Picture books involve a
great deal of collaboration between multiple people who give ideas, critique,
and feedback to make the beautifully illustrated stories that end up on
bookshelves. We’ve described what goes into the author-editor relationship, but we also wanted to provide a glimpse of the relationship and collaboration between a publishing team and an illustrator. We sat down with VickyHolifield, a Senior Editor here at Peachtree, and Nicki Carmack, our Creative
Between the two of them,
you’re looking at decades of experience working with artists in the publishing
industry. We spoke with Vicky and Nicki (going to have fun with that rhyming
scheme for the rest of the post) in order to get a perspective on illustration
from both the editorial, as well as the creative and production side of things.
We tried to hit what Vicky and Nicki considered the most important parts of the
process and the most important things for an illustrator to know or do. We
began at the beginning.
Initiating the search
for an illustrator is primarily the work of an editor, so Vicky weighed in for our initial questions. She explained that it is the editor’s responsibility to
get to know a manuscript well enough to look for an illustrator that would best
suit the story. Although it varies from company to company, Vicky emphasized
that Peachtree likes to be very
collaborative in establishing the tone and style of art that works best with
the story; this involves having a discussion with the author to make sure they
agree on art style before she begins her search.
Vicky said that she
herself sometimes begins looking for illustrators by simply browsing the
library and looking at books with similar topics or categories to see how
various artists have dealt with the subject matter, but she’ll keep in mind the specific tone
she is considering. Since a library will
only show published illustrators, she also spends time looking at portfolios.
If the book is going to be about animals, for example, she looks for artists who
specialize in illustrating animals.
Of course, it’s not all
that simple. Vicky expounded that “there are a lot of artists who can reproduce
reality,” but often what she’s looking for is someone providing a different slant who
can “give a fresh look at the commonplace.” This is where the importance of tone
comes into play. Nicki and Vicky agreed that a story can be illustrated with so
many different approaches—whether it’s humorous, didactic, or lighthearted. Sometimes
the right illustrator is simply someone who reads the story and “gets it,” and sees
the story in the same tone that the author, editor, and production team see it.
At Peachtree, although
the editor typically gets the search for an illustrator underway, the author
and production team often propose other illustrators for consideration; after
much discussion, the team chooses two or three top candidates, who might be someone whose specialty lines up with the
story, someone with experience of the book's subject matter, or someone who has just the right sense of humor. Then the real work
Both Nicki and Vicky
agreed that although it often depends on the project, most of the communication
and collaboration for a picture book is at the beginning, during the sketch
stage. This stage involves one or several storyboard meetings, where thumbnail
sketches for every page of the future picture book are laid out, so the team can visualize the
big picture and get an idea of what the finished book will look like. Then,
the art director gives insturctions and feedback. Sometimes we might want
a small sketch expanded to a two-page spread, sometimes the main character’s
facial expression needs more variety of movement, sometimes more space is
needed for text. This is the most directive part of the process from the
publisher end, although the illustrator does have to approve the final layout.
Nicki and Vicky also
both emphasized that it is very important at the sketch stage to give prompt feedback
to the illustrator. An illustrator’s work can change and evolve
if there is a lapse of time between initial sketches and turning in final art.
Although that is often natural, the editor doesn’t want to receive final art
that doesn’t look anything like the sketches! So, as much as illustrators need
to be communicative and responsive, both editorial and production recognize the
need to be quick about feedback and direction themselves.
Although the sketch
stage can be nitty-gritty and incredibly detail-oriented, it’s also the most
important stage in creating a story that flows from one page to the next with
pictures that bring a story to life. Nicki and Vicky both mentioned that
sometimes an illustrator brings art that is so perfectly expressive, they might
recommend changing the text to accommodate the illustration! They agreed that
the best illustrators bring something “more” to a text; they enrich the story,
and can even add a secondary tale that runs in the background throughout.
In the end, Nicky and
Vicky both emphasized that simple habits like effective time management and clear communication are important qualities in a great illustrator. Although it’s true that an
editor is looking for the right kind of art that will enhance a text, a
successful illustrator can also establish deadlines and stick to them, communicate if something is going to be late,
and receive feedback and follow given corrections.
On the production and
creative side of things, Nicki outlined some of the most important things
needed from an illustrator in order for the whole process to go smoothly. The
first was very practical: communicating the format of the deliverable, final
art. The production timeline changes when a publisher is receiving original paintings versus digital files. The
format of the illustrator’s art should be decided in a very early conversation
so that a realistic schedule can be set. On a more artistic level, Nicki
pressed the fact that illustrators should not be micromanaged closely at the
beginning of the process, because that leaves no room for his or her creative
imagination to come up with the vision of what a story’s illustrations could
As an editor, Vicky
named three things that she considers to be very important for all illustrators
to remember. The first was, again, forming professional habits, such as doing thorough research and meeting deadlines. The second was to know who you are as an artist, work on
your style, and learn to be consistent. Third, she would remind illustrators to
learn how to tell a story. Fine artists can show a moment, but an illustrator
must create a visual narrative that flows from one page to the next.
There is so much more
that could be said about this process (much more in fact was said than we could
fit here!). So consider everything that goes into every picture book the
next time you pick one up. For illustrators or aspiring illustrators, we hope
Nicki and Vicky’s perspectives were helpful. Ask questions in the comments
below if you want to hear more from them!
If you want to learn
more about the publishing process, check out our blog post about the relationship between an author and an editor, or
our post about submitting a manuscript!
Labels: A to Z of Publishing, Behind the Scenes, Illustrators, Interviews, Picture Book