Serendipity played a huge part in my getting the contract to illustrate Fiona Ingram’s début book The Secret of the Sacred Scarab. Fiona had visions of a website to go with the book that she was writing. Having visited about 10 different website developers with her ideas and scaring the heck out of them, she finally found Howl at the Moon Design. Why did she scare the heck out of a bunch of tech heads? Because what she wanted could not be produced from a web template. It was highly creative and they just could not do it.

Having established that we could do it, Fiona then came into the office for a meeting, bringing all the paraphernalia to be photographed or scanned for the website. At the meeting, she mentioned that she was looking for a local illustrator who could produce black and white illustrations for the book. She wanted a Hardy Boys feel for it and, while she already had the cover created by an artist in Cape Town – he was wrapped up in other projects and she really wanted someone local.

Adrian suggested that his sister could draw and that she had done the painting in the office. (at this point imagine a massive painting of Clint Eastwood as The Outlaw Josey Wales, rendered about 25 years ago in a moment of “I need canvas and paint” to decorate a fundraising barn dance event – urgh!). Fiona asked for a meeting, probably thinking Adrian would make a phone call and it would happen another day, only to have him call me into his office and pose the question.

Sheer panic set in the moment I said yes to Fiona’s request. Questions like “what if I suck at this? What if I can’t get it the way she wants it? Why the hell can’t it have been a cartoon assignment?- it would be a lot easier than realism.” danced through my head. As you may have gathered from earlier posts – I feel rusty – I had not been in a life drawing class for eons and the realistic drawing I had done since had been quick sketches or landscapes…. eeek!

Like anything huge, the only way to tackle this problem was in small sequential chunks. Fiona was not keen to let me read the entire manuscript. This was her first baby and she was somewhat protective. She had, however, decided which pieces of the plot needed to be illustrated and she gave me excerpts from the text that described the action. She sent me descriptions of the characters and photos of her two nephews on whom she had based the two main protagonists. Oh yeah, she also sent me sketches she had done of how she thought the pictures needed to look. This was hilarious (sorry Fi!) and scary, because then I started worrying that she would hold me to the layout she imagined and they really didn’t do it for me!

Okay – tiny chunks:

1. got the text, description and sketches

2. got holiday snaps of the nephews – no expressions or actions except holiday snap poses – how was I going to render them in action without making them look totally malformed? Idea! My son looks vaguely like Adam, my nephew looks vaguely like Justin…. Okay guys – guess what you’re doing for me today? Modelling for all the scenarios in the book! Get out the camera.

3. move away from the concept of the flat action and think depth! Pen and ink gives you a marvellous opportunity to add serious shadows and drama!

4. rough sketches to scale for Fiona. Scan them and email them.

5. tweak – luckily Fiona was happy with my interpretation and only a few minor tweaks were needed.

6. use light box to transfer the images onto good multi-media paper – use a steel-nibbed pen, Windsor &  Newton black ink and have fun with the drama. Scan in the finals at high-resolution for upload to the publishers.

7. then when the marketing starts you can have fun like creating “plot” bookmarks to hand out to the kids at readings. These were a big hit at the latest reading as Fiona could use them to explain how to block out a plot when writing a book.

The book has been very well received- winning an award; being listed as a top book for 2009 as well as receiving five-star reviews. More information about this on the book website – click here.

We are now talking about book two in the series The Chronicles of the Stone (Scarab being book one). As Fiona puts it – you can’t save the world in one book. Book two involves the search for the legendary Excalibur! Time to do some research on Anglo-Saxon/Celtic/Roman design… woo-hoo!

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Illustrating a children's book
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2 thoughts on “Illustrating a children's book

  • January 20, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Lori is far too modest about her abilities and I was delighted from the start with her interpretation of my ideas. For a really fantastic look at Lori’s artwork please visit the book’s website, click on The Journey and see her stunning map and accompanying artwork. I can’t wait to see what she does with my second book!

    • January 20, 2010 at 10:39 am

      Thanks Fiona – looking forward to getting my teeth into it.

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