I've been illustrating children's books for over 20 years. I started out doing traditional watercolor illustrations but when I found how great the color reproduction was with digital (PhotoShop) art and how much easier it was to make changes/corrections I convinced my then publisher that we should use it. And that's what I've been doing for a long time.
When you have steady work it's easy to get in a rut and not experiment or change the way you do things because it's been working so far and it's comfortable–that's what happened to me. A couple years ago I had the amazing opportunity to write and illustrate my own 20 story Bible storybook. It took me only a year and a half to complete. A miracle, considering all the work that had to go into it. But during that time I wasn't able to keep up with my clients illustration work and of course, they had to find someone else to do it. Also during this time children's publishing was going through some major changes with sales dropping and publishers going out of business, etc. When I returned to illustrating full time the work was no longer there.
Time for a new look. Recently I've been researching PhotoShop painting techniques online and even took a brush-up Adobe Illustrator class. It's been fun trying new styles and learning new things. I guess old dogs can learn new tricks! Now it's time to pray that publishers also like what I've learned. And of course, that they like the new stories I've written.
This is an excerpt from a story I wrote a couple years ago and just recently sent to several publishers. I’m hoping to receive a positive response from one of them soon. If I do, it should be within the next 3-6 months, if the answer is “no thanks” then I will most likely not hear back at all. It’s very difficult to get an editor that has never worked with you before to read your manuscript, let alone accept it. But, I have great hopes for this story, after all, who doesn’t like dogs or stories about kids trying to convince a parent to get them a dog? It’s a sure thing, right? We’ll see.
Here you go, I hope you like it:
On the following day, like the two days before,
when Dee Dee fetched Mom, Vincent opened the door.
He lifted a thing and their mother ‘bout fell
from the sight of it peering from under it’s shell!
“May I pl-e-ease keep it, Mom?” Vincent asked with a grin.
With the strange looking thing Vincent tried to walk in.
“It isn’t a dog, so it shouldn’t dig holes,
and that’s good because dogs dig like giant-size moles.”
But his mother was sure that the thing that he had
was a hole-digging thing and its digging was bad!
Recently, I've been illustrating VeggieTales books and rewriting my "Cowboys" story. With a break in illustration work, I began pencil sketches for "Cowboys" and thought I would take a few minutes to do a blog entry.
I've been an illustrator of some type since I left high school. I'm an introvert, so being isolated in a studio (though sometimes with other artists) suited me fine. When I began writing children's books I mistakenly assumed that, if I were successful, I could continue my self imposed isolation from the world, writing stories and illustrating them in my safe, cozy home studio. Boy, was I wrong! It seems that these days an author is expected to do book signings and even read his stories... in public... to Live people even! And worse than that... RADIO INTERVIEWS! How was I to know?
Well, my most recent book is Magnificent Tales Treasury of Bible Stories – (Rhythmical Rhymes of Biblical Times). As the name suggests, it's a collection of 20 Bible stories written in rhyme and meter. I feel very strongly that God has been preparing me for a long time to write this book. That it is for His glory and not my own. It contains the story Shout for the Lord, which is my version of the story of Gideon. Time for a new perspective. I feel like Gideon, who when called by God to fight the Mideanites, didn't feel he was the right choice. But God had done the choosing, so who was Gideon to God's judgement? Now, knowing that God is with me, I'm stepping out of my comfort zone and promoting the Treasury of Bible Stories – for His Glory, not my own!
Is God asking you to step out of your comfort zone too?
It's been a crazy year! Mostly, I've been illustrating children's books that others have written, just to make ends meet. As I've said before, the process of writing and publishing a children's book from first idea to the final product hitting the shelves is a very, very long one. Once it does make it's way to a store's shelves, it takes even more years of waiting before an author can hope to see any royalties(if ever)!
I wrote only one new story this year, though personally, I think it's one of my best. It's a Western with a strong Christian message. It's very humorous and slightly weird... just the way I like them.
Here's an excerpt:
Long ago, when the West was still lawless and wild,
folks were gritty and grumpy and nobody smiled.
The cowboys of Rattlesnake Ranch were depressed.
They were down in the dumps.
They were sad and distressed,
‘cause the life of a cowpoke was tough.
That’s no joking!
They worked really hard.
They were tired from cow–poking!
Yikes! Another year past and a new one begun. Time flies when you're a Children's Book author/illustrator! It takes far longer than you would imagine to get a picture book published. Just writing a short manuscript can take months if you want to get it just right. Then you have to pitch it to publishers, usually a lot of publishers. Then they take months to get back to you (if they ever do). Even if you have a relationship with them, it's very hard to find one to take a chance on a new story (at least for me). Then comes the illustration, and editing, and rewrites, and corrections to the illustrations. Now it's time for the marketing team to prepare, and the printers, binders, distribution, etc... A couple years have now gone by. If you were very lucky, you got some sort of advance when the publisher took on your story, because once the book finally hits the stores it will most likely be 2-3 or more years (if ever) before you see any royalties.
No wonder time goes by so quickly!
When I was in grade school my favorite books were anything by Dr. Seuss and my favorite cartoons were the Warner Brothers LooneyTunes/Merry Melodies. Flash forward a few years and I'm creating dozens of designs for the Looney Tunes series and having a ball doing it.
Last night as we were driving back to Nashville from my father's 90th birthday celebration in Indiana, my lovely wife, Vickie was sitting next to me looking at her ipad when I heard that familiar tune that is played at the opening of all Looney Tune cartoons. Sure enough, she was watching our favorite cartoon of all time, Chuck Jones' masterpiece "What's Opera Doc?"(The figurines on our wedding cake were Elmer and Bugs in drag). I couldn't help but glance over occasionally to see what was going on. I mean, how could I miss seeing Elmer's massive shadow cast on the mountain's rocky face in the opening scene? Or Bugs, with golden braids flowing, reclined on the back of the rotund white steed as it gracefully glides down the hillside? I'm smiling now just thinking about it.
The cartoon is a masterful combination of dialogue, music, animation and beautifully painted backgrounds. I couldn't help but notice how closely Maurice Noble's backgrounds resemble the ones in my most recent books. Well, okay... my backgrounds resembled his. I've always stated that Dr. Seuss was the biggest influence in my writing, but I hadn't realized what a huge influence Maurice Noble had in my illustration style until seeing those images from "What's Opera Doc?" last night. Well, I'll be sure to give him more credit in the future!
Now that I'm finished with my big project, it's time to start on something new. But what? Drum up more freelance illustration work? That would bring in money the fastest, and having money makes it easier to buy food, and I like to eat. Or should I spend my time pitching the 3 manuscripts I have? Or maybe do some more illustrations for those stories while I have some free time? Maybe I could actually do some writing? Really, it's not that hard of a decision– I need to do all of those things. I guess I really don't have any down-time after all! A writer/illustrator, like any self-employed person, has to focus on both, short-term projects and the long-term projects to keep the money flow working.
As promised many months ago, here's the painted version of the Adam sketch form my up-coming storybook. The book (manuscript and illustrations) was finished months before it was due. This is proof to me that God's hand is in this project because I was convinced there was no way I could get it all done in time.
It's planned release date is November 2014. Yes, it takes a long time to put out a children's book. Although the majority of the stories and art in this one were completed in the last 15 months, there are several stories that were started somewhere around 5 years ago.
Now I'm back at illustrating VeggieTales books and pitching my completed manuscripts to publishers and hopefully finding time and inspiration to write new ones.
Sketching is complete. My schedule is too tight to wait on approvals from my publisher, so I will move straight into painting and hope I don't need to make many changes later.
I hope to one day be able to work on books at my leisure, but for the present it's nonstop rush!
As I promised, I've attached a portion of one of the finished sketches. Later I will show you the painted version. With God's hand guiding mine, I have been able to sketch an average of 3 spreads per day and even more amazingly, nearly 1 spread colored per day(so far). Let's hope that trend continues!
The attached sketch is Adam. But of course you recognized him. Yes?
As promised, I have another bit from Too Many Shoes. Though this is a short one. I don't want to give the entire story away.
Then, one morning as Abigail tramped through the mall
with a stack of new shoes… at least fifteen pairs tall.
She noticed a box by the doors leading out.
It was big.
And she thought, “What could that be about?”
I just finished the writing portion of my very large project. I thought I had it nearly wrapped up a couple weeks ago but realized that I had forgotten a story about John the Baptist. When that was finished I decided I wanted to add a story, so here I am two weeks later and one week behind schedule with what I hope is a complete manuscript or 20.
Now comes the transition to illustration. I'm praying God supplies me with the inspiration and creativity to complete the many illustrations needed by (or before) the deadline. Perhaps I will post some sketches along the way.