In celebration of Mermay, we're sharing a post original posted on my illustration blog Celebrate the Little Things sharing my illustration process for The Mermaid’s Gift written by Claudia Cangilla McAdams, illustrated by me - Traci Van Wagoner, and published by Pelican Publishing.
A version of this post can be found on Dani Duck: Artist Obsure as part of Smart Dummies.
After illustrating eight picture books and creating five dummies for
my own manuscripts, each a bit of an experiment, I’m happy to say that I
finally feel like I have a pretty good system worked out.
Quick read through
— This quick read through opens my mind to the world of the story. I
then let my imagination explore the possibilities without any
limitations to specific pages or scenes. The process from first contact
to contract takes a long time, so this story had a long time to
Reference research — Pinterest
is a ton of fun for this. I set up folders for each project and collect
images for reference and inspiration. In this case, colorful Burano,
Italy (look it up on Google. If you’re feeling blue, this place will
perk you right up); lace, lots and lots of lace research; historical
photos of Burano and the lace museum there. I even used Google Earth to
walk around the island.
Character sketches — I
work out clothes, hair styles, facial features, culture, and age. I
sketch the main characters from a variety of angles, different facial
expressions, moods, emotions, keeping mind the need to keep the main
characters consistent throughout with the same clothes, hairstyle,
facial features, eye colors, etc.
Text Dummy — I print out the manuscript and break it up into 16
sections. I fold 9 sheets of legal or ledger paper in half and staple
them in the middle with a special stapler I bought years ago for this
purpose. I cut up the text and tape each section in its spread roughly
where I think it might go, telling the story with the text — one chunk
for the entire spread, or broken up with some on the left and some on
the right. Since Mermaid is a retelling and set in the 1800s, I decided
to go with a classic feel, keeping the text in blocks, but incorporating
them into the illustrations. I played around with borders and copy
blocks, but dropped that in the final sketch stage.
— blue sky thinking with my husband bouncing around ideas about the
overall look, world, setting, perspectives, angles, pov, lighting.
Playing with the best way to illustrate each scene adding to the story
in unique ways. For this book I really wanted drama, which I achieved
with lighting, angles, and unique perspectives.
love your boldness in composing the pages. Many illustrators are timid
about the interplay between form and function, and your work is like a
breath of fresh air.” ~ Johanna Rotondo-McCord, Artist.
More reference research
— this stage is pretty much ongoing and so much easier now days. I
remember the days of having to go up to the reference library on 42nd
street to get images. For this project, I did a lot of lace research —
patterns, tutorials, various types of lace, designs, styles, materials,
etc. I think that all paid off since I have had many people ask how I
created the lace, and have complimented me on the beauty and realistic
feel of the lace.
With sketchbook and ballpoint pen, I roughly block out the scenes I
have bubbling in my imagination after the brainstorming session. With
this project, I established a sort of zig-zag pattern through the
spreads, leading the eye through the story with a variety of spots, full
spreads and text placement that would keep the eye moving how I wanted.
Sketch Dummy — Sketch and explore scenes
building on initial rough thumbnails. My ink sketches are rough at this
stage. I scan those, clean them up a bit and print each spread as close
to actual size as I can. With marker paper, several good ol’ #2 pencils,
and a kneaded eraser, I set to work creating the final detailed pencil
sketches. Marker paper is see-through without needing a light box, but
not as smeary as tracing paper. I scanned those sketches and put them
together back in their spreads. I cleaned them up, made pngs which I
made into a pdf and emailed it to the AD. He came back to me with only a
Value and Color Thumbnails
— I made a contact sheet in Photoshop of the sketches on an 11x17
document. I added a layer with my paper in a gray tone, creating an
overall stormy feel. A second layer for value, establishing mood, and a
third layer for color studies. I created a limited palette, keeping in
mind the stormy feel of the story and moving to a light and happy
feeling in the end.
have perfectly captured the moods of the various scenes, giving the
story "life" in your depictions of the throwing of the fishing net, the
ferociousness of the storm at sea, the mermaid's creation of the lace,
and so on.” ~ Claudia Cangilla McAdam
Final Painting Begins — I paint in Photoshop with my own brushes,
textured papers, and color palettes, plus a ton of layers. I could do a
whole-nother post about the ups and downs of finishing a full book.
There were days I thought I was brilliant, and days when I felt like a
total fraud with no right to get to draw and paint for a living. Every
book has this stage no matter how much I’ve learned and grown and
figured out what I’m doing.
Finish the Dang Thing Already
— And then comes the finishing. This may be the hardest of all stages
for me. I have a resistance to finishing things. I don’t know why.
That’s just the crazy way I am. One night my husband told me to sit and
finish one at a time. I had the final highlights and finishing touches
and fixes and whatnots to do. When I finished one I’d shout it out. I
was reward with a DING-DING-DING and a compliment of some encouraging
sort. Then it was back to the next one.
finally finished them and sent them off to the Art Director. The end
result: A love fest with my art, and an offer for another book. Cody and
Grandpa’s Christmas Tradition written by Gary Metivier. You can read a guest post with Gary here.
I'd love to hear your thoughts or questions on my process. Or feel free to share how you work. Thanks for your visit.
Live, laugh, and learn!
Get your own copy of The Mermaid's at:
Barnes and Noble