I have illustrated nary a one. I tell the kids who ask me at school visits that if I did my own illustrations no one would buy my books. Ha ha. It's so true. I also have not sung in public since I was the only girl not to make the chorus in sixth grade. (Would it have been that hard to put me in there, in the back? Really?) Wait, this isn’t my therapy session? Sorry. But my point is this: When I write nonfiction picture books they are either illustrated with photographs or by the deft hand of someone else. Right now I am eagerly awaiting sketches from a brilliant illustrator for my book about a mathematician. I know she is going to bring much more to the book than I ever could, or could ever imagine.
Yes, I am in awe of illustrators and forever grateful to those who illustrate my books. I got to wondering recently what it would be like to create a book from start to finish as others here on I.N.K. do, (I bow down to you who do) and just as I was thinking about that, a lovely new book landed on my desk. A book that I wish I had written, and yes, illustrated. Meadowlands by Thomas Yezerski. (FSG)
Yes but the words come first. On rare occasions, I may think of a spectacular image and then find a way to get it into the story, but it works better if the picture is part of the storytelling. When I start with the words, I already have the text divided into 32 pages so that each spread is a "scene" or "message" that can stand alone. Then I read my text and decide if there's a concept I should show in the picture because it should be explained to the reader or, better yet, I look for one sentence that will make a dramatic illustration. I focus on that one sentence and draw a few different tiny sketches with different ways of showing the idea I want to draw. I try different points of view and different distances from the subject. I think of it as a camera moving around the scene. For this book, I liked drawing many of the pictures from the eye level of the animal depicted; it was important to me to give the reader the feeling of being on the same level as these other members of our environment.
If I can't get my own pictures of what I want to draw, I use books from the library or I do a Google Image search. In a lot of cases for this book, I had photos of the setting, but I never actually saw the animal I wanted to draw, even though I knew it lived there. So I would gather a bunch of pictures of, say, an egret, and draw a composite of those pictures. It's important NEVER to copy somebody else's art. With enough different angles of something, whether it be an egret or a truck, I can pretty much figure out what it would look like from the angle I want to show it. Sometimes, when I start drawing the details, I come up with some questions, like "Do ruddy ducks build nests here or do they only stop by during migration?" or "When ruddy ducks are here, is it summer or winter?" Pictures show a lot, so an illustrator has to know a lot. Hopefully, by this time, I have an open line of communication with an expert, so I can just ask her. Illustrating a book is a good way to make a friend!