Tag Archives: book illustration

The Story Behind “The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book”

9 Oct

obama cover w white dress

Finding the Format

The Essential Backstory

100 Pablo Picassos.

In 2014 I had the pleasure of illustrating 100 Pablo Picassos. Author Mauricio Velázquez de León cooked up the delicious idea for this interactive biography which invites kids to find one hundred instances of Picasso peppered throughout a fanciful 32-page book, resplendent with Picasso-inspired art.

cubism spread

Since then I have moved to New Zealand, voted for Hillary (from abroad! yes!), and have illustrated many other books, but One Hundred Pablo Picassos has always stayed with me. It helps that it’s been translated into several languages and was included in an exhibit at Korea’s Museum of Kids’ Books and Art.

The Lightning Bolt Moment

One quiet morning in April 2018, after listening to month after month of depressing political shenanigans from the US, I was remembering the hope and pride I used to feel when watching the news during the Obama years.

President Obama was a role model, admired and respected globally. The current holder of the office? Not so much. Nostalgia washed over me and I thought, we should make a book. We should make 100 Barack Obamas.

Mauricio loved the idea of an Obama book for kids, but didn’t think the “100” concept would work. We had included self-portraits in 100 Pablo Picassos‘ overall count, which was very clever and added spice to the “find this guy one hundred times” concept.

100pp_self portraits

The self-portraits were an essential ingredient that could only be included for a visual artist. Mauricio also pointed out that Picasso’s entire life was perhaps a bit more colorful than that that of anyone who gives speeches for a living.

Yep. Fair enough.

More importantly, we wanted to include Michelle as an equal partner, and the girls.

tiny ObamasWe considered the title 100 Obamas (instead of 100 Barack Obamas) but I was the only one who could visualize the resulting book. In my imagination it looked incredible, but sketching the whole thing in an attempt to sell the idea would have been such a giant time commitment that I wimped out immediately. Time to switch gears.

After researching popular kidlit biographies and the Obamas, I wrote three or four manuscripts (okay, six) of varying lengths, targeting different audiences with different types of books. Don’t be fooled: this took some quality time.

first Obama sketch

one of the first sketches made for The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book

Ultimately we settled on the most concise manuscript, which utilized the device of flaps to make the book interactive.

Finding the Look

The Technique

Next decision: How should the art look?

After getting a concept approved for The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book, I tried out several techniques and presented them to the publisher. Simple flat color? Or my usual use of textures and patterns with minimal rendering? Or… how about adding paint texture? Using, like, real paint?

paints

We liked all of the choices but—of course—settled on the paint option, which was by far the most challenging. And time-consuming.

In case you’re wondering, writing and illustrating a book about Barack and Michelle Obama was, for me, incredibly intimidating. My artistic desires for this book outweighed my abilities. Thankfully, art director Tyler Garrison was there. Tyler’s guidance was invaluable. Never underestimate the value of good art direction. Can I get an Amen?

The Design

Speaking of trying out options, I also submitted a buffet of flap designs for every single spread. So. Many. Sketches. I will be forever grateful to duopress for their patience with my monkey brain.

early Obamas sketch_HOPE

one of the unused layout options for “The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book”

Finding the Book!

9781947458826_3D

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.The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book was released on Oct. 1, 2019 by duopress and is available everywhere books are sold, thanks to distribution by Workman Publishing.

Click here to see more samples from The Obamas: A Lift-the-Flap Book on my website.

LEARN_marketing

Click here to order your copy today!

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collaborate

26 May

ISS_Cover

A while back, after having made several books together, my publisher friend Mauricio Velázquez de León (owner of duporess) invited me to a Skype lunch. While he sat at an outdoor cafe somewhere in Baltimore with a tasty-looking sandwich, I ate a salad in a Savannah Panera, and we talked about this and that.

Before he let me go, he asked what made me tick, artistically—a very interesting question that threw me off guard, and really made me think. I love to draw cities, and kids, and animals…. but if there was one thing we weren’t already doing that made my artist’s heart sing, it had to be SHOES.

During the rest of that Skype lunch and for a long while after, we talked about shoes, and how to make them into a book. We shot ideas back and forth leisurely for quite a while (one year? two??), and then somehow or other “The Shoe Book” made it onto a tentative production schedule. We were actually gonna do it. So, I had to write it.

love_lossNow, I’m not a writer, I am an illustrator, but I can string a few words together in a pinch. With a vague idea in my head based on the amazing classic Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a book I had read years earlier, I spent a week or two typing up a charming little manuscript. Mauricio called the draft “lovely” or something to that effect, and, despite my bent toward self-deprication, I agreed with him. It was a lovely manuscript. (In keeping with my amateur writer status, it was largely auto-biographical—so predictable!) But it wasn’t a book for duopress. Not yet. After thinking about it for a while, he came back with suggestions.

Duopress publishes innovative books for curious children. “The Shoe Book” had to be an innovative. Maybe even interactive. My original manuscript was very nice, but there was nothing innovative about it.

I started over, converting the words into an activity book. Letting go of my original approach wasn’t easy, but I trusted Mauricio and forged ahead, trying to combine his ideas and requirements for the project with my initial inspiration. The result was more than a manuscript for an activity book, because it had a voice: there was a story, told by a little girl. Her name changed a few times but eventually became Isabella. Page by page Isa shared not only her love of shoes, but her obvious love for her family and friends, and for the process of design.

“The Shoe Book” was becoming not only innovative, but special!

partySCANWith a working manuscript I made some art samples, including this painting. Although this watercolor didn’t come close to making it into the book, it helped me find the look of the book. Just part of the process.

Mauricio and I went back and forth revising the manuscript too many times to count, making changes even as I was up to my elbows in ink chasing that drop-dead-absolutely-final art deadline. It had to happen that way, because the book was innovative—something totally new and different—and every spread generated more creative ideas. Input from duopress’s copy editor, distributor, family friends, and our beloved designer Charla Pettingill also helped form the final product.

The result: Isabella’s Shoe Studio, which will be available this fall. We will be promoting the book this weekend at Book Expo America.

My name is on the cover, but Isabella’s Shoe Studio was most definitely a group effort, a true collaboration. The project evolved,  and we rolled with it. What a pleasure.

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The story about how this doodle storybook came to life has two morals:

First, for publishers: Get to know your team and encourage them to explore their passions. You’ll be glad you did. (It may interest you to know that Mauricio only owns 3 pairs of shoes, and two are exactly the same! If he hadn’t asked what made me tick, it’s doubtful that duopress would have a shoe book on the horizon.)

Second, for my fellow artists: Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Good ideas can always be improved, and they may die if they aren’t allowed to be shaped by smart people who are in the position to do something with them.

__________

It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough!

Ecclesiastes 4:10, from The Message by Eugene Peterson