As part of my series on creative process I thought I’d share, over my next three entries, how I develop my characters for a picture book story.
The first character is a little girl named Dorothy in my book Pennies for Elephants (due out next spring). The book is set in Boston 1914. I wanted to create a sense of nostalgia with the book and with the characters. I also wanted it to be a younger story, not as realistic as One Thousand Tracings — that meant developing a new style for depicting my figure work. I find it’s actually easier when I do work that’s realistic, because I just hire a model and paint what I see, but for this book I worked to develop a style which captured the proper mood and period of the book.
I began by looking at examples of illustrators from the early 1900′s to immerse myself in the period. I also looked through clothing catalogs to see what people wore.
Then I drew lots of sketches! Hundreds of drawings of children. My style swung from too representational to overly cartoony. I experimented with putting different types of clothes on my characters, and used different gestures to create the personality I wanted. At last, I started focusing on the look of my character.
But the work wasn’t done. Translating a pencil drawing into a painting is often the most difficult step for me. There are still decisions to be made in the final paintings that the pencil drawing doesn’t cover. How could I paint my character to capture the flavor of fun and nostalgic early 1900′s. I did a series of color studies, experimenting with different colors to capture the right mood. I also experimented with different qualities of line and paint to find the right balance of emphasizing the getup of my little girl through line, but softening the look so the art felt warm and inviting. I did all these steps before the manuscript was even complete. Because I’m so visual, I often need to get my character down on paper as an illustration before I can complete the writing. After I ‘m happy with the look and personality of my character in the illustration, I can move toward finishing the story.
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