to work on your own picture books and creating unusual characters.
Happy reading, your friend,