owl

This is like that painting-on-knotty-pine you fall in love with at a flea market en route to your summer rental. You really want it for your kitchen, but can't decide if it's worth the $10. If you don't buy it, you regret it for the rest of the summer. If you do buy it, you regret it for the rest of your life.

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Tonight I'm not just going to show you a picture, I'm going to tell you a story. A cautionary tale.

About six months ago I started to make a picture book. I had in mind the story of how two single parents met and fell in love (like the Brady Bunch, if Robert Reed and Florence Henderson were flightless birds). I thought the father should tell the story over the course of an evening, as the family made and ate dinner; as he's a "dad" the others would have to chime in to correct his memory and add embellishments. At the end they'd all leave for a walk before bed, feeling connected, imaginations exercised, to enjoy the pleasures of a night ramble. Good. Fine. Sounded like it could become a book.

I played around, making thumbnails and experimenting with how to handle a story taking place in two time periods with multiple voices. Eventually I had a serviceable rough dummy:

dummy front dummy 2 dummy 3 dummy 4 dummy 5 dummy 6 dummy 7 dummy 8 dummy 9 dummy 10 dummy 11 dummy 12 dummy 13 dummy 14 dummy 15 dummy 16 dummy 17

It felt good to have finished my first dummy, but there were problems. The flashback scenes I'd chosen to illustrate were boring, and the tone felt smarmy. (How many "blended families" like each other?) The book screeched to a halt at the end. Most importantly (and key to the other problems), there were no words. I had just drawn thirty-two pages thinking "now this will happen." I started trying to add text to the existing pictures. You know, write something that might fit and wedge it in with a crowbar. I quickly realized this wouldn't work either.

So with trepidation, I put the dummy aside and began making notes on the book I had half-imagined. I tried to put into words the story that played out wordlessly in my mind. I tried to include the funny sort of details I like, and to imagine scenes of real action that would make for lively illustrations. Some of my notes:

notes 1 notes 2 notes 3 notes 4

And so on. The more I wrote, the more I fell in love with what I was now imagining. But it didn't fit into the structure I'd previously envisioned. I started groping for what to discard, what to keep. Cutting and pasting. That's when things really stopped making sense.

As of today, here is what I've got to show for my best efforts over six months:

thumbnails

My favorite part is the two blank pages at the end. If I keep working for a few more weeks, the book will probably have amassed enough negative energy to collapse into a black hole. If I'm lucky, it will take me with it.

In all seriousness, I don't know if this thing is going to come together or not. One minute I think I'll pull it off; the next, I suspect my struggles indicate that there isn't a 32-page picture book here at all. Maybe a chapter book, maybe nothing. And here's the caution at the heart of my tale: don't start illustrating a book without a story. You'll drive yourself insane.

I know today's post is not in keeping with my promise of a new picture a week. This blog isn't called 52 Excuses. But when I looked at the clock this afternoon and considered my options, they seemed to be 1) dig out an old picture and post it, or 2) share some of what I'm grappling with as I try to evolve into a book artist. I thought the latter might be more interesting.

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peacock

A commission in progress.

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Time to pay the piper

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