Tag Archives: Rosalyn Schanzer

Scratching an Ampersand™ surface…

I had some nosy questions for Rosalyn Schanzer about the preparation of her artwork for Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem.

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Joy Chu:  What is the final size of your art? That is, you worked up-size?

Rosalyn Schanzer:  I worked very slightly upsized.  This is really easy to show you in person, but it’s almost impossible to explain in words.

The actual size of a two-page spread in my printed book is 10” wide x 7” high, and the actual size of a single page in my printed book is 5” wide x  7” high.

I used Ampersand Scratchbord™  (yes, that’s exactly how they spell scratchboard — it’s a trademark).  One of their stock sizes is 16” x 20.” It’s expensive.  So if I cut a piece of it in half to make two 16” x 10” pieces, I could enlarge the artwork for a two-page spread to 12” wide x 8 -3/8” high.

That way I could make two up-sized 2-page spreads using one piece of Scratchbord™ and still have some space left over to add a couple of spot illustrations.

Or I could cut the Ampersand Scratchbord™ into four pieces and make four single page illustrations that were 6” wide x 8 -3/8” high.  Are you asleep yet? (Nah… I love this kind of info! — JC)

These up-sized pieces of art have to be done in the correct proportion *so that they will fit.

Applying art sizes to your scratchboard

Applying given size dimensions to your scratchboard (click to enlarge)

[* Rosalyn coordinated the correct size dimensions with David, so that all pieces could be sized proportionally at the same percentage. Illustrators must always work closely with their art director on these technical details. — JC]

JC:  Did you send Nancy’s team [at the publishing house] your originals, or scans?

RS:  If I remember correctly, I just sent in the scans, and David Seager, my art director, eventually enlarged them so that the powers that be could take a closer look.

JC:  Did you use scans to indicate where to put in those hot red highlights?

Overlay taped to original art with registered crop marks

(Figure a) Tissue overlay is taped to original art with registered crop marks (click to enlarge)

RS:  After I did the finished art (in black and white), I taped a removable tracing paper overlay on top of each picture.

I drew crop lines on the tracing paper (figure a, right), applied to line-up perfectly with the crop marks on the original  b&w artwork; and then on the tissue overlay, I used a red marker to show exactly where I wanted the red areas to appear. I also wrote specific instructions on each overlay.

David, in turn, applied the red via his computer. Using high-resolution scans of my b&w art, he added a separate layer using computer software (Photoshop);  inserted the red highlights following my tissues; and then sent me the results.  Most of the time, he got it just right. If I thought the red was in the wrong place or didn’t fit a space the way I wanted it to, I asked him to change it.  (It’s teamwork! — JC)

(click to enlarge)

A Gold Medal for Witches!


This is the first in a series of features highlighting artwork from The Original Art,  currently on display at the Society of Illustrators / Museum of American Illustration in New York City.  We will share a cross section of works, right here at the Countdown, over the next several weeks.

We’ll get some back story on the art from surprise guests, and provide related links for further exploration. And you, dear reader,  are invited to make comments here, 24/7.

Rosalyn Schanzer was the Gold Medal Winner for the provocative scratchboard illustrations accompanying her original text, for Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem.

title page spread from "Witches!"

Title page spread from "Witches!"

We spoke with her editor, Nancy Laties Feresten, of the National Geographic Society about the making of Witches. Rosalyn Schanzer joins us as we further discuss the artwork itself.

illustration from "Witches!"

Illustration from "Witches!"

Joy Chu How did the idea come about to create a book about the Salem Witch trials? Not the typical topic you usually see in a nonfiction children’s title!

Demon with apple, from "Witches!"

Demon with apple, from "Witches!"

Nancy Laties Feresten:  Choosing a book topic can be the hardest part of an author’s job. Roz had to find something that she’s passionately interested in;  that is appropriate for the audience;  that we at National Geographic think will sell well;  and that she feels she can bring a fresh new perspective to.spot art from "Witches!"

In addition, Roz loves subjects where there are plenty of colorful primary source documents to work from. Putting this all together can be a pretty tall order.

The Salem Witch trials fit the bill, but there was one problem. Roz generally writes and illustrates books for kids 8-12, using a high-energy comic art style, and the Salem Witch Trials proved both too complex and too dark for the age group and the style.

Spot art from WITCHES!So everything depended on Roz developing a whole new style — both for the writing and for the illustrations — that would appeal to a slightly older audience. I can’t tell you how thrilled we were to see it all come together.

JC:  Was there a lot of fact checking? How long from initial proposal to final manuscript, ready for transmission? And how long for the illustrations, from concept sketches to final art?

NLF:  We settled on the topic by fall of 2009. Roz finished the first draft in spring 2010.  She revised throughout 2010 (overlapping with the creation of the art); and the manuscript was transmitted in early 2011. So, about 18 months.

Gathering research materials for "Witches!"

(Click to enlarge)

Rosalyn Schanzer:   Here’s a small sample of some of the research I did (left) in order to help make the people in my book look the way they really would have looked in 1692. These portraits were probably painted sometime close to that year because the age of the characters looks just about right.  In my other books, I have usually found portraits painted in exactly the right year, but not this time, so I tried to come as close as possible. Of course I couldn’t find portraits of every single character in Witches!, so I studied up on the clothes they would have worn, figured out their ages during 1692, and read any descriptions I could find that might be helpful.

NLF:  Roz delivered the first rough sketches in summer of 2010, and final art was transmitted in layout at the end of March 2011. The book was published in September 2011.

Rosalyn Schanzer:  I always do my first set of sketches (see below) for a book on pieces of 8 ½” X 11” paper in storyboard fashion, so obviously the drawings are tiny and very rough.

That way I can see how the flow of the illustrations is proceeding throughout the entire book, and I don’t need to waste time doing more finished sketches that we might decide to toss out later on.

Then I write a description at the bottom of each thumbnail sketch because the art is so rough and the type isn’t there to explain the pictures yet.

This series (below) makes a good example because this 8 ½” X 11” piece includes 4 different spreads.

Preliminary thumbnail sketches for WITCHES!

Preliminary thumbnail sketches of chapter opening pages (Click to enlarge)

The spread on the upper left is fairly similar to the final art (below), except that I made the witches more stylized in the finish and showed them lined up in two rows drinking blood from little goblets.

double-page spread from Chapter 6

Opening page for Chapter 6 (click to enlarge)

The spread on the lower left (see thumbnail sketch, above) remained essentially the same as the one in the book.  And we decided to change* the two pieces on the right entirely.

[* Nancy also refers to these art changes, a collaborative process ,  in her comments, below —JC]

JC Was there a list of illustrations and spots agreed upon as a consensus? How many? Did the concepts for opening pages change drastically between roughs and the final versions? Rosalyn’s scratchboard style is highly interpretive — that is, in the style of the best editorial illustration — as opposed to narrative and literal, as in her full color books for younger readers. Did this approach evolve during the planning stages?

NLF:  Roz proposed right up front that this art style would be different, more appropriate to the topic and the audience than her usual style would have been.

She choose scratchboard with red details. She also proposed the subjects of the illustrations, and we all (editors, art director, and design director) discussed them and made suggestions for alternatives where we felt there was a stronger option.

Another chapter opener from "Witches"

(click to enlarge)

At the sketch stage, we also suggested changes, mostly to support Roz as she developed this new style, but also occasionally to suggest a change to the subject where we just weren’t seeing the strongest possible opening for the chapter.

Roz also made adjustments as she went along, basically for the same reasons. The group (Roz, editors, art directors) even made a couple of changes after the finishes were complete, with Roz doing new art to replace a piece that we all felt could be stronger.

JC:  The jacket: Were several concepts worked up?

NLF:  Roz came up with the basic concept of the half woman/  half witch very early, and it was pretty much tweaking from there.

JC  I was surprised to learn that this was Rosalyn’s first scratchboard book.  In her interview with Jules Danielson, she states:

“. . . I am easily bored, so I’ve tried out almost every media known to man and beast, except for oil paint, because it takes too long to dry. I change styles all the time, too (not a good way to be recognized as an artist).

As an aside, I’ve been using talk balloons in my illustrations for a good million years, give or take a few. Problem is, this means you can’t hang your paintings on a wall, because the words in the balloons are almost always set in type, so the balloons in the original art have to be empty. Talk balloons used to be frowned upon by everyone but me and the comics-addicts, but now they’re spoze to be cool.

If you want an actual list of mediums (abbreviated), I’ve painted entire books on wood veneer; and on rough canvas; and on various and sundry kinds of paper; with every possible texture (but mostly cold press Strathmore Bristol Board). I use gouache or acrylics; or acrylic gouaches; or concentrated analine ink dyes, like Luma, which they don’t make any more. Beware: They also fade. I do lots of outlining with various kinds of pens, or even archival magic markers (another bad thing I love). I add texture with colored pencils; or Cray-pas. I also use cut paper; and have done a few collages; and some fake woodcuts using, um, potatoes, among other stuff. . . “

Any comments to add?

NLF:  All I’d add is that Roz’s flexibility is amazing and makes her incredibly fun to work with.

JC:   I also see it’s her first YA book with you. The trim size is 5 x 7″ —  more of a middle grade shape — and 144 pages total. This is as opposed to the larger, full-color format of her previous NGS titles, all picture books of 32-to-48 pages.  “What Darwin Saw” was 10 x 11″; “George vs. George” and others were 8 x 10″.

Do you see an increase in middle grade/YA titles for the kind of nonfiction Rosalyn does, and less as picture books? The illustration approach radically different between the two as well.

NLF:  I don’t know what’s next for Roz at National Geographic. We’ll just have to wait and see what comes from her always-fertile brain.

Sample of Antique Caslon text font

Antique Caslon text font (click to enlarge)

JC: I love the overall design of “Witches”! The choice of Caslon Antique for the text font, with its ‘grunge‘ look (this font was designed decades before garage type became fashionable), and reversing-out the black for the front matter (the pages preceding the main story section).

Chapter header

Detail of a chapter heading (click to enlarge)

I also love the customized initial caps, and the combination of chiseled texture around the chapter numbers, hand-lettered chapter titles,  plus illustrated chapter headings. Truly illuminated!

Was this printed as a two-color book with a spot custom color for the red, or via four-color process? On white or cream stock, — I’ve only seen this book on-line so far — coated, uncoated, textured or smooth stock? Was this choice based on what looked best with the art?

NLF:   The book was printed in 3 colors, not 4. The red was a Pantone (a custom-mixed color), not process color, and there were two black plates (to make sure the black would be super-saturated). There was no varnish.

The paper is uncoated with some tooth.  The edges of the book block was left untrimmed to suggest a deckled edge* [*also known in the bookmaking industry as 'a rough front and foot'JC].

The small trim was chosen in order to enhance the emotional impact of the book in a way that was appropriate to the story.

The jacket was laminated on the back of the sheet rather than on the front so we could have an uncoated feel with the strength of lamination.* [* The lamination gives both reinforced firmness plus a luxurious touch to the jacket paper stock. — JC]

Roz chose where the red would appear, and David* applied the red on the computer.  [*Art director David Seager was out of town at the time of this interview—JC]

Related links:

Rosalyn Schanzer’s interview with 7-Imp blogger Julie Danielson
Rosalyn Schanzer’s website
I.N.K. : Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (a fabulous collaborative of nonfiction writers who do picture books — including Roz!)



A SPECIAL NOTE:  Launching our series today is  auspicious since November is picture book month!
Share a picture book with someone you love!

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In celebration of Original Art…

Illustration by Rosalyn Schanzer, from WITCHES! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem Starting next week, we will launch into a series featuring selected works from the Original Art 2011, the annual exhibition that honors the fine art of children’s book illustration.

Behind every picture book project is a team. For our first series feature, we meet both the editor and the art director behind Rosalyn Schanzer‘s Gold Medal winner, Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem  (publisher: National Geographic Society).

title page spread from WITCHES!

title page spread from WITCHES!

We will continue with more selections that feature   the story behind making of  many other wondrous pieces, over the duration of the exhibit at the Society of Illustrators / American Museum of Illustration, October 27- December 31st, 2011. We will have surprise guests from the industry, discussing each selection. You won’t want to miss the banter. And you can add to the conversation.

The show features 150 books published in 2010-11, chosen from 590 entries submitted nationwide. The official press release featuring Gold and Silver Medal winners can be found here.

The Opening Reception is followed by an Awards Ceremony. In addition to the Gold Medal, there are Silver Medallists, plus one Founder’s Award.

So if you cannot make it to the Original Art show itself, visit The Countdown, from now through the end of 2011, and experience a sampling of the Original Art Show vicariously with us…




Kadir Nelson (Silver Medalist)

Lane Smith (Silver Medalist)

Zachariah OHora (special Founder's Award)

This year’s distinquished jury:
Amy June Bates (chair), illustrator
Julie Danielson, blogger, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and Kirkus Reviews
Scott Gustafson, author/illustrator
John Bemelmans Marciano, author/illustrator
Sean Qualls, illustrator
Erin E. Stead, illustrator
Hyewon Yum, author/illustrator
Cecilia Yung, art director and vice-president, Penguin Books for Young Readers

The Original Art Show 2011

This October will mark the 31st year anniversary of the annual show, Original Art: Celebrating the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration. Founded by artist-agent Dilys Evans, this coveted exhibition showcases the best illustration produced from books carrying a 2011 publication date.

Selections were culled from 150 children’s books, which in turn were picked from 590 entries submitted nationwide. The works will be on display at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators (128 East 63rd Street, New York, NY 10065), from October 26 through December 29, 2011.

Juried by illustrators, art directors, and editors, they also choose the winners of two Silver Medals and one Gold Medal. This year’s Gold Medal winner is Rosalyn Shanzer for Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem, (above left; National Geographic Society; publication date August 2011).

The Silver Medal winners are Kadir Nelson for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (left; HarperCollinsPublishers / Balzer and Bray; and Lane Smith for Grandpa Green (below; Roaring Brook Press). Cover from "Grandpa Green"

A special Founder’s Award went to Stop Snoring, Bernard! by Zachariah Ohora (below; Henry Holt and Company Books for Young Readers).

This prestigious show is open free to the public to demonstrate the importance of books for children and the enormous range of creativity they represent. It’s a fabulous opportunity for students, artists, and industry professionals to experience the original art itself. And each work is archived permanently via the Society of Illustrators Annual.

Logo of the Society of Illustrators

View the complete list of artists and works here.

E-Mail: info@societyillustrators.org