Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Illustrator Eliza Wheeler On "Being Present"

Eliza Wheeler was born into a family of musicians, artists, and teachers, and was raised in the north woods of Wisconsin. As a toddler, she adored crayons, and drawing has been her favorite creative outlet ever since. Recently she was chosen by Little Pickle Press to illustrate What Does It Mean to be Present? The book, which explores various ways children can learn to live consciously--to "be present" in their lives--is the third title in this award-winning series. Eliza agreed to talk to us about life as an illustrator, and about her current project.

Q. What was your inspiration for choosing illustration? And how did you prepare yourself for your career?

A. I studied Graphic Design at University of Wisconsin-Stout, and also took all the drawing and painting classes there that I could. After college, it didn't take long for me to tire of a profession that is based almost entirely on the computer. I'd been building an illustration portfolio, but didn't know how to get it in front of anyone. In the spring of '09, I entered the Society of Illustrator's Los Angeles juried show and was accepted. I met a lot of illustration folks there, learned about the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and have been attending their conferences for the past year. It's how I've made all my contacts within the industry.

Q. Can you describe your process for developing illustrations? What's the first thing you do? Second? Third?

A. I start by collecting images that inspire me and research other projects that might be in a similar vein. I get my ideas down with thumbnails; tiny messy sketches that capture the essence and composition of the completed artwork in my head. Then starts the arduous process of translating that small image into full-sized sketches. Then I draw all the black line-work on watercolor paper, and paint the scene in usually watercolors. Last, I go back and fill in more detail with extra line-work for those last finishing touches.

Q. Let's talk about What Does It Mean to be Present? What were some of the joys--and challenges--of this particular project?

A. The most joyful thing about working on Present was coming up with ideas for the flow of the entire book. I really loved that--it's sort of a magical time making the story come to life. Present has no narrative within the words, so I thought that it made sense to create one within the pictures to propel the reader forward. It turned out to be a "day in the life" story of two children. The book begins in the city with an orange tree in the distance of the landscape, and ends with the children playing in that tree.

The biggest challenge by far is being creative on a very tight time frame. Creating artwork for a picture book is a very meticulous process that's painful to rush. I'm sure every artist goes through panicked moments during big projects, and I certainly had my share on this one. It was my ultimate lesson in learning to be present!

Q: So what's with the blue butterfly on every page?

A. Whenever a butterfly is around people seem to stop to watch them. They are fragile, gentle creatures that don't usually live long, yet they bring such beauty while they are here. I included blue butterflies on each page because kids love to search within drawings and find repetition. Searching for the butterflies slows them down as they read the book, and helps them to be "present" and fully experience each page.

To see more of Eliza's work, or to contract her directly, visit her online portfolio. To purchase a copy of What Does It Mean to be Present? plus another title with a free poster of your choice enter the coupon code BRP at check-out on the Little Pickle Press website.

There is also a Grand Prize drawing of all the books and posters in a Dabbawalla backpack if you submit the chosen name for the next book in the series! Click here for more details.

Have questions about book design? Or about Little Pickle Press? Ask them in the comments below--we'll be around and answering throughout the day.

Images courtesy of Little Pickle Press and Eliza Wheeler


Bookmark and Share

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sherry Wachter has been designing and illustrating all sorts of things--including books--for nearly fifteen years. She has written, designed, illustrated, and self-published two novels--one of which won the 2009 Best of the Best E-books Award--and several picture books. To learn more about book design or to see her work visit her online at Magic Dog Press.

41 comments :

  1. As a writer/editor/publisher, my focus has been word art rather than graphic art. (I've never done a children's book.) However, I found the comments by Eliza Wheeler to be both inspiring and intuitive. Grounding youngsters in the book they're reading rather than encouraging them to whisk through the pages with little attention or observation is huge. Many children lack grounding in their lives, and the implementation of the "present" blue butterflies on each page works so beautifully to keep them in the story.

    I'm thinking that a variation of this process (perhaps in the form of line art) might be an exquisite addition to some adult books. I'm also thinking in particular about an author I publish who writes the most wonderful historical fiction . . .

    Super interview and great content!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What does Eliza use for the black line drawing stage of her process? A pen nib and India ink? A Micron pen? And what weight and brand is her watercolor paper? As a fellow children's book illustrator who paints in watercolor (I use Winsor & Newton paints on 300lbs Arches Hot Press), I'm so curious! Her work is lovely. Congratulations on her success!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm curious about process, too, especially since hubbs and I are professional artists. We've had galleries and I'm mostly a painter, he a glass artist and sculptor. Well, we've tried our hands at everything over the years including parade floats and theater sets.

    I see more and more use of technology in the art process today - and especially scanning line drawings, then coloring them. That must save a lot of time and stress! But to take that in another direction, I've moodled the idea of a graphic novel that stops with the line art - so that children can do their own coloring. With beautiful drawings that beg to be colored even by adults. What do you think of that idea, you two?

    Dani

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the question! For my materials on this project, I used Micron pens (you guessed it Christina!), and 140lb Arches Cold Press watercolor paper. Most of my watercolor tubes are Winsor & Newton, but I'm always experimenting with different materials and brands. For example, I usually use Hot Press paper for projects more dependent on the line work. I chose cold press paper for Present, because I knew that the color would be more dominant than line. Currently, I'm searching for a great pen that gives me variation in one stroke (which Micron doesn't) but that I don't have to constantly be dipping.
    ~Eliza

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sherry, I love the way you used your illustrations to blend in with the story and add to it - the tree and the butterfly. That's wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  6. It sounds like these illustrations are one way to create better understanding of a great--but rather elusive--concept for children. The blue butterfly on each page is magical! Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I wish I could take credit for this, Helen, but I'm going to violate my policy of sucking up all loose glory and admit that the illustrations are Eliza's--and I agree with you, they are lovely, and add a sense of flow and narrative that the words alone don't convey.

    ReplyDelete
  8. On the topic of varying brush stroke, I just read a book about cartooning and the author highly recommends learning to use a brush. Once the artist gets the hang of it, he claims there is no substitute for quickly changing line variation simply by the amount of pressure. I have to admit his cartoons have a liveliness that's tough to match. But ink work with a brush... urg. What do you think?

    Dani

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks Peggy! And if you look closely, there's also an orange placed in each spread. When I was a kid I loved books like Richard Scarry's Best Word Book ever, searching the pages for the owl. It's good to be in touch with that kid, and write or draw with her in mind.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Dani - can you remember the name of the artist? I'd love to see his work. Me, I can't imagine re-dipping every few seconds. The process is so meticulous, but using a brush does give a looseness to the lines that has a different look than pen. I'd love to take some time to do more experimenting with this soon!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Congratulations! I can't wait to see this beautiful book!
    Eliza your work is amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Eliza, After writing my first comment, I perused your online portfolio and was struck by the whimsy of your work. Your fanciful drawings appeal to adults as well as children (unless, of course, I'm entering my seond [or would that be third?] childhood). All morning, your illustratins have bounced around in my head, and they leave such an enduring impression. Again, I am awed by your talent. I come from a family of artists, composers, and writers, and I am continually amazed by the enhancemet that each of these elements adds to the other two. As Peggy mentioned, the artwork brings understanding (and continuity, I might add) to the story.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thank you all for this wonderful praise and encouragement!

    Linda I think your comment about appealing to adults & children alike is the ultimate compliment. Some of the old illustrators that I admire and aspire to have, I feel, these qualities.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Linda, I have to tell you that the books in this series, and especially with Eliza's lovely illustrations, really grab adults. That says a lot about the writing and the concept, too. You know how Ted Geisel's book became a favorite graduation gift? Or The Velveteen Rabbit? These messages have that same powerful pull and that's good kidlit. It's no surprise the books are getting awards.

    Eliza, what awards would yo like to win? Go ahead, 'fess up. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I also checked looked up that cartoonist who recommends brush-use. Brian Fairrington who wrote one of the Dummies books about it. He's a political cartoonist and you can see some samples here, although you have to really look to see his line quality. The book has wonderful examples, and it's good. Well, that whole series is despite the dreadful name, isn't it? LOL.

    http://bit.ly/byrs2Q

    ReplyDelete
  16. Eliza, have you used the Micron brush pens? They're really fun - the energy of a brush tip with the reliability of a marker.

    ReplyDelete
  17. It's true that we always stop and look at a butterfly. I'd never thought of that. It's a great way to provide continuity in the art work and increase a child's interest in the book.

    Eliza, if you like viewing the artwork of other kid book illustrators, take a look at our Northern Colorado favorite, Mark Ludy. Here's the link: http://www.markludy.com/The_Loodalicious_Cafe/The_Books.html

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thanks for that link Dani!

    Just starting out, the thought of awards seems a bit foreign. But what illustrator wouldn't admit that they dream of a Caldecott one day? I certainly have years of work ahead before making that a real possibility, but I do believe in looking at the best and aspiring to illustrate (and write) at those levels.

    Christina - I have played with the Micron brush pens and they are super fun! I draw tightly and press hard, which isn't as suited to the looseness of a brush-pen. I need like a cross between a calligraphy nib and a pen. I'm sure folks who work in comics would be have some great referrals on that front.

    Patricia - I always love looking at other illustrators' work, it's such great inspiration. Mark Ludy's drawings are a total blast! Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Eliza, I'm on deck for the book blog tomorrow but just wanted to chime in here that your illustrations are stunning! Congratulations! xoGina Raith
    http://bewelltogether.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thank you Gina! I'm looking forward to stopping by the blog tour tomorrow too.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Eliza, have you worked with the TerraSkin papers at all? - the posters are printing on those for anyone else reading this - and I'm totally fascinated with how that "paper" might take watercolors or inks.

    http://www.terraskin.com

    This product just sounds so cool!

    ReplyDelete
  22. This is my first time learning about the TerraSkin papers. I wonder, since they're designed to break down in the elements after 9 months (awesome!) - that probably makes it unsuitable for watercolor use. I think you also want the artwork to be preserved over time - whereas all packaging should be made out of material like this! Very cool stuff . . . I hope this trend catches on!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I can imagine the timeframe for book illustrations is quite tight!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I have always admired an artist who can add that special dimension to a book. I love reading books for children primarily because of the pictures. Thanks for letting us meet another terrific artist.

    ReplyDelete
  25. What a wonderful discussion!

    Eliza: We are entering your book in IPPY, Mom's Choice Awards, Moonbeam Children's Book Awards, Nautilus Book Awards, Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Teacher's Choice Awards, and last but certainly not least, Caldecott.

    All: Little Pickle Press is seeking another project for Eliza. If you have or know of a fabulous children's picture book manuscript that suits Eliza's talents, please let me know at info@littlepicklepress.com. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  26. What a fun interview, and the book looks adorable. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  27. Oh, well, gee. So can you give us a little more information about submission requirements? LOL. LPP does have a specific procedure that is also very cutting edge and somewhat unusual. Rana, do you want to comment about that?

    ReplyDelete
  28. How exciting!!

    And this is a great opportunity for writers and illustrators out there with a special interest in meaningful worldly topics to submit your stories. Spread the word!

    ReplyDelete
  29. I envy artists. Without their talent, children's books wouldn't come to life.

    The blue butterfly: this is the image that stays in my mind. Lovely.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Totally cute pics. I so wish I had artistic talent. Drawing was my favorite class in grammar school.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
    http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

    ReplyDelete
  31. As both an artist and a writer, I love reading all these comments, especially Morgan Mandel's that drawing was her favorite subject in grammar school. I want to say, "You can do it, I know you can," because I teach art to 380 elementary children. Just keep going. I'm always amazed by the drawings children make and I encourage them to continue on.

    Yesterday, we spent many hours in the Butterfly Conservatory in Key West with hundreds of blue butterflies. It was fascinating and wonderful. A blue butterfly on each page of your book is perfect. How I admire book illustrators!

    Monti
    MaryMontagueSikes

    ReplyDelete
  32. Not much to add, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading this blog. Beautiful imagery--especially with the butterflies.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Just gorgeous! I love the idea of repeating the butterfly image to draw the child's attention.

    My favourite illustrator is Graeme Base. There is just so much detail to his work that it is mind-boggling.

    I'm curious: do you have to draw to the exact dimensions that the book will be in, or a much larger drawing with the printer then doing a scale down?

    Elle
    Word 4 Writers on HearWriteNow
    Blood-Red Pencil

    ReplyDelete
  34. Elle - I love Graeme Base as well! I've had so much fun looking through his books (ehem, as an adult I might add, I didn't even know his books as a kid). About illustration sizes, it all depends on the medium you're working in. Some books are drawn at 10% larger than the print size - for Present I did the drawings at 100%, and had to make sure to draw about 1/4" more on the sides to make room for the print bleed. Some artists do their paintings much larger than the book - one example is Kadir Nelson's book We Are the Ship. Those illustrations are huge oil paintings on canvas. As long as they're the right ratio, and work well both large and small.

    I usually work at 100% or 110% of the actual size - partially because the pen work is so fine that detail would be lost if shrunk down.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I want to just take a moment at the end of the day here to thank Sherry for hosting my work on this wonderful blog - and Dani for being such an amazing blog tour warrior, and to everyone who commented for your words of praise about the illustrations. I feel honored to receive such gracious feedback!

    Best wishes. ~Eliza

    ReplyDelete
  36. I'm late but better than never. I also love the butterfly. I have plans to do my own illustrations down the road, but there is as much to learn about this as there is to learn about the craft of writing. For now, I'll ask for help.
    Love, love, love these illustrations and I plan to buy the books for my grandchildren as Christmas gifts.
    Nancy
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

    ReplyDelete
  37. Eliza's work is beautiful & I like how much she thought about making a formal narrative for the book. The blue butterfly adds a very nice touch that I hope kids pick up on.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Eliza, your illustrations are fantastic! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Present. I went to your website and just loved your colors, characters, compositions...Well, everything! I would love to connect with you. I'm illustrating an LPP book as well. To bad you don't live in the Bay Area!

    ReplyDelete
  39. Beautiful work! And I love the description of your process and how you developed a visual narrative for the text. You are a true talent!

    ReplyDelete
  40. Isn't this book just amazing??? Currently obsessed with it in our home...

    ReplyDelete
  41. Pure Michigan Travel and Tourism Information. Pure Michigan has travel and tourism information for those looking for the Pure Michigan experience. The best Michigan travel ideas begin at michigan.org. Michigan Healthcare Administration Jobs :: Healthcare. Find great Michigan healthcare administration jobs at All Health Jobs.com? or post your resume in complete privacy and let employers pitch job offers to you!

    ReplyDelete

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...