From sketches to art

A sampling of Anne Rockwell books

Left-to-right: Becoming Butterflies, Planes, Our Stars, My Spring Robin, Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train, My Preschool


10. Would you share some of your own process with us? And what’s coming up for you?

Joy Chu: Here are selected pages from the book dummy for My Preschool, followed by pages from the final book. Your grand-daughter assisted you with creating the artwork, yes?

Outline sketch for the title page of "My Preschool"

Note that the above sketch is the mirror-image version of the final result below.
[Anne: This is the drawing that’s transferred onto mylar, via your monoprint process, yes?—JC]

Title page art from "My Preschool"

Title page art from "My Preschool"

Finished art from "My Preschool"

Finished art from "My Preschool"

A book dummy sketch from "My Preschool"

A book dummy sketch from "My Preschool"

Here are images from the book dummy for Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train. Anne provided the drawings, which were colorized by Vanessa van der Baan.

A book dummy page from "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train"

A book dummy page from "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train"

Sketch was transferred, then colorized.

Sketch was transferred, then colorized.

Another dummy page from "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train"

Another dummy page from "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train"

Corresponding colorized final art

Corresponding colorized final art

Anne Rockwell: Vanessa and I are working on a similar book about the local police station called Vroom! Vroom! Go the Police. Vanessa is illustrating all by herself–a first.  But she’s been an animator at Cartoon Network ever since she finished college at NYU film school.

Vanessa van deer Baan: It has definitely been an interesting transition from the animation world into the world of children’s books.

I have really enjoyed seeing through the process and how it differs. It’s much more fun to have your artwork seen for more than a millisecond and it allows me to spend more time focusing on detail.It’s also more rewarding to have something tangible in the end!

Creating the dummy for the first time was also a challenging process. It is a lot like story boarding for animation but you also have a lot less of a moment to tell the story in than with animation. One image must relay a large chunk of the story.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge working on this new book and I can’t wait to see how it turns out once all the color is in place!

Joy Chu: And here is Vanessa’s muse for creating her VROOM VROOM images:

"VroomVroom" van der Baan

"VroomVroom" van der Baan


Joy Chu: Let’s look at yet another art technique. Here are samples from another of Anne’s collaborators, artist Megan Halsey. This is from Becoming Butterflies:

Cover from "Becoming Butterflies"

Cover from "Becoming Butterflies"

Title page from "Becoming Butterflies"

Title page from "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

From "Becoming Butterflies"

According to the copyright page, the illustrations were “…first painted in watercolor on Passion watercolor paper, then individuallly cut out and glued in layers to create a three-dimensional piece of art.”

Since three-dimensional art cannot be shot on a scanner, the art must be shot by a photographer, either digitally or via transparencies.

It also appears that the background texture of the watercolor paper itself — not just of the subjects themselves, but the backgrounds they are adhered to — was included as part of the art, as seen with the white space on the title page.

This presents a new set of issues to address. By its very nature, the quality of the photograph is dependent upon the lighting of the artwork and the skill of the photographer.

The colors in the resulting photograph, or scan, will invariably change between the original paint color and what the camera perceives.

And then there are the shadows. How harsh or soft will they be in the resulting photoscan? Will they detract or enhance the art? And what about inadvertent unwanted shadows from neighboring elements?

Of course, the goal is to have the photo or scan match the original art as closely as humanly possible.

Ultimately, the end results must be approved by the artist, editor, art director, and the book printer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

27 responses to “From sketches to art

  1. Sorry– the above message was for Carmina!

  2. Thanks for the visit, kind words and holiday greetings! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. Joy has done a formidable job in organizing this parade!

  3. Thanks to everyone with questions and answers and to those who organized this forum! I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts and I’m inspired anew. Happy Thanksgiving.

  4. Yum Joy! I’ll bet it’s delicious. But I assume you and your guests won’t be enjoying it Sullivan-style in a plastic baby bottle!

  5. @ Megan: Did you hire a professional photographer to shoot your final artwork for Becoming Butterflies?

  6. Thanks for the tech info Vanessa! I’ve always been curious about how you manage to get such rich color.

    And regarding another tech issue: If anyone’s doing a monoprint, I forgot to say that I go over a finished pencil drawing with ink on layout paper. Then before taping it to the mylar, I flip it, so that the finished print will be the same as the original pencil drawing. Otherwise it will be backwards.

  7. I have loved illustrating Anne’s manuscripts. She is a wonderful writer who creates lovely visuals with her words making my job more fun!

    • Hello Megan, and welcome!

      @ Everyone: You can see a sampling of Megan’s lovely work with Anne at the slide show on the Other Collaborators page. And there’s both a board book and standard book version of Pumpkin Day, Pumpkin Night.

    • Hi Megan
      Good to hear from you. I’m so glad to see BECOMING BUTTERFLIES at the top of this page. I love that book! You did a great job illustrating it. I’m still trying to find Pumpkin Day, Pumpkin Night, which I understand Joy has posted.

      [@ Anne & Everyone: You’ll see pages from Pumpkin Day, Pumpkin Night on the “More Collaborations” page slide show. — JC]

      Were you as amazed as I was at how well that works as a board book? A lot of text had to be cut, but I think it’s still beautiful, and perfect for the littlest ones. I’m thinking the next book we do together should also work as a board book. I have a 7-month old little grandson, and he loves his board books. I haven’t given him PUMPKIN yet because he lives in China, and I had given away all my copies when he came to visit this summer. And his favorite food — next to mother’s milk — is pumpkin soup.

  8. I love the inside look, thanks for sharing the process. I have really enjoyed this countdown and appreciate your work.

    • Thanks Writingonthesidewalk,

      I hope you’ve found my comments and images helpful. As you can see from my replies, I’m more intuitive than rational, and usually am hard put to say why I do something the way I do. But if I manage to pass something of value on to a fellow worker, I am very pleased!

  9. It’s amazing how much work goes into the pictures. As a writer, I constantly hear, “leave room for the illustrator.” Do you have any comments or advice on that?

    • Good question. This issue comes up, both in classes I’ve attended, and in my own class. How do you know you’ve written something that would really stimulate another illustrator? And you’ve given him/her space to create an all new world?

      And in creating picture book text, how do you know when you’ve gone the other extreme. In other words, when you’ve held back so much that the editor says the manuscript is “too slight”?

      The above underscores what can make writing the picture book text more daunting than a YA novel.

    • Hi Denise.
      Thanks for stopping by. When an editor says “leave room for the illustrator” it means, among other things, don’t describe things, colors etc, so literally that the illustrator has no room for his or her own vision.

      That doesn’t however mean that you shouldn’t be very specific if it’s integral to the story: Let’s say you open with “On Rosebud Alley there was a little girl named Rosemary who lived in a pink house. Her room had pink wallpaper covered with roses. All her clothes were pink. too. That’s because her mother just loved PINK!” Obviously you’ve set up a situation ready for conflict, and the illustrator is stuck with making that image work.

      In other instances it’s important to remember that a small child reads illustrations–doesn’t just look at them. If you say “A monster was sitting in the living room.” you don’t need to describe the monster, or that it’s on the couch, or Dad’s favorite chair. Leave invention here up to the illustrator.

      The big challenge for a writer of picture books is to steer clear of much description–and all writers love description (myself included). But the motto for writing picture books should be “less is more.” Sounds easy enough, but it isn’t.

  10. Vanessa,

    I’d love to see something in progress putting in VROOM VROOM color. The process totally mystifies me–how you get such rich color, and subtle ones too. Is if possible to post any WIP?

    • Vanessa van der Baan

      Hi Anne,

      I just received the changes for the VROOM VROOM dummy so it’s still only at the dummy stage or I’d love to share it with you! I will try to describe how I go about painting a page though. My painting process is done in steps as I build it up to the final effect. I start with just filling in flat color on a layer, and as I continue I add layers of color texture. Once I’m happy with the color of the image I move on and add in the shadows and highlights to make it more dynamic. You can get lost in the details and I basically keep painting until I don’t think I can improve a single thing! It’s a fun and rewarding process!

  11. Hi Joy and Vanessa
    Good to hear from you Vanessa!

    Joy–regarding my process for My Preschool.

    I wanted this book to have a soft and cozy feel. That was purely intuitive but perhaps I felt that way because for little children going to preschool is a big adventure into a big world. I also feel there’s an over-abundance of books starring angst-ridden preschoolers, so I didn’t want my book to go there. (Of course, there are those stressful moments in My Preschool — the little girl who cries when she comes to pre-school, but starts up again when it’s time to go home, and the little boy who for reasons of his own, kicks our hero’s blocks down.) However, all ends well, as it should in the world of a book for preschoolers.

    To keep this soft and fuzzy coziness in the art I decided to do the illustrations in monoprint. This method is very labor-intensive, and my granddaughter worked with me in the printing, and was a remarkably quick study! A godsend in fact!

    The technique consists of taping a line drawing on the back of a piece of mylar. Then you paint the surface of the transparent mylar with inks, tape a piece of rice paper on top of the mylar, lay it down, and rub with a baren–a flat disc covered with a bamboo leaf, which is amazingly receptive to your hand’s pressure.

    A baren

    And if there are no unfortunate surprises — you have one page of a 32 page book!

  12. That was fun, thanks Anne.
    Thanks for asking us to explain our process, Joy. Here’s my Got Story Interview on process:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s