To paraphrase General Patton, “Children’s Book illustration is hell!” Or at least it can be. I’m not talking about the dismal state of the business these days. The publishing world has not been spared from our country’s economic woes. No, I am talking about the simple act of creating a picture.
I recently spent a week and a half battling a sample illustration for a story I wrote called “Ten Little Wiener Dogs”. This is to be sent to my agent who will then try to find a home for it. Here’s the final illustration, by the way:
The problem I was having was with the chair. The chair is, in a way, a central character to the book. It’s in every illustration. What changes from page to page is the number of wiener dogs on that chair.
I just could not find the right color combination! I must have done about twelve different paintings. Fortunately, I was able to use my copy machine to reproduce the black and white images, which saved me a lot of redrawing.
Here’s one of the failed attempts –
Here’s another –
What I would do is complete a painting and let it sit a while. Sometimes, when you’ve been staring at a picture too long, you lose your objectivity. Your mind either tells you it’s better than it is, or worse.
Here’s another tan chair –
I tried all colors, despite my instincts that a particular one would not work. I was getting desperate. What was driving me nuts was that this really should not have been a complicated picture. The drawings went like a breeze – in fact, I truly enjoyed that stage of the illustration. Here’s one that shows how boggled my attempts were growing –
I sometimes find myself trying to convince myself that a picture is coming out okay, even when there’s something telling me it’s not. The recourse in these situations is to sabotage the painting, putting an instant end to the internal debate. This usually involves either scrawling something like “I hate this!” across the picture, or tearing it up, as needed to be done here –
Then, after nights of actually losing sleep over this, I was lying in bed – it was about 4AM – and had an epiphany. I not only saw the color in my head, but knew how to make it. I pictured mixing white watercolor with a semi-pale blue. The blue and the orangish color of the dogs were more or less complimentary colors on the color wheel scale. When you put complimentary colors next to each other, they “pop”.
Three hours later I was at the drawing table mixing and applying those combinations. The color matched what I had imagined and I think I finally got what I was going after.
That battle has ended. The wiener dogs have a pale blue chair on which to cavort.
Here, by the way, is the second sample I worked up, showing all ten of them.
One would think that there could be few joys in life greater than painting frolicking wiener dogs. Should this book sell, I think that I’d finally be able to experience that joy.
Unless the art director hates the blue chair….